ConfusionI’ve only been doing this writing gig eight years and it has amazed me the number of changes that have happened in the publishing world in that short time. It’s not so much that it’s surprising as the delivery of books is pushed by the advances in technology. It’s just that … wow! It’s hard to know which way to go.

When I first started writing in the summer of 2005 I had NO clue about writing a book. As a voracious reader I only knew what I enjoyed in a story and I sat down at the keyboard attempting to emulate my favorite writers. My first attempt wasn’t bad–not publishable–but not bad.

Back then most books were published at bigger publishers who accepted most submissions through agents. New writers needed to give their career credibility and prove they weren’t just doing this writing gig as a “hobby”, but were interested in making writing a profession. Enter Romance Writers of America. This national organization is dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. Being a member and more specifically a PRO member (proof that you’ve finished a manuscript, submitted it and it’s been rejected) was supposed to prove to publishers and agents that you wanted your writing to be more than just a one book diversion, but that you were actually interested in building a business.

From the national level of RWA I found the Maine Chapter of RWA. THIS is what I needed. A group of writers who had been through the process, knew the ropes and became my guiding light in a business I knew nothing about. I branched out to several online chapters of RWA all of them grounding me in the chaotic seas of the publishing world.

But as technology has changed and publishing has changed–so have my needs. For the last couple of years I’ve held on to my RWA national membership not only to give credibility to my career, but also so I could be a member of my local chapters. But this year with my latest move, I’ve come to realize the relationships I’ve forged with the writers in Maine would continue even if I wasn’t a member of the chapter. I haven’t been able to make the monthly meetings anyway and all of my interaction was online.

With the changing tide of publishing now flowing into the author’s control I realized I didn’t need RWA to anchor me anymore. At the end of last year … I finally cut ties.

Being the rule-follower that I am, I still feel a little strange about it. Due to physical limitation, (and let’s face it–finanacial costs) I’ve never attended the RWA National convention. I don’t know if this has put me behind the eight ball in my publishing career, but I suspect (for me) I’m not missing out on anything. Writing conventions have never sparked my muse, quite the opposite in fact (but that’s a blog for another day). Still, I wonder if I ever choose to look for an agent if they’ll see it as a red flag that I don’t belong to a “professional” organization.

I know as a reader I have no idea if an author belongs to a professional organization … doesn’t make any difference to me. I want their books, not their bio. I know other authors are struggling with this same decision. So what do you think? Do professional writing organizations say anything about an author? I’d love to know what you think. Because you know me … I’m curious about stuff like this.

I’ve been a card-carrying member of Romance Writers of America since 2005 when I started this writing journey. I found out about them when my sister suggested I enter the first story I ever wrote into the Golden Heart Contest. Thank goodness the entries were full because the manuscript everyone in my family loved, turned out to be 100,000 words of crud. LOL! But this post isn’t really about that.

It’s about an organization that 7 years ago I absolutely needed. Mostly because it pointed me in the direction of my local Maine chapter where I met some amazing writers who were more than willing to share their experience and teach me about the craft of writing. That led me to writing contests where I learned sooooo much from some very honest and giving judges. And followed that up with RWA chapter conventions.

I learned how to write query letters and where to send manuscripts. I devoured every issue of the RWR, the monthly magazine put out by RWA, filled with articles written by authors who had walked this path before me.

A year later I signed my first contract. And that’s when I got the first cold shoulder from RWA. I had signed with Liquid Silver Books (whom I adore) which is an electronic publisher. They didn’t offer an advance and for some reason that meant I wasn’t “career-minded” and didn’t deserve to have my contract listed as FIRST SALES in the RWR. Yeah, that stung.

But RWA couldn’t ignore the digital train filling up with authors who weren’t wearing blinders and could actually read the signs on the publishing horizon. They slowly accepted that authors who were published only in digital formats might actually be making money. They even allowed us into the prestigious “Published Authors Network” when one of our books earned $1000 in royalties, which was the minimum advance they felt was worth an author’s time. They lost a little of their luster at this point. More and more magazines were arriving and sitting around unopened before they got recycled. Still, I was happy to be in online RWA chapters that offered classes and support that I desperately wanted and needed.

