Absolutely terrific points made in this speech that I want to remember!
Keynote Speaker: Julia Quinn (aka Julie Pottinger)
Excerpt from HODRW October 20, 2001 Workshop
At the recent HODRW annual workshop/Molly & Aspen Contest Award Ceremony, Julia Quinn's keynote speech was a collection of Top Four lists (she claimed that Top Tens or even Fives was just too strenuous a task). Here is the first of her lists, "The Top Four Things She Learned Before Selling Her First Book:"
Number one: And if you take nothing else home from this speech, I beg of you to remember this: When setting up your workspace, make absolutely sure that you cannot reach your refrigerator without getting up from your chair. The implications here are obvious. My first book was written in my teeny one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley, California, and as my then-boyfriend-now-husband tends to go to bed before I do, we figured we'd set up his desk in our bedroom. The only place left for me was a desk-height counter in the kitchen‹right next to the fridge. I didn't even have to roll my chair an inch to reach the refrigerator handle. Procrastination is bad enough. Procrastination with food is a recipe for disaster.
Number two: There's no substitute for knowing your market. And in this I include both creative factors and nuts and bolts. I probably don't need to talk much on this topic because all of you here have obviously taken the most important step toward knowing your market by joining RWA. I, on the other hand, didn't join until after I sold my first book, which left me in the dark about a number of very important factors. I'd read enough to have a pretty good grasp of what, editorially, made a good romance, but I had no idea, for example, how many words my manuscript needed to be. Now, you'd think I'd find some Writers Digest book, or send away for a tip sheet for an answer, but no, I was smarter than that, so I grabbed a Johanna Lindsey book, typed out one page, word for word, and then proceeded to do rather involved mathematical calculations to figure out how one of MY typed pages compared to one of her printed and bound pages, and therefore, how many pages would I have to write to fill up an entire book? Then it occurred to me that if I wanted to have a good scientific sample, I ought to type out another page and see how that compared. And a third, to get a good average, and then maybe a fourth and a fifth, since now I was really catching the rhythm of Johanna Lindsey's writing, and that might be a good thing to study, since she is, well, you know, just a little bit successful. Clearly, I could have saved myself a great deal of trouble by investing in a membership to RWA, which could have provided me with word counts in a jiffy.
Number Three: The only way to finish a book is, unfortunately, to finish it. The world is full of first chapters, and to a lesser degree, second and third chapters. If you want to be a writer, you have to write! It has to be a priority. Now, it may not be your first priority, and contrary to what the person sitting next to you at your last writers' meeting said, that's okay. Your first priority might be your day job, or your family, or any number of other things. Writing doesn't have to be #1. But it has to be up there. If you want to write, you've got to write, and that means carving out a little time for it. Maybe all you can do is one hour, three times per week. If that's the case, then go for it! A friend of a friend who wanted to write a novel once noticed that a lot of her favorite books had between 350 and 400 pages. Then she realized that with 365 days in the year, if she wrote one page per day, she could have a novel done in one year's time. She did it, and she sold it, and then she sold it to Hollywood with Cher in the starring role. So the moral of the story is, to steal a phrase from the sportswear world, just do it. You don't need a lot of time, but you need consistent time.
Number Four: Rejection is a part of the journey. When my agent was trying to sell my first book, I remember her saying to me, "We're only going to send it to four houses at a time. That way if everyone rejects it for the same reason, you can do some edits before we send it out again." I thought this made a lot of sense, although when I got those first rejections back, one said that the story was great but the characters were obvious, anothersaid that the characters were great but the story was lame. And another said that the characters were likable but the story was too simplistic and the heroine was not believable (somewhat inexplicably despite the fact that the characters were likable.) So there was no big consensus on why I wasn't worth publishing. But everyone who took the time to write more than two lines in their rejection said the same thing---I was a good writer and had an engaging style. So even if some people didn't like my story and some people didn't like my plot, I knew that when push came to shove, I had my own voice. And when everyone is bending over backwards to point out your weaknesses, it's good to know your strengths.
But at the same time, it's hard to get around one simple fact. Rejection sucks. And sometimes the only way to get through it is to stick to your guns, look at your rejection letter and say, "Well, obviously you don't know anything about romance novels." I did this for about eight months straight, but I won't mention the people I addressed that mental phrase to, since most of them now answer to titles like editorial director and vice president.
Julia Quinn is the New York Times bestselling author of ten novels. Visit her website at www.juliaquinn.com.