Romantic Novelists’ Association conference: fun and inspiring!

rna conf 6rna conf 5  RNA conf

rna conf 2 With acknowledgement and thanks to John Jackson for the lovely photos!

I returned home from my first RNA annual conference buzzing, my head full of all that I had learned and all the great people I had met! What a wonderful event. I can’t wait for next year at Harper Adams, Telford. Last weekend we were at Lancaster University and after a difficult train journey I arrived with lovelies Elaina James and Alison May (we met up on the station!) a little uncertain, wondering if I had done the right thing in booking. What would it be like? Could I actually manage 4 nights of it? Would I be a wallflower? Would I find my way around the campus? Would I have anyone to chat to at mealtimes? Would I be Billy-No-Mates?

It didn’t start well. My room was a reminder of my student accommodation many years ago. But – wait – there was actually an ensuite, not known in my time as a university student. Things were looking up. Not for long. The flush on the loo didn’t work. OMG, one of the worst things to find on my arrival! A shower after my journey was required. Hmm, the shower flooded the tiny ensuite, or broom cupboard, as I called it.

The maintenance man did a sterling job and fixed the flush and all that remained was to become skilled at negotiating the 6 inch corridor of dry floor in the ensuite every time I showered (never solved) – and the horrendously bumpy mattress. I left my room for an exploration of the campus with Elaina (focusing on the shop for prosecco and posh crisps, liquorice allsorts and M&Ms).

The student room  issues quickly faded as I threw myself into the wonderful sessions and began to meet some lovely people. Kate Thomson, wonderful lady that she is, had initiated an email chat for the first-timers prior to the conference and we all met up after dinner on the Friday for one of the famous kitchen parties. Prosecco and nibbles in abundance and I think the noise level raised the roof!

I met my two new best friends, Dorinda Cass and Christina Hollis, who were great company and we shared some super times during the long weekend. I also met the lovely Susan Bergen and re-met a number of folks, like the very helpful Kath McGurl who pointed me in the direction of the Historical and Time-slip facebook group! The Saturday night gala dinner was fabulous – everyone in their glamorous finery and the wine flowed. Excellent – apart from one of the waiters managing to spill hot buttery sauce all over me! Did I say, I’m accident prone?!

There was the opportunity to book 1:1 sessions with industry professionals during the weekend, and I was lucky enough to have a couple with agents and one with a publisher. They were very encouraging and the publisher (who only takes agented submissions) loved my manuscript and said “go and get an agent asap!” Many thanks to Elaine Everest for organising these sessions.

I intend to post separate blogs on the sessions I attended and provide more detail of the information I gleaned and the inspiring tips and advice I really have taken on board. But as a brief summary here, for me, as an author who is already published but looking to develop,  the top twelve main points I took away with me were:

  1. register for The Bookseller! (thanks Debbie Young)
  2. define and refine my target audience and focus my promo campaigns
  3. be more proactive in engaging with my target audience in a more personal rather than professional mode
  4. build those relationships (thanks again Debbie Young)
  5. use facebook ad manager more effectively (thanks, Ian Skillicorn)
  6. interweave that set-up and pay-off into the fabric of the story and drip feed the info (thanks Fiona Harper)
  7. the romance must be ‘believable’ – they must ‘get’ each other (thanks again Fiona Harper)
  8. ensure that historicals are plausible within that time period, ie religious beliefs, social conditions and values, eg marriage, sex, social mores (thanks Alison Morton).
  9. reviews: all 5* probably doesn’t give a reassuring impression (readers are sceptical!) so don’t worry if you get the odd 4*/3*; allow readers to talk to each other about your book! Being talked about is better than being ignored. And negative reviews can actually sell books! (thanks Sarah Wendell)
  10. negotiate writing blogs on book bloggers’ sites. Indirect promo.
  11. It’s important that you select an editor you can work with, not the first that comes along! Don’t be too grateful in your first flush of delight.
  12. get a review buddy and a critique buddy! (thanks everyone)

I now have a new ‘to do’ list, which involves being more proactive about approaching local media (press, radio, parish magazines), local talks and festivals, and local bookstores and developing relationships with them (befriend them), review Amazon keywords for my books, write professional-looking info sheets for each of my books (been meaning to do that for ages), and join the SCWI (done!).

Many thanks to Jan Jones for organising such a lively crowd of us – what an extraordinary feat, well done, her! Also to Alison May and Roger Sanderson for their part in the organisation of such a complex and wonderful event. I can’t thank you enough. To all the organisers, speakers and industry professionals, the caterers who kept us well fed and watered, and all the other attendees who kept me chatting and laughing – thank you.

And finally … I’m awaiting eagerly the feedback from Immi Howson following the Speed Dating session, about whether I have a suitable critique partner! Do hope I’m not still Billy-No-Mates!

IMG_0104with thanks to Vistaprint for developing my logo


10 thoughts on “Romantic Novelists’ Association conference: fun and inspiring!

  1. Hi, Julia,
    I really enjoyed reading the blog which brought back memories of past Conferences I have attended and do so no longer owing to health issues. I must try harder!
    Thanks for the tips and insider knowledge you have passed to our Group. I shall certainly follow-up on one or two. I smiled to hear about your experiences, good and ‘iffy’, which are all part of our writing lives. Good luck too with any agents and the publisher you met!
    I am hoping to meet Alison May as strangely enough she is a neighbour of mine now I have
    moved house – and I
    never knew until recently! We are arranging a meeting soon, when dates allow.
    All the best,

  2. A wonderful round-up of the conference, Julia. The speed dating event to find a critique partner was also one of the highlights for me – fun, great practice at pitching, interesting to learn what others are writing and hopefully gaining a writing buddy too! : )

  3. Great post, Julia. Summed up the conference for me beautifully. And thank you for the lovely mention. It was really fabulous to meet you too – you’re a very special lady.

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