Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Conference Report: Rachel Morgan on Self-Publishing

ROSACon2014 closed with a chat with Rachel Morgan, possibly South Africa's most successful self-published author to date. Thank you to author Kathy Bosman for this report back on Rachel's talk.

Report by Kathy Bosman

Rachel was truly inspiring. She’s a successful author who has self-published several series of books and is able to live “comfortably,” as she put it, off of her sales. Many of us aspire to reach this point.

Her talk was given in the format of question and answers, and Rachel was thorough in answering the questions forwarded to her.

To start with, she stressed the importance of investing in a good cover design and how that’s essential to selling a book on Amazon. Series are also vital to attract readers. Publish quickly – don’t leave long periods between books. The good thing about being self-published is you have control over the time periods between your releases.

If you self-publish, you must be flexible and open to change as the market and rules are always changing. You have to be able to format or hire someone to format your book for several platforms. She suggested using Sigil (which is free and makes Epub files) and Jutoh where you don’t need to use code and is the easiest for Amazon and Smashwords.

A participant asked where she gets her editing done. Rachel sends her books to trusted beta readers before she publishes them so she doesn’t lay out large amounts on professional editors.

She said the best way to do promo is to advertise on email subscription services like Booksend, Best Bug, The Fussy Librarian, Read Cheaply and Free Booksy. Putting her books for free gains exposure and having the first book of a series for free helps gain readers.

She uses social media to promote and only sends newsletters out to those who are her genuine readers. There’s nothing more off-putting than sending a newsletter out to those who didn’t subscribe or don’t want to receive it.

To obtain reviews – she asks those who liked her previous books to review for her. She finds them on Goodreads.

Another good promotion opportunity is to combine events with other authors like Facebook parties and blog tours. Put a free book on Wattpad – it helps to improve sales as people read it and then want her other books.

Rachel Morgan
She spoke about tax and how you have to keep a record of your sales and expenses and also how you have to organise an ITIN number with Amazon so you don’t have to pay tax with them although that seems to have fallen away now. You can claim for some of your expenses from SARS as a business would.

With her print books she works with independent bookstores as they’re more open to selling her books. Most of the time, they sell her books on consignment. To sell to the major bookstores requires an expensive distributor.

It was a great session to listen to as it inspired us to work toward that goal of living off our passion. It was very informative for those aiming to go the self-publishing route. I don’t think I managed to get down half of all the information she gave us.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Conference Report: Tristan Banha's talk on Social Media

Thank you to author Rebecca Crowley for her report on Tristan Banha's talk on Social Media & Branding at #ROSACon2014.

Report by Rebecca Crowley

On Saturday afternoon ROSACon welcomed Tristan Banha, the founder of The Juice Box social media agency who’s recently joined the Chat Factory, where his clients include Joburg Theatre, Peugeot South Africa and the Smile Foundation. The Chat Factory is a social agency looking after social media publicity, strategy and account management.

Tristan began with a presentation emphasizing the constant growth in social media use. In South Africa specifically Instagram and YouTube are the fastest growing, while Facebook remains South Africa’s biggest social network.

Addressing Facebook in particular, Tristan said writers must have a fan page. He described Facebook as a “coffee shop”, a virtual place for mingling and sharing, which means it’s essential to divide the personal from the professional. An author-specific fan page provides this barrier, as well as helps authors target their engagement without blurring the lines between professional and more general social interaction.

When it comes to maximizing Facebook interaction, Tristan’s first tip was to ensure your content is mobile friendly, as 78% of South Africans access Facebook via their phones. He then explained the essential difference between being seen and being noticed. Achieving a high number of ‘Likes’ on a post constitutes being seen, but doesn’t necessarily suggest that the viewers will take that click any further (ie buy a book!). Being noticed, Tristan clarified, is better illustrated through an exchange of comments, as that shows engagement with the product (from the viewer’s side) and with the target audience (from the author’s side).

Tristan moved on from the nuances of Facebook to the overarching ways authors can maximize social media to engage with and generate new readers. Broadening from the “being seen v. being noticed” point, he suggested asking questions or crowdsourcing – getting input from audiences on Facebook or Twitter for character names or setting details, for instance – as a way to get readers involved with books or works in progress. The key follow-up step is to acknowledge the comments generated by these questions and interact with the readers who ask them, as that’s what secures their engagement and moves the interaction from seen to noticed.

Tristan described social media as a “community conversation” and encouraged authors to make use of it as such. He emphasized the use of hashtags on Twitter to help people join in the conversation, as they may search on those as keywords, and will expand the scope of the conversation from existing followers to potential new ones.

Overall, Tristan underlined that social media works best when the community provides the content and the author responds to it in an engaged, interactive way. Social media has the potential to massively grow an author’s exposure internationally and exponentially.

Tristan Banha and Rebecca Crowley at #ROSACon2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Conference Report: Anthony Ehlers on a Plotter's Guide to Romance

Anthony Ehlers led a workshop on Sunday morning at #ROSACon2014 on 'Classic Love Stories: a Plotter's Guide to Romance'. Thanks to Lorna Senior for this report.

