Tuesday, July 17, 2007

RWA Conference: Kate Duffy

I meant to sit and be depressed all day about DH being gone for another 54 days (figured I’d get it all out in one day), but I spent the day reviewing all the conference hand-outs, my notes, and finishing up Nora Roberts’ High Noon. (Great book, so great I was depressed that it ended.)

I have so much to unload from the conference, so don’t be surprised if I’m double-posting for a few days. The greatest thing about the conference is that I came away thinking, "Man! It’d be great to work with this person! And this person! And that person! And ..."

You get the idea.

On Friday, I went to Hilary Sares’ "Publishing Myths" workshop. Hilary was stuck in an airport, so she called Kate Duffy to talk. When Kate Duffy stood up (having not had much time to prepare a talk on Publishing Myths), she told us the normal myths that we all know are wrong.

Two tidbits:
1.) When you get advice, consider the source.
2.) I particularly liked when she said that there’s no way to think your way into a contract, into a relationship with an editor or agent, into a sale, into anything. The book has to do it all.

Always good advice, but not exactly earth-shattering, LOL.

She finished about fifteen minutes into it, seeming like she was going to dismiss us, but a ton of people asked some great questions. (There was only one trying to ask about another editor’s response time on her particular book. Kinda boggled my mind, since how would Kate Duffy know, LOL!)

That’s when she said some newer things that I really liked.
1.) She said that e-pub credits are a viable backlist and not a strike against the author. (Boy, is RWA behind the times. I hear even the conservative Author’s Guild even accepts e-books!) She said that she’s done a 180 degree turnaround on her opinion of e-books in the last five years, and that she just bought a 7 book backlist of one of her author’s ebooks.
2.) If you’re not going out with your best book, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. In other words, getting a crappy book published is not going to do you any favors. You’ve got one shot at a first book, and if you fail, you’re done. You want nothing less than your best out there the first time.
3.) In other words, if your first book doesn’t sell, write another one and get better.
4.) When soliciting opinions on your work, don’t exclusively solicit writers’ opinions. Find readers, like booksellers, and ask them how they think it would sell. They’re on the floor every day. (Hey, Dark Scribe! I have a favor to ask you! LOLOL ... just kidding.)

Here’s some scary gems:
5.) People don’t "almost miss" getting published, she said. You’re either publishable or unpublishable, and the chasm between two types of authors is a huge gap like the Grand Canyon.
6.) The authors that do get published, get published because it’s inevitable, and she’s just lucky enough to discover them first.
7.) She knows within the first 3 - 5 pages. As she said, either the author can sing or she’s tone deaf.
8.) You’re not competing against the slush pile, you’re competing against the best authors on the bookshelves. To have a successful first book, you need to make your book *that* good.
9.) She knows when she’s found a gem if, immediately in the book, her noisy office recedes and fades away. It’s all in the writing. She accepts mysteries, thrillers, and primarily romance. She’s also head of the ... (Yikes! It’s Brava, right? At Kensington?)
10.) She also said, "We’re all book people in the book business." She stressed that she is and has to be accessible, that editors aren’t out to kill authors. She said that it doesn’t matter how you submit, and it’s not a big deal if it’s on crazy pink paper or has 3/4 inch margins instead of 1 inch margins. It’s okay to call them after a few months and ask the status of your submission. She just wants to find good books.
11.) She even said (to my complete surprise, and I can’t believe I heard her right), that she doesn’t mind if the book is complete or not.
12.) She said not to stress about the synopsis. It’s your book that matters, not your synopsis. It’s just a tool they need. If you can’t write a synopsis, have a friend read your book and write your synopsis; it’d probably be better that way anyway.
13.) She just wants to find good books, and that it’s a myth that you can get an editor on a "bad day." She’s not allowed to have bad days, because it’s her job to find great books. She wants to find great books, not crush writers’ dreams.

I have to say that I grew to respect her and like her after hearing her talk. To be honest, she does have a bit of a scary reputation in the business. She admits that she forgets authors have feelings, because books don’t have feelings. She does have genuine enthusiasm for her house’s books coming out.

And she definitely went on my wouldn’t-it-be-cool-to-work-with-her-someday list.

9 bonus scribbles:

Rhonda Stapleton 7/17/2007 07:54:00 AM  

Ohhhhhhhhh cool! Thank you so much for the heads' up. I'm pitching to her at the New Orleans conference...so it helps to know how she feels!!! :D

Stewart Sternberg 7/17/2007 12:15:00 PM  

Off topic here...

I have been discovering the Plum series, mostly as an attempt to open myself up to this genre and see a different perspective. I want you to know that because of you...I have also gone out and purchased PERFECTLY PLUM. I wonder if I could get published in something called PERFECTLY LOVECRAFT.

Stewart Sternberg 7/17/2007 12:18:00 PM  

Awesome post, I think I need to point some readers this way. It's funny how many different points of view I've heard from editors, publishers etc about what is and is not acceptable and preferable.

spyscribbler 7/17/2007 12:36:00 PM  

Rhonda, good luck! I'd love to pitch to her someday.

Stewart, LOL about Perfectly Lovecraft! And ... wow, you bought Perfectly Plum? That is just the coolest!

So true about your second comment, too. It sounds like a great book can overcome a lot of the bullshit. Not that you want to make a bad first impression, but ... it's nice to hear that we shouldn't stress over the small stuff so much.

avery 7/17/2007 05:15:00 PM  

Thanks for this, Spy! It's nice to hear from one of the big guns that a less-than-stellar synopsis isn't a death sentence. Made me feel a bit better about mine.

The Dark Scribe 7/17/2007 07:19:00 PM  

Great advice, Spy! Thanks!

I read an article awhile ago about Kate Duffy (I forget where, but if I track it down, I'll let you know). The article pointed out that she's a great believer in the development of talent, but that the talent needs to be present first. So maybe it's not *quite* so scary for those of us who've found mild success publishing short stories and the like!

Oh yeah...I'd be happy to help! Just let me know :D

lainey bancroft 7/18/2007 11:32:00 AM  

Wow! Love the new look, Spy!

Thanks for the great recap. I've been feeling out of the loop and moping a bit because I couldn't go to the conference, but with generous people like you sharing info I'll live and learn vicariously.

In case you didn't know, there is a forum for the Brava novella contest with a "Kate's Corner' where she answers questions. Some good info in there as well.

Therese 7/18/2007 06:46:00 PM  

Wow, such a great report on some really great advice!

Edie 7/19/2007 08:17:00 AM  

Thanks for the report! LaDonna went to the workshop and said how great Kate Duffy was too. I've listened to her on tape, and thought I'd love to have her as an editor.