My Day at the San Francisco Writer's Conference  

There they were...a sea of scowling faces, arms cocked, rotten fruit at the ready...there I was, the microphone trembling in my grip, and— OH MY GOD, I forgot to wear pants...

...and that's when I woke up.

Seriously, even though public speaking often ranks above death in polls that go about ranking things that give people the willies, on February 14th, 2004, I discovered that I, well, I actually sort of enjoy it. Public speaking, that is.


Which was sort of embarrassing to discover, given that I had more than one dream just like the one above before the big day. Maybe my dormant wannabe rock star tendencies kicked in the moment they passed me a microphone. Suddenly, only the jaws of life could have pried that thing out of my paws...OK, so I'm exaggerating a little.

But here's the story, in brief: The first Annual San Francisco Writer's Conference was the heroic undertaking of my amazing agent, Elizabeth Pomada, her partner Michael Larsen, and Wendy Nelder, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and a long-time arts supporter. I was invited to particpate on a panel including award winning romance novelist Gwynne Forster and Editor of Affaire de Coeur Louise Snead, and our topic was "Putting Passion on the Page," which we all interpreted rather broadly. :) Andrea Hurst, a Literary Agent with an interest in Women's Fiction and Romance, moderated. We had fun, and it certainly seemed as though the audience had fun, too—and hopefully everyone walked away feeling a little more enlightened about the romance genre and about publishing in general.

Below is the transcript of my speech. It's longer than the version I delivered at the conference, as a fourth panelist was added later in the game, necessitating shorter speeches).




After You Get "The Call..."
What to Expect...and What You Won't Expect!

Julie Anne Long~San Francisco Writer's Conference
February 14, 2004

The last time I did anything like this I was in 6th grade, and I think I was doing an oral report about cats. And I was so nervous then that I twisted the hem of my skirt in my hands until it was practically up around my waist. You may have noticed I made a point of wearing pants today. And if I suddenly freeze and go blank, I would appreciate it if someone just sort of shouted out to me what I was just talking about.

Anyway, hi. My name is Julie Anne Long, I'm a Bay Area native. To my everlasting delight, my first novel, a historical romance called THE RUNAWAY DUKE, will be published by Warner Books in August of this year. I thought I'd tell you a little bit about how this happened, and then offer a little advice about that netherworld that exists between the moment you get "the call" and the moment your first book appears in print, because it's a distinctly transitional phase.

So the reason I'm sitting here today is largely because, back in about March of 2002, destiny sent me to a different Laundromat. I'm being a little facetious, but I truly can trace the beginning of this particular journey back to that day. I usually do my laundry on Wednesdays, in this place about a block from my house, because on Wednesdays there's usually only one or two other sheepish, badly dressed people in there-you know how laundry day is — the only clean thing left in your closet is a bridesmaid gown, or something. But on this particular Wednesday, every single washer in my usual Laundromat was inexplicably occupied. So I stared at it all for a moment with a sort of sense of betrayal, and then lugged my stuff a few blocks further up the street to this other little boutique of a Laundromat, which I usually avoid, because it's a quarter more for everything. It even had magazines fanned out on a little coffee table.

One of those magazines was the Learning Annex catalog.

I started idly flicking through it, and discovered that the esteemed Literary Agent, Michael Larsen, was giving a class on how to get your book published. According to the catalog, if you signed up early enough, Michael's partner, Elizabeth Pomada, would review partial fiction manuscripts and offer comments.

And I thought, hmmm.

At that time, I had just completed the first draft of THE RUNAWAY DUKE. It was almost 500 pages long, set during the English Regency period, and I truly had no idea what it was, from a genre perspective. I suspected, however, that it was a romance, since I've been a romance reader ever since I got in trouble for sneaking a Rosemary Rogers novel out of my Mother's nightstand drawer — I'm pretty sure the book was Sweet Savage Love.

Anyhow, I registered for the Learning Annex class and sent the first few chapters of my manuscript to Elizabeth. And then I went to the class, but I didn't hear a bloody thing Michael said, although I'm sure it was fascinating, because I was sick with anticipation waiting to hear what Elizabeth had to say about my submission.

Finally, at the end of class, when I sort of crept up to the front, Michael had this to say. "Oh—you're Julie. Elizabeth wants to see your whole manuscript."

I couldn't feel my legs after that.

I've had quite a few "I can't feel my legs" moments since then. There was the call from Elizabeth in about July, saying she wanted to represent me. I did a little dance and played that message for everyone I know. And then there was another call from Elizabeth a few months later, saying Warner Books was interested in my manuscript.

It's been an astonishing year.

And I've learned a lot, in a very short amount of time. I learned that 500 pages is considered positively sprawling for a historical romance, and that my book was indeed an historical romance. My editors at Warner worked with me to chisel it down to a sleeker, more aerodynamic romance novel size, which is typically 375-400 pages.