Fast forward a few more years. I’ve found several author and reader groups online that aren’t affiliated with RWA. They support the needs I have, social, promotional and educational. Facebook and Twitter exploded, offering me even more opportunities to connect with authors and readers. I have a whole array of friends that I’ve never met face-to-face, but who are as dear to me as some of my highschool and college friends.

Now self-publishing has added another avenue to the road to publication. People are questioning the need for agents. Is Harlequin with it’s meager advances and low print runs the gold standard anymore? It used to be that authors who were members of RWA held more credibility with the big romance publisher. I’m not so sure that’s true anymore. I’m meeting more and more highly successful romance authors who are not members of RWA.

And then there’s the convention. But even that has lost its shine for me. With conventions like Romantic Times, Lori Foster’s Get-Together and Ellora Cave’s Romanticon authors are offered many opportunities to meet and greet not only other authors, but readers as well. And isn’t that who I’m really working to get to know? The RWA convention is for members only.

Now, RWA is trying to figure out where self-publishing (that dirty word that also meant you weren’t “career-minded”) is fitting into their model of publishing. With so many NYT Bestselling authors re-releasing out of print and backlist titles, it’s no longer a publishing avenue they can ignore. I’m not sure where they’ll end up when it all shakes out, but the question is, have they become an organization that romance writers no longer need?

I don’t know the answer to that question.

I’ve been questioning my membership over the last couple of years. Mostly because RWA continues to raise their yearly dues (like everything else in the world that’s increasing). And I’m using them less and less. I have enough connections now that when I’m inquiring about a new publisher or perhaps (some day) shopping for an agent, I know there will be all kinds of people who will be able to steer me in a direction that works best for me. For now I continue to plunk down my money so I can continue to be active with the Maine Chapter. Some of my dearest friends are in that group. And I would miss seeing them. But I’m not sure it’s worth the $110 (RWA and Chapter dues) a year for me to be a member of that chapter.

What do you think? Are there advantages for romance authors to be members of RWA? Do you think those that bow out are missing anything? I’m really trying to figure this one out.

This past weekend I went up to Maine for a writer’s retreat. Unlike a convention, which focuses on primarily teaching and pitch opportunities, this retreat was designed to offer attendees the opportunity for quiet writing time, brainstorming and workshops.

The speakers were amazing. KA Mitchell who did an awesome workshop on character personality types. And wow! she offered some indepth information to give writers tools for making characters that walk off the pages. Plus, she’s got a great sense of humor which made her presentation that much more enjoyable.

Historical author, Hannah Howell gave a wonderful talk on motivation. Something I desperately need at the moment as I’m finding it very easy to do anything but write. Later at dinner, she was recognized by some avid romance readers who stopped over at our table, completely giddy, and asked to have their picture taken with her. (They also were celebrating a bachelorette party which made it even that much more fun!) And Hannah was very gracious posing and smiling for her fans.

On Saturday morning Julia Spencer-Flemming spoke to us about adding suspense and conflict to our stories. She’s a mom of four (which I think contributed to the “nothing can phaze me attitude) with a wonderful sense of humor.

To say I enjoyed listening to these ladies is an understatement. All of them were insightful and, if I can incorporate even half of what they offered for writing tips, will make my stories so much better!

There are some conferences where everyone’s good news can really make me feel like I’m treading slowly through this profession, where I wonder if I’ll ever find my place in the publishing world. Though everyone’s journey is different, sometimes it’s really hard not to compare onesself to others’ successes. But this weekend I was able to just accept where I am and let the energy exploding from the other attendees to really fuel my fire. I am buzzing with the drive to keep going and get the stories in my head down on paper.

There are many conferences coming up in the next few months. Lots of opportunities for readers to meet authors and/or go to book signings. Plenty of chances for writers to rub elbows with their peers, agents and editors. Will you be attending any of them? If you do, why do you attend? I’d love to hear about your experiences because I’m always curious why others are motivated to go to conferences and retreats.

This past weekend I attended the monthly meeting of the Maine chapter of RWA. I love these ladies. We laugh. We share triumphs. We share rejections. It’s wonderful. I have to travel a long way to visit my homegirls, but it’s totally worth it. To make the long drive over hours of lonely highway much more enjoyable, I listen to audio books.

Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors and this weekend was no exception. He has such an amazing way with words. His prose are stellar. Descriptive. Full bodied and rich. *sigh* He’s my idol in that arena. I just sink into his long descriptions and lose myself in his vivid imagery.

