In which I think about what I learnt at the RNA conference

This weekend was the annual RNA Conference, an event at which romantic novellists get together, talk about writing, the state of the industry and generally maintain a communal level of fabulousness not normally seen outside of a glitter factory.

There are lots of posts all over the internet about the conference – the main RNA blog will gives you a taster (and more pictures of shoes than most shoe shop websites), but I wanted to share a few specific things that I learnt this year.


1. I must blog more regularly.

The first session on Saturday morning was led by Talli Roland and was all about social media. For most of this session I was quite smug. I tweet. You can’t really move for me on facebook. I blog, and then Talli dropped a reality bomb into my self-satisfied bubble. “You have to blog regularly,” she said.

Ah. Yeah. About that. I have been deeply blog-flakey of late. So my new resolution is this. I will blog every week. Every Monday in fact. It would be really truly lovely to see you here. You could do commenting, and then I would do replying and we would be one big happy blogging, chatting family. 


2. Things feel a little bit more positive than last year.

At last year’s conference the overriding vibe from the publishing types in attendance seemed downbeat. I couldn’t escape the feeling that ebooks, self-publishing and the recession were scaring traditional publishers, but no-one had worked out how to respond. There was a sense that if publishers just carried on as if nothing had changed, the world might go back to normal. It had an air of Neville Chamberlain in 1938 about it. The vibe around submissions was downbeat too. The tone was very much, “Our list is full. You could submit, but we’re not really looking for that type of thing…”

This year things were different. Maybe it was just the different personnel in attendance but the vibe was definitely more positive. Publishers were talking about actively looking to acquire new titles. Chatting to authors who’d had one-to-ones with editors, the numbers being encouraged to submit manuscripts seemed higher. And publishers talked openly in their sessions about self-publishing and why they believe that traditional publishing is a better option. Heads were out of the sand and looking forward. None of which is to suggest that getting published in 2012 is easy, or even significantly easier than in 2011, but, to my ears at least, the tone felt more encouraging to try.


3. Everyone needs a good day every now and then

Trying to get published is hard. Writing a novel is hard (I mean, not like brain surgery hard or training 10 hours a day to be an olympic gymnast hard, but in its own way, still tricky). Editing a novel is hard. Getting an agent is hard. Editing again with someone else’s input is harder. There are points along the road where it’s easy to think that it’s never going to happen. It’s easy to see other writers signing deals and posting pics of their cover art on facebook, and wonder if that’s ever going to be you.

At times like that you need A Good Day. A Good Day might just be a day you get an tweet from someone who likes your blog. It might be a day when you write a really good chapter and read it back and think, yeah, that’s actually ok. It might be a day when someone else tells you you’re writing is ok. Saturday was A Good Day for three reasons.

Firstly, I explained the concept behind my novel to a publisher, who responded that she loved the idea. Now that doesn’t mean she’ll love the novel. She might hate the way I’ve dealt with the idea. She might read the opening chapter and think it’s not funny enough. She might think it’s too funny and the jokes distract from the plot. She might just get something else that’s similiar that she loves ever so slightly more on her desk on the same day. But she loved the idea. That alone is worth a tiny happy dance.

Secondly, I won the Elizabeth Goudge Award. This prize is awarded for the RNA’s own story competition which is open to any members attending the conference. This year I won. I have a little trophy, which at some point in the next 12 months, will be engraved with my name. I’ll be alongside some fab writers. That’s worth quite a big happy dance.

Thirdly, in slightly drunken conversation with a gaggle of published writers, someone acknowledged that one of the most frustrating stages in the journey towards publication is the bit where people are reading your work and saying “I really like it, but…” That, they agreed, was the stage just before, “I really like it, and…” Maybe, for me, the “I really like it, but…” stage will last for years and years and several more “not quite there yet” novels, but the next stage, the “I really like it, and…”, doesn’t feel so completely unachieveable. It’s still an IF rather than a WHEN, but it’s a doable IF. Altogether now, Massive Happy Dance!


