On Saturday, August 18th, I delivered the luncheon keynote speech at Siren Publishing’s first ever Romance Convention. Several people have asked me for a copy of the speech, so I’m including it in full here. Thank you to David and Diana for a wonderful weekend. I enjoyed meeting my fellow Siren authors and all the fans who attended the convention and book signing.
I feel so bad for all of you since I’ve never delivered a keynote speech. You get to be my guinea pigs. I’ve sat through many, so I promise to make this brief because I know this is totally cutting into cheesecake time. First off, I would like to thank Diana for inviting me to speak. Siren Publishing gave me a voice so it feels right and proper that this is my first speech of this type. I wouldn’t exist without Siren, so my deepest thanks go to Diana and David. I think we all are grateful for having this amazing company that accepts our voices, our unique characters, and stories.
I actually Googled the words “keynote speech” in preparation for today. You’re lucky that when I asked the computer masters how long a keynote speech should be and it told me forty minutes, I was like–what? That is not going to happen. I’m going to be quick and hopefully make a little sense. Yeah. I’m not so sure about that last part, but I’m going to give it a go.
I thought I would talk a little today about a question I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves. We might ask it a whole lot. What is our place in the publishing world?
Publishing has rapidly evolved in the last several years. Unlike music and movies, publishing remained the same for hundreds of years. After the printing press was invented, centuries went by before publishing was forced to truly change. The advent of the e-reader and the dominance of Amazon have opened new paths to a career that for hundreds of years had only one. Writers today can sometimes feel like they’re on the Mayflower, pioneers in a new, spectacular and uncertain world. For those of us who choose to not take a traditional route, the path can be a difficult one, and I’m not talking in strictly professional terms. There can be a personal cost to following our dreams. Especially in this room, we understand the stigma of writing genre fiction. I can go down the list of all the ways we get marginalized. We write fiction. We write genre fiction. We write women’s fiction. We write romance. We write erotic romance. And then—holy crap—I write it about two guys and a girl or three guys and a girl, and they all like to get tied up and spanked.
Yeah, there’s not a lot of respect out there waiting to be given to us. If you joined up hoping to get constant reaffirmation of your talent, you’re in the wrong place. We writers rapidly discover that a deep belief in our worth is required to survive. Sometimes this feels like a thankless job. Like there is no real place in the world waiting for us. I’ve struggled with this for my whole career. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m sure most of us thought we would make it big and we would only need to write one book a year and then lounge around in our mansions. And we rapidly discovered that the publishing game is a long game and we must make up the rules.
How do we judge success? How do we know when we’ve made it? Is it when we finish our first novel or when we publish it? Are we successful when we get a review declaring our book the best ever? Or is true success getting the ones that rip us apart and still sitting back down to tell another story? Do we need the New York Times to validate our voices? Or do we simply need to know that our words are important to someone.
I’m going to get totally clichéd on you now. But there’s a reason things become cliché, because they are so true. Robert Frost wrote a poem. You all were probably forced to read it, even memorize it in high school. The Road Not Taken. It’s about anyone who was born or who chose to be different. It’s about anyone who takes the path not marked and delineated by those who walked before it, the path without road signs and maps dedicated to it. The final lines are the most important to what we’re talking about this day.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference.
I remember reading that poem in high school and thinking it was full of such excitement. The road less travelled by could only mean adventure. Years and experience have given Frost’s words texture and layers they didn’t have for me before. There’s a reason one is less travelled. This road we’re on is hard. Our job is to put our souls on a piece of paper and hope that someone, somewhere connects with it. We don’t get nice little progress reports. We get torn apart on Goodreads for all the world to see, those bits and pieces of our souls placed under a microscope and judged based on whatever today’s criteria is for proper writing. We knock on New York’s doors and most of us never even get the courtesy of an answer. It’s the nature of the business. Always has been. The people who get published are the ones who will reach the widest possible base of readers. The rest are relegated to trying over and over again to find something the gatekeepers will deem worthy of allowing through.
But then the e-revolution occurred and now the choices are plentiful, the roads diverged and widely varied. It can make a writer’s head spin. Traditional press. Small press. E-first. Self-published. Where is your place? Where does your voice belong? What is the importance of the erotic romance writer?
A lot of people will answer that last question for you. They’ll tell you that you don’t have a place or marginalize you as cheap-thrills fiction. They don’t have to read you to know who you are. Some of you have lost family and friends over what you write. Some of you hide this piece of your soul from everyone, your writing the only outreach for something fundamental inside. And some of you will stand up and not allow your words to be pushed aside and shoved to the bottom of the heap, taking the pain so that those writers who come after us have an easier way. These struggles are exactly what connect us to our audiences. Being brave enough to travel this road can be the very thing that pushes our stories over the top to do the most important thing they can—to connect us to the greater world. For every time someone pushes you down, for every writer in some group who asks you to leave because what you write isn’t really romance, remember this. There is someone out there who needs to hear your story. There is someone who feels alone, who believes no one understands them until they find a story they can sink into and discover a character who lives and breathes their existences. This is the true power of fiction, and every reader deserves a story that becomes comfort food. The dark voices grow so much quieter when one person writes to you or walks up to you at a conference and says, “thank you.” Your book made me laugh when I was going through a divorce. I saw myself as your heroine. Or in my case, that moment when I realized my voice could be important was when a woman walked up to me at a signing and told me my books got her through chemotherapy.
No matter what anyone tells you, your voice is meaningful and important. Take your work seriously because someone out there needs to read it. Take stock of yourself as an author before you sit down to read reviews. Find that core of yourself that is unchanged, unmoved by criticism because it is built on faith, faith in your words and your stories. Faith in yourself. Faith in each other.
We are writers. We don’t have to be friends, but we do understand each other. The women and men around you are the ones who know what this path is like. They know what it means to struggle to place words on a page that move with purpose. They are the ones who have stood at that great gate that once allowed few voices to pass and left the rest out.
They are the ones who tore that gate down. When the publishing world barred the road, this is the generation that got out a jackhammer and plowed a new one.
So that is the answer. Where is our place in publishing today? It is a blank page waiting for our stories to be written on it. You are the gatekeeper, the architect of your dreams and your career. You are the arbiter of your success. Build your dreams as high as you can. Put your words out in the world and know that someone somewhere is grateful. For all those who would look down on romance, I would say that there is enough evidence that the world is a gritty, perilous place. Sometimes we need to be reminded that it is rich and beautiful and that love exists when we reach for it.
Take this time to be around those who understand, to refresh yourself so Monday you can go out and do what this generation of writers was born to do—change publishing forever. That is our place in this world.
Thank you all for listening.