Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My RWA Lessons

I had an orange ribbon on the bottom on my name tag at RWA that pronounced me a First Timer.  Apart from earning me the chance to tell total strangers how my conference was going, being a First Timer was pretty meaningless.  (I met a fellow newby, Carla, who complained these ribbons should have labeled us as "Virgins" although she could see there might be a problem with "truth in advertising.")

I've been to conferences before, though, so I knew what to expect.  Essentially it was like four days of combined Continuing Legal Education and job interviews, with the occasional reception thrown in for good measure.  Most of the lessons I got, though, were outside of the workshops.

Here's what I learned:

Genius comes in all shapes and sizes.  I doubt many people see Susan Elizabeth Phillips on the street and think, "Now that's a woman who's written several superb romance novels."  She looks like the friendliest hostess and grandma on the block, lively and funny all in one.  Which in no way precludes her awesome talent; it just doesn't telegraph it.

There's a corollary to this principle, namely that authors don't much look like their publicity photos.  The photos might look better, or younger, or even glossier.  But every writer I met looked a lot more human in real life, and I mean that as a compliment.

The author-reader barrier is still in place -- for me at least.  I had a very short list of authors I wanted to meet, mostly at the literacy event on Wednesday night.  I really could have skipped them all -- while I'm certain writers are lovely people in their real lives, at RWA they are working in an artificial environment and not (I presume) looking to make new friends.  If introducing oneself to a working author is a sign of respect and acknowledgment, then I'm glad I did it.  But much nicer was . . .

. . . The chance to meet fellow-bloggers and online contacts at the blogger bashes.  (Some authors also attended, I hasten to note, including some I didn't know before.  That was a much nicer venue for getting to know everyone, writer and reader alike.)  Thanks to Wendy (aka Super Librarian) and Elizabeth (aka Anime June), there were two bashes at which bloggers, reviewers, authors and readers all gathered to mix and mingle.  Those events were nearly perfect because we all came together with approximately the same degree of prior social interaction.  Now I have names & faces to go with the online personae; without exception people are so much more interesting in person.

One workshop presenter suggested "never be negative" as a general rule for a writer's online interactions.  I can see her point; within hours of arriving in Orlando, I was introduced to B.K., the real-life nickname of an author whose pen name sounded familiar.  I had to come back here to Promantica to find it: a post I did explaining why a certain book of hers wasn't to my liking.  Ooops.

I have no reason to suppose B.K., who's a friend of a friend, knows me from Adam.  But as one author explained, most writers have "Google Alerts" set up to see every mention of their names.  So maybe B.K. saw or was linked to my post, read it, didn't like it and (this is the part I find hard to envision) remembered it had been written by someone named Magdalen.  As my name turns out not to be indelibly memorable, it seems unlikely that B.K. had been walking around with it in her head just in case I materialized in front of her.  However, it is true that when our mutual friend introduced us, B.K. shook my hand, turned around and walked out of the room.

I've reread my post about her book and I stand by it.  I don't think I was unduly harsh or unkind.  I don't subscribe to the theory that books are writers' "babies" and thus deserve the same level of blind oohing and ahhing by commenters that we accord newborns.  Nonetheless, I got the conference's "don't be negative" message.

I'll work out the appropriate compromise for Promantica.  Romances still fascinate me, as a genre and as a source of reading pleasure.  I should be able to find insights to share without being negative about authors.

But RWA didn't appear to have a workshop that covered that trick.


  1. Thanks for the report, and it was great to meet you!

    I have a nice photo of you and Wendy - I didn't post it in my blog because I wasn't sure it was okay, but can email it to you. I think your business card is in my stack of stuff I need to go through.

  2. It was wonderful to finally meet you in person!

  3. Nice report - wish I'd been there! Glad you had fun! Also, heck, if every review was positive, reviews would become meaningless.

  4. Victoria - Do you think now that we've met in person is Florida we could actually meet in our mutual home state of Pennsylvania?!

    Feel free to post the photo where you like. I'm extraordinarily unphotogenic, but that's my cross to bear. *sigh* There's a photo of me and Keira Soleore from the same bash that shows the lovely Keira (who clearly is very photogenic) next to me at my shiniest!

    Lynn -- It was wonderful meeting you as well. I'm eternally grateful to Wendy & AnimeJune for figuring out a way for us all to meet.

  5. Sorry we didn't get to meet for more than 30 seconds, but we'll have to rectify that another time.

    As for lessons, there are all kinds to be had at Nationals, and as you noted, most of them don't happen in the classroom.

