The best thing to take away from a writing conference

Hands up—how many of you went to RWA’s National Conference in Anaheim last week?

*raises hand*

I heard there were about 1,700 romance writers gathered there, and I had a brilliant time meeting as many of them as I possibly could. What an incredible atmosphere!

It was only the second writing conference I’ve been to (the first being Nationals last year in New York), and this year I felt much better prepared and more confident. After four days of workshops, pitch sessions with agents and editors, and chatting with new friends, these are the biggest things I took away from the conference.

1. Craploads of free books!

Free romance novels from RWA NationalsSeriously, if ‘crapload’ were a unit of measurement, I’m sure I’d have at least two or three craploads in books. And guess what—I’m going to be giving lots of them away to my blog subscribers and Facebook fans. (Hint hint)

Last year I discovered several new-to-me authors, thanks to the free books given away at Nationals—including the very talented Jane Graves who was a double RITA finalist this year.

As wonderful as these books, they’re not the most important thing I took home from the conference. So what else did I get?

Continue reading “The best thing to take away from a writing conference”

Writing goals: Did you meet 2011’s? Set 2012’s?

Success and failure sign
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I can hardly believe another year has gone by. I don’t know about you, but I love looking back to the goals I set myself on January 1 and remembering what I’ve accomplished this year.

I had set myself some day-job goals (not to be a jerk-wad manager, since I was about to hire my first managee), personal goals (to roll with the punches, since Smarty Pants was set to finish his PhD and would be looking for jobs around the world), and writing goals.

I’m happy to say I met most of my goals.

  1. I wrote and revised my contemporary romance All Things Easy, which I pitched to agents at my first RWA National Conference in July.
  2. I wrote the first draft of another contemporary romance, No Fragile Heart.
  3. I got half-way through revising my first manuscript, First Aid for a Broken Heart.
  4. I made more friends than I could’ve imagined on this blog and on Twitter (thank you, everyone, for the many hours of chatting and thoughtful comments and conversation!).

Goals for 2012

Day job

Since Smarty Pants got a job in the Netherlands, we moved in October and I now have a new day job. I’m so excited about it because it’s full of challenges and opportunities. My main goal is to tackle all of those without sacrificing my sanity, since I usually let myself be consumed by work.

I will probably get to go to Bangladesh and India for work this year, so my other goal is to make the most of those opportunities.

Personal life

I want to start learning Dutch. In the Netherlands, people speak such amazing English that I haven’t had to so far, but I feel awful asking people to speak to me in English. Smarty Pants and I may hire a tutor or take a class so we can at least learn the basics of the language.

Writing goals

This year I will:

  1. Finish revising First Aid for a Broken Heart.
  2. Revise No Fragile Heart.
  3. Write and revise the book that comes after All Things Easy.
  4. Judge three contests and enter three contests.
  5. Go to RWA Nationals and pitch to agents and editors.
  6. Build myself a website.
  7. Continue growing my blog and social media conversations.
  8. Keep track of the books I read on Goodreads.

How about you? How did you do with last year’s goals? What are this year’s goals?

Who will win the RITA for best contemporary romance?

Since the Romance Writers of America announced the finalists for the RITA award back in March, I’ve been reading all of the nominated novels in my favorite category: contemporary single-title romance. Some of the authors are old favorites of mine, and some were new to me.

The winners will be announced on July 1, and I’m lucky enough to be in New York for the party. They’re fantastic novels, and I can’t wait to see who wins.

Best of luck to their authors!

Not That Kind of Girl by Susan Donovan

Not That Kind of Girl coverRoxanne Bloom launches a man-hating blog after overhearing her ass-hat boyfriend denigrating her bedroom skills to his friends – men she has to work with. Her now-ex breaks into her house and threatens her, until her man-hating pit-bull-Boxer mix nearly rips his throat apart. Roxie finds herself being sued and fighting to keep her dog alive. The only person she can count on is Eli Gallagher, the hottest dog whisperer around.

Eli’s used to being top dog, but can he help both Roxie and her dog feel secure enough that they let go of their angry aggression?

Read more about Not That Kind of Girl

The best parts

Susan Donovan does an amazing job of creating emotional intensity between her hero and heroine. Almost all the novels of hers I’ve read feature couples who spark immediately, and the flames grow hotter and deeper as the story develops. Plus, this novel contains the canine equivalent of a Regency rake: a pit bull most people think is irredeemable but who turns loving and loyal thanks to a woman’s devotion.

Still the One by Robin Wells

Still the One by Robin WellsWhen she was 17, Katie Charmaine had a summer fling with Zach Ferguson and ended up pregnant and boyfriendless. She gave her newborn daughter up for adoption – a heartbreaking experience she never revealed to anyone except the man she ended up marrying. But after her husband dies in Iraq, leaving her childless and grief-stricken, Zach returns to town with their 17-year-old daughter – a girl who’s pregnant and desperately needs parents.

