Sylvia Day's #RWA14 Keynote: "Dream Big. Plan Smart."

Here I am at my first RWA national conference and the keynote speaker is a writer I feel passionately about: Sylvia Day. Turns out the more I know about her, the more I love her. We have so much in common already and I keep finding out more! I just learned, for example, that she’s part Asian like me. But the most important thing that drew me to her initially was what a strong advocate for erotic romance she is. I didn’t realize she actually founded the Passionate Ink chapter of RWA. Being a longtime erotic writer myself (is it really 23 years since I wrote Telepaths Don’t Need Safewords??) I appreciate very highly the pathway in the romance genre pioneered by Sylvia Day. E.L. James has benefited from that pioneering, and so have I.
Sylvia’s speech opened with a look back at her first RWA conference, ten years ago. She listed off some of the major changes between then and now. Look at all the retailers who are gone–Borders, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks–not to mention publishers like Dorchester. In those days the RWA had a list of approved publishers and agents to steer writers to the “right” places. These days, that’s gone, too, and writers, she said, must make their own decisions about who to publish with or even whether to self-publish.
“It was easier to be a writer ten years ago,” she said, for many reasons. For one thing, we didn’t have social media demanding so much of our time. Nowadays retailers and publishers are “struggling to survive, while one is struggling to dominate.” (I believe she means Amazon, though she didn’t say so by name.) “We’re in the middle. We have to be proactive. It’s not just about writing anymore. It’s about being a businessperson.”
“Yes, it was SIMPLER ten years ago, but now is the best time to be a writer because now we have so many options. More options means more choice and more choice means more control.” That means making decisions regarding career, creative direction, who to choose an agent, publishing path, everything.
But the heart of her speech wasn’t about how to be a businessperson or how to predict the market. It was this: “Business can sap your creative energy. If you stop loving the work, it becomes hard to do the work.”

“The only person who can make your book REAL is YOU.”

She outlined three reasons why writers make bad decisions:
1. “We’re afraid.” To fail. To succeed. To make changes. “We’re afraid no one else will want us, whether that’s an agent or a publisher or a critique partner.” She got the biggest laugh of the afternoon when she said “What, you found the one idiot who figured out you’re a hack?”
2. We want to be validated, but we might choose to be validated for the wrong reasons. Maybe someone doesn’t recognize the colophon on the spine of your book and so to them you’re not “a real writer.” Well, guess what, millions of people out there don’t think that ANY ROMANCE is “real writing.” “You’ll never make those people happy,” she said. “The only person who can make your book REAL is YOU.”
3. We lack the knowledge to make a better decision. “We have to find the route that works for us. The right route is the ONE THAT PRESERVES YOUR CREATIVE DRIVE.” If you do that, you won’t be afraid to fail. In fact, you can learn from your failures. You can never make a “fatal mistake” if you write good books. You’ll bounce back every time.
I was very happy to hear her address the “traditional versus indie” publishing debates that have been raging with that statement. The right route is the one that preserves your creative drive. Think about that for a second. She pointed out that “we all know there’s more than one way to WRITE a book. You have your plotters, your pansters,” and many other methods of writing, “and all that matters is that there’s only one right way for you: YOUR way. Well, there’re more than one way to PUBLISH a book.”

“There’s more than one way to WRITE a book. There’re more than one way to PUBLISH a book.”

She finished the speech off with a to do list that included questions to ask yourself every time you have to make a writing or publishing decision. Are you afraid? Are you seeking validation? Did the validation you sought make you actually feel cheapened inside? Do you have all the information you need to make this decision? And “Dream big. There is no dream too big. Read often. Write well. And plan smart.”
Not said in the speech but I will point it out here: that’s why the RWA is so important. By getting together we can help each other on all three of those points. We feel less afraid when we have peers to turn to. We create our own forms of validation. And this conference is all about making sure everyone has the tools and craft and knowledge to success as romance writers! This is my first RWA National conference but I am certain it won’t be my last!


  1. Wonderful write up Cecilia, thank you so much for sharing! Off to read your other RWA posts now. Had serious case of FOMO on the weekend while watching the #RWA2014 twitter feed and it’s great to get a more indepth report.

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