I went to the James River Writers Conference in Richmond, VA, last weekend and it was incredibly informative and fun. My mind is jam packed with writing knowledge and inspiration! Here are a few select takeaways
#1-You Need a Cheese Cube
Jane Friedman put it well, you need a cheese cube. You need a free sample that customers can munch on while they consider buying the block of cheese. What is your cheese cube?
#2-Sex Scenes Should be Authentic
Of course, all writing should be authentic, but sometimes romance writers, myself included, get a little lost in the steam. In a really helpful session, paneled by Kwame Alexander, Iris Bolling, and Kelly O’Connor McNees, they discussed the importance of letting your character, not reader expectations, dictate the sexual actions.
#3-We Should All Be More like Hugh Howey
Based on reading some of his fiction, I thought Hugh Howey would be pensive and reserved. Nothing wrong with that, just…that was my impression. I was very wrong. He’s more like an excited puppy who dashes around a party infusing extra life into a room while greeting ever guest. I mean this in the absolute best possible way. When he talked to me, he made me feel like he really cared about what I thought and really wanted to give me, specifically, advice. I could feel all special about this, but, honestly, he was like that with everyone. I think a lot of success in life has to do with connections and it’s not surprising that Hugh Howey has made a good career for himself via both his ability to write and his ability to make connections. Every author can learn from this.
#4-Throw Away Your First Draft
Tanya McKinnon talked about how you need to write that first draft…and then throw it away. The first draft is just you getting to know the story. That’s it. If you allow yourself to realize that you’re not going to use that first draft aside from as a way into the story, it will free you up to be more creative.
#5-Barbara Kingsolver is Adorbs
I, shamefully, have never read any of her books (though The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Mineral are high on my list now), but the luncheon talk with her was probably worth the price of the whole conference. She talked about “That Damn Africa Book,” or what she called The Poisonwood Bible when she was working on it for years and years, as well as how introverted writers who become famous are rewarded with lots and lots of attention and public appearances. Heh. Her talk was delightful and inspiring.
#6-Publishing People are Passionate People
Another session that might have been worth the cost of admission was Industry Update where aforementioned self-publishing guru Hugh Howey and traditional publishing leader Geoff Shandler duked it out.
Okay, the wonderful Jane Friedan was also in the session and every time she spoke it was poignant and insightful. She had an especially great comment falling between Hugh’s insistence that ebooks be priced lower and Geoff’s belief that that devalued the work. She said she wished pricing was more dynamic. Not all books are equal in terms of cost. I hadn’t thought about it this way, but I think she’s absolutely right. Why do we see all books across the board as having the same market value? Oh, and she also had that lovely, aforementioned, cheese cube comment….but on to the tension between Geoff and Hugh…
So, I felt like I was watching history as it happened seeing these two prominent poles in the publishing industry discuss the radical changes in said industry! They were both articulate and knowledgeable and they both completely and utterly disagreed with each other on almost everything.
But, if I could narrow down my biggest take away from the dispute, it was something Geoff said about how, within this debate, traditional publishing is sometimes villainized as a being all about business. Cold, hard business. And, yes, it is a business, but the professionals in traditional publishing could all probably be making a lot more money in any other industry. They chose publishing because they are passionate about books. And, from my own experience with my agent and the wonderful professionals at Carina Press, I can only applaud that sentiment. Book people are good people, whether they are advocating for self-publishing or traditional publishing or just trying to help authors either way.
And, never fear, in the end Hugh and Geoff hugged it out. Literally. Um, yeah, it was really cute. :)
And those are just the highlights of my trip. I met so many awesome writers and new friends. I can’t wait to go next year! :)