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Top 5 Takeaways from My RWA 2016

The Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference program amazes me every year. It offers information and guidance on everything from craft to business to wellness. The worst part? I can’t attend every session.

So I’d love to share my top takeaways from the sessions I attended — small and large. Maybe in the comments, we can compare notes.

1) Boost your back matter (“Newsletters, Back Matter, and Other Indie Marketing Strategies,” Deanna Chase and Violet Vaughn)

I self-publish, so I know the importance of back matter. I include the blurbs for the next books my series, email list sign-up, buy links, and an excerpt of the next book. But I didn’t ask for reviews, and the buy link for the next book in the series required turning the page. Now, I’ve put both immediately after “the end.”

Have a separate sign-up list for each book, so you can know the source of each sign-up. I’ve now created separate sign-up pages (via LeadPages) and separate lists (in MailChimp) for each book. This way, I can target emails to my audiences to buy the next book or send them book-specific bonus scenes and content.

2) Layer scenes that hook your readers (“Frame Your Scene, Build Your Story: The Art of Layering,” Lori Freeland, handout in the RWA app)

Layer for clarity so the reader can see the movie in your head. Ensure that every scene pushes the story forward. I’m in the middle of editing my next book, and I cut an entire chapter that added little to the book’s forward momentum.

Each scene should flow from:

  1. Setting the stage – Does the reader know where they are? When the story takes place? Who is there? What relevant props or environment cues are there to paint the picture?
  2. Letting the scene play out – Get the basics down. What happens? Then, layer in emotion and mood with dialogue, internal thoughts/feelings/visceral responses, heightened action, and interactions with setting.
  3. Hooking the reader – Leave them asking questions that make them turn the page.

Start by writing your strength. If you’re a dialogue person, start with what they’re going to say. If internal thoughts are your forte, begin in the character’s head and reveal the emotion of the scene. Then, go back and layer in the other elements.

Last, layer the emotional subtext with dialogue cues and body language and spiff up the writing with more expressive language.

3) Deepen POV (“Build a Character, Build a Book,” Christie Craig, handout in the RWA app)

Link gestures, jobs, your character’s decor, clothing, what do they have in their pockets, etc. to the specifics of the POV character. Think about everything, but don’t overdo it. Pick a few things to highlight and root them in the character’s psyche.

Tie these elements to the defining conflict or traumatic moments of your character’s life. Make them meaningful. Another tip: the reader can get a deeper sense of your character by seeing him/her read another character. You learn a lot by how they interpret others.

4) Keep up with the industry (PAN Track)

I don’t mean follow every trend, but understand some of the overarching trends and numbers and where you and your career goals fit. Here are some stats from the Data Guy at Authorearnings.com

  • 89% of all romance sales are digital
  • Of those, over half are self-published
  • 67% of romance sales aren’t tracked by any traditional metric (like BookScan, which tracks print sales)
  • 74% of paid ebook sales (all genres) happen on Amazon.com; next is iBooks at 11%
  • Top 5 genres in romance on Amazon.com by total author earnings are (in order): Contemporary, Romantic Comedy, New Adult & College, Mystery & Suspense, Paranormal
  • However, the top genre earnings per title and pen name are: New Adult & College, Contemporary, Sports, Romantic Comedy, Military (with Paranormal a very close 6th)

“Total author earnings” reflects the volume sold in the category, but the per title/pen name gives you a sense of which genres make an individual author the most money.

5) Know your why (“From Mid-List to Mad Money: How to Set Yourself up for Self-Publishing Success,” Kristen Painter and Roxanne St. Clair)

Why do you write? Do you want to make a living? Win awards and recognition? Just write for fun? Knowing what you want shapes your priorities, and you have to be honest and clear.

The truth is: if you want to make a living, that changes your priorities. If you want to win a RITA, that changes your priorities. Since I want to build income self-publishing, I know I need to write faster. I can’t spend two years polishing a manuscript.

Saying that out loud (or in print) can be scary. I want to produce quality work. I work hard on it, but I have to move fast and be willing to let the story go and move on to another. That’s a different writing cycle than someone who wants something else.

There’s no right or wrong motivation, but we have to know ourselves and align our process.

What did you learn at RWA?

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