Monday, February 5, 2007

Writers Conference Rush

This past weekend I attended the URWA Conference in SLC. Definately an eye opener, and that's a nominal thing for me at a writer's conference. First of all I'm not what they call a romance author. Yes, there is romance in each of my books, but I do not follow the formula of writing romance.

Formula? Isn't that a math concept? At a recent presentation a young lady said to me, "I wish I was creative enough to write, but I'm only good at math and finance stuff."

Did you know that writing a romance is a scientific process? It's mathmatical and quite fascinating. Many new writers don't understand the time spent in figuring out word count, chapter length, the proper ratio of dialog-to-internal thought, the number of pages you can go without using dialog, and on what page the heroine meets the hero (that's page one, by the way). A romance novel should be 100,000 words minimum (but not over 120,000). The age of a contemporary heroine should be 28-35 years old. Historical can go younger--single woman under 25; widow/spinster 28-33. And no love scenes before page 100. (See all those numbers?)

Really. And adverbs are out. Well, those associated with dialog. If your character says something "quickly," that should be made evident in the dialog itself or the action surrounding the dialog. If your dialog adverbs get past the editors, the reviewers will not be kind.

What I really learned at this conference (and has been reiterated at other conferences), is for every opinion expressed by an agent or editor, another agent or editor has the completely opposite opinion.

Here are some that I found over the years:
1. Write a detailed synopsis--a paragraph for each chapter. Keep your synopsis under one page.
2. Mention writing contests that you've won. Only mention writing contests that you've won in which it was judged by a well-known editor/agent.
3. Paranormal is in. Paranormal is out.
4. Include short background history in query. Include no background history in query.
5. Query letter needs to be absolutely perfect and determines whether or not the agent will continue to the sample chapter. Query letter is an afterthought, and the sample chapter is read first.

After the opposites, I heard some interesting things:
1. When writing romance, the hero and heroine must meet on the first page.
2. If you spell the agent's name wrong, you won't even make it to the slush pile.
3. Historical may be on the rise.
4. Watch the movie trends, and that's what the book trends will be.
5. Stick with formula until you are published. Then deviate.
6. Don't give the agent ANY reason to reject your submission. Do not give any closure at the end of the first chapter. Start the chapter in the middle of a scene, and end in the middle of a scene.
7. Add humor if possible. Humor sells during war-time.
8. Chicklit is more than dead. If you see a new chicklit on the shelves that's because the publishing house bought it 2 years ago and couldn't get it out of its pipeline. And if you have written a chicklit, do not pitch it to any editor or agent.
9. Enter writing contests only if they are judged by agents or editors. Agents don't care much about winning regional contests. But I have my own disclaimer here--enter those regional contests that include judging feedback--that's invaluable to determine whether or not your writing is competitive. And it shows the agent/editor that you are serious about your work.
10. Don't buy used books. The sales can't be recorded, and the author won't get credit. This can determine whether or not that author gets another contract. If you like the author, buy the book! Then you'll see him/her in print again.
11. If you want to sell your manuscripts you must know what the publishers are BUYING, not what is sitting on the shelves.
12. Writing is not art; it's commerce.
13. You are writing your book to the editor. She is your first reader. Look at what the editor or agent publishes/represents. That's what she likes.
14. Don't write a novel that has a backdrop of a recent catastrophe (i.e. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina)
15. Agents are really a necessity.
16. With that said, you can submit to publishers and when you get interest . . . procure an agent before you sign a contract. This is two-fold. The agent can get you more money, and an agent is very keen on an author who has an interested publisher. 15% of something is much more powerful than 15% of nothing.
17. Follow submission guidelines to a T.
18. Agents are looking for (get your pens out):
Paranormals with time/nature (vampires or werewolves have plateaued)
Urban Fantasy
Romantic Suspense--historical or contemporary
Older heroines (40'ish)
Issue-driven fiction for women in their 20's (replacing dumbed-down chicklit).
Women's fiction (might have romance in it, but doesn't have to have a happy ending)
Family Saga
Mom-lit (this will probably be a very short trend, so submit if you have something ready)
Historical romance is getting hotter
Romantic comedy


Josi said...

Dang, I wish I'd gone to all the classes you had. I learned some equally fascinating things and enjoyed myself. It helped me figure out some details of my current story even though it isn't a romance and I had a good time. One comment on buying used books--the agents did say that once the book has been out for a while (1 year) or is out of print, buying used it okay. The point they made is that if the book is brand new and you buy it used off of Amazon, that directly hurts the author because the sale isn't recorded and the publisher will base acceptance of their next book on their sales of their latest one. And you often don't save much $$ when you buy a used book that way anyway. So pony up and support the writers, ensuring their numbers reflect their sales so that the publisher has all the facts when considering their next book.
It was a great conference, though, I enjoyed getting fresh perspectives from very expreinced agents/editors. Thanks heather

Heather B. Moore said...

Good clarification on buying used books that are out of print--because of my research on Ancient Arabia, I fall into that cateory. I have bought a used novel here and there, and a couple of times they have been ARC's or Library copies. That's when I know I'm being taken advantage of. My philosophy is that everyone needs a good book for their birthday.

Josi said...

See, you're inherently a good person. I have bought newer books through Amazon and been thrilled that I saved $2. I honestly never thought about the 'new' sale I was avoiding until hearing that comment from the editors. I buy a lot of older books that way too, but that's the only way you can get them.

Tristi Pinkston said...

This is a really interesting list, Heather. I'm curious -- by historical romance and suspense, do you mean historical as in, tied to a historical event such as a war, or do you mean historical as in a period piece, say, set in the Victorian era?

Heather B. Moore said...

Historical as in tied to a historical time period. From my understanding, historical means anything during WWII or before (or is it WWI?). There is some national guideline that I read years ago.

Karen Robards said that her historicals are outselling her contemporaries by quite a bit right now.

Carole Thayne said...

Hmm, I started typing and it disappeared, so if you get half a comment that's why. This was an informative blog. I'm glad you took notes.
Note on don't set a novel in recent catastrophe--one of my favorite books of last year was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, set in NYC following 9-11. Great read.

Heather B. Moore said...

That book sounds really interesting. I'll have to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation.