Susannah Branson is a member of my online writing group Indulgeinwriting.com and I asked her to write about her experiences at the RNA conference this month. Thank you for sharing your experience Susannah.
Why I recommend attending the Romance Novelists’ Association conferences.
If you ever been to a writing conference and thought it was a little on the dull side, then you are going to the wrong conferences. The Romantic Novelists Association hold a summer conference every year and this time it was in Lancaster. Writing can be a solitary affair, so any occasion when writers get to spend time with other authors of the same genre and improve their skills, swap ideas, get the low down on the current state of publishing and generally relax, can only be a good thing.
This year’s schedule was a mixture of workshops to increase your writing skills, seminars on subjects as varied as Cover Design, Brand Building, Scrivener and even Yoga for Writers; interviews with authors and panels with Industry professionals from various publishers or Literary Agencies. The information you glean here is invaluable and you leave all fired up and enthused for the year ahead.
One of the things the RNA does so well is supporting emerging writers. The New Writers Scheme runs from January to August each year and as a member you submit your full manuscript for critique. This by itself is one of its ways it supports writers, at the conference you can meet other new writers face to face, have a chat, let your hair down, drink some wine. Lots of wine. The RNA is renowned for their parties, as well as their unshakeable support for first timers, unpublished, just been rejected and those multi-published. Everyone is happy to chat and share advice or just lend you their shoulder for you to cry on when you receive bad news. And let’s face it, writing is a life of ups and downs, rejections and bad critiques, and then doing it better and submitting it again, and again, and again. Trust me, wine and shedding tears does help.
Another way the conference is brilliant, is that you can book appointments with an Industry Professional. Scary as it may seem, you can sit opposite an agent, a publisher or an editor for ten minutes, and listen as they give you feedback on your novel. The first time I did this I was very nearly sick with nerves. It gets better if you can hang in there. This time, owing to planes, trains and taxis being delayed, I arrived at Lancaster University with barely twenty minutes to spare before my appointment with Charlotte Murswell of Harper Collins HQ. Reader, she is lovely.
A new panel they trialled this year was the scarily named Slush Pile Slam. Scary, but so informative and I really hope they run it again. In a similar vein to X-Factor, a panel of industry professionals listen as someone’s first page is read out. The Industry Professionals raise their hand at the point they would stop reading. Gulp. It’s like earwigging outside the Principal’s office when you were still at school. The benefits are immense though if you have the nerve to submit. The panel were excellent at breaking down each piece and explain why they stopped, what wasn’t working, and critically, it gave us an insight into how hard it is for them when they are reading the submissions.
One thing that came up time and again was don’t start your first page when the character is waking up in the morning, and don’t try and put too much into it. Evocative description, one character, and a great setting. You have about three minutes, possibly less to catch their attention since they are quite possibly reading their slush pile submissions whilst sitting on a train, waiting for a tube, or late at night when the rest of the world have gone to bed. Make it easy for them to say yes was the best advice. Follow the submission guidelines. Address it to the right person. Keep it professional and dazzle them with a catchy hook.
The highlights of the weekend for me was receiving positive feedback from Industry Professionals. I got nearly three yeses from the Slush Pile Slam, and even more exciting, an agent who’d been in the audience during that session even gave me her card afterwards. The stuff of dreams.
Sessions I thoroughly enjoyed were listening to Jo Baker talking about her writing career and her bestselling novel Longbourn – a re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants. She was a joy to listen to. Sadly, I missed hearing Dorothy Koomson being interviewed, sometimes there are several great sessions all on at the same time.
I am leaving with requests to submit to two major publishers and an agent, new friends and a bigger network of writers to catch up with online., and enough memories to keep me thriving until next summer. Next year the RNA will be celebrating 60 years and the conference will be held in Harper Adams, Telford. If you write Romance of any kind, I urge you to think about attending.
by Susannah Branson.
Susannah Branson writes both contemporary and historical romantic fiction.
She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and organises the Irish RNA Chapter meetings in Belfast. Her current novel is called One Hundred Summers, a sweeping love story set in Ireland and Cairo on the eve of the First World War. She has been mentored by Sophie Orme from Bonnier and is currently looking for representation. Nutritionally unbalanced, Susannah prefers a diet of 99% cake and coffee. Find her on twitter @susannahbranson instagram @susannah_branson.