Report by Lorna Senior

All love stories are a search for a soulmate. This concept comes from Zeus having split humans in two and banished the halves to opposite ends of the earth. Hence the term ‘other half’ which suggest we are never complete without this mate.

Anthony talked about a few of the original romances, eg Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice, illustrating that romance stories all have shared elements.
For example, the stories start with a magnetic attraction which includes a sense of the forbidden. This is followed by a brief moment of happiness then the lovers are ripped apart and everything seems impossible. It’s important to delay the reunion to create yearning. At last, there is happiness at the final rejoining of both body and spirit and the ultimate freedom.

It’s interesting to notice that early romances were frequently tragedies suggesting that the ultimate rejoining could only be attained by death eg Romeo and Juliet, but contemporary romances have the happy ever afters, which is our ultimate wish fulfilment.

Anthony also illustrated the importance of virtue being rewarded and pointed out the heroine couldn’t be a bitch! The readers have to believe that she is deserving of endless love.

It was a fun and informative talk and Anthony suggested that we all reconnect with the classics. Another very enjoyable and informative presentation in a fantastic conference.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Conference Report: Rebecca Crowley's talk on Self-Editing

Thank you to author Rae Rivers for her report back on Rebecca Crowley's workshop on Tips for Self-Editing on the Sunday morning at ROSACon2014.

Report by Rae Rivers

Day 2 of the conference dawned bright and early as we all gathered with great eagerness, notebooks in hand, to listen to Rebecca Crowley share some self-editing tips.

I adore the storytelling aspect of writing a book but sometimes find the editing aspect a bit daunting. The more books I’ve published, the sharper my editing eye has become – even though I still have heaps to learn so I was so keen to attend this particular session. For me, looking at my book objectively and trying to find all its faults is a bit overwhelming so it was useful that Rebecca broke down the self-editing tips into three parts:

• Plot, Conflict and Characters 
Is your plot, conflict and characters well defined? Are you able to sum up your story into a synopsis or a one-sentence elevator pitch?

• Pacing and Consistency 
Is there consistency between chapter and scene lengths? She suggested keeping an eye on word count to ensure that lengths are consistent. Are the details correct and constant – clothing, time sequence, setting, hair/eye colour etc. Another tip is to check these details after edits too as inconsistencies sometimes occur during the editorial process.

• Polish and Proofread
Finally, it’s critical to give your book one last read to polish and proofread. Check for words that are often repeated, delete unnecessary dialogue tags, watch out for repetition and passive voice and be wary of purple prose. (I for one, found that last tip interesting!)

It was wonderful to see such an eager audience, share ideas and gather some tips. A big thank you to Rebecca for sharing her knowledge and experience!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Conference Report: Nicki Bosman's talk on 'The Story of Your Life'

Thank you very much to Lorna Senior for her report on Nicki Bosman's talk at ROSACon2014. Nicki runs an editorial service called Enbeevee.

Report by Lorna Senior

Nicki Bosman has a degree majoring in English and Communications and a B.Tech in Public Relations and Communications. Her primary passion is working with English and words.

Nicki shared the challenges she herself has faced, including her husband’s death due to a motor bike accident, and her diagnosis of MS in 1992.

She advised us to write honestly and most importantly to be believable. For example, although we frequently suspend belief in fiction and particularly in romance writing, it is vital that emotions are authentically portrayed.

She suggested reading real life accounts eg Readers’ Digest or newspaper articles and interviewing the participants, if possible. Dramatic events have to be treated with respect. Nicki also pointed out the importance of using the five senses and having an awareness of how our words are used. The presentation underlined that everything we experience can be used in our writing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Conference Report: Marie Dry's talk on GMC

Report by Clare Loffler

Marie Dry focused on the issue of Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) in her session on Sunday 26 October 2014.

She reported that she found the following pairing helpful:
Goal (Wants) → Motivation (Because) → Conflict (But)

Marie stressed the need to remember who your character is when determining GMC, and suggested having multiple goals which should then crash into each other. She also advised writers to dig deeper rather than to pile. Instead of just adding more elements to your story when it starts to sag, she suggested digging deeper into the plot and characters with GMC in mind to find something that works.

She suggested starting with internal motivation first and then adding external motivation. Goals don’t necessarily have to be opposing; conflict arises in the way characters achieve their goals. The strength of your book is your conflict, she said, suggesting that writers need to lay in a foundation for conflict, create believable goals, motivate characters, and nurture the conflict to the inevitable crisis or climax.

Marie also emphasised that coincidence, bickering and misunderstanding are not conflict. She suggested doing a GMC chart for each character, as this will ensure that they have a solid reason for being in the story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Conference Report: Helen Holyoake on Book Marketing

On the Sunday morning of ROSACon2014 book publicist Helen Holyoake of Helco Promotions gave a talk on book marketing aimed at published (or near-published) authors. Thank you to Anthony Ehlers for his report on the talk.