I've learned that, much like sonnets, romance novels have definite structural requirements—for example, happy endings are requisite—but within that structure there are infinite story possibilities. You're only limited by the stories and personalities you can dream up.

I learned that you don't just send your manuscript off to your editor and then—VOILA!—your book is in your hand the very next day. It's a months-long proces involving revisions and edits and reviews, during which you and your editor will exchange your manuscript any number of times and will get to know each other well.

I learned that I stumbled into one of the most popular genres—Regency-set romance—and I think we have Jane Austen to blame for that: I think if Jane Austen wrote about the Incas, or something, I we'd have shelves full of Inca romances, and Warner Forever would be the Inca romance line.

And, thanks to my detour to a different Laundromat, I learned that there's actually no such thing as a detour—or, rather, what feels like a detour at the time may simply be an alternate route to your lifelong dream.

Right now, as I mentioned earlier, I'm crossing over (with apologies to John Edwards) into the world of the published from the world of the unpublished. It's a distinctly transitional phase, and for any writers in the audience who are wondering what to expect after you get that call, and for writers who would love to get that call, I can offer a few bullet points worth of general advice about easing your passage into publication.

  • Find and embrace a support group, if you haven't yet. There's one for every genre. Because when you get that call, odds are from that point on every time you open your mouth the only thing that will come out will be book book book book book. Your friends and family, I promise you, will get sick of this fast. Other writers, however, will find it gratifyingly fascinating, and they'll even understand what you're babbling about. Support, ideas, commiseration -- its value is immeasurable. My group is the SF RWA, which is full of bright, fun, hard-working, talented ambitious people, and I found a few new treasured friends.

  • My next point is: Streamline your life. Or see if you can acquire a trust fund or a rich, indulgent spouse or a before you get your first romance novel published. Just kidding! Truthfully, though, you'll very likely be very, very busy, because while you're finishing the revisions of your first book and writing your next against very tight deadlines, you'll be building your website and working on promotions and setting up signings, etc., and no doubt be working your usual demanding day job and juggling friends and family. And every now and then you'll need to stop to eat or take a shower or something. And though you will get an advance, it probably won't change your life dramatically—at least not for your first book in this genre.

    In short, the process really is a little like bringing home a baby—you need make room in your life for it so you can nurture it to completion. So look for any way possible to steal a little more time out of your day: consolidate your bills, get that long-overdue breakup over with, organize your email folders—anything you can do to get your life into fighting trim. For example, I decided to use part of my advance to get everything I own dry cleaned for awhile, so bye-bye Laundromat. I'll have to find destiny elsewhere from now on, I guess.

  • Speaking of friends and family, you'll probably need to set loving but firm boundaries with friends and loved ones. Because your dream come true will change their lives, too. You'll get a lot of reactions, ranging from joy to a little bit of jealousy to confusion, and your loved ones will want to help, but being human, they'll resist changes in their lives. Explain how important this is to you, and that this frenzy will be temporary because in a year or two you'll be raking in the dough — I wrote "pause for laughter here" — so meanwhile, you'd appreciate it if they would get used to hearing from you once every two weeks instead of every two days, or figuring out some other way to get to soccer practice, or what have you.

  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. About a year ago, I knew almost nothing about publishing. I wasn't writing in a total vacuum, but very nearly. I learned fast, because I shamelessly exposed my ignorance to various helpful people. Now I can throw around terms like ARC's and CRM's and actually sort of sound like I know what I'm talking about. No doubt your publisher will have an email Author's Loop — join, take advantage, learn and dish with other writers. Some day you'll be able to give back to newbies, too, and I'm looking forward to that day.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. I've always been the sort who prides herself on accomplishing everything on my own. I've learned this isn't noble; it's just plain stupid. There's simply no way you can do it all on your own, and you'll find that most people will want to help. For example, I've roped one multi-talented friend into assembling my promotional items for Warner's sales force; I have another friend doing bookstore reconnaissance for me in preparation for readings.

  • This kind of goes hand in hand with "streamline your life," but I put it in a different category. Make a plan. In this day and age, we first-time authors really have to actively promote ourselves. Get a calendar and mark on it, to the best of your knowledge, the milestones in the editorial process, the deadlines for your promotional materials, and keep it separate from your daily life calendar. Having it laid out in front of you can help you be prepared.

  • And in conclusion, you'd think they'd throw you a parade when you sell your first book, but it doesn't happen that way. So throw yourself metaphorical parade— because selling your first book is a momentous, rare and wonderful event, and it will change your life. Celebrate with loved ones, buy yourself a gift. But don't blow your advance, because you're really going to need it for promotion and conferences like this one!