My first workshop of the day was Where the Hell Are We? The Importance of Setting in a Novel (Alyssa Day, Kristan Higgins, and Elizabeth Hoyt) Here - as was often the case with the panel-style workshops - the speakers simply divided the hour into four fifteen-minute parts. Each author talked for fifteen minutes, reserving the final quarter-hour for questions.
Alyssa Day said that the best way to make an imaginary world believable is to give it an underpinning of reality and fact; she incorporates real sites and mysteries of history (vanished civilizations, etc.) into her worldbuilding, for example. She also emphasized the importance of keeping invented details (whether it be a rule about vampire behavior or the location of a fantasy landmark) consistent from scene to scene and book to book.
Hoyt's take on setting was very, very interesting. She's passionate about research but said, firmly and without apology, "romance is the noun, historical is the adjective." Perfect historical accuracy isn't her goal; she strives for a "half and half" mix of history and fantasy.
Higgins had the most conceptual approach to setting. She uses setting to focus plot elements and scenes, and sets her scenes in locations that will naturally increase the conflict she's writing about, or mirror the issues that her characters face -- i.e., a character who tries to be, and seem, perfect ends up living in a town that strives to maintain a perfect, idyllic appearance.
Next up came Michael Hauge's two-hour workshop on Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories.
I've been a big fan of Michael Hauge for a while now, and for the most part he spent his two hours walking the audience through his story structure; I won't recap the various parts and turning points, as they're all available on his website.
Hauge joked at the beginning about how he just recycles the same talk no matter where he's speaking but...is it a joke if it's true?
That was fine with me, as I'd never heard him speak before. Hauge's talk was one of the two highlights of the conference for me, and definitely the best workshop on craft that I attended at RWA12.
I found myself thinking, throughout the workshop, that what I really wanted to hear was a version of Hauge who really understood mass market romance. He's a screenplay guy, not very familiar with the genre, and couldn't tailor his talk to its conceits.
I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Cecilia Grant during the talk, for example, and when Hauge explained that a story can have only one protagonist, that the hero and heroine in a romance can never be equal, she said, "I disagree, they must be equal," under her breath and I agreed completely.
I also think that he goes badly astray by separating out his main Primary Character Types (the Hero, the Nemesis, the Reflection, and the Love Interest) as he would for a generic hero's journey, when in a romance the Love Interest often assumes the role of Nemesis (providing painful spurs to the partner's character growth) or Reflection (identifying, and pushing, their partner toward their best self).
Robyn Carr gave the luncheon keynote address. I've heard her speak before and, as she did the first time I heard her, she talked about becoming a consistent New York Times bestselling author after spending the bulk of her career, thirty years or so, struggling in the midlist.
Her talk was emotional and personal in direct contrast to Stephanie Laurens' scientific, business-minded talk from the day before; it was moving, inspiring, and highly quotable: "Success isn't measured in decades," she said. "It's measured in minutes and seconds." That stuck in my mind through the rest of the conference; always the little celebrations before the next long haul, the next slog. Success isn't ever a state of being, is it? Or, "I kept hearing people say the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but I kept seeing the squeaky wheel get replaced."
And maybe best of all: "The greatest gift is the knowledge that I had everything I had ever wanted...before I had everything I had ever wanted."
After lunch I went straight to a presentation on How to Get the Most Out of Goodreads, given by Patrick Brown, the community manager.
Brown was pimping Goodreads obviously - 10 million members! 21 million monthly visitors! - and also explaining how authors can set themselves up on the site and use it most productively.
The basics? Set up an author page. Do giveaways. Use the site like a reader, not a promo robot. Feed your blog through to the site.
He said that the author's goal, early in the life of the book, should be to get reviews. Reviews help readers discover a book. And he also said that several hundred people need to shelve your book to get it into the site's recommendation algorithm.
Next I hopped on over to Courtney Milan's Be Your Own Lead Title workshop.
First off: Courtney Milan looks an awful lot like Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Second: She's just as frank and charming as she is on Twitter and in the Dear Author comments.
Her talk was relatively detail oriented, and certainly most useful to authors who are self pubbing. She talked about the nitty-gritty of putting together a book, about growing an audience, about social media. Like Patrick Brown, she emphasized the importance of reviews - honest reviews, in as great a quantity as possible.
On the subject of covers, she said that covers should be eye-catching, readable, and professional, but that "if you have to choose between eye-catching and professional, choose eye-catching."
The devil is definitely in the details here - as Milan pointed out, her own stress level went way down once she became her own publisher and took control, but a lot of authors would have the opposite reaction. It also sounds like she's one of those people who doesn't need a whole lot of sleep.
I got the impression that her greatest expense in putting together a self-pubbed novel is paying for an excellent freelance editor. One of my favorite comments during the lecture was this: "I have never regretted paying for quality."