The role of the book publicist

‘There’s always a certain amount of glamour to a new book coming out,’ says Helen Holyoake, a respected book publicist who has worked with JM Coetzee, Pamela Jooste and Fiona Snyckers. ‘You need to capture that excitement in a good PR campaign.’

Who uses a publicist?
Sometimes traditional publishers use her services to bolster their in-house marketing strategies, and she also works with many self-published authors, like Carlyle Laubachange and Rachel Morgan.

‘However, book launches are expensive,’ she cautions. ‘What I focus on is a solid media programme. One good article in the right magazine can equal R50 thousand in ad spend.’

Aligning retail and media
Helen believes South Africa hasn’t adapted to digital as much as the rest of the world. ‘The SA e-book market is tiny,’ she says. ‘Readers and reviewers prefer a printed book; the focus should be on print and online.’

A publicist will ensure that a mainstream book publicity campaign should make sure that the distribution of the book and the media launch work together. ‘The book should be available in retail to be able to take advantage of a media campaign,’ Helen says.

Helen works with a few distribution stakeholders that can help get books from the warehouse to the bookstore. Distributors form deeper relationships with booksellers – like Exclusive Books and independent stores – to ensure your self-published book will get on the shelves.

‘The barrier to entry is that because of the process, self-published books end up being more expensive than books from bigger publishers,’ she points out.

Self publishing?
Helen says there is a lingering stigma around independently published work. ‘For example, the Sunday Times won’t touch a self-published book,’ she points out.

However, there are ways around it. An agile, dedicated and savvy publicist can find a way to get a reviewer to look at it, if they find the right angle. ‘Even bigger books are struggling to get coverage,’ she says. ‘Editorial space gets smaller as advertising shrinks in magazines and newspapers.’

Television is another powerful platform. ‘Today you can sell more books with one TV interview than any other media exposure,’ Helen says.

‘Online has its place too. There is more advertising online and more space, and it allows for hyperlinks to author websites and blogs. My concern with online is that it’s so quick, it filters down quite quickly. It can be lost.’

Media schmoozing
‘Media relationships are an integral part of PR,’ she adds. ‘The media should always be targets to the genre you’re writing. For example, I never send a book unless a reviewer requests it after reading the press release and other marketing material.’

Often her relationships prevent negative exposure for an author. ‘Recently I had an editor call me to say she wasn’t going to run with her journalist’s review because it was a bad review,’ she says. ‘While some believe there is no such thing as bad publicity, you learn to appreciate these kinds of interventions.’

This relationship-building is the bedrock between the author and the publicist too. Helen says an author should form a relationship with a publicist and see it as an investment in your long term career as a writer. ‘There is a special relationship between a publicist and author,’ she says.

Helen with author Rae Rivers at ROSACon2014

Monday, November 17, 2014

Conference Report: Opening page panel discussion

Thank you very much to Suzanne Jefferies for her report back on the Sunday morning panel discussion on opening pages.

Grab your reader – hook, line and sinker
Opening pages panel, Rae Rivers, Romy Sommer and Alissa Baxter, ROSA Conference

It was a dark and stormy night. A bolt of lightning shook the house. Our heroine woke up, and thought about how lucky she was to be in her cosy, warm bed, not outside in that driving rain…

As our panelists, Romy Sommer, Rae Rivers and Alissa Baxter, agreed, there’s probably more than one aspirant newbie author who makes the above mistakes in their early writing attempts to nail that all important opening page. Boundless clichés, limited dialogue and acres of description proved the chief recurring offenders – not to mention talk about the weather. With great courage, each of the panelists read out one of her earlier opening pages that ticked the box for everything not to do.

So what should a good opening page have? First and foremost, it’s about getting that reader’s attention. Without a reader who wants to read on, your book’s going to languish in the slushpile. But that’s just the start. Not only do you have to hook your reader, but you also have to set the mood, tone and content, introduce the main characters, set the scene, set up the stakes, showcase your voice, and hint at some sort of mystery – all in your opening pages. A daunting task for any writer.

Fortunately, our talented panelists showed us how to persevere. A few re-writes, and a couple of years later, Rae Rivers’ opening line of “She was under a microscope”, proved the clincher for her book. For Romy Sommer, a re-write that used the rain cliché in a fresh way (the sound of a shower) made the difference. And for Alissa Baxter, the original opening pages made a sturdy chapter two, rather than a reader-grabbing chapter one.

The floor was then open to our fellow romance writers who had the opportunity to test their pages on a willing audience. Nothing quite like trial by fire. But if in print you only have those five few paragraphs or so to make your impression, best you make the most of it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Conference Report: Talk on Character Development by Elsa Winckler

Author Elsa Winckler presented a talk on Karakterontwikkeling in Afrikaans at ROSACon2014. Thanks to Anthony Ehlers for this article on Elsa's talk.

Finding Characters Ripe for a Romantic Journey – with Elsa Winckler

Characters are the central medium to tell a story. This is the belief of Elsa Winckler.

A romance author in both English and Afrikaans, Elsa often finds inspiration for her characters in newspaper or magazine articles. She believes you can’t separate plot from characters when you have the central idea for a story.

