A few weeks ago, I attended the Emerald City Romance Writers Conference, put on by the Greater Seattle branch of the Romance Writers of America, in Bellevue, Wash. About 300 women were registered. That is, 300 women and ... me. Other than a few guest speakers and a few spouses floating about, I was the only man there.
Let me assure you that while this sounds wonderful in theory, the reality was terrifying. At first, that is. Until I relaxed, and allowed my natural off-to-the-side objective observer's stance — strengthened through 23 years as a newspaper journalist — to step up. I completely let go of the fact that romance writing has no appeal to me, and let go of my vague notions of the genre as formulaic, simplistic and even condescending to its audience.
What I came away with is this: These women know their stuff like nobody else does.
There isn't a single aspect of writing and publishing craft they haven't considered from every conceivable angle — and reassembled and refined to the highest possible shine.
Want to know specific instances in storytelling when dialogue should be used, and when paraphrasing should take its place? There's a detailed handout and a workshop for it.
Want to know how to take your pitches and queries to agents, and slim them down to the sleekest possible essentials? There's a boot camp for it.
Want to know what the trends are in the genre market? There's a Q&A session for it. You'll learn more about what sells and what won't sell in more detail than you will at any other event for any other literary genre that I know of.
That very linear, pragmatic approach to romance writing practically guarantees aspiring authors what no other genre can: That if they learn your craft, develop relationships, work hard and behave professionally, they will fulfill the dream that most authors have — of landing a literary agent and being offered a book contract by a traditional publisher.
I walked away thinking that the tight-knit, somewhat insular, ultra-professional romance-writing community is a bit like the military, or what the military tells you when you consider joining: You get out of it exactly what you put into it ... and you get more of that by going along with the program.
In a publishing world in which there are almost no more sure things these days, romance comes as close as it gets. That's because it's got a system, and the system works. And there are thousands of authors — and tens of millions of readers — who prove it every day. The mystery/thriller/suspense folks — my crowd — aren't quite there yet. In those genres, there's still too much of a contradiction between doing all the right things, craftwise, and actually bagging a book deal.
I'm glad I went to the conference. I have no interest in writing romance, and even less in reading it. But that doesn't mean that I — and probably you as well — wouldn't stand to learn a lot of useful things from it.
As a result, you're reading a blog post by one of the newest paid, card-carrying members of the Romance Writers Of America.