Wednesday, 1 July 2015

RNA Conference 2015: Are YOU Going?

As this year’s conference approaches I remember my first – Sheffield 2013. Who could forget the breakdown of the air conditioning in the midst of an amazing heatwave, much like the one we’re experiencing at the moment. Even the discomfort didn’t detract from my pleasure, and the extra knowledge and advice I took away with me were immeasurable. So when I made my booking last year for Telford it was with the expectation of (a) having a wonderful time and (b) experiencing another steep learning curve. Two years down the line I’ve come to appreciate that a huge amount of work goes into preparing and ‘staging’ this event so I asked a few questions and some advice…from some who know and from one who, as yet, doesn’t.

Eileen Ramsay – RNA Chair: How many conferences have you attended in the past and in what way, as incoming RNA Chair, has your approach to this one been different
I have attended several RNA conferences and enjoyed each one. Most are marked, not by the sessions I attended - although I still benefit from much that I learned – but by the friends made and still treasured. One or two conferences were marked by events. 2005 when there were the London bombings and I missed almost two days and the one when, with feelings of disbelief and delight, I won the Elizabeth Goudge trophy.
I must be honest and say that I’m looking forward to attending the 2015 RNA conference with a feeling akin to pure, unadulterated terror. This year I am Chairman of this wonderful organisation and my head and heart are full of the ‘hard acts’ I have to follow.
Having judged all sixty-three entries, I do, however, look forward to presenting the Elizabeth Goudge trophy to this year’s winner. Whoever you are, WELL DONE!

Jenny Barden – Conference Co-ordinator: Having received my information pack for the Conference, I’m wondering how you manage to find so many interesting speakers and panellists, and how long before the event does your work begin?
Finding speakers is part seeking out, part being receptive. It’s a complex process that I’ve done for so many years now for various literary organisations that it’s become almost second nature. Enjoying parties and networking is a help! At every literary function I go to I’ll be making new contacts and putting out feelers. Once I come across someone, whether an author, editor, agent or other professional with something interesting to offer, then I’ll make a mental note and try and obtain contact details unless the means of contact is obvious. The details are then banked and followed up as appropriate, often several months down the line. The important thing, I find, is to jot down particulars quickly but unobtrusively, so for me at parties there’s quite a lot of scribbling on the back of business cards in the ladies! In my experience, people, particularly publishing industry people, are generally much more inclined to be amenable to approaches if they’re made informally and convivially in an unpressurised way over a drink. A lot of my first introductions are made with a glass of wine in hand (or my favourite, a G&T!). I confess to enjoying it – I like finding out what people do, what makes them tick, who they know and how they relate to one another – and generally I find authors and those in the publishing industry to be very good company.

The result of all this is that I now have an extensive list of first rate people I know whom I can call on to appear at literary functions. For this year’s RNA conference the job was made much easier by the past success of RNA events and the magnificent work of conference supremo, Jan Jones. Pretty well every author and publishing professional with a serious interest in romantic fiction is familiar with the RNA and their conferences, and that awareness is now extending globally. For example, this year we have Jim Azevedo, marketing director of Smashwords, one of the largest world-wide distributors of self-published ebooks, talking via Skype from the US about ‘How to Top the Charts with ebook Preorders’. Jim was one of those speakers who came to us rather than being sought out, and I would say that a significant proportion of authors on the cast list are there for the same reason – because they have made an excellent pitch for a programme place. This is what I mean about ‘being receptive’. You have to be prepared for the unexpected! – ready to make room, jiggle and balance for those who come forward with good ideas, as well as seek out those with special expertise who are new to RNA events so that delegates always have fresh faces on the agenda. Sometimes you have to jump very quickly. The process becomes much more intense in the closing stages of finalising the programme, and inevitably there are those who come forward late with great suggestions who then have to go on the list for next year. A sure sign of a tip-top conference is a strong waiting list!

