Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Make mine a twist

Despite the air conditioning failure on the most unYorkshire of Yorkshire weekends, despite that sneaking sense that everyone else knows each other and is having the most wonderful time while you lurk uncomfortably on the sidelines, despite the ever growing fear that I will forever be New Writers Scheme and never a writer,
I had a good time in Sheffield. Stand out talks from Julie Cohen on theme, Nina Harrington on Procrastination and Fiona Harper on Romantic Structure managed to be both entertaining and really informative and it was gorgeous to have a 2 day catch up with Jane O'Reilly and Donna Douglas.
And I had two very helpful chats with two editors and came away feeling maybe I haven't totally wasted the last three years.
But I'm still a little unsure where to go next...
If the theme of last year was erotica the publishers, especially the non-categories, were a little less certain this year. They are all looking for something just not sure what. Not vampires. Not dystopia. They want fresh. They want a twist. They all want a twist.
And if it could be The Fall meets Gone Girl that would be great.
Only, last year, out of that massive deluge of books with grey covers coloured with one suggestive twist of silk, only those released in the three months after Fifty Shades did well. This year may be the year of the psychological domestic thriller but next year it'll be something new. After all, they didn't want vampires till after Twilight, dystopia until  The Hunger Games or erotica until, well, you know what.
This is nothing new. Many years ago when I was a bookseller the runaway success was 'the blue book' 'that one about the banjo'. Six months later a slew of Captain Corelli style covers hit the shelves. Marian Keyes and Bridget Jones kickstarted chick lit and Harry Potter introduced the crossover concept with special adult covers.
But no-one could have predicted any of those successes. And of the imitators the best are still going strong, the rest have sunk or moved onto something new. The best were already writing those books long before the publishers were demanding them.

Sometimes, in the rush to get the sales, to join the bandwagon, publishers stop trying to be the ones who actually launch the next craze, content to sweep up the leftovers from the last. I have just had a bout of reading YA dystopia. One of my favourite genres since Brave New World hit my GCSE reading list.
I have read some incredible world building let down by heroines who make Bella Swann seem like a feisty go-getter, cardboard heroes, books all tell with no show and always, always first person present. This works with a heroine as real as Katniss but these are thin on the ground. Thing is, they might have been good books. More edits, more time for the author to really find their voice, not rushed out to fill a post-Hunger Games void.
Because eventually the readers get bored and start looking elsewhere. And then the publishers call time on the whole genre and move onto the next golden egg.
But readers don't work that way. One of the most interesting things about the Kindle is how it has allowed readers to find and buy exactly what they want, often genres the publishers and booksellers have proclaimed over especially in the UK, the US has a stronger genre market; sagas, regencies, cosy crime. Erotica.
So maybe the twist they want, that the readers deserve, doesn't have to be something new. Maybe it can be an old genre done well, done with a spark, by an innovative and compelling voice. Because as every publisher says, these are changing times and with the rise of the self pubs readers have all the choices they need. Publishers need to make sure that they are the ones offering the best, most encompassing choices. To be the ones ahead of the curve in this moving, exciting brave new world.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

RNA Resolutions

Three days to go! In just three days I will wave goodbye to my husband, daughter and pup to head off for the bright lights of, erm, Sheffield University,  for the 2013 RNA Conference.
I really enjoyed last year's weekend, not least because I finally, finally got to meet two of my three amazing Crit Partners and so am really looking forward to the weekend, even if one of my CPs is sadly not attending this year. She'll be missed. The third lives in Florida and will be attending the very swanky RWA conference just a couple of days later in Atlanta where she has been invited to cocktail parties in glitzy hotels. But I am sure Sheffield University campus is suitably glam too, especially when we all get frocked up for the Saturday night dinner.
It's been a manic, manic month and I feel woefully unprepared but, even though it is a little too late to get my hair cut, buy and wear in exciting shoes and oh, get a publishing contract, there are a couple of things I am determined to do this year:
1. Talk to people. I am terrible at small talk, rubbish at pitching and although I could win prizes for underselling myself I completely fail at actually selling myself. Even when I know what I am talking about. But this is a campus full of agents, publishers and brilliant writers. So I WILL mingle. Especially with people I interact with on Twitter. Probably.
2. Stay up till after midnight. I am away from home for the whole weekend! The kitchen parties are legendary. I should really try and attend one. After all, I am the kind of person who naturally gravitates to kitchens during parties anyway.
3. Try not to eat quite so much cake.
4. Ask questions. Especially of publishers. I better start thinking of some...
5. Relax and have fun!
I'm bound to have forgotten something. Does anyone have any more tips for getting the most out of the conference?

Friday, 5 July 2013

Weighty issues

This time next week I will be on my way to Sheffield, home of lovely Jarvis Cocker, the Arctic Monkeys and, for the weekend, a couple of hundred romance writers.
Very, very exciting (and pleasingly close to home as well!). 
I had a great time last year, it was exactly what I needed after the Great Wallow of 2012 aka my RNA report. Hopefully it will work its magic again; since sending Summer Fling back to the editor 7 weeks and 2 days ago *coughs* I have had a major crisis of confidence. A weekend of inspiration is exactly what I need.
And not just inspiration on the writing front. One of the talks this year will be given by a woman who has had a huge effect my year; Kate Harrison
As I drove back from Penrith last year I made a couple of promises to myself. That I would return to the conference as a published writer and I would return a great deal slimmer. The first seems just as far away as it did a year ago. The second, thanks to Kate, is beginning to feel - and look - very achievable. 
I have always struggled with my weight. It's easy to blame circumstances; a slow metabolism, the craziness of life as a working parent, lack of time. And these are all factors. But I also really like food. And wine. Five years ago, thanks to the excellent puddings at the school I worked at, I put on a terrifying amount of weight. I lost it, struggling back to a just-acceptable BMI and swore I would never let that happen again. Only it did. Of the two stone I had so painfully shed, one and a half crept back on, so slowly I barely noticed.
Only I knew. When you can't bear to look at any photos on Facebook, when you do your best not to be in any photos, when your jeans have to be put away because they don't fit, your tops gape - you know. There's a point when you can't tell yourself it's 'natural curves' any longer. And it's not just about vanity. I have a small daughter. I want to be a good, healthy role model and when the size sixteens are getting tight and the answer is always found in a slice of cake and glass or three of wine you have to wonder just what kind of example you are setting.

So last March I made a start. Three months on Slimming World shed the first six pounds, then eight months of My Fitness Pal got rid of another eight. But sticking to 1200 calories a day was restrictive and it was all too easy to slip. Then, in the New Year, I kept seeing people referring to the 5:2. Eating normally five days a week but restricting your calorie intake to 500 or under on the other two. 
It sounded hideous. No way was I going to get sucked in.

But then I bought Kate's book. And slowly I began to think maybe this might be a good idea and in the spring I finally decided to give it a go. One of the things I really liked was the challenge of allowing myself to feel hungry, not reaching for ways to instantly silence the first hunger pang. 
Having already lost a stone it hasn't been a dramatic plunge in weight. Rather a slow, steady half pound a week - but overall I have lost twenty one pounds. My BMI is acceptable, I fit in the jeans, in fact they are a little loose! I'd like to lose another half stone and then I think I'll be fine, still pleasantly curvy (not that I would flaunt them) but healthy. Able to enjoy cake and the odd glass or three, but also at peace with being hungry. Fit enough to walk the dog for miles and happy to enjoy a good pub meal afterwards.
Now if Kate can supply the same kind of writing inspiration then this year's conference is really going to be a success!