I’ve just returned home from the annual Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne. I haven’t made it much in recent years, mostly because of the small child, and I go for different reasons now than I did at the beginning of my writing life. One constant remains though: RWA is, above all things, a beautiful community of supportive writers who all love what we do and are generous to everyone else. On that theme, I thought that this time I would write about one particular highlight of RWAus2019, which was Nalini Singh.
Nalini Singh is prolific and accomplished writer of romance, in several sub-genres including urban fantasy and sci-fi. I first discovered her writing through a friend who recommended her Psy-Changling series, and then in Rosmary’s Romance bookstore in Brisbane, I bought a collection of novellas (Angel’s Flight) that introduced me to her Guild Hunter series, which is still my favourite (I may or may not have made an undignified squeal when Angel’s Flight was mentioned in a conference session…). In any case, Nalini’s longevity in the industry and her legions of fans are testament to her skill and professionalism, but she also just happens to be a wonderful human as well.
For a time we shared a publisher, so we’ve met on some past social occasions and my publisher even sent me some signed copies of her books (no doubt after a fan-girling I must have unleashed in her direction). On all those occasions, as at the RWA conference, she’s been down-to-earth and approachable, in a way that’s not always true of mega-star authors. She’s also a fantastic teacher, presenting two high-value sessions at RWA - one on writing series, the other on novellas. I go to her sessions (as I’m sure many of us do) because they are guaranteed to be well-prepared, thoughtful and valuable insights into the craft of writing, all delivered with the non-nonsense approach that someone as successful as Nalini must possess. She has thoroughly earned every craft skill she has, through the only way any of us do: writing lots and lots of stories. And she is generously sharing that knowledge back to the community. She doesn’t have to do that. She could easily choose not to come, but I think this is the lovely thing about the guild-like world of writing. You can go to the conference and be in the orbit of writers you so greatly admire, and it feel completely natural and wonderful.
My favourite piece of advice from one of these sessions was in response to a question about marketing the first book in a series. Nalini’s answer was (and I’m paraphrasing here): Your job is to write, so spend your time there and not on marketing. Finish a series of books or novellas, and then maybe do a marketing push on the first one. Think long-term, which means creating something readers can really engage with.
I really liked that because advice (particularly from the indie side of the business) is often about the frantic need to do marketing, to spend the majority of time on that rather than writing. I struggle with that all the time, and especially post-conference, with all the marketing ideas I’ve absorbed from other people. But that’s not the core business of being a writer. It’s not the reason I got into this line of work. Instead, it’s more the SS that you have to swallow. But the writing should come first.
So, that’s my take-away this year. That the writing will come first. And so I wanted to credit Nalini Singh with that cut-through clarity, and wish her many many more years of fantastic stories ahead.