Recap of RWA 2014

RWA photo

Last week, I attended Romance Writer of America’s (RWA) conference in San Antonio, TX. It wasn’t my first National conference and it certainly won’t be my last. For the most part, writing is a solitary job. Authors keep their characters and their stories in their head, sharing with critique partners and beta readers. Attending a conference with approximately 2,000 other writers, agents, and editors is an amazing and inspiring opportunity to break out of that shell and network.

Here’s a highlight from a few of the fabulous workshops I attended:

I was surprised and excited by the number of workshops geared towards the romantic suspense genre. There was one on Guns for Writers where I learned the different classifications of guns and the correct stance for holding a gun. There was another for Writing a Believable Police Hero, Practical Self Defense (which, sadly, I missed), and Homicide Investigation 101. In case you didn’t guess, the hero in my WIP is a cop.

Cindy Ratzlaff gave an engaging talk about social book marketing strategy. Catch the Animoto video I created at the end. Totally cool!

Kristan Higgins, Alyssa Day, and Elizabeth Hoyt gave a fun workshop on Beyond the Alpha Male and Spunky Heroine. They challenged us to get deep into our hero’s character, including things such as knowing their weaknesses, how they’ve suffered, and deepest fears. What don’t they want the heroine to know?

For the heroine, there is a fine line between a strong heroine and a bitch. Be careful not to make her too bitchy and unlikeable, unless, of course, that’s your intent. What are her ambitions and desires that define her? What is her low point and why is the hero the worst person for her? How does he bring her back to that low point? How does she find her own inner strength to overcome it?

“Writers today must be both a writer and an entrepreneur.”Sylvia Day

“Each happy ending is a brand new beginning.”Karen Rose

Random highlights

  • Riverwalk boat tour with Michele Mannon
  • Meeting Joan Johnston in the elevator and gaining some interesting career advice
  • Meeting Nora Roberts and getting my own signed copy of her RITA® nominated book, Whiskey Beach
  • Signing at my first RWA Literacy signing
  • Cheering my fellow NJRW chapter mates, Nancy Herkness, Beth Ciotta, and Marnee Bailey on at the RITA® and Golden Heart® award ceremony
  • Books – I got way more books than I intended. Look for a giveaway soon on my author Facebook Page (Maria K Alexander – Author)
  • Getting my headshot taken at the trade show
  • Cowboys – you’ll have to watch the video link below for details
  • Meeting new friends, including another early riser and co-swag queen, Anabelle Bryant
  • Meeting wonderful Wild Rose Press authors, including editor and freelance designer, Diana Carlile, who designed the cover art for Untangle My Heart
  • Meeting Julie James, whose FBI/US Attorney series covers inspired Untangle My Heart. I even gave her a bookmark!

While I’m back to the grind and the day job today, I’m re-energized to jump back into edits for Forever In My Heart and my WIP.

Check out the video below which I made with pictures from the conference.

Hugs,

Maria

 

Good Cover Design, Part 2

In Part 1 of Good Cover Design, I discussed Genre, Keeping it Simple, and Instant Readability. Here’s the link to that post if you missed it: https://thevioletfemmes.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/good-cover-design-part-1-2/. Today’s topics are: Clear Branding, Basic Design Principles, Trusting your Gut, and Working with a Professional Cover Designer.

[Please remember that I am not distinguishing here between self-pubbed examples and traditionally published ones in this post. I use the author’s name for simplicity, and my focus is simply Good Design. In some cases, yes, the design decisions were made by the authors, in others, kudos go to the publisher’s design (and perhaps marketing) departments.]

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Courtney Milan’s The Brothers Sinister Series

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Kristan Higgins’s Blue Heron Series

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Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil Series

Clear branding: Not only do you have to hit the genre correctly, it’s smart to develop an AUTHOR brand—a consistent treatment that speaks to your voice, your style, your genre—in other words, what a reader expects to find in a book written by YOU. The examples that always come to mind for me are Courtney Milan’s The Brothers Sinister series of historicals (same type treatment, a lone heroine, a jewel-colored dress, and muted wallpaper background), Kristan Higgins’s Blue Heron contemporary romances (happy color, spring/summer scenes, simple type that speaks to contemporaries with humor), and Debra Webb’s Faces of Evil romantic suspense’s (clearly dark and dangerous, heavy hitting, and part of a series. How cool is that film strip with the number of the book in the series? And wow do those solid background colors leap out at you). You don’t have to write a series, however, to make your name/your brand, recognizable. Kristan Higgins’s other books have similar art, the same overall style, and always the size and treatment of her name. Do note, however, that in all cases, the author’s name is more prominent than the book title. The authors I mentioned in Part 1 are known for following this principle as well. Many argue that the author’s name is the single most important aspect of the cover. Another point that bears mentioning is to make it easy on yourself: don’t choose a design that’s going to be hard to implement as your series or brand marches on.