The best parts

I cried. No, I bawled. The tenderness and conflict between each of the characters is realistic and satisfying. I loved that the author allowed Kate to have a wonderful relationship with her late husband, and that Kate struggles to overcome her grief before falling in love with Zach.

And One Last Thing… by Molly Harper

And One Last Thing coverWhen Lacey Terwilliger discovers her husband Mike is screwing his artificially enhanced secretary, she doesn’t just get mad; she gets online. Having sacrificed her own career to support his business, she writes one last email newsletter to his clients, family and friends, telling them exactly what a dickless wonder Mike is. Her revenge backfires, though, and she flees to her cabin to get away from her nagging, gossiping neighbors.

Fortunately for her, a hot author named Monroe lives next door. Can she convince him she’s not another psycho divorcée like all the others who’ve thrown themselves at him?

Read more about And One Last Thing

The best parts

Molly Harper’s voice rocks. She’s like a twisted version of Kristan Higgins. Her characters are witty and clever – except for the morons you’re not supposed to like. This novel is funny, tender, sweet and sexy, so it hits all the right spots. If you have a thing for Hugh Jackman, read this book. That’s all I’m sayin’.

One Fine Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy

One Fine Cowboy coverPsychology grad student Charlie Banks is sent to observe a horse whisperer in Wyoming. Unfortunately, the horse whisperer, Nate Shawcross, has no idea his ex-girlfriend took people’s money and promised them Nate would run a horse clinic. He’s shocked when cute Jersey girl (and PETA activist) Charlie shows up on his ranch, hauling her attitude with her. Nate’s ranch is in trouble, though, and he can only save it by putting on a good show for the group of greenhorns that arrive for his clinic. And he desperately needs Charlie’s help to make the clinic a success.

Read more about One Fine Cowboy

The best parts

This novel is the closest I can remember coming to a hero who was abused by a former partner. Although Nate’s ex-girlfriend didn’t hit him, she manipulated him so severely that his personality and confidence are shot. His insecurity when it comes to women is so endearing, and I loved the scenes written from his point of view. He wants to please Charlie, but he struggles hard to find ways to do so. Massive kudos to Joanne Kennedy for such a daring—and well-written—portrayal.

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

Simply IrresistibleIn one week, Maddie finally gets rid of her abusive boyfriend, loses her job because of it, and finds out her mother has died. Though she and her mother were estranged, Maddie and her two half-sisters inherit a falling-down inn on the coast of Washington.

Maddie’s learned that trusting men can be a dangerous thing, but when she hires the sexiest contractor for miles around, she learns that love starts with that trusting herself.

The best parts

The hero, Jax, is among the best contemporary heroes I’ve ever read. He’s strong without being obnoxiously alpha. He’s supportive without being a pushover. And he’s thoroughly addictive. For the last couple of months, I’ve returned to this novel over and over, rereading my favorite parts. It’s so high up my keeper shelf no one will be able to touch it.

Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl

Lead Me On by Victoria DahlJane Morgan is the ultimate professional woman, but she hasn’t always been. In fact, she has completely turned her life around from the chaos she experienced growing up. She’s full of secrets—like that most of her relatives are convicts and that she earned herself a reputation when she was far too young—but there’s one thing she can no longer deny herself: hot sex with a tough-looking man.

But as her perfectly composed life begins to unravel, William Chase proves he’s a hell of a lot more than a working class stud service.

The best parts

Victoria Dahl’s contemporary characters break all the molds, and it’s truly a joy to see their layers peeled away to reveal people who are unlike any others I’ve seen in romance. Jane’s shame over her past decisions is gut-wrenching, and her growth over the course of the novel is painful to experience but all the more satisfying because of that. Chase may look like an ex-con, but he displays the stalwart character of superman as he supports Jane through her struggles. This is such a beautiful, sexy, funny story that I took the bus to work because I couldn’t bear to put it down.

Nothing but Trouble by Rachel Gibson

Nothing But Trouble by Rachel GibsonHockey player Mark Bressler made his living on the ice, but when his Hummer hits a patch of black ice and flips, Mark’s career instantly ends and he’s left in excruciating pain to watch his team win the Stanley Cup. No wonder he’s pissed at the world.

But when failed actress and assistant to B-list celebs Chelsea Ross is hired to nurse him back to health, Mark’s pity part is over. With her bossy manner, she soon has Mark frustrated in altogether more pleasant ways.

The best parts

The sex. Rachel Gibson writes very hot contemporary romance, and her hockey players are among the sexiest professional athletes in the genre. Mark Bressler and Chelsea Ross have such a strong connection that it’s explosive when they get together.

Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts

Happy Ever After by Nora RobertsFour friends run a wedding business. They plan a lot of weddings.

The best parts

This is the last in a quartet about women who run a wedding business. There’s at least as much focus (if not more) on the women’s friendships as there is on the romance between Parker and Malcolm. The hero doesn’t even feature in the back-cover text. But if you like reading about wedding details—from cakes to flower arrangements—you’ll probably like this book.