Ask questions

For example, for her latest Afrikaans title, Van altyd af, her heroine was drawn from a real-life story about a horse whisperer.

 This raised the questions: What kind of character would communicate with animals? Maybe she would be ostracised because of this gift. Maybe she would be guided by her emotions, ruled by intuition.

How could an author use this to create conflict? Maybe the hero’s mother was killed by a horse. When she meets the hero and is attracted to him, she can’t trust her emotions and is bewildered by her attraction to him.

Internal and external conflict

These were the genesis of her engaging, steamy novel. From this, she makes sure that the character’s external conflict forces them to face their internal conflict. The hero whose mother was killed by a horse has unresolved issues with opposite sex – having to deal with a pretty horse whisperer makes him confront his inner demons.

This creates tension between your hero and heroine. How the character faces their external conflicts helps them resolve the internal conflict.

Another important piece of advice when creating characters is to ask yourself: How did they get to that place in their lives before the story starts that makes them ripe for this journey into love? In the first few pages of the story, the readers must get an idea of just how ready they are for this journey.


Here are some of her tips for getting to grips with characterisation.

Star Signs. These are a great resource for getting to the dominant traits of a character.

Environment. A character will have different views and morals if they come from a city or the country.

Find the unique characteristic. Find the one telling detail that sets them apart from other cliched characters.

Decide on a type. Use the four Greek archetypes (melancholic, choleric, sanguine, or phlegmatic) to decide a character type. The Briggs-Meyer template of 16 personalities is another resource.

Social background. A character who grew up in a orphanage will have a different set of language, needs, etc., than someone from a comfortable middle class family.

Pin It. Elsa uses Pinterest to put together wardrobes, accessories and other elements of her characters. It creates a mood through colour.

Music. Music is another element to use – either to inspire you while your write, or to tease out in the narrative.

Food. Eating and drinking is one of our most primal needs. Find a way to bring it in in a way that illuminates the character.

Dislikes. Maybe your character doesn’t like dogs, or doesn’t eat chillis. These quirks makes them more authentic.

Show contrast. Don’t make characters one-dimensional. Maybe the sarcastic hero is a secret sentimentalist. The strong heroine is afraid of the dark.

Limit secondary characters. Don’t bring in too many subplots or characters, and if you do give them an interesting story of their own to follow.

Find out more about this engaging author on

Friday, November 14, 2014

Conference Report: Anthony Ehlers' talk on Erotica

Anthony Ehlers' talk, which closed the Saturday program of the conference, was titled From Taboo to Mainstream: The evolution of erotica.

Report by Annemarie Gaertner

Report by Erich Viedge

'Why should literature with the sex left in be outside the mainstream?' asked Anthony Ehlers as he started his entertaining and informative talk on the mainstreaming of erotica.

The thing about Ehlers is that he’s very well prepared, and he gives action steps mixed in with his academic understanding of the topic.

He took us through the evolution of erotica in five stages: social context; author’s gender; platforms; genre trends; and finally, pornography. There was plenty in his talk even for people well-informed about erotica and its evolution.

He took us from the earliest written erotica, recovered in Roman ruins over 2,000 years ago and discussed how erotica interacted with the time period in which it found itself.

After the first Gulf war, American Erotica series editor Susie Bright found suddenly there was a lot of homo-erotic writing about soldiers. Ehlers took us from the Marquis de Sade (whose name gave us the word Sadism) and John Clelland, through to Fifty Shades of Grey.

He helped the Romance writing audience understand how to approach erotic writing — and gave us a frame for it.
With Fifty Shades of Grey, erotica really has gone mainstream: one erotic author in the audience said her gynae asked where to find her erotic writing so that the gynae could recommend it to other patients.

As Ehlers points out, the 16m sales of 50 Shades helped keep bookshops open. By writing erotica, we’re helping all authors — especially in South Africa where a bestseller is considered a book that sells 500 copies!

And there’s a market for good erotic writing. Ehlers says in 2012, eight of the top 10 sellers in the UK were erotica titles.

His talk was full of facts like that, casually tossed in, like olives in a salad. Here’s another one: in the 1700s, there would be public readings of erotica to the poor, so that everybody could enjoy the stories.

Ehlers’ style is laid back which is just as well. If he were more formal his talks would be impossibly dense. But his easygoing attitude and his mastery of his subject make him pleasure to listen to — and learn from!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

10 Insights from a 10 Minute Pitch

At the ROSACon 2014, romance authors had the opportunity to pitch to international editors and agents. Some of us got to pitch to Charlotte Mursell, a comissioning editor of Harlequin Mills&Boon. Before the Skype pitch, she’d asked to see a first chapter and synposis of our stories, which made the process go smoother – as we weren’t try to sell an idea ‘cold’. Here are 10 insights for those 10 nerve-wracking, exciting, rewarding minutes face-to-face with an editor.

