Time For My Annual Blog Post!

I’m in L.A. right now, having just attended Romance Writers of America’s annual conference, which this year was held at Disneyland the Anaheim Marriott.

I had two missions. The first — attend as many YA-oriented workshops as possible (and I’ll share some general stuff about the market in a moment). And the second — pitch my latest book to an editor without throwing up. You’ll be glad to know I succeeded at both.

As well as the official business, there was plenty of fun to be had. A cocktail-making workshop run by a renowned mixologist was declared by many as “the best workshop ever”. We were served three vodka cocktails within about thirty minutes. Cocktails have something to do with writing novels — I wish I could tell you exactly what the connection is, but my memory’s a bit foggy on that for some reason.

Several friends were up for RITA and Golden Heart awards. My lovely sparkly agency-mate Pintip Dunn was nominated for Best Unpublished Young Adult Manuscript. Fellow Aussie Fiona Lowe won a RITA for Best Contemporary Single Title Romance — and was the first Carina Press (digital-first imprint) to do so. Another fellow Aussie and all-round fabulous gal, Joanne Lockyer was a GH finalist for Best Regency Historical Romance. Brisbane buddy Christina Brooke was a Regency RITA nominee. Tammy Baumann, who along with Shea Berkley showered me with spicy New Mexican treats, won a Golden Heart. No less than SIX of my Ruby-Slippered Sisters were nominated: Sally Eggert (GH), Elisa Beatty (GH – winner, and also gets my award for most amusing acceptance speech), Liz Bemis (GH – winner!), Kim Law (GH), Elizabeth Essex (RITA), and Darynda Jones (two RITA nominations, one win for Best First Book).

I gathered quite a chunk of intelligence on YA from various workshops run by authors Tera Lynn Childs, Sophie Jordan, Regina Scott, Marissa Doyle, agents Emily Sylvan Kim, Kevan Lyon, Laurie McLean, Lucienne Diver, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, and editors Alicia Condon and Whitney Ross.

I’ll just run through some general things:

  • Editors and agents indicated they wanted to see more contemporary stories. Stephanie Perkins’s ‘Anna and the French Kiss’, which I adored, is a great example of this.
  • Agent Emily Sylvan Kim says MG/upper MG is hot and it’s a good fit for those who don’t write too dark. Says editors aren’t looking for paranormal right now. They want high-concept, big-world contemporaries.
  • Harlequin is extending their digital-first program to YA books.
  • Romance is a natural fit for YA, however, it’s usually a subplot.
  • Whitney Ross and Kevon Lyon really want to see a well done YA version of Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’. (Note that Whitney doesn’t take unsolicited submissions, but if you have an agent and you have a YA Outlander ready to go, submit it!)
  • Social media is a plus for unpublished authors. Agent Kevan Lyon reported that editors do ask if a potential author has a web presence. You don’t have to be active on every social media platform — pick what suits you best.
  • YA writers should try to access the teen within. Listen to teens in their natural habitat (ie. Eavesdrop in a non-creepy way next time you’re standing in line at Disneyland, for example.)
  • On writing a YA series/trilogy, Tera and Sophie said the first book in a trilogy will always be the biggest seller. People don’t generally buy the second and third books and not the first. You need a character big enough to sustain the series; high stakes and high pressure.
  • On the subject of dark stories, Marissa Doyle says teens use books to explore books to explore darker themes in a safe way. In other words, living vicariously through books, reading about characters experiencing things they wouldn’t necessarily attempt themselves.
  • Regina Scott writes ‘cheerier’ books but says they’re harder to sell. She also said in YA there are no rules (like happily ever after) as long as the character grows.
  • Voice and theme are important (coming of age, fitting in/belonging). Don’t chase trends.
  • YA editors are very hands-on. Fifteen-page revision letters are the norm, and they’re often followed by more. But they do list every little thing including house style conflicts. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to make changes in plot, character, POV, though.
  • Releases follow the literary model — one book per year. Minimum of one year to eighteen months between acceptance and publication. It’s common for release dates to change.
  • YA books spend more time on the bookstores shelves (years rather than months), and they’re often re-issued with cover updates. Covers are a big deal for YA readers. They want covers that accurately reflect the book.
  • The YA e-book segment is growing slowly. Teens are hindered by credit card and reader device access, plus they tend to prefer physical books.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Off to San Francisco tomorrow to see Chris Isaak and Duran Duran, and fill up on as much clam chowder with my dad as humanly possible.

Did you learn anything interesting at Nationals this year that you’d like to share?

Kim MacCarron, Pintip Dunn, me in the GH awards aftermath.

Fiona Lowe with her RITA award.

Tammy Baumann with a nice bit of jewellery to add to her collection.

Me hogging Darynda Jones’s RITA award for Best First Book, the brilliant ‘First Grave on the Right’. We were passing it around for good luck.

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