Basic design principles: you want a balanced, eye-catching design with a pleasing color scheme. Unless you are working around the art, your type shouldn’t hop around. Meaning sometimes the title is centered and the author name must be flush right where it’s readable. But if there’s room and a choice, keep it consistent for balance. As for color—go attractive but not obnoxious. Complimentary to the art you’ve chosen, contrasting enough to be easily visible. The reason those solid brights work for Debra Webb is because the film strip itself is understated and the type is all black. And certain colors denote holiday stories, others imply genre. Had we chosen red type for the grayscale Katharine Ashe cover (see last month’s post), we might have inadvertently leaned towards a typical treatment for erotica, so just be mindful of the choices you make.

Your gut: you have to like it, of course! If one design furthers your excitement over this book you slaved over and another leaves you cold? Well, there’s your answer.

Working with a Professional Cover Designer: There are loads of good cover designers out there, found by a quick web search, or via the databases of your writing groups. You can get quality, custom designs, for incredibly reasonable prices these days, and most every designer will do their best to please you. The biggest deciding factor, to my mind however, is to choose one whose design style you really love. That way, chances are good, you and your designer will be on the same page from the get go. After that, communication is key. It will help them to know exactly what you want (or don’t want), what you like, why something bothers you, etc. Most designers will welcome visual examples of books and treatments you love, as well. Much like getting general feedback on a manuscript with a rejection, a mushy “it’s missing something” or doesn’t further the process very well. So use the words and expression that are a writer’s gift, and respectfully explain.

Thanks for visiting The Violet Femmes today! Hope you found the Cover Design posts helpful!

Conference Fever

Be sure to stop by the Violet Femmes blog each week this month and comment to be entered in our contest. This month you’ll be entered to win two novels, Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins and Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas. Come back every week and leave a comment to increase your chance of winning!

I’ve never been a lucky person in terms of winning things. I’m horrible when I go to the casinos and the most I’ve ever won on a scratch-off lottery ticket was, surprisingly, $20. So when I went to the Connecticut Fiction Fest conference last weekend and waited, anxiously, while the results of the Write Stuff Contest were read out, I tried to prepare myself not to take first place.

And I was overwhelmed with emotion when, amazingly, I did exactly that.

FIRST PLACE in Single Title Contemporary. Woo Hoo!!! It was a great feeling to win and I was especially glad to have fellow Femme, Michele, with me to cheer me on. Many thanks to the Connecticut Chapter of RWA, the judges, and agent Sara Megibow who picked the winner in the Single Title category.

I’ve posted the first paragraph of Love’s Second Chance at http://mariakalexander.com if you’re interesting in stopping by.

The Conference

Above is a picture of Michele Mannon (left) and me at the Connecticut Fiction Fest conference.

Aside from the contest win, which had me shaking and grinning like a new parent, there were a lot of other nice things about the conference. This conference was smaller than NJRW’s conference, which made it more intimate. It was easier to network with people and provided lots of opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. Below, I’m going to share some of the learnings I took away from the conference.

Sherry Thomas kicked off the conference with an inspiring keynote speech. She encouraged us to not give up on our manuscripts, despite the rejections. She re-worked hers quite some time before finally getting published. I personally believe that the trick is finding the magic combination of all the skills that work and that once you do, everything will click into place.

The fabulous Kristan Higgins held a workshop on writing the dreaded Chapter 1. If you’re like me, I’ve written and re-written Chapter 1 many times. Finding the right place to start your story can be a challenge and it might take a couple attempts until you get it right. One of the main things Kristan shared is finding that eye-catching first line. You know it when you hear it, but finding it is not that easy. Another key component in the first chapter is to make sure the main character’s primary goal is clear. If we don’t have an invested stake in knowing what’s important to the H/H, then the reader may not continue. The other main takeaway is about backstory. I’m sure we’ve all gotten feedback that our first chapter has too much backstory. Finding that right balance of just the right amount is definitely something I’m still working on. It needs to hint at events of the past that you’ll eventually build on in the later chapters. Essentially, you need to put in enough to tease your reader and want them to keep reading more.