  1. Relax! As nervous as you are, just smile and say hello – once the waiting is done, it’s almost like meeting in a coffee shop.
  2. Listen. The pitch is about sharing as much information about your book in the shortest space of time, so make sure you listen carefully.
  3. Keep an open mind. The editor is going to give ways to improve your story so that it fits their brand – don’t be resistant to this or, worse, defensive.
  4. Take notes. The editor is going to be throwing ideas at you, suggesting changes, giving advice – you’re not going to remember it all without writing it down.
  5. Give her something to work with. If something’s not working in your book, throw some new angles or ideas around and see if she responds to these. If you can’t think on the fly, tell her you’ll think about it.
  6. Ask questions. If you’re unsure about anything, ask! This doesn’t make you look stupid. It just means you want to get things right.
  7. Plot. She’s probably going to hone in on three things – plot, characters, imprint. For plot, she’s going to hone in on elements that are not working in your synopsis. She’s probably not going to sugar coat it.
  8. Character. For your characters, she’s going to test their motivation and behaviour. She’ll want you to dig deeper than what she’s seeing in your submission. Know the hero and heroine inside and out.
  9. Be prepared to change things. After the pitch, be open to every suggestion given but maybe give yourself a few days to play with ideas, let the information settle etc., before making a new strategy.
  10. Breathe! It’s over, you survived. It doesn’t matter if you got good news or not so good news, the advice given is invaluable and the experience will make you stronger – it will certainly force you to improve your focus on your novel.

Personally, I got more out of these 10 minutes that I’d ever got out of the feedback letters received in the past. I was worried about my the tone of the story, the main plot idea and a few other things – Charlotte helped me get a better grip on the story. I left feeling a lot more confident, positive and motivated about the changes I needed to make.

Anthony Ehlers

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Conference Report: The Pitch Experience

Today we're bringing you feedback from some of the pitchers on how it felt to pitch live to an editor or agent.

From Kathy Bosman on pitching to editor Charlotte Ledger:

I chose to pitch to Charlotte Ledger as it’s a dream to be published by Harper Impulse. I’ve never done a pitch before and was really nervous. Maybe because I express myself way better with the written word than verbally. I prepared a speech with loglines, characters’ goals, motivation, etc and practised it with my husband and other writer friends. I expected to make a monologue, but instead, Charlotte surprised me. In a pleasant way. What I really appreciated about her was that she took the time to read through my synopsis and first chapter thoroughly. She’d prepared questions for me and already had some advice on how to tighten up my book. Her manner was friendly, casual, and pleasant but in no way unprofessional. She pointed out the strengths of my book which gave me wind beneath my wings to fly with it, but also showed me ways to strengthen it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully relaxed for a pitch, but I do know now what to expect and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to send my manuscript to Charlotte once it’s complete.

Elsa Winckler on pitching to agent Laurie McLean:

I didn’t really feel ‘ready’ for the pitch but decided at the last minute, let’s do this (with a little help from Romy, that is :)) I’m so glad I did, though. I’ve tried to get in touch with agents before but it’s impossible really because most of them only accept pitches from authors they’ve met at conferences. And now we’ve had a conference! I don’t know whether I’ll be accepted as a client eventually but just the experience of being able to chat to Laurie made the whole effort worth-while.

Check back here tomorrow for Anthony Ehlers' post on 10 Insights from a 10 minute pitch.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Conference Report: Elsa Winckler's talk on Karakterontwikkeling

Elsa Winckler presented a talk on Character Development in Afrikaans at #ROSACon2014. The talk was poorly attended, but we hope to see a good del more Afrikaans writers join us next year!

Report by Erich Viedge

It's one thing reading about how to create and develop characters in a book. But somehow when there's a live Romance author sitting in front of you, telling you how she does it, the lessons sink in faster and deeper. Winckler (like every author I've ever met) was at pains to point out that this is the process that she follows; every writer has to find a process that works for her.

She spoke Afrikaans, and the content was so engaging and her passion so evident that the language difference didn't intrude on the session at all.

Her process is very structured. She had hand-outs with scores of questions to consider about your character, from the obvious traits like hair colour to the family dynamics in the character's family of origin. For example, she asks: is your character the black sheep of the family? Or if it's another relative, what did the character do to earn them that title?

One of the many tips that stuck with me is that your characters should have a somewhat contradictory nature. For example, she said, one of her main characters was arrogant, and at the same time, he was sentimental. He collected items that reminded him of important relationships in his past.
This makes for a more rounded character, and one that is more believable.

After designing the character, Winckler gave us tips on how to develop the character. She spoke of the importance of putting a character in an external situation that mirrors her internal conflict -- and she illustrated it with examples from her own work.

Just those 10 minutes helped make my own characters more believable, and helped drive the action of the first scenes of my own first novel.

It was a tough choice, having to choose between different breakaway sessions. But I felt this one has made a tangible difference to my characters, my novel and my readers' enjoyment of my writing.

You can find out more about Elsa Winckler at her website:

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Conference Report: Suzanne Jefferies' talk on Writing Dialogue

Thank you to Kathy Bosman and Carlyle Labuschagne for their report backs on Suzanne's talk on Writing Dialogue at #ROSACon2014.

