Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Guest Author Delilah S. Dawson: 13 Things You Can Learn from Things I Learned at #RWA2013

By Delilah S. Dawson, @DelilahSDawson

Join me in welcoming Delilah S. Dawson back to the blog today. Delilah and I hung out (and roomed together) at the recent RWA conference in Atlanta, GA, and she's here today to share some tips on what she learned there. (I'll share my tips on Friday)

Delilah writes the steampunk paranormal romance BLUD series for Pocket, including WICKED AS THEY COME, WICKED AS SHE WANTS, two e-novellas, and a short story in the CARNIEPUNK anthology. Her Shadowman novella FOLLOW ME BOY is out with Amazon's Kindle Worlds, and her first YA, a creepy paranormal called SERVANTS OF THE STORM, will be out in 2014 with Simon Pulse. Find her on Twitter at @DelilahSDawson or at

Take it away Delilah...

Let me guess. You're thinking, “I don't write romance; why do I care what happened at a romance conference?”

But you should totally care, because the best advice and tips I gleaned from the Romance Writers of America Nationals Conference can be applied to any genre and at any stage of a writer's career.

Below is a series of tweets I sent out in the heat of the moment that I'll be studying myself.

1. BE FLEXIBLE. With genre, agent, print, indie, hybrid. Set goals, reevaluate, try something new.

Again and again, bestselling authors emphasized how important it is to stay flexible as a writer and as a professional. If something about your writing journey isn't working, change it. Take a class, find a mentor, write a different POV or genre, talk to your agent or editor, try a different publishing model. It's easy to feel boxed into what you're currently doing, but the possibilities for what you write and how you get it to readers are endless.

2. KEEP MOVING FORWARD. Draft not done? Butt in chair & write. Get rejected? Send a query. Career doom? Rebrand.

If you ever sit down and think, “There's nothing for me to do but wait,” then you're wrong. You can always be writing something new, making notes, doing research, sending a query, or just reading in and out of your genre. Stagnation is the enemy.

3. THERE IS NO ONE WAY. Every writer has their own process. Every book has a rhythm. Every career is different.

If anyone tells you, “This is the only way to do it,” they're wrong. Every writer has a different path, and there's always room to learn something new. Plotter or seat-of-the-pantser, Scrivener or Word or longhand, agent or self-pub, whatever works best for you is the best way *for* you. Each book might even have its own evolution, and that's okay, too. Don't compare one book to your others, and don't compare yourself to other writers. Just keep writing.

4. TRY NEW THINGS. Don't be scared of technology. Read something new. Switch up POV. Keep it poppin' fresh.

Does this seem like reiteration? It is. Writing takes creativity and energy, and you have to always be open to possibility. There's an undercurrent of fear right now regarding the evolution of digital publishing, with everyone saying that publishing is dead or print books will soon cease to exist. Phooey! Stay current with trends, read articles on the changing face of publishing, and find a way to surf the wave instead of being knocked over by it. Keep your brain sparking. If you're learning, you're growing, as a writer and as a person.

5. IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL YOU STOP WRITING. A book not selling isn't the end of the world. Adapt. Keep trying.

I'm so guilty of this one. What if my book doesn't sell enough? What if no one buys my next series? But every single bestseller's story involved woe and doom and failure. “My career was dead,” they all said, and then they went on to explain how it was revived through a pen name, a different approach to publishing, an extra marketing push, a change in market trends, or, more often than not, pure luck. As long as you keep writing and improving and don't mind working under a pen name, there is no reason you should ever have to stop writing, no matter how badly a book does. Which makes me feel so much better!

6. EVERYONE IS A STAR. You never know if you're talking to a past or future bestseller. Be friendly to everyone!

Don't be that snob who only talks to the big dogs. The stranger who approaches you with a nervous smile is just as worthy of your attention and might turn into a wonderful colleague and friend. Some of my best conversations at RWA were with complete strangers. At this sort of conference, you never know who will be the next literary agent, editor, bestseller, or chapter leader, and a big and welcoming smile is the best way to have a great time and network.

7. ROMANCE WRITERS HAVE STYLE. So many cute dresses, shoes! A genuine compliment = a great conversation starter.

Okay, so regular writers can have style, too. But the point here is that looking professional is always a good idea and that a compliment is a great way to start a conversation if you're too shy to ask someone what they write. At the very least, break out of your pajama pants at home and get out into the world every now and then to experience life and inform your writing.

8. YOU MUST MARKET YOURSELF. Traditional, indie, or hybrid, be aware of brand, metadata, discoverability. Be creative!

Honestly, this is the one for which I need to do the most research for my own career. I had no idea how important metadata was for being found. We heard again and again that discoverability is the biggest challenge in publishing today, especially since self/indie pub is considered the new slush and bookstores are closing down or only focusing on mega-bestsellers. Marketing out of the box was a BIG topic.