  6. I think there's a key difference between a negative review and an honest review. I would much rather read a respectfully-offered, honest review than a unicorns-farting-glitter puff piece that doesn't reflect the reviewer's perception of the book's strengths and weaknesses. As long as the reviewer explains the reasons why a book didn't work for him or her, I'm good.

  7. It was great meeting you!! I don't know how I'm missed your blog all this time, but you can be sure I'll be back lots to visit. It's so amazing meeting people you know online isn't it?

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on author-reviewer interactions. This subject has been on my mind, too, especially since I started blogging.

    Whether books are an author's babies or not is beside the point, I think. While a book, like a play or a painting, is a subjective expression by one or several creators and thus part of who they are, each artist can choose for herself whether to keep her creation private or bring it out into the public.

    To share is to communicate. Art, including books, is so wonderful precisely because it encourages dialogue. What was the author's intention? Did her mode of conveying it speak to the reader? What emotions did the work invoke? Did it challenge the reader in a meaningful way?

    Any review is one reader's response to an author's question or statement. It may enrage or baffle the author, just as the book may enrage or baffle the reader. Art is, by its very nature, provocative.

    As one half of an honest dialogue, reviews are not intended to stroke an author's ego. To use words like "negative" or "positive" in this context therefore seems meaningless. Those distinctions belong to publicists. Any author who tries to manipulate a reviewer into feeling guilt is behaving as unprofessionally as a reviewer who thinks an author's duty is to write and then keep quiet. Books, plays, art, thrive on communication and die without it. Sycophancy is merely artificial life support.

  9. Jan -- Definitely more than 30 seconds next time, I promise!

    Tamara -- The day I write something that could be construed as a "unicorns-farting-glitter puff piece" (wonderful phrase!) is the day you can book a seat on Porcine Airlines. Which may mean I'll be writing a lot about things I find in romance novels without identifying the author or the book. Or maybe I'll find some other path. I'm pretty creative; I think I can crack this nut.

    Kristie J -- I really loved our talk at the Blogger Bash. Meeting people like you and finding out the immediacy of blogging's effect on your life has been great! You're welcome back here at Promantica any time. Meanwhile, I'm contemplating a new marketing campaign: Promantica: Romlandia's Best Kept Secret! (shhhh)

    Danielle -- I agree with everything you say. I personally don't identify my posts as reviews; I don't say whether I think a book is good in the sense that others will like it, or bad & readers should steer clear. But I'm not blind: one of my posts may be pretty brazen in identifying the problems I had with a specific book, and thus could act as a negative review.

    Look, I'm not apologizing for anything I've posted here, although honestly I'm not proud of every word. That's the nature of blogging: I try to express what I'm thinking and feeling at that moment and trust that I do so with the proper intentions.

    This was my first ever RWA national conference, though, and I attended with my goals firmly in mind: I want to get my work published. All of a sudden, my blog -- so obscure that the great Kristie J. hadn't heard of it! -- is part of my "platform" as a writer. That means a potential reader, agent, or editor could come here and think, "Is this someone I care to read/represent/publish?"

    Here's where I do want to apologize: I'm selling out. Yup, that's right. I prided myself on being smart about specific books by specific authors. I'm a cranky reader, so I never said anyone else's experience would be the same as mine. But what if I'm being "smart" about the reason Specific Author's Specific Book is not so good, and it turns out that my dream agent represents Specific Author? Not so good for my career -- and ultimately, that's what I have to worry about.

    I have a real rant planned for tomorrow, so come back and see for yourself if I'm suddenly churning out "unicorns-farting-glitter puff pieces." (I really like that expression.)

  10. I think as long as you stick to the "this is my opinion and no one else's" clause to your reviews or whatever you want to call them, then you're fine. I don't think that the author that you met should have walked out of the room and I find it a bit rude that she did.

    Yes, I'm sure her feelings were hurt by your review, but that's the nature of the business. Not everyone is going to like what you write. All authors know this. I realize that being polite is easier said than done, but I don't think you should feel guilty or change the way you write because it hurt someone. There are plenty of romance bloggers/reviewers out there who give scathing reviews, and no one seems to be attacking them in public (as far as I know...)

    It's interesting that you bring this up in the context of your goal to be published. I understand that agents and editors are going to be reading your blog and you could end up offending them by posting something about one of their authors. They may even hold a grudge and not sign you for that reason. But I don't think that should stop you from being honest. If you didn't like the book, say so and say why (in detail). Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and you have every right to say what you want about a book (as long as it's said politely).

    But then, that's just my opinion. :)

  11. I can identify with the cranky reader part! (I also don't grade the books I read.) If your blog is meant to become a tool for furthering a career in writing, however, your wish to adjust its content to reflect that goal is understandable. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how you mine your creativity to retain the spirit of this very enjoyable blog. Good luck :-)


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