Report by Kathy Bosman

I attended Suzanne Jefferies’ talk on 8 Simple Rules for Writing Dialogue. My interest was piqued when she shared that she had experience writing screenplays. In screenwriting, you have to learn to show and not tell and you learn to use dialogue to move the story forward. I know I sometimes struggle with dialogue, especially for the hero, so I wanted to learn more about it. Suzanne didn’t disappoint. I loved that she went into the differences between how men and women talk. She gave some very useful tips and advice which I would like to refer to from time to time. She used real-life examples of dialogue in books and movies to show her point. Dialogue is definitely vital for a good book and if we can get it right, we’ll hook the readers. Thank you so much to Suzanne who showed us how with some enlightening and understandable advice.

For more on Kathy and her books, visit

Carlyle Labuscahgne’s take on Spectacular Dialog tips by Suzanne Jefferies

Wow, first I have to say, I always struggle with the confidence of delivering good, believable dialog. Are there simple rules to follow or a secret formula to nail it? Yes there is…. *happy dance*

When sitting in on this wonderful topic presented by Suzanne Jefferies, I not only learned that I was on the right track I walked away with knowledge and the confidence to add improve on my writing skills. I will now share the tips I took to heart.

Dialog creates the central shape of the story, bringing us back to the fundamental rule of Show don’t tell.

Think about how conversations happen in real life
~ We cut each other off.
~ Finish each other’s sentences.
~ People don’t always say what they mean.
~ And we all make our own minds up of what was rely implied.

Dialog creates Tension, and as a romance writer it is important to create that tension right up front – readers love that!
Within dialog we find content. An interesting and fun way to bring location, age, character physical traits would be during a conversation.
Pay attention to how men and woman speak to each other, men do not talk about feelings. Men Ask questions during dialog to gain information, and usually let each other talk before answering.
Woman usually speak over each other, or say the same things at the same time, and are eager to have a conversation.

What we say isn’t always what we mean. (Sarcasm)
Dialog sets the scene and setting.
When a character often feels save he will reveal more information about self, or background.

Using dialog to cut out the shape of your character.
Nothing ages writing more than using slang, but that said, using slang can add to character for instant his/her age.
Think about accents, pronunciations this will show the reader where the character is from. Using nonstandard grammar, or specific words.
The general rule with this should always stand that if it is not familiar to you, then stay away from using a certain dialect.

Talking Heads
To gain deep Point of view, don’t always he said she said, she retorted, he answered – yeah they bantered we get it!

Enter dialog, add action, and follow up with thought.

“I thought you said you were going to be late?” Susan shrieked upon finding that her mom had gotten home before her. She closed the door in Ivan’s face thinking to herself how she would explain to her mother why Ivan was at their doorstep this time of night, and why she had been out in the first place.
Mom cleared her throat, “Did I interrupt something Susan?” Although her words were polite, her tone was anything but, she was going to be grounded for sure.
“Umm, “Susan struggled for the right words.


Dialog is a great tool to add information to your story.

More about Carlyle and her books:

Next up: Check back here tomorrow for the report back on Tristan Banha's talk on Social Media & Branding.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Conference Report: Rebecca Crowley's talk on Standing out from the Slush Pile

Today's report backs on #ROSACon2014 come courtesy of Erich Viedge and author Rae Rivers. Rebecca's talk on How to stand out from the slush pile followed the lunch break on the Saturday of the conference.

Report by Rae Rivers

Every writer serious about publishing wants to stand out from the slush pile. Thankfully, in our world of technology, the internet is full of information, advice and tips on this topic. Usually, the advice comes from editors or agents so it was so interesting to hear that Rebecca was offering advice from a reader’s perspective.

Several years ago, before becoming a published author herself, Rebecca worked as a freelance reader for a publishing house. A professional reader – of which she was paid to read manuscripts.

So what does a professional reader working for a publishing house do? As we all know, editors are super busy and not always able to sift through their never-ending slush piles so they employ readers familiar with the genre with a love of reading to do this job for them. Although being a professional reader may sound like fun, I imagine it must be a challenge too as the reader has to sift through a lot of mediocre books in search of a few gems. (I was amazed to learn that in the two hundred plus manuscripts Rebecca had read, only a few were contracted!) Each reader receives a few books to read and has to offer a report on each one, along with a personal recommendation. (Either Reject, Reject with Encouragement, Accept with Revisions etc.)

In essence, a professional reader is often what stands between a newbie manuscript and an editor. If she doesn’t approve for whatever reason, chances are the manuscript won’t make its way further.

So it was from this perspective that Rebecca offered advice and tips on how to stand out from the slush pile ... how to get past the gatekeeper between a book and an editor. It was so interesting to hear what worked for her as a reader – what captivated her, maintained her interest and kept her turning the pages. This was usually a combination of several things: author’s voice, consistency, creativity, character development, conflict etc.

This was a great behind-the-scenes glimpse of what happens in the acquisition process. A big thank you to Rebecca for sharing her experience.

