At the end of March, I attended the two-day RWA New England Conference. This is a brief recap of what I heard.
First up: Hooking Them In – with Jessica Faust, Agent and Cofounder of BookEnds, LLC. What brings the passion to your story? What is your greatest conflict? That is your hook. Jessica said the hook is the plot outside the romance, not the romance itself, because all romances are the same.
Be simple, but dramatic. Here’s an example she gave. A brave soul gave a pitch and said, “The heroine disappears into the elements.” Jessica said, “The heroine becomes earth, wind and fire.” More punch, more drama.
Don’t try to tell your whole story in your hook or query, but do entice your reader with a compelling premise. Make sure that she NEEDS to know what happens next, after you state your hook.
- Be specific (though names are not necessary). “Cowardly lion” is better than “Leo Lyon”.
- A great title can be a hook. (The Naked Duke; The Accidental Demon Slayer)
- A male character has stronger hook potential.
- Never make your heroine sexier than the hero.
- It’s more interesting to read an author who pushes the limits.
- Growth of the characters is never the hook as all characters grow.
- She needs to sense your voice in your query and it needs to match your genre. If you write romantic comedy, you’d better show some humor.
Next: I attended a promotional panel with Sally MacKenzie (author), Anna DeStefano (author), Leah Hultenschmidt (editor, Dorchester) and Jessica Faust. The bottom line is that no one knows what promotional efforts work. What they agreed on is that you should do what interests you. If you can find an angle that connects with your book, exploit it. For example, Sally MacKenzie, who writes a series with The Naked Duke, The Naked Baron, etc. as the titles could walk around Boston Common naked. NO, just kidding, she said she would not do that, not even to promote her books (but the publicity…)
The publisher’s promotional efforts will focus on the cover, ads in print publications, reviews and co-op with booksellers, but you can’t rely solely on the publisher to do your publicity. Be proactive. Be sure you know who you are targeting (readers, booksellers, people with interests explored in your story – knitting is the now classic example).
They also said pick your writing name and stick with it. No more dual names. Your main goal is to build your name as an author brand!!
But, they said it is better to write another great book than to slack off on the next book by doing too much promotion.
Next I attended an Editor/Agent Panel with the topic: What are the different editors and agents looking for? Editors Brenda Chin, Raelene Gorlinsky, Marlene Castricato, Leah Hultenschmidt. Agents Jessica Faust, Meg Ruley, Becca Stumpf. The good news is that all is not doom and gloom in the publishing world. Harlequin is making money. They are all looking for great books and they say editors are still buying. Becca Stumpf is building a client list. I found this panel a little vague, with no one really saying specifically what they were looking for. But they all stressed the point that you should follow their guidelines and always be professional. Do your homework. Don’t query a Young Adult to an agent who doesn’t handle that genre.
They want stories with great hooks, and something that hasn’t been done before. Although paranormal still seems strong, if you write a vampire, make him different than all the vampires we’ve already seen. Everyone wants the twist that makes something new and different. Yup, vague. Sorry. The problem is, no one knows what the next great idea is until someone pitches it to them.
There was so much more but I don’t want to go on forever. Off the record talk I heard, though, was that conferences are shrinking this year as organizers try to keep fees down so editors/agents aren’t getting as many invitations as in past years. In that sense, the economy is taking a toll. But many attendees (I would say the majority) received requests, so the editors and agents were looking.
If you have any questions, please ask.