I spent Thursday, June 22nd through Saturday, June 24th in Portland, Oregon, at the 2017 Historical Novel Society Conference – or, as you may have seen it on Twitter and Instagram, #HNS2017. I had the most awesome time and learned so much! It was my first conference, and I’m incredibly glad that I went.
Since it was my first conference, I wasn’t presenting or speaking on any of the panels, just attending to learn (though I did participate in the author signing on Saturday, and both of my novels were for sale in the conference bookstore). I attended lots of panels and took pages and pages of notes – they were all excellent, and during certain time slots there were two or even three panels that I wanted to attend. Hard choices had to be made! I made my decisions based on which sessions would be the most helpful to my career at this point or to my current work-in-progress.
Some of the ones that really stood out to me were the session on historical clothing with Isobel Carr; a panel on hopping among different eras as a historical fiction writer and planning your research and marketing accordingly (this panel was with some of my favorite authors: C.W. Gortner, Heather Webb, Kate Quinn, and Stephanie Thornton); a panel on writing the male perspective with Margaret George, Stephanie Cowell, Stephanie Thornton, and C.W. Gortner; a panel with agents and editors called The State of the State of Historical Fiction, about current, past, and possible future trends in the genre; and a workshop on writing twin-stranded stories with Susanna Kearsley. All of these (and many others I didn’t list!) provided me with super interesting and useful information that I can immediately apply to my career overall or to my current works-in-progress, or indeed to future works-in-progress.
A few industry updates/facts I learned or had reinforced for me during the conference:
-Fiction set in the ancient world (Egypt, Rome, Greece) is largely out – editors and agents are finding it doesn’t sell as well in the North American market compared to Europe and the UK. This was surprising to me as I’m aware of several new releases set in these eras, but it seems like perhaps publishers are starting to shy away from the ancient world at large – I heard this mentioned at a couple of different panels I went to.
-Fiction set in the Tudor era is a tougher sell these days as well, given that the market is so oversaturated with that time period. If you are writing in that period, you’ll want to have a twist or a new character that hasn’t been done before to make it stand out.
-Fiction set in the earlier part of the 20th century seems to be hot right now; I noticed authors who previously wrote in earlier eras have made the jump to more recent time periods (turn of the century, WWI, WWII, etc.).
-Readers of historical fiction in the US are 95% women, so this has given rise to the perception in the publishing industry that women do not want to read the male perspective. At the panel I went to on this the panelists and audience (myself included) felt that this is not necessarily true (while as a woman myself I do tend to relate more to female narrators, I will read and have read historical fiction from the male POV; like with any novel, if it’s a character/figure that interests me and is a good story, I’ll pick it up no matter the gender of the narrator. Excellent examples of recent historical fiction I’ve read with male narrators would be The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George and Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King – both of which I highly recommend, and both of which are set in ancient Rome, despite that time period being allegedly “out”!) In any case, if you are writing a historical with a male narrator, know that this will make for a harder sell to an agent and publisher and do your research accordingly: have comp titles ready to go (the two I referenced above would be good places to start) and, as always, make sure the story is so compelling and well done that it’ll be hard to resist, no matter who the narrator is. This was all valuable information for me as my current work-in-progress has a male narrator, though it is dual POV and alternates with a female narrator, so it seems that will help me out in the marketability of the work.
-The historical YA market seems to be growing, which I think is wonderful – the more historical stories for people of all ages, the better!
Of course, different editors, agents, and authors all have different opinions and views on topics such as those above, but I wanted to include some of the information that I heard and found interesting, helpful, and eye-opening.
Then there was the Hooch Through History session. This was one for which attendees had to register separately and pay an extra fee, but boy, was it worth it. Also presented by Isobel Carr, we sampled six alcoholic beverages from six different centuries, accompanied by an entertaining and informative PowerPoint about what other beverages were produced and consumed in those eras. The crowd was a bit rowdy by the end, as you might imagine, but I learned a lot in spite of all the alcohol coursing through my bloodstream.
One of the things I learned is that absinthe is NOT GOOD. I do not recommend.
Then, of course, the social aspect of such a conference is always great fun and always worthwhile. I got to meet authors in person with whom I had been chatting on social media for some time; authors whose works I greatly admire (I fangirled a bit over Margaret George, I will admit), AND two authors who were kind enough to blurb The Violinist of Venice for me but whom I had never met in person: Kate Forsyth and Stephanie Cowell. Both are absolutely lovely ladies, and I was thrilled to be able to thank them for their support in person.
The end-of-conference banquet was followed by a Regency masquerade ball afterparty, with free domino masks and instruction in English country dancing and whist. I think I got the hang of whist for sure and will be teaching it to friends and family. Sadly, I had to leave earlier than I would have liked due to an early flight out the next morning.
Now that I’m home and have been digesting all the information I’ve learned, I feel like I need a year to just shut myself away and write with all my new inspiration and motivation (and to read all the great books I brought home!). I’m super excited to continue working on my work-in-progress, and I have a lot of ideas for how to improve both my writing and my research, as well as some promotional ideas for my next book. And I’m already working on brainstorming panels/sessions to submit for the 2019 conference!
The Historical Novel Society Conference is one I highly recommend if you are an author or aspiring author of historical fiction, or a book blogger. The information is top notch, the people are lovely, and the experience is a great one.
As one of my closest friends lives in Portland, I actually spent a whole week out there visiting with her, catching up, and sightseeing. We went to Powell’s Books, of course, and in between that trip and my conference book haul packing all my purchases into my suitcases was NOT EASY. I also visited Cannon Beach on the Pacific Coast (one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever been), the Portland Rose Garden, and took a tour of the Portland Underground Tunnels. I also had some great local food, wine, and beer. I’m really into wine, and I was excited to find that Oregon Pinot Noirs, which I hadn’t tried much in the past, definitely live up to the hype. I also had some of the best rose wine I’ve ever tried!
Voodoo Doughnuts is definitely worth the trip, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Blue Star Donuts. Personal favorite.
All in all, it was an absolutely great week away. Hope everyone else is enjoying their summer so far!