I have just returned from the Romantic Novelists Association’s 2023 Conference which was held at the Imperial College in London. Despite being a member of the RNA since 2016, this was my first conference and I’m pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. So, what is the conference all about?
The conference has evolved over the years and is now a major event in the UK's romantic fiction genre calendar. In my opinion, simplified, the event has three themes running through it - 1) education & support, 2) career advancement & networking opportunities and finally 3) a fun & social element. It is open to both members and non-members, writers who are yet to secure their first contract and self-published indie authors. Attendees travel from all over the UK (and abroad) to attend.
Education & support.
There were 12 informative sessions, 10 of which were at differing levels/streams to meet the varied needs of the attendees. The three streams were a) beginners b) moderate writers looking to improve and c) experienced authors wanting to learn new tricks. Writers could choose the stream and topic to meet their own needs and experience. The sessions were led by professionals linked to the publishing industry. Each session was different, but generally they focused on sharing tips on writing, promotion and submissions, the use of new technology and what’s new in the publishing world (and how to survive it!). All of the sessions had the aim of helping attendees to be the best writer they can be, stand out from the crowd and deal with the inevitable highs and lows of a writing career.
Career advancement and networking opportunities.
The conference provides a great place for everyone to mingle and chat. Who knows where a simple conversation with the right person might lead? However, it is the 121 appointments with editors and agents which really focuses the mind. This year the applications for an appointment were anonymous, giving every submitting author a level playing field. If the editor/agent liked the submission pitch a 121 slot was offered. It was a great opportunity for writers to receive feedback on their current manuscript synopsis. I don’t know how many agents or editors requested a full manuscript, but I’m sure a few were requested over the weekend.
Fun and social aspect
It's always great to meet likeminded people who love romantic fiction as much as you do. Although the conference provides a great opportunity to make new friends, the Friday evening romantic quiz and the final night gala party were particularly fun. There was lots of talk, laughter and dancing. Once the music started the dance floor was always full.
I travelled from Cornwall by train and arrived the day before the conference was due to start in order to give myself plenty of time to find the venue, register at the conference and book into the accommodation. From then on it was a tightly packed schedule! My publisher, Choc Lit, has recently been acquisitioned by Joffe Books, so it was great to meet Emma Haigh, the Editorial Director of Choc Lit, and Jasmine Callaghan, the Project Editor, in person at the event.
Two awards were presented at the final evening's gala party. The first was the Joan Hessayon Award, which is presented to a graduate of the RNA's New Writers' Scheme. Joan Hessayon was a great supporter of the RNA scheme. In order to graduate from the New Writers' Scheme the author has to secure their first publishing contract. All published debut novels from the scheme are judged by a panel of published romantic fiction authors and members of the publishing industry. This year the winner was Katy Turner, with her debut Let's Just Be Friends, published by Joffe Books.
The second award was presented to the winner of the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy. Elizabeth was a great advocate for the art of storytelling and every year the competition is open to everyone attending the conference. This year the 1,000 words opening of an unpublished romantic novel had to encompass the theme of absence makes the heart grow fonder. This year's winner was Sally Jenkins, who is currently published by Choc Lit (an imprint of Joffe Books). My publisher certainly had an award winning night!
The RNA, who's new motto is run by members for members, is a voluntary organisation and a lot of thought and hard work was put into organising this year's event in order to make it feel as inclusive as it could be. There were lots of volunteers who helped make the conference run smoothly, too many to mention here, but a special thanks and acknowledgement should go to the main event organiser for 2023, writer Virginia Heath. I enjoyed my first time attending very much.