Takeaways from Moonlight & Magnolias 2015

Posted by October 5th, 2015

mm 2015It was great to be a part of Moonlight & Magnolias 2015. This was the annual conference of the Georgia Romance Writers (a regional chapter of the Romance Writers of America). Longtime Book Country member Noelle Pierce was conference chair, and she did a truly fabulous job for a seamless, fun, productive gathering of 200+ high-spirited romance writers. (In fact, Noelle was a winner of the Maggie Service Award for her contributions to the chapter this year. Go, Noelle!)

Here are four key takeaways from Moonlight & Magnolias 2015:

Romance writers have a strong support system. More than any other genre group of writers I’ve worked with so far, romance writers band together to lift up their own. First off, they read–and buy–a ton of books in their own genre. They also follow one another on social media, review each other’s books online, and cheer on both new writers and long-held favorite authors. Georgia Romance Writers have taken it one step further in real life.  For the last 33 years, they’ve maintained a robust schedule of meetings and events, an incredible mentoring program, and the prestigious Maggie Awards to honor standout books in the genre. Romance writers should absolutely be taking advantage of these resources, whether on the national level, or by seeking out their local chapter. Not a romance writer? Follow the example of romance writers by finding similar ways to support and celebrate your own genre writing community.

Romance writers know the market. At the conference, I noticed that every writer I came across had extensive knowledge of authors, literary categories, and tropes. Many of these writers had also done their homework and knew a lot about publishers, too. A truly savvy writer who’s prepping for a conference should also set aside time to do just as much research into the editors and agents that they’ll pitch at the conference. Conference goers pitching at Moonlight & Magnolias 2015 were using the right industry terminology and were successfully getting their pitch across–but I did hear from my colleagues accepting pitches at the conference that they were pitched manuscripts for categories they don’t work with. This is a waste of a writer’s time. Make sure to sign up to pitch agents and editors who are interested in the type of book you’ve written!

Romance writers need to write–and edit–fast. It truly boggles my mind the number of books many of the Georgia Romance Writers have written. But that’s the reality of the romance publishing world: These readers read fast, and the publishers who serve them produce new books at a breathtaking pace. Author and Entangled editor Candace Havens taught an inspiring workshop this weekend called Fast Draft/Revision Hell where she trained the group how to write + revise a book in one month. Whatever device you use, whether it’s NaNoWriMo or a workshop or writing challenge group, the important part is that you learn how to get those words down so that you can shape them into something even better. As Candace quoted Nora Roberts in the workshop, “You can’t fix a blank page.” And it’s a desirable skill worth learning: Agents and publishers like authors who can write not just one book quickly, but lots and lots of books quickly.

Reader response is everything. For every think piece pondering the implications of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (six years after its original publication), there are thousands of romance writers out there pushing boundaries, trying new tropes, and testing the waters to see how readers will react to various romance story lines. When something strikes a chord with readers, they’ll want more. This is another reason romance writers have to write fast: trends rise up quickly, and a savvy author can quickly meet the demand. For a new writer working on their first book, however, my advice is to stick to the story you want to tell. After all, you are learning lots of things right now, first and foremost, how to write and finish a book. Don’t change your story around to chase trends. You can perhaps learn to do that later. The important thing right now is to write your best book, so that you’ll have the confidence to take it to the next level–and then write more books.

Were you at Moonlight & Magnolias 2015? What did you learn at the conference? Share in the comments below.

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