Have you read any of these? Who do you think will win?

Becoming pitch perfect

A couple of weeks ago, I signed up to take part in Savvy Authors‘ Pitch Practice Week (seriously, if you’re not a savvy author already, go join now! So many fantastic resources and opportunities).

We were invited over to Pitch University, a site dedicated to helping authors learn how to pitch. The amazing Diane Holmes, founder of Pitch University, chose six of us to make examples out of – in the most pleasant way possible.

I learned loads from Diane, and hope this post showing the different steps we went through together will help you get over any fears you have. (And, if you make it to the end, I’ll show you my practice pitch video.)

I’ve never pitched anything before. The only pitches I’d ever seen were on The Apprentice and, let’s face it, pitches like this one are more likely to fill me with fear of crashing and burning. (Aside: isn’t it great how the guys in this video assume the wife should do the cleaning, and create a product so she’ll have time and energy left over to pleasure her husband? Lovely.)

These are the steps I went through with Diane.

1. Figure out the expectations you ‘re setting with your query or pitch.

For me, it was easier to start with my query because I had no idea what a successful pitch looked like (hint: Diane has loads of pitch videos on her site, so I’ll link to them later in this post).

Diane made a fantastic point that your query can be beautifully written, but if it doesn’t match the story then you’ve just hooked an agent or editor on something that doesn’t exist.

She read my query and made notes about what she expected the characters to be like and what she thought happened. You can read my query and her expectations here. Then you can read my responses where I realize that some of the expectations I set don’t fit my story.

I can’t tell you how useful this was, and I’ve never seen anyone else suggest it before. My advice to you: do this with someone who doesn’t know your story at all.

2. Correct the wrong expectations you’ve set and figure out where to focus your pitch/query.

Through working with Diane (you can read our back-and-forth conversation about my story) I was able to see which parts of the story I should emphasize more.

3. Write your pitch.

Diane gives some very helpful guidance on writing a pitch. You can also find her series on Pitching 101 on the right-hand side of that page. There’s too much advice for me to replicate it here, but go read it.

4. Watch yourself pitch.

This can be really awful. When I took a public speaking class in college, the professor videoed every one of our speeches and made us watch them. Excruciating. But also pretty useful for forcing you to see what kinds of strange mannerisms you have when you’re nervous, and hear the places where you need to put more oomph into your voice.

Here are some great pitch videos from other Savvy Authors.

You can record your own video directly onto YouTube – you don’t have to show it to anyone. Just get used to the sound of yourself pitching, and make note of where you should trim your sentences because they’re difficult to say out loud.

Okay, moment of truth. I’m sharing my pitch practice video with you. It’s way too long – I’ll never remember all those words when I’m pitching for real. So I still have work to do. But at least now I’m more confident I can deliver.

A few words of warning before you hit play: My mic sucks, and so does my voice. This is what I sound like with a stuffy nose and a sore throat (which is why you’ll see me grimace and swallow hard whenever I try to put more enthusiasm into my voice). The main thing going through my head was “Whatever you do, DON’T sneeze on the camera!” By the end, my throat was killing me.

So yeah, pity me.

BONUS! Helpful info from super-agent Sara Megibow!

Sara Megibow hosted an #askagent session on Twitter the other day, and I asked her what some of her favorite follow-up questions are if someone’s hooked her in a pitch – because you don’t want to nail your pitch and then fluff the rest of the meeting.

She said, “I like to ask, ‘have you queried this?’ ‘Do you have a website?’ ‘What’s your vision for your career?’ I also ask, ‘what other authors in your genre do you love?’ ‘Do you know any of them personally?’

Hope that’s helpful to all of you heading to RWA Nationals next week! I’ll see you there!

Have you ever pitched before? What kind of experience did you have? What follow-up questions did the agent or editor ask?

Checking in with 2011 goals

We’re now officially half-way through 2011, which hardly seems possible. Wasn’t it Christmas a few weeks ago? Didn’t I just sit down to write my goals for the year?

Back in January, I told you all about my goals for this year in the belief that making them public would make me more accountable.

I haven’t hit all of the ones I meant to by this time. It’s taken me a little longer than I expected to write and revise the two manuscripts I’m working on, but that’s okay with me because I’d rather take that time to improve them than to pointlessly send out work I’ve rushed through.

Things I have managed to do:

– go on my first research trip (to Bosnia)

– book my tickets for RWA Nationals (my very first writing conference!) and line up pitch appointments

– enter a couple of contests

– judge the Golden Heart, beta read for a couple of people, and continue weekly critiques with my partners

– connect with more people on Twitter and this blog

– blog at least once a week through WordPress’ PostAWeek challenge, and grow the number of blog subscribers and daily hits this blog gets.

The year may be half over, but that’s still a lot of time to achieve my other goals:

– completing the two manuscripts I’m working on

– writing the first draft of another story

– querying agents and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll find the right agent for me.

Did you make goals for 2011? How are you doing with accomplishing them?