I'm not going to name any of the books I bought or heard about at the conference, both because I haven't read any yet and because I'd be afraid of offending an author by forgetting to mention their book, but I will make an exception for Dr. Turtledove because he spoke in his entertaining keynote address about the role of serendipity in finding cool book ideas.
What a great reminder to look for story ideas everywhere! And I came home with a cool book I probably would never have heard of otherwise.
The hot topic at the conference was "marquee names." The historical novels that get the big publicity push from publishers not only tend to be set in a limited range of places and time periods, but also they increasingly feature people with "marquee names" such as Tudor, Borgia, and Cleopatra.
Anxiety about marquee names dominated many conversations and some panels. Although most authors wanted to write what they wanted to write, one editor on the "Selling Historical Fiction" editors' panel said outright that an author could not sell a historical novel nowadays without a marquee name unless she or he was "an amazing writer." On other panels, authors revealed that they had included a famous person as a minor character in their novels solely to make them more marketable. Other authors had been pressured by their agents to write a book starring a marquee name so that they could move up from the midlist to the big leagues.
I'm tired of reading about the same people over and over again, and many of the other historical authors I spoke to were as well. As a matter of principle, I no longer buy novels about Tudors, no matter how interesting the books look, and I do buy historical novels that are about everyday people or that are set in less-popular time periods or places.My tiny message to publishers that enough is enough.
Luckily, that editor did not speak for every publisher. I came home with many novels set in ancient times; who knew there were so many recent ones? I also bought many novels published by major publishers that were set in unusual times or places or that did not feature a marquee name.
The HNS conference was particularly fun because there were only 300 attendees. The small attendance made it easier to meet people, reduced the crowds at panels, and allowed you to run into people over and over again.
I could go on and on, but I'll just mention some of the highlights for me. •Having in-person conversations with my long-time friend and mentor Lynna Banning. •Being on a panel and making some good contributions to the discussion. •Seeing the look of excitement on the face of the person who won Like Mayflies in a Stream in the raffle after the panel. •Sitting next to fascinating people at meals and having interesting conversations about topics as diverse as Jewish mysticism and the Civil War. •Attending panels on YA books and talking to people who've written YA, which has convinced me to write a YA novel.
To learn more about the Historical Novel Society and how to join, visit http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/. Membership fees include two magazines, one that reviews new historical novels and one that features interviews with authors and articles about topics of interest to writers, as well as some marketing help. Next year's conference, to be held in London in September 2012, sounds as if it will be a real treat.
I'll be blogging again on Sunday, July 5. Until then, enjoy your summer!