In the workshop Raising the Stakes, Toni Andrews spoke about character-driven plotting. She encouraged us to figure out our H/H worst case scenario, and then to make it happen. It’s about not being afraid to create problems for your characters. Who wants to read a book where everything is perfect and no one has any problems. Yawn! We want issues, drama, and conflict. Make your main characters hit rock bottom and then show how they overcome their obstacles to find their HEA.

What conferences do you all have planned this year? The NJRW conference will be here before we know it. Registration hasn’t started yet, but keep checking the website below for more details. http://njromancewriters.org/index.php?/conference/put_your_heart_in_a_book_conference/

Is anyone going to RWA Nationals? If so, I’m very jealous. I went with Joanna last year and it was a wonderful experience. Next year’s conference is in Atlanta, so start saving your pennies, Femmes! It’s roadtrip time.

Maria

Women of Character

One commenter on the Violet Femmes blog this month will win two novels,  Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins and Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas. Come back every week and leave a comment to increase your chance of winning!

Since it’s Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking all day about the women who have inspired me. There’s my own mother, of course, who got her GED and went to college in her 40’s, earning a teaching degree at the age of 47. I was 11 then, and I still remember going to her commencement at Kean College.

I think about my many women friends, who manage to work full time and raise families, and some, like my fellow authors, who still squeeze in time to follow their passion to write. I have a wonderful friend, Maureen, a social worker who tirelessly flies around the country, giving seminars, organizing workshops, seeing patients, and generally giving of herself every single day to help others. She is not only a friend, she is one of my heroes.

As a writer, I often cull the admirable traits of my women friends, put them in a hat, and draw from that hat to create a heroine I, and hopefully the reader, can love.

There are many such inspiring women in fiction. There is Elizabeth Bennett, who, despite a plethora of bird-brained women of her acquaintance, manages to rise above the frivolity and actually show some strength of character. There’s forward-thinking Jo March, of Little Women. More recently, look to The Hunger Games Katniss as the epitome of feminine strength of spirit and fortitude of heart. Katniss is selfless, courageous, willing to fight for her family like, well, a mother.

That’s not to say that heroines must be paragons of virtue. It they were, they would be goddesses, not humans. Even the strong characters listed above had their flaws.  In fact, it is often the frivolous, goofy, clumsy, whimsical heroines we love most in romance. Callie, the heroine in Kristan Higgins’ book All I Ever Wanted, is a quirky cock-eyed optimist. Despite a bum of a boyfriend and only one good example to go on in a sea of bad examples, Callie believes in happily-ever-after and sets out with a vengeance to find it.

Of course, the clueless, damsel-in-distress heroines risk the chance of the reader just throwing up her hands in despair. You can have a totally goofy heroine who pines away for a guy she will never have, as long as there is something about her that makes the reader care that she find the right man. Yes, Callie is a dreamer, naïve, and even hopeless where men are concerned…but she also holds her family together, has a keen mind for her job, and nurtures her co-workers with fresh-baked goodies every Monday. Who doesn’t like fresh-baked goodies?

Without Callie’s strength of character, I would just give up on her. Chances are, so would a lot of readers. Take Bella, of the Twilight series. I will admit, I loved the first book. Enough so, that it made me want to read more. So I picked up the second book in the series, New Moon, anticipating another enjoyable read. Unfortunately, I found I no longer liked Bella.

In the first book, I sympathized with her as she struggled to come to grips with her love for Edward. I applauded her guts to stick by him. And I cried when they were separated. Then came the second book…and I hated it. I couldn’t take Bella’s constant whining (“I want to be a vampire. I want to be a vampire!) through the first half of the book. I threw down the book in disgust, and I have no desire to pick it back up again. I don’t have a lot of patience for whiners in real life, so I certainly don’t want to read about them.

Finding the balance between a heroine’s virtues and strengths, and her vices and weaknesses, is the key to your reader falling in love with the heroine. So I’d like to know…what heroines have you fallen in love with, and which ones made you throw up your hands in despair? What kind of heroines do you like to read about? And what women have inspired you so much that you want to make them the heroines in your novels? Let’s salute the women of character in our lives, by making them immortal in prose.

Hugs,

Jaye

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