So that’s just three of the things I learnt. There were lots of others. “Celebrate often” was a big message from Miranda Dickinson’s talk, which I seem to have taken on board particularly well. Just look at all those happy dances. In summary, conference was brilliant. The RNA is brilliant. And you’re all brilliant too, so if you fancy joining me here every Monday for super regular blogging, please follow or subscribe. It’ll give me yet another cause for happy dancing.

Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

29 thoughts on “In which I think about what I learnt at the RNA conference”

  1. I’m joining in your happy blogging family!! I loved your post and couldn’t agree more! It takes hard work and determination but you just have to keep going and if you want it enough that book deal will come!!
    Congratulations on your award!! Cup big enough to drink out of?

    Mandy xx


    1. Thought I’d replied to this – silly internet! Anyway, I’m not commenting on the drinking out of the cup – I don’t want to be accused of disrespecting the award .;)


  2. Hej!! Nice one on winning the award. Don’t those big buts know how curious we are about what you’ve been writing. We want ands, we want ands, we want….


  3. Thanks for mentioning me, Alison, and I’ll be by each Monday to make sure you’re following through. 🙂 Massive congrats on your win – I was so thrilled for you when your name was called!

    I found the conference more positive this year, too, and I liked that publishers addressed self-publishing.


    1. Thanks Talli., It was a great talk – I nearly went to something else, cos I thought “Oh, I know all about social media,” but I’m really glad I went. Never think you know it all already!

      The difference in tone at conference was definitely noticeable, and I was really pleased to hear publishers talking about self-publishing as an option, rather than just ignoring what’s actually going on.


  4. Congratulations on the award, Alison – that’s brilliant! Really enjoyed reading your post. (Erm – that makes it sound as though I’ve sneaked into your house and opened up your mail, but you know what I mean…)


  5. I didn’t go to the conference last year – which was daft of me as it was only a short drive for me, ho hum. But I’m with you, I felt there was a positive buzz from publishers this year. I’ll sign up to follow your blog and look forward to your Monday postings.
    And, once again, congratulations. You were so excited, it was obvious how much it meant to you.


  6. Again, well done and all that. So exciting! 🙂
    Am also hoping the “I really like it but/and…” theory applies to poets as well…
    Regular blogging is good. I can’t believe how self-disciplined I’ve become about it – and you know how disorganised I can be!


    1. Thanks Nikki – I didn’t see you there all weekend! Too many people to try to talk to. Glad you had a good weekend though. Any particular highpoints?


      1. Hi Alison,

        the Romaniacs kitchen party was definitely up there but also the 1:1’s with editors and the gala dinner. And the workshops and talks and oh heck, the whole weekend was a high point!

        Perhaps we’ll meet at another RNA do?

        Nikki x


  7. Definitely a ‘can do’ vibe from the publishers at the conference, Alison. Like you, I’m hoping the ‘I really like it but’ isn’t too far away from the ‘I really like it and’ responses! Well done again on winning the EG trophy – do all the happy dances you can, you deserve them x


    1. Thanks Janice. Interesting that you also picked up on the same vibe from publishers – was there anything specific that made you feel like it was quite a positive attitude?


      1. Definitely my one to ones with both Mira and Mills & Boon were very encouraging and both asked me to submit completed manuscripts (I pitched 2 different novels). I wasn’t a member last year so can’t comment on that, but I was surprised at the ‘open door’ feel to the talks by Gillian Green from Ebury and the Mira editors.


  8. Came away from the conference feeling much more positive. Far less doom and gloom in the industry sessions than last year. Particularly cheered up by Maggie Seed’s session on My Weekly pocket novels.


  9. Huge Congratulations on the award! You must be thrilled.

    Like you, I also need to be consistent with my blogging. The thing with Twitter is that it’s so easy and I can do it on the move from my phone. Blogging takes a little more time and a little more thought. I, like you, am going to try though. I know it’s important.

    The conference sounds great. I’m off to the crime writing festival at Harrogate tomorrow. I’m sure I will come back with similar tales of fun and learning.


  10. Congratulations again on winning the Elizabeth Goudge! What a great thing to add to your query letters.
    It was a great conference. I’m sure the ‘I really like and’ will come really soon.


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