Tuesday, July 5, 2011

RWA Nationals: Adventures of an Unpublished Author

View of Times Square from my room

The 2011 RWA National Conference ended days ago and yet my head is still spinning from the experience. I made a ton of new friends, learned invaluable information about the craft of writing, and received amazing opportunities to further my career. This was also the first time I had the honor to present a class for RWA. I offered a hands-on (or better yet, feet-on) workshop that demonstrated how dance has brought men and women together throughout time. The class was relatively small but larger than I’d expected, me being an unknown author and my class being held at the same time as several highly-desirable workshops. I’d brought chocolate to entice potential wallflowers but found bribes weren’t necessary. All the attendees were enthusiastic and brave. Everyone readily participated in the dancing, laughing all the while. Between the smiles, positive interaction, and after-class questions, I felt the workshop was a great success. I have every intention of proposing additional dance classes at future RWA events.
Transformers premiere taking
place below my window
The YARWA reception Wednesday night was incredible! The editors on the panel (Karen Chaplin, Leah Hultenschmidt, Wendy Loggia, Julie Tibbott, Tara Weikum, Noa Wheeler and Natashya Wilson) told us exactly what they were looking for and how to get their attention. Then they, and an innumerable number of agents, invited the attendees to introduce themselves and openly pitch them as they moved about the room. Next came the YARWA raffle with a veritable ton of prizes including at least six agent/editor critiques and the grand prize, a pair of “Big Girl Rejection Panties.” My good friend, Laurel Wanrow won a critique and I won a set of amazing books but sadly, neither of us won the panties.
Gift books from RWA
Literally just in time for the conference, my first manuscript was finally ready to pitch. This was my first time pitching – anytime, anywhere. Guess what? It was fun! The editors and agents WANT you to succeed. They do their best to help you make the pitch. I enjoyed both the challenge of trying to interest a potential buyer and the pleasure of sharing my world with someone who could appreciate it. I can’t wait to dig deeper into the submission process. Yeah, I know, let’s see how I feel after I’ve received 85 rejections like NYT author, Steve Berry.
As for the RWA workshops, it would take an entire website to share what I learned this year. And I even skipped several sessions (to teach, to pitch and because I stupidly didn’t jump out of bed when the alarm went off on Friday – oops)! Instead of trying to summarize it all, here are some tidbits of advice from the pros:
  •  “Put your characters in your daily life (eating, answering the door) and visualize how each character would react in any situation you are in.” – Diana Gabaldon, Opening Session “People (readers especially) want to know secrets (about your characters, about you on your website or blog).” – Tess Gerritsen, Opening Session
  • “I never stopped (even after 85 rejections), I stayed with it until the world changed (and was ready for his genre).” – Steve Berry, Opening Session
  •  “A website boils down to good judgment. Content is key. Professionalism essential. Simplify! And never, ever use music or Flash.” – Carolyn Grayson and Lois Winston, Building Your Author Website: What Agents and Editors Want to See
  • “Use Facebook insights (a new feature) to determine successful posts then make similar posts. You can now convert an account into a fan page. Make sure to run a contest once a month. Facebook is a great way to get fans but you want them on your mailing list.” – Sheri Brooks, Stella Cameron, Cissy Hartley and Jayne Ann Krentz, Going Viral: How to Build your Brand using Social Media and the Web
  • “YA book covers DO affect sales. Look to YouTube for followers. YA book trailers must feed the reader’s fantasy. Trailers must have a gimmick. Fan-made videos are a positive, they add directly to sales. Never sell a three book series without knowing where it’s going.” – Simone Elkeles and David Levithan, Writing the YA Bestseller
  • “Romance readers want romance! Lose any part of the scene not pertinent to the story.” – Kerrelyn Sparks, Stand and Deliver
  • “The dominant element should filter down into every nuance of a world (magic in Harry Potter or fear in a romantic suspense novel). Sprinkle the unfamiliar into the familiar setting (or visa versa). Setting can enhance dialogue, set mood, give clues or create metaphor (make a different meaning). Theme is built gradually through images and symbolism.” – Adina Senft, World Building through your Character’s Eyes (This was an amazing class!)
Silvershade versus Poison Ivy at the FF&P Gathering
My body and heart still humming with the energy that comes from thousands of writers coming together to teach, to learn (and to party), eager to make my current manuscript that much better thanks to my newfound knowledge and insight, I must now retreat from the bright lights and big city, slinking back to my writing hole. As my superhero from the FF&P Gathering, Silvershade, would say, “I shall dwell in the place between darkness and light!” Meaning, in my case, a dim room and the glow from my computer screen.

Sarah Shade
"Fantastical Worlds, Romantic Adventures"


  1. Silvershade, you are my hero! Sounds like you had a uber-fantastic time. Great post. Now I have to plan how I'm going to steal your notes on the YARWA session so I can take over the world. Muahahahaha!

  2. Great blog. Thanks for sharing. I though the YARWA editor panel was really interesting as well.

  3. Well done, Sarah! Thanks for sharing your vivid experience and great writing pearls.

  4. Love this post! I was working the door at the YARWA event, so I missed just a bit of the editor panel, but what I did hear really helped break the ice. How great was it to be able to make that first pitch among friends??!!

  5. Fun post, esp. for someone who wasn't able to go. I love the tips you gathered. Running off to YouTube...

  6. Yay, Sarah Silvershade! Nationals couldn't have been more educational or fun. Loved your review and quotes.

  7. Thank you for posting this Sarah :). I couldn't go this year, but am hoping to make it in 2012! It was great reading about your adventures :). Great costume btw!

  8. Sounds like you had a ball! Thanks for sharing. Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to experience the conference first hand!

  9. Wonderful, insightful post, Sarah. I loved your "Bonk" pic. :)

    Also love the quotes. I remember listening to Sherilyn Kenyon's inspiring speech and wishing I had a pen and pad to write down the things that really hit home. What a story! She really overcame all odds.

  10. Love your Silvershade costume - and especially the 'Bonk!' in the picture.

    I was on the same side of the Marriott as you, only a little farther down. Was that not an awesome view?

    This was my first conference, and I had all the same feelings as you. I've taken a few days to decompress. Tomorrow, it's back to the tappity-tappity.

  11. Thanks for such wonderful comments everyone! I had such an amazing time! Can't wait until next year!


We love to hear from you! Comments must pass moderation to be published. Spam will be deleted.

SFR Brigade Bases of Operation