A post about my recent talk at the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference.
A couple of weekends ago, I had what you might call a novel experience: I went to give a talk to the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
How It Came About
The invitation arose from a chance meeting last autumn with the lovely Katie Fforde, the bestselling romantic novelist who happens to live not far from me. As local authors, we were both invited to join a discussion panel, broadcast last autumn from the Green Room of the Cheltenham Literature Festival by BBC Radio Gloucestershire. (You can listen to the broadcast here, if you like.)
With oodles of hugely popular titles to her credit, Katie is the current President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The panel’s wide-ranging conversation touched on the subject of self-publishing, for which I’m an enthusiastic advocate. Afterwards Katie suggested I speak at the RNA’s annual conference to give them the low-down on what self-publishing has to offer romantic novelists and to explain how the Alliance of Independent Authors, of which I’m a member, could offer them.
Fast forward to 13th July, and there I was, addressing the RNA’s members in a lecture theatre that took me back to my university days.
The setting was no ordinary university (not that I’d call my alma mater, the University of York, ordinary), but Harper Adams University.
Harper Adams is an agricultural college in rural Shropshire, complete with its own farm, in a pretty mock-Tudor complex not far from Newtown, a beguiling small market town with at least two bookshops. (Note to self: must take a trip there in our camper van one day.)
So far, so romantic, you might think – until I checked out the lunch menu and discovered that we were eating the animals raised by the farm. I dare not confess to my vegetarian daughter that the catering, by the way, was excellent.
My brief was to speak to the title “You Need Never Walk Alone”, identifying the misnomer that is the world of self-publishing: a more caring, sharing community than I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with before. My speech explained to them that the “self” in self-publishing was misplaced, because these days, any indie author worth reading employs professional-level tactics to ensure their books are the best they can be, from having their covers designed by a specialist to engaging editors and proofreaders on a par with those used by traditional publishing houses (very often the same people, in fact, operating as freelances).
I was unsure what to expect when I agreed to speak. Would the room be filled with women of a certain age in floral frocks? Would they lob rotten tomatoes at me for daring to speak of authors acting as their own publishers?
I’m pleased to report I was warmly welcomed and quickly made to feel at home, and that my talk was well received by all who attended. Self-publishing certainly offers many opportunities even for those who are comfortably ensconced with trade publishers, such as the chance to revive their out-of-print backlist and earn a much greater royalty than previously. (I was all wrong about the floral frocks too, by the way – not least because there were quite a few male writers in attendance.)
I also discovered a very sharing bunch of writers, enjoying the stimulus of each other’s company and of an impressively varied programme, covering everything from writing craft to yoga for writers (boy, I could do with some of that!)
Summing up for me the generous spirit of the group was the nature of the goody bag. Well, don’t we all love conference goody bags? I’d been told in advance by author friends who are members of the RNA that the conference goody bag was not to be missed, and they were right. Not only did the bag itself look very pretty, sporting the RNA’s attractive log and smart strapline “Love Writing”, it was filled with all sorts of, er, goodies:
- a fine collection of brand new paperbacks
- practical items such as a manilla folder and an A4 notepad
- sustaining treats in biscuit form
- some super correspondence cards on the theme of romantic novels
- some slick promotional freebies for specific novels: a smartly packaged teabag promising “the perfect cup of tea” to promote the novel Not Quite Perfect by Annie Lyons, a gorgeous metal bookmark attached to a bookmark for Victoria Howard’s Ring of Lies; a foil-wrapped chocolate coin promoting another book and a bag of chocolate buttons stapled to a business card (sorry, my daughter’s eaten the evidence for both of those)
My favourites were, by chance, two items promoting books by the RNA’s current chairman, Christina Courtenay: a tiny bookmark in the shape of a fan (book title: The Gilded Fan), which was actively useful on that very hot weekend, and an ingenious dolls’-house sized crystal ball (in fact a glass marble stuck to a silver ring), as featured on the cover of The Secret Kiss of Darkness.The latter now has pride of place in my daughter’s dolls’ house.
I may only have been at the conference for the last day (it ran Friday to Sunday), but I enjoyed it so much that I’m rather hoping I’ll be invited back next year. It was almost enough to make me want to write a romantic novel – something that hadn’t as yet been on my to-do list. But, as my author friend Orna Ross said to me the other day, “Never say never.” And if I ever do, it won’t just be because of the goody bag, honest.
For more information about the RNA, which welcomes aspiring writers as well as already-published authors, visit their website:
Or follow them on Twitter at @RNATweets.
NB The RNA doesn’t yet admit self-published authors other than as associate members, but they’re actively reviewing that situation, which is greatly to their credit.