A few contentious souls will beg to differ, but I can't tell you how much the Romance Writers of America (RWA) has helped me on my journey from writing virgin to published romance novelist. And it's been a pretty quick journey…but I have no doubt that any efficiency of accomplishment I've enjoyed can be directly traced back to finding the RWA early on.
Oh, I'm ahead of myself. I'm posting about this because my regional chapter's monthly meeting is this afternoon, and after the business portion we're doing a sort of meet-and-greet party in lieu of our usual writing workshop. Let me say, my chapter rocks. But how did I find them?
When I started drafting my first novel in July of 2008, I knew nothing about writing, really, only that I liked it, I suspected I was good at it, and that the story playing like a movie in my head wouldn't let me rest until I put it into words. I knew even less about the romance publishing industry. Lucky for me, I'm an NPR nerd and I stumbled upon an older episode of This American Life at a very opportune moment. It was a Valentine's episode called What Is This Thing? [click the link to listen for free] in which Robin Epstein visits the 2002 RWA National conference for one of the segments. I thought, "There's such a thing as the Romance Writers of America?" By August I'd joined and suddenly had access to a treasure trove of useful and genre-specific information. I also found out about the Golden Heart contest, which ushered in my very first deadline. By November I'd finished my first manuscript in time to enter and knew all about standard formatting and synopses and submission protocol. I was on my way!
The next March I discovered there was a New England Chapter of the RWA and I nervously attended my first meeting as a guest. I found out that just a couple weeks later they were putting on their annual conference, and as my day job was ending that same week I thought, what a perfect way to kick off what I'd then assumed would be a blissful six months of severance pay funded heaven, a time when I could do tons of what I'd come to love since the previous summer—writing romance. So my job ended and the next day the conference started. It was at that conference that I did my first pitch, attended my first and oh-so-thrilling workshops, and, little did I know, got my first break. I attended a Harlequin panel chaired by Brenda Chin, senior Blaze editor, and I took part in an informal hook contest, scribbling down a two sentence hook for a potential Blaze book. The prize was a chance to submit a full manuscript of that story to Brenda. I misunderstood the contest a bit, and was subsequently a) thrilled to find out I won but b) terrified because I hadn't actually written the book. I'd thought of the idea right then, sitting in the panel. But luckily I was unemployed and had the luxury of dedicating the next six weeks to hammering out the story—my second completed manuscript and my second experience writing to a deadline. Fast forward fourteen months and I got the call to revise. Another month and Harlequin offered a contract. All thanks to the RWA.
In the meantime I attended the Connecticut, National and New Jersey conventions and became involved in my own chapter. I offer up my design background for branding and conference programs and other projects, and I edit the monthly newsletter. In return I've made great friends and contacts—all so incredibly generous with their time and wisdom and advice—which is vital when you work in a profession that's so otherwise solitary. And it's true what they say: it's who you know. I've yet to begin seriously looking for an agent, but I wouldn't be shocked at all if I eventually find one through a chaptermate's tip. So as I prepare to cut the brownies for this afternoon's meeting, I urge anyone who's considering a career in romance writing: if you haven't joined RWA yet, do. Ignore the naysayers. RWA has tons to offer the aspiring author, not least of which is the comfort of knowing you're not alone.