9. THERE IS NO SECRET for getting agent, deal, list, or mad cash. There is no shortcut, no secret handshake.

No matter what we tell ourselves, we all hope to win the lottery. Writers pitch to agents and editors hoping they'll get a book deal on the spot, and people like me stand up and ask what's the #1 thing a bestselling author did to push her book onto list. But there's no secret. If there was a secret, you'd better bet someone would be selling it. The secret is hard work, butt in chair, edit even when it hurts, never stop submitting until you succeed. And luck.

10. if you're a writer, this conference is INVALUABLE. Support, camaraderie, education, exploration, fun. Worth it!

I'll admit it—I might not have gone to RWA if I hadn't been offered space on a panel. It's expensive, even if you're a speaker and you live in the con city. But it was so worth it to me on so many levels. I learned from the panels, met great new people, had the chance to talk to fans and maybe make some new fans, hung out with beloved friends, and had invaluable one-on-one time with my editor. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that the chance to focus on my passion surrounded by my peers is a great gift. If you haven't gone to a writing conference, you should definitely find one nearby and give it a shot!

11. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOUR IDEA. It's about how compelling your story is. It's about craft. Pitch doesn't get a deal.

This scenario became painfully familiar: an editor is at the front of the room answering questions on a panel, and someone asks something like, “So you said you liked animal stories; how would you feel about a romance that takes place in a steampunk pet shop in London that also has demons and a rock star?” And the editor would smile kindly and say, “I would have to see the pages to know if it's a good fit.” And the person would sit down, face fallen, because they'd hoped that the editor would jump up and hug them and drag them out of the room with a briefcase full of dollars.

We're taught that pitches are important, but they only go so far. Your writing is the most important part. Your story has to be compelling. That's the word I heard again and again—COMPELLING. So good that the reader can't put it down. And, quite honestly, you're never going to communicate that to an editor in one sentence, which is why they have longer pitch sessions and why agents accept queries. So have your pitch ready, but know that it's basically a knock on the door. Whether they invite you to be a houseguest is something else entirely.

12. WE ALL NEED AN ESCAPE. Back in real life with little kids, I remember why I write. I miss the con already!

Why do we read? So often, it's for escape—especially in the romance genre. So whether the reading is your escape, the writing is your escape, or the four days at a nice hotel with an entire bed to yourself is your escape, enjoy it. Recharge and get ready for the next step of your career. And if you get home to post-con depression, get lost in a good book. That's what I do. :)

13. ROMANCE IS ALL ABOUT POWER. Even alpha male fantasies are a reminder that women have choices, can say no.

This one came up after the conference, based on reading a book I picked up at an author signing. When I was younger, I thought the romance genre was silly and frivolous, all about weak-willed, simpering women being swept away by overbearing dudes in fluffy blouses. So wrong. Much of romance is about a woman taking charge of her own life and sexual power. In order for the story to be a romance, she must submit to it, give in to love or sexuality; she has the power, all along. Romance isn't about a woman chasing a dude around, begging to be kissed. It's about how she resists that attraction, the choices she makes for herself. And when she finally gives in, if she finally gives in, it's all the sweeter.

That doesn't mean you need to read romance, if you don't want to. But if you do, hit me up on Twitter (@DelilahSDawson) for a recommendation that skews toward your usual genre. I bet I can put something new on your platter that will change your mind about romance. If not, you'll have something to argue with me at the next writing conference we're both attending.

Because you're going to a writing conference now, right?

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  1. This is one of those really excellent blog posts that I can't use quite yet, but which I will remember when I do need it. Thanks, Delilah!

  2. Thanks for all the great information! It encourages me to keep writing and be resourceful.

  3. I've been wondering if I was crazy to cough up the dough for a writers' conference coming up here in Denver in September. Now I can't wait. I'll be pitching my first novel for the first time. Thanks for an inspiring post and wish me luck!

  4. Advice which definitely applies to all genres. Thanks!

  5. All terrific advice and well said.

  6. You hit the big three: work hard, stay flexible, and get lucky. Oh, and be nice to people. Great advice!

  7. It's really great to see how we (writers) are all so connected. RWA is about as far away from what I do as you can imagine, and yet, I see there was great stuff that applies to us all at this conference. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Lots of great info here thanks Delilah

  9. I've been to the New England RWA conference, it's great! But someday, I'll go to this one!

  10. Love all this advice especially about being flexible. And friendly!!

  11. So many great nuggets in this post. Thanks for sharing.