The work begins before the last conference even starts! To give you an instance of this, in May, at the RNA’s summer party, I met the lovely Helen Bryant, founder director of Cornerstones, and invited her to the next conference in 2016. It was too late to ask her to this year’s conference, but she’ll be coming to Lancaster. The work never stops. I’ve now stepped down from conference co-ordination, though I’ll still be advising and helping behind the scenes, and I expect I’ll always be keeping an eye open for interesting speakers, glass in hand!

Jan Jones – Conference Organiser: Is there any particular advice or are there any tips you could offer conference first-timers?
Enjoy. Take the golden opportunity of the conference weekend to be yourself. Soak up the
empowerment that comes from being surrounded by writers and writerly talk - and then remember that feeling when you go home and are enmeshed by ordinary life again.

I'd also say go to as many sessions as you can, because you will always learn something, even if it's not what you expected.

Above all, don't stress, don't worry, talk to people and they will talk back to you.

And yes, enjoy.

Elaine Everest – Pitch Session Manager: Many of the delegates will have been hoping to gain one2ones with industry professionals. Can you give us an insight how you organise this aspect of the conference?
I love RNA conferences and have learned so much over the years. This is my second year as Pitch Session Manager as part of the Conference Team. Jenny Barden and Jan Jones keep me in the loop with news of industry professionals and as soon as the schedule of Industry Appointments is created I make my charts and lists. The week leading up to Conference pack going out I will try to prepare myself. This will mean making sure I have no outstanding articles to file for my journo work, class notes are up to date for my teaching work and the dog is groomed if there is a dog show in June – I failed this year and Henry is happy he escaped the bath tub!

The day packs hit doormats my inbox goes mad. I answer each request in the order they arrive and reply with times and dates by return. I also request that the first chapter and synopsis is returned to me as soon as possible. As submissions arrive I complete my lists and send those magical chapters to publishers, editors and agents. Towards the end of June I have to chase those who have not been so quick off the mark with submissions.

I love to meet delegates at the conference with updates of how they got on in their interviews. News of successes later is fabulous as I feel as though in a small way I’ve helped them gain publication.

In the middle of June edits arrived from my editor at Pan Macmillan for The Woolworths’ Girls. My husband came home to find me hiding in the corner hyperventilating. He pointed out that I love my job and all it entails. I realised he was right and carried on…!
PS did I mention we also have to keep the RNA blog afloat as well?

Wendy Clarke – Delegate Conference First-Timer: How do you feel being a member of the New Writers’ Scheme at her first Conference?
Less than two weeks to go, and already I am thinking about it… with a mixture of trepidation and
excitement. Questions go round and round in my head… What shall I take? Which workshops should I do? Will anyone talk to me? I am sure that I am not alone in feeling a bit unsure – I am, after all, a newbie and it’s beginning to feel a bit like my first day at school! So what made me decide to go to the conference? Well, many things – most importantly that Natalie, among others, told me I had to!

Seriously though, as I passed the halfway mark of my first novel, I realised that the chance to hear great speakers, pick people’s brains and generally share experiences would be far too good an opportunity to pass up. I am very excited to hear what the agents and editors I am seeing think of the chapter and synopsis I’ve sent them. Will they like it? Will they give me tips to improve it? Will they notice that I am petrified? There’s only one way to find out.

The conference will be a chance to dress up in the evening, meet people I’ve only ever spoken to online and make new friends… oh, and I’ve also been told there’s wine and chocolate! What’s not to like?

I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to all those above who contributed to this post. I gave each of them very little notice and every one has come up trumps – giving truth to the saying ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’. I look forward to seeing them and (hopefully) you at what to me has become the main event of the year.



  1. What a great post, Natalie. I really enjoyed finding out what goes on behind the scenes from the organisers, and getting to know Wendy. Looking forward to seeing you all at the conference!

    1. Thank you, Helena. Counting the days. In fact, almost at the counting the hours stage. I look forward to seeing you at the end of the week