2005 RWA National Conference
Blythe Barnhill: Day Two (July 28, 2005)

I got up as early as I could stand on Thursday morning, and high-tailed it into a Chick Lit workshop, latte in hand. The title was "Dancing in High Heels," and it was hosted by a panel of authors (Jenifer O'Connell, Shanna Swendson, and Ally Carter) and agent Kristin Nelson. Since my shelves of review books have been overflowing with Chick Lit this last year, I thought it might be interesting to see what made the genre tick, and what publishers and agents were looking for. Kristin Nelson described the Chick Lit market as "hot," but admitted that its popularity has made the market tighter as well. One of the reasons for that is that famous people with some kind of "in" are writing a lot of Chick Lit these days; there are ex-soap stars writing soap-themed exposes, and senate staffers writing political Chick Lit. In order for everyday janes to compete in this kind of market, they need to really stand out.

The key to a successful Chick Lit book can apparently be summed up in two words: "high concept." A high concept book is one with a premise that can be summed up in a single, attention grabbing sentence, such as "34 year old journalist goes undercover to infiltrate a reality TV dating show, and gains revealing insights about herself and women in general in the process." Kristin added that she'd love to see more Chick Lit submissions with multi-cultural heroines, but again, they need to be high concept; it's not enough just to say that the heroine is Asian or African American, and have that be the story. She added that Chick Lit with a twist (especially a paranormal twist) is also on the rise.

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The authors weighed in with their own advice, ranging from "Get the best website you can afford" to "promote your book through blogging." They also noted that Chick Lit differs from romance in that it can feature the same heroine or couple over and over; a series can become a brand or a franchise.

As a final note, Nelson told would-be authors not to worry about Amazon or its reviews...apparently the biggest romance powerhouse these days is (what else?) Wal-Mart.

I left the session feeling pretty informed, and wandered into one about the differences between men and women hosted by Ken Casper, who writes as K.N. Casper. I stayed for about half (and learned that women ask more questions and men make more blunt statements). But when he started talking about how "men build but women civilize" I decided it was a little too 1950s for me.

Thursday's luncheon featured keynote speaker Debbie Macomber, who told the inspiring story of her struggle to become published. It was the kind of tale that helped buoy the spirits of the unpubs that made up the majority of the audience. Debbie overcame dyslexia and devoted time to her writing while finances were tight and her children were young. She frequently cited scripture during the talk and noted that her faith (both in herself and in God) had often carried her through the many difficult times. Her main message: Believe in yourself and just keep persevering.

After the luncheon, RWA held its general meeting. Since neither Linda nor I is a member of RWA, we couldn't attend that, so we cut out to the local mall. Linda needed some new glasses - she'd broken hers the night before - and I just felt the need to shop (maybe it was all that talk about Chick Lit heroines). Afterwards we attended a welcome reception, but it was crowded and not particularly suited to a real conversation. Linda and I escaped with a friend, and headed upstairs to order room service and enjoy the heady pleasure of talking romance in "real time."

 

 




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