But I have to admit, I keep wondering in this day and age how he gets away with it. Now, I just told you how much I love it. How I enjoy his scenes. But he can go on for a page or more about the window panes and the storm brewing outside. Of course there’s a point to it, still … I know my editor would never let me wax poetic about the storm, the trees and the character’s perceptions of what was happening. Though I’d dearly love to. It seems few readers enjoy long passages of prose. It’s frowned upon.

At my chapter meeting, multi-published author, Susan Vaughan gave an excellent workshop on building scenes. She referenced books by Jack Bickham and Dwight Swain. Though the structure and the techniques are still valid, there were some things that didn’t quite work in today’s publishing world. Susan did say several times “but of course things have changed since these books were written”.

And it’s so true.

Now don’t get me wrong. Great writing is great writing. There is no getting around the fact that you can’t string some flowery language together, throw in a little hot sex and have a story. The characters need to tug at the heartstrings of the reader and the writing has to captivate. And there’s the rub for so many authors.

A great many readers (who aren’t buying by author name) pick up a book because of an intriguing cover, turn to the back cover blurb and if they’re still intrigued, will venture into the first chapter. If you’ve gotten them this far then you’d better be sure that first page, even the first paragraph, heck, to be truthful, the FIRST LINE grabs the reader and pulls them in. An author has only a very small window to convince a reader this story is worth plunking down their hard earned money and investing in the adventure. There is very little wiggle room for an author these days.

There is no time to lull the reader with pretty paragraphs setting the scene. Today’s readers are all about the action. And I’m not talking about dramatic action. There doesn’t have to be guns, blood or danger, but the action of the character. An event occurring that keeps the reader moving forward with curiosity and intrigue.

Is it the world we live in? Have we become so “clicker friendly” with immediate access to nearly everyone through the phones and the computers we have with us at all times that we expect immediate satisfaction in everything? I think, if it’s not the cause, it’s certainly a contributing factor.

I must admit I enjoy a wonderfully crafted paragraph of prose. Even two or three, but I think I’m the exception. I’m sure my editor would use her purple highlighter if I ever sent her a manuscript with a couple of paragraphs of pure description. I get it. I don’t mind. But sometimes I do wish we could go back to the slower pace of writing when description wasn’t a four letter word.

So last weekend I attended the Maine Romance Writers convention. Of course I brought my camera but didn’t take any pictures. DOH! But here are the thirteen things I loved about being with my homegirls!

1. This year the convention was held at the Comfort Suites in Freeport, Maine. Turns out my dear friend Carolyn (from my childhood) is the special events coordinator! I got a nice long visit with her to catch up!

2. Jessica Anderson did not one, but TWO workshops. One on world building and one on “punching up” your scenes. She is a really neat lady and an awesome speaker. If you ever have a chance to hear your give a workshop, I can’t recommend it enough!

3. I got to see Jen, my CP, from faaaaar away. (But literally, I “saw” her and hugged her.) We didn’t get anytime to visit… June. I’m going to her house for brainstorming in June!

4. DiNee and Gary. Who? You might ask. Well, people who know me won’t be surprised I met a wonderful couple at breakfast at the hotel. They were up to go to their son’s best friend’s wedding and … Well, never mind. Suffice it to say I got their lifestory because that’s what I do. I only wish I’d remembered to get their email because that’s also what I FORGET to do.

5.  The hotel room had a fireplace and a hot tub and as much as I enjoyed hanging with my roommate, I got the feeling it wasn’t meant for a couple of authors attending a writing conference!

6. Chocolate. Every time I turned around someone had some other special treat that included chocolate. I was a very happy camper.

7. Blue drinks. Nuff said.

8. Kathy Cottrell from The Wild Rose Press took pitches and gave a workshop. Even though the subject was very serious, Kathy was very entertaining.

9. Rose. An amazing author who is also very intuitive and gifted. She channels and reads tarot cards. She did a reading for me. Amazing! I wubs Rose.

10. Friends. Friends. And more friends. There are authors from Nebraska, Rhode Island and NY who come every year to our retreat. I love seeing them and catching up with everything that’s been  happening to them in a year. But there’s never enough time for me to spend with everyone!

11. Baskets. In true romance tradition people bring baskets of goodies. Tons of them! They are filled with books and chocolate and other goodies. I didn’t win one, but I bought enough tickets to help support the chapter. LOL!

