I recently attended my second Romance Writers of America National Conference, held this year at the Marriot Marquis in NYC.
First, I want to say that every time I get around romance writers and industry workers, I am utterly impressed with their intelligence, generosity, and passion. These are people who support each other, who write, represent, and help produce damn good books.
The RWA is a huge conference. Four days filled with workshops and talks from industry leaders, with a huge representation of agents and editors.
Focus is usually split down the middle, with three main interests: that of the unpublished writer in search of an agent, the agented writer waiting for a publisher to snatch her up, and the published writer who is networking and/or interacting with her fans.
Given that the main interest for two of these factions is getting published, I’m keeping my focus on that particular aspect of the conference.
So then, this is what I picked up at the RWA in regards to publication. Or, to put it another way:
The RWA, in which one hears a plethora of contradictory information
Agents and writers say:
Have your manuscript as polished as it can be. Mistakes lead to rejection. Don’t send it out too early. Polish, polish, polish!
Editors say: (as quoted from Dear Author)
“Editors think that authors self censor too much (and that critique partners may be doing more harm than good). I heard more than one editor say that the manuscripts that they like best are ones where they can see the raw voice of the author. Many times, submissions come in that are polished so much that they are too smooth to be interesting. Write with raw passion, authors. This is an industry built on emotion and the manuscripts have to show this.”
(I heard much of the same from my own house.)
Write the story that calls to you but keep the market in mind
Ditto –but make sure you are writing what you love
Ditto as well –add to this: take a new spin on an old tale
What agents and editors say off record: we know when we know. If the story has it, if we love the voice, we offer.
XYZ is hot right now. So hot the market is flooded. Don’t try XYZ unless you’re really good.
ABC is not hot right now. You may have problems selling it.
Editor’s sudden aside:
Except I just bought an ABC book and we’re really excited about it.
To which agent adds:
Yes! Too true, and I just picked up a writer who does excellent ABC.
In answer to the question: I’m working on a manuscript that has X,Y, Z elements. Will it sell?
We’ll know when we read it.
Yeah. It’s a wonder this question still gets asked because the answer is always the same.
In answer to the question: how long should my manuscript be?
I won’t look at a manuscript over 100k, not matter how good the story and writing may be.
That said, I recently purchased a manuscript over 100k and love it.
Sensing a pattern here?
It really isn’t my intention to come off as snarky here. What I am really trying to get across is that there is NO formula for success. None. Writers often search for it because we want some sort of control in a world where our success is often decided by outside parties. But we only end up spinning our wheels.
The only thing we have control of is the moment we sit down to tell our stories. Some stories will succeed, some will fail.
Your query or manuscript may fall on the desk at the precise moment an agent/editor is having a crap day and doesn’t want to read another thing. Whoosh, out it goes.
OTOH. It may be the precise moment an agent/editor has had her favorite sandwich for lunch, discovered a twenty in her pocket, and is dreaming of reading a really good dark, Orwellian novel featuring a pink pony and, would you look at that! Here is a plot with those exact elements. Whoopie!
Yes. It can be that fickle. Yes, it can. Or it could be that your story and craft aren’t there yet. It’s hard to tell. And you may never know.
So, keep doing what you’re doing. Write. Get better at the craft. Gut it out. Write. Get better. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Some day, with a little luck, and a lot of perseverance, you may hit it. :)