Report by Erich Viedge

Rebecca’ Crowley’s session Standing out from the Slush Pile was a real highlight of ROSACon 2014.

The conference organisers made sure the speakers had real experience that could help real authors by giving them the inside scoop. And that’s what made Crowley’s talk so compelling.

In her 20s, Crowley worked in publishing in New York. To supplement her tiny income she found a gig as a “freelance reader” for a publishing house. This is the person who is going to read your manuscript. It’s not an editor, it’s a cynical 23-year old in a one-bedroom flat on the seventh floor of a New York apartment block in a building without a lift.

She’s doing it for $30 a manuscript — the longer books paid as much as $50 — and she’s certainly not doing it for fun. In fact, she was reading books outside of the genres that she liked! On the contrary — she’s doing it, said Crowley, for the money. And the $30 per manuscript meant so much to her at the time that she would drop the completed manuscripts and reports off in person so she didn’t have to waste two days in the New York postal system.

The result of all this industry?

Crowley says she must have read north of 200 manuscripts, and she approved only 10 of them for publication. And even that wasn’t enough. Some of the books she approved weren’t published by the publishing house she was working for.

The biggest AHA for the audience was that Crowley wasn’t looking to Accept a manuscript — she was looking for reasons to Reject.

If she could see in the first few pages that this book wasn’t going to pass muster, then she would skim the rest of it to get enough plot points to fill in her report, stamp it with a big red R and exchange it for the next one.

She took the audience through four reports that she had written for her publishing house. A “Reject,” a “Reject with Encouragement,” an “Accept with Revision” and finally, “Accept.”

She spoke through the reasons for her choices and she went a bit further. She looked for the book online. The rejected manuscripts seemed to have disappeared without a trace. And one manuscript she said had lots of problems in it had been picked up by another publisher; but the reviews on were scathing of the book, which made Crowley feel vindicated.

She gave us concrete tips on standing out and being one of the 10 in 200 that get some form of “Accept” stamp — and she cautioned that the reader has no influence over the rejection slip that lands on the author’s desk. She may have loved the book, but felt it was wrong for the imprint, and the author may still have received a form Rejection slip. She had no way of knowing.

We in the audience, felt encouraged and emboldened. If we could impress today's 20-something-year-old Crowley equivalent, we had a fighting chance of being in the five percent. And if we got a form rejection, maybe, just maybe, there was a freelance reader out there who loved the book — and whose recommendation was spiked by the editor.

A very worthwhile session for any author.

Next up: Tomorrow we'll bring you the report backs on Suzanne Jefferies' talk on Writing Dialogue.

Rebecca's rapt audience

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Pitch that got me the call back ~ a journey

Lets face it as a modern South African writer / aspiring novelist we face many challenges in landing that book deal we all dream about.  The role as a writer has many complicated layers and holds such beautiful promise. It's a compulsion driven by a need to inspire, make a difference and heal through words and stories. Every writer has a message to deliver, an urge to be heard and to connect through expression, but at the same time stand out as an individual. 

When I started writing my first novel, I believed in my creation. In my dream to heal through words. Once my manuscript was done, revised and edited it was time to find an agent/publisher to deliver my story to the world. But I soon discovered how isolated and alone I was in the South African publishing world. Resources, agents and tools for a SA writer of Young Adult Science- fiction was a rarity. For me as a SA writer there was no support. Without landing an Agent there was no getting published. 

Four years later, through countless hours, and money wasted on a Vanity publisher,  I  eventually started making a name for myself in the international market. But paying in USD currency for an editor, a cover artist and a publicist started to take its toll on me. I couldn't understand why I had to fight so hard for my dream to come true.  I quickly found that it was so easy and extremely welcoming to adhere to international trends, and pretty soon I had a huge fan base in America. 

In 2014 my ultimate dream came true when I attended a USA book signing and writers con in Nashville. I did extremely well and established myself as a force to be reckoned with as my editor would say. What I gained and learnt in those few days was a revelation compared to the three years of online research. I learned about honing the perfect pitch hoping it would give me the confidence to pitch my projects one more time. I leaned so much at the con I couldnt wait to apply it -= And then the booboo! (yup I said booboo) While at the con I got an off chance to do live pitch and even though it wasn't to an agent I totally froze up and BLEW IT! 

a few months later and hours after sulking I found ROSAcon2014 and this was my chance to show myself I have to get up and do it again. I learned so much how can I not use it??

What won me over to attend the event is that I would have the once in a life time opportunity to pitch my voice to very important players in the publishing industry - and editor from Harper Impulse and a bigshot US agent. I had to grab this opportunity as they don't come often. 
 When I registered to ROSAcon 2014 I was extremely, extremely excited by the fact that there was actually a happening, gathering of SA writers with the opportunity to learn about the growing market of SA writers and know that there were SA writers that have been extremely successful in the industry despite the extreme challenges we as SA authors face.

Building up to the pitch that could ignite my writing career to such an extent that I could possibly become a full time writer.

Once I registered with with ROSA I took out all my notes I learned in the US and studied them, did the worksheets. A day or so later I got a wonderful email from Romy Sommer (host of ROSA) and published author with Harper Impulse. 
Tips on what to add in your pitch... I posted some of it here.