12. Did I mention margaritas? Oh, yeah, I did. But they were really good and deserved to be mentioned again.

13. All the brainstorming and writer-type talk that always goes on at these conferences. I love it.

**NOTE: Maine Romance Writers has a writing retreat every May. If you’re looking for an intimate gathering of writers … you may want to consider this for next year!

I’m having a battle of conscience with my membership in Romance Writers of America. On the one hand, there is nothing they offer that I use. I don’t read the RWR (for various reasons that are really dumb, still, I don’t). I don’t visit their website. I can’t enter their writing contests because I am considered published and can’t enter their Golden Heart, but my e-books are only “sorta” published and don’t qualify for the RITAs. I don’t go to National convention, but this has to do with finances and health issues, otherwise I would go there. I’m not part of their PRO loop because I wasn’t “fed” by things that went on there.  So, I know, you’re wondering why I bother.

Well, this is where the dilema kicks in …

I LOVE going to conferences, most of them sponsored by RWA chapters. I adore the writers that belong to the Maine chapter of RWA. And I am also part of the suspense chapter of RWA, Kiss of Death. These small chapters support and feed me… replenish me when I think my writing has sucked the marrow from my muse. And an agent mentioned that belonging to writing organizations (not necessarily RWA) shows you are serious about writing as a career.

Now RWA is very smart. You can NOT belong to any of their chapters unless you are first a member of their organization. Okay, that makes sense though it really irks me. Which means I fork out big bucks so I can hang with some local romance authors who totally understand how difficult it is to become and remain an author.

This weekend I am hanging with my homegirls at the MERWA writer’s retreat. Boo-yeah! Really, I can’t even begin to tell you what these conferences do for me. They are worth every penny as I chat about writing and learn from authors who have walked this path before me. It’s refreshing.

I am really hoping to return refreshed and rearing to start a new project which has kind of stalled. So for now, RWA gets my hard-earned money so I can enjoy the company of some amazing authors.

Sorry about the lack of blogging over the weekend. You’d think I could find 15 minutes to jot a little something down. I mean yesterday I was remiss in not giving a shout out to my mothers! I love them both.

My own mom is amazing. She raised 5 kids, ( I really wanted to say “wonderful”, but that seemd pushing the boundaries just a little. 🙂 ) she survived a divorce from my dad, which wasn’t very pretty, but in the end our family stayed strong, loving and close and then the death of her second husband. She takes care of her mom-in-law who also happened to be her mother’s best friend. Yeah, she’s amazing and I love her with all my heart.

My mother-in-law is just as amazing and I feel so fortunate that the man I married comes from such a loving family. We’ve been together 33 years this fall (and yes, we were just kids when we got together) and his mom is just like my own. I love her dearly.

Two amazing female role-models in my life. And I am so blessed to call them “mom”.

On to other news. I didn’t blog this weekend because this was the ONLY weekend in 8 that the DH and I were/will be home together. Yeah, that sucks the Big Kahuna! I totally depend on him to help me with the shopping and cleaning … he’s amazing that way. So between Little Boy Blue’s track meet, dinner theater and spring cleaning the family room, I really didn’t have a spare minute.

No, I haven’t seen Wolverine. No, I didn’t get to see Star Trek this weekend. I don’t want to talk about it. Although I can’t name the serial numbers of the Enterprise and I don’t know how many Romulans it takes to change a light bulb. I am a HUGE Star Trek fan from a young age. I can watch about 5 secs of an episode from the original series and tell you which story it is. So yeah, I’m bummed … and I REALLY don’t want to talk about the fact that Little Boy Blue went and didn’t drag his mom along. (Who cares if I had another obligation, he still didn’t ask … just sayin’)

And marketing … oh, I’d like to go on about marketing and selling books, but it’s just not a good idea. I’m in one of those “between story” funks where I really should avoid talking about all things writing. It’s just not going to be productive. LOL!

This weekend I’m off to see my homegirls at a writing conference for the Maine chapter of RWA. Wonderful group of ladies and gent. Very supportive. I totally wouldn’t be where I am today without them. And I just need to know think about everything that needs to get done before Friday. I mean, it is only Monday!

Have a great day!

