HNSNA 2021 – What a Conference!

Almost two years ago, I had the honour of joining the Board for the HNS North America 2021 conference. It’s a totally volunteer board charged with the responsibility of putting on a conference for historical fiction enthusiasts – primarily writers – every other year. HNS conferences alternate between those located in the UK, North America, and Australia and I’d attended four (London, Denver, Portland, and Maryland) and been a volunteer and/or presenter at three prior to joining this board.

With a stellar cast of experienced volunteers and former board members, we set about planning for 2021. One of our first board meetings involved a “big picture” discussion where each of us tabled ideas for something new and different along with broad objectives for the North American conference like enlarging our attendance to 500 people. We even tabled the idea of looking for a conference app to enhance the attendee experience! Little did we know what was lurking around the corner.

During the winter months of 2020, something called a coronavirus hit. In late May, the UK cancelled its 2020 conference due to pandemic lockdown conditions. “But the North American conference will be fine,” we told ourselves. “It’s more than a year away!” Just to be cautious, a subset of the board, including yours truly, began to investigate the topic of virtual conferences.

In November 2020 the board made the very difficult decision to shift the conference to virtual. For a few weeks, it felt like we were turning a massive cargo ship in the Suez canal as each member of the board revamped their areas of responsibility. What would the program look like if virtual? How would registration be affected? Would agents and editors be willing to take pitches via Zoom? What were the financial implications? Was the hotel willing to negotiate? How could we market a virtual conference? What about our guest of honour? Could we put the right technology in place quickly enough?

Under the leadership of board chair, Jenny Quinlan, we worked hard and applied a lot of creativity during the next few months. The ship turned. We opened registration in February and were delighted – absolutely delighted – as we watched attendance numbers surge. By June 21, 630 people had registered to attend.

All of the board except me gathered in San Antonio to manage the conference. They were joined by two authors who live in Texas and had volunteered to be on site. Because of Canadian cross-border restrictions, I remained at my laptop in Toronto running conversation rooms, moderating panels, keeping an eye on chat streams, and responding to registration-related matters.

It was an amazing week! Attendees praised the experience, the program, the conversation rooms. They loved ‘hanging out’ with their tribe of historical fiction enthusiasts.

As I said at the beginning, it was an honour to be on the board and to work with this terrific team. And guess what? Planning for 2023 has already begun!

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Spotlight on Sarah Woodbury

Another author featured during the HNS North America conference was Sarah Woodbury, whose success as an indie author is amazing. Sarah spent five years seeking a publisher for her first novel and during that time of continuing to write further novels in what has now become a series. She ultimately decided to ‘go indie’ and hasn’t looked back.

During her talk, Sarah spoke of traditional publishing and the layers inserted between author and reader: specifically, the agent, the editor, the editorial board and marketing department, the publicists and production people, the bookstores, and finally the bookshelves. Sarah believes that going indie allows an author to remove all of those layers and connect directly with readers.

Sarah also laid out her view of the key differences between traditional and independent publishing.

When Sarah ultimately made the decision to become her own publisher, she gave away her first book – The Last Pendragon – for free. In fact, she gave away 10,000 copies in three months. But she had five other books ready and soon published them so that her readers could continue with the series and the characters they’d enjoyed. Her strategy has paid off. She publishes across all retailers, not just Amazon, and has established a YouTube channel focused on medieval Wales where her novels are set. She now has 40 published novels and several series. Over the last five years, she’s sold 2.5 million books and now earns a six-figure income from her writing. And she writes 1000 words a day.

Sarah believes that getting rejected was the best thing that happened to her and left the audience with her view of the keys to success in the indie world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be doing a lot of thinking over the next few months.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Spotlight on Author Margaret George

During the recent – June 21-27 – Historical Novel Society North America conference, one of the authors spotlighted in the program was Margaret George. Margaret is a well-known and highly regarded author and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know her over the years. Her novels can be classified as fictional biographies and she’s tackled famous people like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Emperor Nero, and Mary Magdalene. So, she knows a thing or two about historical fiction.

On Trends

  • The popularity of dual timelines as a window into the past that is still anchored in the present.
  • Margaret feels that WWII fiction will be around for a long time, especially given the relative recency of the time period which means that many readers know of parents or grandparents involved in the war.
  • Westerns may make a comeback with fresh insights into the settling of America, which American readers consider ‘our story’.
  • Medieval stories are in hiatus right now.

On Writing Male Characters

  • Margaret’s two novels featuring Emperor Nero are an example of male protagonists. But in general readers look for female characters (not surprising since a huge percentage of novels are purchased by women.)
  • At a presentation put on during the conference by the publisher Berkley, no novels about men were mentioned in their spotlight session.

On Writing Historical Fiction

  • With non-fiction an author has to give all the facts. With fiction an author can make choices as long as she/he is consistent.
  • Historical fiction authors have an obligation to be true to a certain point to the person and his/her voice.

On Shifts Since the 1980s

  • Books were ‘big’ in the 1980s.
  • The rise of historical romance gave historical fiction a bad name.
  • There is now so much cross-pollination between historical fiction and other genres like mystery and thriller, instead of the “more straightforward historical novels’ of Jean Plaidy and others.
  • Many versions of historical fiction now compared with the past.

How Does Margaret Choose her Subjects?

  • For Margaret, it’s not the time period, it’s the person.
  • She looks for people with “operatic lives” and “tragic deaths”. Choosing these people for her fiction allows her to live their lives vicariously. While she writes, she feels like she is that person.

The conference was an amazing experience – I was on the board and hence very directly involved. I’ll be posting more about it over the next while.

Margaret was on the blog about a year ago talking about her career. You can read that post here.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.