Being published as a launch author for Embrace Books in February this year enabled me to join the Romantic Novelists' Association as a full member and attend my very first conference in Caerleon, Wales this weekend. Newbies like me are affectionately known as conference 'virgins' (no sniggering!), and are taken special care of. This year it was Anna Louise Lucia's turn to keep an eye on us and she was wonderful, so many thanks to her.
I was only able to stay for part of the conference, but the experience has me wanting to sign up for the next one immediately. It would be impossible to condense everything I learned into one blog post, so I'm going to focus on the impact of the digital age on my own experience and pass on some juicy tips.
Firstly I had to get there, and not being one for motorways and toll bridges, the train was the way to go, so I did it all online. I planned the journey, got the timetable and ordered my cheap advance tickets from the comfort of my own home. Easy!
On the way to Newport the Twitter hashtag #RNAConf11 kept me amused. I could visualise the delegates streaming into Wales from all over the world just by the messages going backwards and forwards. I also used it for the live tweeting on my journey home and soaked up the information as it came in. On arrival, we were informed at registration about Wifi access codes and cables for our rooms, which was just as well, there were netbooks, tablets and smartphones everywhere!
The first session was held by Lizzy Kremer of David Higham Associates who gave a very informative talk on contracts. There's one thing she said that really struck a chord will me: 'eBooks are not going to go away.' I think we're already seeing changes in traditional publishing that reflect the rising popularity of digital media. Readers are quickly realising they can get instant gratification. They want a certain book and they want it now - they don't want to wait or pay postage. They want cheaper books too. Authors and publishers can't afford to ignore this. I was interested to see that my novel Storm's Heart had a rise in sales over the conference weekend - predominantly the eBook version. Makes you think, doesn't it?
Following Anne Ashurst's welcome to the conference Jan Jones read out a list of 'celebrations'. It was a thrill for me to be sat between two RNA award winning authors during this. We'd met before, but it went to show just how much sparkling talent there was in that conference room. Here's me and Charlotte Betts with my dear friend, India Grey on the other side of me and Liz Fielding's hand! (photo courtesy of Lizzie Lamb).
And guess what? The market isn't as dire as some would have you believe. Judging by the amount of people standing up and telling their good news, RNA members are selling big time. With hard work and dedication your future as an author can be as bright as you want it to be. Just don't give up! Bestselling author Jill Mansell winner of Romantic Comedy of the Year told us how she would have stopped submitting if the third agent she approached had rejected her. Fortunately they didn't, but there's a lesson there!
And then, of course, came the important bit, the bar! I got to talk and hug lots of gorgeous people I've met through blogging, Facebook and Twitter over the last year, including a squirrel! It's because of these connections that I wasn't in the least bit nervous about attending this conference on my own - I knew I'd be surrounded by friends. This couldn't have happened without the Internet and I'm wondering how different it would have been for me five years ago when we didn't have a computer at home.
Here's me with the lovely Rachel Brimble (who was asked for a 'full' by Mira a few hours earlier!) and Alison Knight (courtesy of Lizzie Lamb again):
There were ten minute editorial pitches with some big names in publishing too. There's something you should know if you don't already: if you submit, you will be Googled. An active online presence is vital, so get yourself out there and make yourself visible. It's a fact. No shrinking violets!
I've only scratched the surface of all the things I learned at the conference, but the highlight for me was when Wild Rose Press author Stephanie Cage tracked me down to say how much she loved reading Storm's Heart. And then she asked for my signature! It really was a very special moment indeed, the highlight of my writing career so far. We authors are nothing without our readers after all.
As a special conference treat, I'll leave you with an iconic and very exclusive photograph of the Executive Editor of Embrace Books in the bar. What a woman!!!