Sunday, June 21, 2009

The HNS Conference

So, I mentioned I'd do a brief re-cap of my experience at the Historical Novel Society Conference, which I attended last weekend. The first thing I want to say is: Wow! I had so much fun. Honestly, I didn't expect to have as much fun as I did. I had of course been looking forward to it; I attended the first U.S. HNS conference in Salt Lake City in 2004, shortly after The Secret Lion was published, and enjoyed it immensely; I met several authors I admired and through one of them, my marvelous friend Judith Merkle Riley, I eventually found my current agent and sold my books. So, I knew the HNS conferences offered important networking opportunities, interesting panels, as well as the only gathering where the historical fiction tribe can congregate and shamelessly share its obsession with the past.

This year I had the opportunity to sit on two panels: "Breaking in and Staying in the Historical Fiction Game" with Michelle Moran and Karen Essex; and "Historical Boys" with authors Doug Jacobson, Tony Hays, and last minute replacements, Margaret George and Karen Essex. The panels were great; Michelle, Karen and I focused on how marketing has become integral to an author's longevity and the different approaches we take to it. On "Historical Boys" we had a lively interactive discussion about writing in the POV of a different gender and about the political correctness /branding that has seeped into publishing and limited our ability to pitch ideas that are seen as contrary to our brand. Each panel had dynamic Q&A sessions.

I also attended an editor's panel on selling historical fiction, featuring Trish Todd of Touchstone, Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press, and Shana Drehs of Sourcebooks. The different perspectives presented by each editor were fascinating and helped answer some questions I had as to how editors acquire historical fiction and which manuscripts are most likely to be seen as successful. Not surprisingly, characters that are 'marquee' names (famous people in history) and a strong female perspective continue to dominate the genre.

The evening banquets and keynote speeches by Margaret George, Sharon Penman and Trish Todd were marvelous; but it was the late-night sessions at the bar that were true highlights for me. Meeting other writers and readers over copious amounts of wine and having robust conversations on everything from eras that fascinate us to the ways books are sold made me realize just how important that elusive 'face time' is, i.e., getting off the computer and getting out there. I've always valued personal interaction and the HNS Conference only further cemented for me the essential fact while we may be a virtual culture, as human beings we still need to talk to one another in person. I think all of us who attended the conference will agree.

If you love historical fiction and haven't yet attended a Historical Novel Society Conference, I cannot recommend it enough. These are terrific, well-organized events that offer a variety of panels for writers and readers.(In photo, left to right: Karen Essex, Michelle Moran, Margaret George and me).


Steven said...

Sounds like a great event. What all did Sharon Penman talk about? I would like to have heard her.

You also mentioned in the panels that it was discussed how marketing is integral to an author's success and the different approaches taken. What methods have you used to promote your books? How much does your publisher depend on you to self-market?

Thanks for sharing!

Steven Till

Rhonda said...

You are right! The conference was wonderful. And I agree you can't emphasize the importance of "face time" enough.

Writing is such a solitary pursuit. It's great to hear and talk to other authors. It's just priceless.

Rhonda (who sat next to you during Saturday's banquet.)

C.W. Gortner said...
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C.W. Gortner said...

Hi Rhonda, thanks for your comments! I remember you. Sorry i got pulled awy by a phone call; si much for face time :) But it was a fun conference, wasn't it? I'm so glad you had a good time.

Hi Steven,
I do all kinds of promotion, from internet blog ads to virtual tours to satellite radio shows. I work with AutorBuzz, a terrific book marketing firm headed by estselling author MJ Rose. Nowadays, I think publishers rely a lot on authors to self-market; they just don't have the budgets or staff anymore to devote to every book and it's the major names, whose books sell in huge quantities, that get most of the attention- because the returns are almost always secure, i.e., their books sell in vast quantities and justify the publisher's expense.

Steven said...

Which xm radio shows have you been on?

C.W. Gortner said...

Here's one show:

Steven said...

Very cool. Thanks!

C.W. Gortner said...

Oh, and Sharon Penman gave an eloquent and lively speech about the importance of historical veracity and her own publication journey. She's a marvelous speaker; for me, her presentation was a highlight of the conference.

ReadThinkWrite said...

Hi Christopher:

I enjoyed meeting you (again) at the HNS conference and really appreciated your insight and advice about the historical fiction market. The panels and speakers, and parties were excellent.

BTW, I finished The Last Queen on my way home. Loved it!!!

Dore' Ripley

C.W. Gortner said...

That's great to hear, Dore'! I'm glad you enjoyed the conference and the book.