I love my “local” chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) … despite the fact that they meet four hours from my home and refuse to change their meeting location for me. ;). No, seriously, without this wonderful group of writers I know the road to publication would have been filled with potholes of doubt and hairpin turns of confusion. They were there patiently teaching me about writing queries and synopses and submitting manuscripts. And when my first contract offers came in, they helped me sort through the confusion and make a decision. I really appreciate their support and guidance.

I enjoy my online chapters of RWA. I am able to be part of chapters that talk about the erotic romance industry and others that deal with the suspense market. There’s also a paranormal chapter which I haven’t joined, but it’s on my to-do list. These chapters are important to me.

I tolerate RWA national.

Why? Because I can’t belong to my local chapter or my online chapters without being a member of the national organization. But (through no fault of theirs) I don’t get anything from them, but a big fat bill once a year and a monthly magazine (that promptly goes in a stack in the odd chance someone will mention something I might want to read.) I don’t use their website or other resources. Not that they’re not out there … I just don’t need them at this point in my journey.

But now … now there’s all this upheaval about erotic romance and electronic books and the powers that be in the national organization accusing me of not having a career-oriented mindset because I pub books without receiving an advance. (Never mind the fact that a high majority of authors never earn out their advance and therefore never receive a royalty check on their sales.)

I had been considering dropping my membership. But then an agent at the convention this past weekend mentioned that they really look at whether someone is a member of writing organizations to gauge how serious the author is about their career. Now, RWA was mentioned specifically (because after all, it was a group of romance authors), but then other writing organizations were also mentioned. But it did bring me up short.

Writing is my career. I do take it seriously. Some day I’d like to be NY pubbed (one of the “big” guys) and I’d like to have an agent. I keep weighing this whole RWA membership and trying to decide if it’s worth my money. Perhaps things will change. With all the members lifting their voices it will be hard to ignore us all. I truly believe electronic books are the new wave. Big houses like Harlequin, Silhouette, and Kensington all have erotic lines. These aren’t going away. It just seems to me that RWA is going to have to stop ignoring the kid in the corner of the playground with our funny looking toys.

It’s an interesting place and it puts me in a quandary as I continue to look at all the pros and cons. I am curious how you feel about the whole RWA issue.

So I’m leaving today to go to the New England writer’s conference down in Framingham, MA. It’s only 2 days, but I live so flippin’ far from everyone I add a day of travel on either end. Anyway. I just thought I’d list all the things I love about this conference. (And they’re in no particular order.)

1. Riding from southern Maine to Framingham with some Maine writers. I never get to see them for extended periods of time.

2. Finally getting to see my CP … JEN! I lubs Jen. I talk to her nearly every day, but we both live on opposite borders of Maine so we rarely see each other.

3. Food! They have delicious food and I neither have to cook nor do dishes. I’ll be in heaven!

4. Laughing – It seems like all I do. It’s the best workout for my abs. I love laughing.

5. Meeting Mima (and other Divas). This is the first conference I’m going to where I finally get to meet some of my friends from the internet. I can’t wait!

6. Workshops. There are always wonderful workshops planned at these things. I love just hanging out and listening to other writers talk about writing.

(Oh, baby … my kind of workshop!)

7. Books! Books! and more Books! Every time you turn around there’s another free book on your seat at your place setting. They’re everywhere. Not that I need more books for my TBR pile that’s now flowing out of the two huge book bags next to my bed, but I always want more! Mwahahaha …

8. Little bottles of liquor. They just seem to appear from purses, bookbags, suitcases … they’re everywhere! (Or maybe that’s just me.)

9. Brainstorming. I love to talk plots and twists. I’ll talk about other people’s stories, my stories, it doesn’t matter. Just talking all that writerly stuff is great!

10. Books on CD. The ride is soooo long I usually get to listen to two books on my trip. Great way to catch up on some books I’ve been dying to read, but don’t have time.

11. Amazing writers. They are all over the place. Along with their agents and editors. It’s fun rubbing elbows with them. I’ve met some NYT best selling authors and it tickles me pink every time!

12. Talking. There are so many people I can talk to my heart’s content and I don’t wear out one person. I don’t even mind when they pass me off … the lips just keep flapping. Really, for your own safety … step away from the moving mouth!

13. Getting away from northern Maine. I understand spring has arrived in other parts of the world. I can’t wait to see it for myself!