At least a dozen times these last two weeks I’ve heard or thought about something and said, “OH! That would make a good blog for Murderati.” But as I sit down today to write a blog, none of those past quasi-brilliant ideas are coming to mind. I’m on overload. I’ve been on the East Coast for eleven days and very ready to go home.
I completely enjoyed Thrillerfest and miss New York and the Grand Hyatt. I’ve also been enjoying RWA, though I’m tired. Unfortunately, I’ve been sorely disappointed with the Marriott-Wardman Park where I am at the RWA conference, except for the extremely helpful staff member available near the registration desk who should be given a raise because she’s one of two staffers who smiled, the other being the friendly clerk at the shipping counter downstairs.
Since I just came back from the St. Martin’s book giveaway, I was thinking about what, if anything, I’d change about Thrillerfest and what I’d change about RWA to make the conferences better. What do they do right that the other group can take to make their conference even better?
First, you have to understand the differences between the two organizations. I blogged about this on Thursday at Murder She Writes, which is really geared more toward romantic suspense of all stripes.
In a nutshell, ITW is an author-centric organization with a strong author support structure. I would not change that. It’s what makes it appealing to me as a romantic thriller and supernatural thriller author. They do it extremely well, and amazingly keep getting better. RWA is a writer-centric organization with a strong writer support structure. There is no better organization to begin with to learn not only the business but the craft of writing. There are a lot of amazing storytellers out there who just need a little guidance in order to make a good story great. Whereas 80% of the members of ITW are published, only 20% of RWA members are published. And that’s okay because of the mission of each organization.
So keeping in mind the mission of each organization, I’ve thought about how each group could become stronger in support of their mission.
The ITW author signings are twice a day after morning and afternoon workshops. For thirty minutes, the authors who presented during the previous “session” sign books after they are purchased.
Unfortunately, these signings are short, crowded, and cumbersome. They feel tacked on and almost like an afterthought.
RWA has two hugely successful programs. The first is the literacy signing where publishers donate books. It is open to the public. Readers—not just conference attendees—can come in to purchase books and all proceeds go to literacy (this year raising over $60,000.) RT has a similar signing, but it’s run through a bookstore similar to the way ITW does it now, though like RWA it’s during one two-hour time period and also open to the public.
It seems to me that having one larger signing open to the public—whether a literacy signing or a traditional bookseller signing—would draw in the public and allow for a larger venue and more potential sales and/or exposure. We (i.e. the authors) would be able to promote it to our newsletters, helping not only ourselves but other authors who our fans may enjoy. ITW can promote it to local media. Perhaps we can entice the bookseller to donate 20% of the proceeds to literacy. Something to draw in readers, encourage librarians and the participating bookstore to advertise it in their stores and libraries during the weeks leading up to the big event. We can even name it something catchy like The Big Thrill: Live. (Ok, that’s bad, but you get the point.)
The second book signing that RWA does is the publisher giveaways, where to promote their authors (and as a benefit to conference attendees) publishers put on a “signing” and give away free books. The authors are present to sign. It’s in many ways better than leaving books on tables or chairs because it gives face time with fans or potential fans, and it’s a great way to introduce new authors. I don’t personally think that this is a good idea for ITW, as there are far fewer authors in attendance, but it might be something to think about for the debut authors who people might want to try but aren’t sure about spending the money without a taste.
If I had my way, I’d opt to have the single two-hour signing on (for example) Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon and find ways to bring in readers who aren’t registered for the conference.
RWA provides valuable information to writers of most levels, from the just-starting to the established author. Their workshops are fantastic and varied and writers can pick and choose based on their craft level and experience. I’ve generally be impressed with the quality level of the presentations, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the PAN (published author) workshops that avoid the basic craft issues and focus on business issues. Because of the vast numbers of RWA, we can draw a wide variety of people to present workshops and offer unique experience and information. RWA is also unique it that it offers a huge support and networking opportunity to unpublished authors that is, frankly, unsurpassed by any other professional writers organization. The sheer size of RWA helps in providing opportunities to a vast number of writers.
However, in RWA’s effort to appeal to all their members, they’ve extended that to the workshop presenters. I was puzzled when I noticed for the first time (after a publishing professional commented on it) that there were many craft and business workshops being offered by unpublished authors. Perhaps this “me scratching head” moment was because I had just come back from Thrillerfest where during the Craftfest portion we had such incredible instructors as Lee Child and Lisa Gardner (my heroes.) Unless the writer has another area of expertise—such as they are a copyright attorney as well as a romance writer and talking about copyright law—I don’t see the benefit of learning the craft or the business from writers who haven’t sold.
I think it would benefit the unpublished members of RWA—as well as the published members—to find instructors who are established and well versed in the subject they are teaching. I have nothing against unpublished writers talking about an area of expertise, but if they haven’t sold I don’t think that they are the best person to talk about how to write, market or promote a book.
I am a huge fan of both RWA and ITW. I think they serve their members very well, and in no way can they be all things to all writers. These are just two things I noticed after the back-to-back conference where I think that each organization can learn from the other to the benefit of their members.
I’m interested in what you all think as well. What do you like about going to conferences? Published or unpublished or non-writing readers, how do you benefit? Why do you go . . . or not go? Comments, theories, suggestions? If you aren’t a writer, would you travel thirty, sixty, ninety minutes to attend a booksigning with multiple (more than 50) authors?
I won’t be able to respond until tonight, as I am flying home today, but I will respond once I get home and settled (unless my plane is delayed, then I’ll be posting angrily from the airport.)
Oh! And the winner of SUDDEN DEATH by me and CHARMED AND DANGEROUS by Toni is . . . .Billie!!!! Please email me your snail mail address and I’ll get those out on Tuesday. Congratulations!