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Just Write A Really Good Book

August 07, 1994

It's a billion dollar a year industry and two thousand people gathered last weekend at the Marriott Marquis in New York to celebrate it: the Romance Novel. Romance Writers of America sponsored the four day convention, which was big and hectic, populated with all manner of people trying to grab a piece of the publishing pie.

Basically, there were two thousand plots in search of an Editor. And the Editors were there. Every paperback publisher was represented, and usually by the entire editorial staff: Dell, Avon, Baen, Pocket, Tor, Zebra, Bantam, Warner, Berkley and many more. These weary people patiently answered the hundreds of questions thrown at them: "Would you be interested in...?" A question always answered in the affirmative, with one important qualifier: "If it's a really good book...."

The conference rooms swarmed with the Editor's close companions: the Agents, who picked up the lunch tabs. The conference offered over a hundred classes and events for writers, including "Revealing Garments, A Short History of Women's Underwear," "POV Problems--Or Whose Head Am I In?," How To Turn Your Novel into an Audio Entertainment,"Police Procedures for Writers," "Science Fiction, Fantasy and Paranormal Editor Panel," A WICCA representative who taught writers how to draw a realistic portrait of a witch. And there were some impossible classes, too: "Time Travel, How To Make It Believable," or "How to Make The New York Times Bestseller List." (Write a really good book, said the panelists, to which someone commented that there must be another way, "I mean just look at last week's list...."

There were big name stars (anyone whose print run goes over two hundred and fifty thousand copies) and these people filled the rooms with their relentless self promotion, concealing the quiet desperation of the authors as the competition grows fiercer; over 150 romance titles are published each month. This means a smaller percentage of books sold and ever-shrinking advances. Sometimes it means being dropped from a publisher's list altogether--the kiss of death. Zebra books and Pinnacle recently let go of nearly fifty authors, writers who will have to erase their publishing historties, change their names and start all over again.

The real stars were the still unpublished authors who had gathered so many rejection letters, and yet still clung tightly to their dreams. They were the people listening intently to every piece of advice offered by anyone, all of which could be boiled down into one neat phrase: "Write a really good book." And then offer a clean 15% to an agent.

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