As expected, even after all my preparation, it didn't guarantee they would like my work -  I had a very sleepless night. 
Minutes before the pitch, actually waiting in line with a few other authors, was killing me slowly. 

I chewed up all my nail polish!

On realizing everyone in the room felt the same I started to feel a bit better that I had others sharing the same kind of torture. Romy Sommer made us all feel a bit more relaxed and she was totally right there was nothing to be worried about.  And she was right!

It was love at first sight!!!

First pitch 
The gorgeous Charlotte Ledger from Harper Implulse.

Charlotte was great from the word hello! 

On doing research on Charlotte, I soon realized I love this woman's passion and beauty -  I don't have anything that would sweep her away - So I started writing something that would peek her interest and sway mine... Well turns out she freaking loved my first chapter and wanted to see more. Immediately my guard was down and all the prepping just soaked in and delivered everything I was taught. 
The important thing was to ask questions - and I did and going back to my story I'm freaking in love with I cannot wait to send her more. ~ although this does not mean I will get the YES PLEASE WE WANT YOU - the fact that I got the call for more proved to me that I can hook like no ones business.

Second Pitch 
To the esteemed lit agent Laurie McLean 
This too was huge deal for me, as Agents are non existent in our parts and landing one would mean I can spend more time on writing and my agent would become my best friend and help me grow in areas where I suck. Once again I wanted to write something inspired by Laurie's taste, because having something an agent actually likes is a wonderful start.
Laurie was wonderful, I didn't feel intimdated at all. In my opinion I thought we got on really well. She was so easy to talk to and I could see the passion for stories with each blink of the eye. I fed off her energy and got us much from Laurie as I could. I'm not sure who asked more questions me or Laurie? Yup I got the call for more!!

I am still on a high from this event that could possible change my life, and like I said before even if I don't fully close the deal, I know how to create a good hook and feel confident enough to pitch to other agents and editors now. What a wonderful opportunity it has been!! 

You can follow my journey @CarlyleL

"dont be crippled by fear, let love give you wings"
~ Carlyle Labuschagne 

Next up: reports on Rebecca Crowley's talk on 'How to stand out from the slush pile'.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Conference Report: Joss Wood's talk on Harlequin

Thank you very much to Tanya de Ponte and Pamela Kauffman for their feedback on Joss' talk at #ROSACon2014.

Report by Tanya de Ponte

An enlightening presentation about Joss' journey in to the fascinating world of publishing and the big step that she took to enter the arena of full time writing.  I especially liked her use of powerpoint pictures.  I also valued her encouragement on pitching to editors.  I enjoyed Joss's gift of several books and look forward to reading them. I feel really privileged to know her real name, and to have met her in person!

Report by Pamela Kauffman

Prolific writer Joss Wood, who is represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agents, was the second Saturday presenter at the recent Romance Writers Organisation of South Africa writers’ conference. Joss kept the participants laughing with her quirky sense of humour and the inspirational graphics that seasoned her Power Point presentation.

Mouths were agape when Joss confessed that she had written 11 books between January 2012 and May 2014 – a breath-taking feat of keeping bum stuck to chair and fingers glued to keyboard. Unfortunately, the HQN imprint that Joss was writing for – Kiss – went boom this year. For now, she has one title under the HQN Desire imprint.

Participants sat enthralled as Joss provided the reasons she writes for HQN and offered heads up on advances, foreign rights, and editorial support. She advised participants to think about their category as each HQN imprint publishes for a particular audience – each of which has its own expectations. Although South African settings for North American or European readers are considered exotic, a writer could be too South African, meaning tone down the South African specific detail and don’t use language that is specifically South African.

She emphasised that resilience, an ability to take criticism and endure emotional conflicts are critical characteristics of a writer - not to mention expert storytelling, a unique voice, an accessible style, and promotion savvy. She said that HQN writers must be collaborative team players, aware of trends and the market, and willing to learn.

Some participants might have been shocked to find that HQN wants an average of a book every three to four months from their writers. Aside from being prolific, an HQN writer must meet deadlines and be someone they want to work with. Read that co-operative, rather than perpetually confrontational about every change to the manuscript.

“Take it on the chin,” she said, “if the editor concedes to the copy-editor rather than you.”

As if all that weren’t enough, an HQN writer must be accessible to his or her fans.

Joss said that writers with HQN contracts are put on the HQN, where the writer can check sales, royalties, etc. She pointed out that HQN is part of a global community and the company has offices worldwide. Novels are translated into many different languages, adding to the bottom line for the company and for writers.

Cherish, Modern, Medical and Historical are all HQN imprints and the company offers retail, digital and direct-to-consumer sales, via subscription. The company is visible on Facebook, Twitter, and its website. Contact them via

An informative and entertaining presenter, Joss generously provided copies of four of her books for each participant. Look for Joss Wood Books on Facebook.

Next up: tomorrow Carlyle Labuschagne will share her pitch experiences with us.