Friday, 19 June 2009

2009 Historical Novel Society Conference

Your jet-lagged Hoyden just stepped off the plane, her head a-buzz from the 2009 Historical Novel Society Conference in Schaumburg, Illinois, which was held last weekend, June 12-14.

There were some superb fan girl moments when I got to gush all over honoured guests Margaret George, Sharon Kay Penman, and Margaret Frazer, a fellow Minnesotan who writes engaging novels about sleuthing medieval nuns. Diana Gabaldon was as stunning as ever in her turquoise shawls and was the star of the Late Night Sex Reading. Unfortunately, being such a meek jet-lagged soul, I had gone to bed before her reading. For the next conference they need to have an *earlier* sex reading for those of us who need our eight hours of sleep.

I was lucky enough to meet up with my fantastic fellow Hoyden and Firebrand, Kim Murphy, who took part on the pertinent panel, Is Sex Necessary? Spicing Up Your Historical Novel (or Not) I hope the next Late Night Sex reading showcases our fabulous Kim!

Surviving as a writer in hard times seemed the dominant theme of the conference this year. Touchstone editor Trish Todd gave a great talk on the state of the market. What's selling now generally involves well known historical figures. An English setting is a plus. Paperback is a much easier sell than hardcover. Ms. Todd said that as an editor, it's important for her discover what her author's brand is and find out how she can help establish that brand. May every writer have an editor as market-savvy as Ms. Todd!

Barbara Peters, the powerhouse behind Poisoned Pen Bookstore and Poisoned Pen Press, told us that, contrary to popular opinion, the author tour is not dead. Indy bookstores can do a lot for authors and generally offer more support in terms of hand-selling and event-hosting than the big chains who demand coop money for book placement. Midlist authors need to get public face time, however they can, so get out there and meet the lovely people who work at your local indies. Sometimes it's better to set up your own tour than to rely on a publicist with no local knowledge, Peters pointed out.

Michelle Moran, Karen Essex, and CW Gortner gave a fantastic panel on what authors can do to promote their books in a dire econony. Moran stressed the importance of getting a good author website with a dedicated bloggers' and book group page. In terms of advertising, she pointed out that online ads get you more bang for your buck--blog ads are the way to go but just be sure to be creative in finding out what blogs your audience reads. Moran reported much success advertising her novels of Ancient Egypt on the LOL Cat website, I Can Has Cheezburger, which leads me to wonder whether there is a Crazy Horse Lady-centric site that would be great for advertising my novels!

Karen Essex talked about the importance of writing for the market--ie producing an excellent book that people want to read. Choose well known characters that intrigue people or, if you write about invented characters, find a wonderfully arresting setting.

C.W. Gortner discussed the importance of perserverance and investing in your career. It can't hurt and might help a lot to spend up to half your advance on publicity and marketing. If you blog, as he does wonderfully on his site Historical Boys, have something to say. It shouldn't be all about self-promotion. He felt that virtual blog tours are more successful in terms of sales and publicity than the traditional author tour.

Getting back on topic, namely Hoydens and Firebrands of the 17th Century, the freebies in our conference bag included galleys of Katherine Howe's magnificent debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, a meticulously researched book which dares to ask the question: what if historical witches were *really* witches rather than misunderstood eccentrics? Although I haven't yet finished reading the book, so far I'm impressed with her fictional depiction of historical magic and cunning folk and am intrigued that we've drawn on many of the same sources, such as Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic. It's very affirming to see that nonsensationalist fiction about historical witches and cunning folk is getting the critical and commercial success it deserves. Hopefully this will help dispell any number of inaccurate stereotypes.

Meanwhile my own forthcoming novel about historical cunning folk has undergone a name change. The original title was A Light Far-Shining: A Novel of the Pendle Witches, but my publisher felt that was a bit too wordy and hard to remember. My excellent editor helped me brainstorm a new, catchier title: Daughters of the Witching Hill. I like that very, very much. My witchy novel will be out in April or May of 2010. Watch this space!

The Witching Hill, aka Pendle, in May 2009. This is actually the view from my backyard!