The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) reaches its Diamond Jubilee in 2020. Wow! That makes the RNA more venerable than pretty much all the other writers’ organisations. All the ones that we know of, anyway.
So the writers in the Libertà hive started reminiscing — as you do — about what the RNA has meant to each of us. We’re all long-standing members. And it’s an organisation that we revere.
But why? What’s so special about the RNA?
Basically, it’s the people in the RNA and the values they stand for. And the support and friendship that the association provides. Don’t believe any rubbish you hear about romance writers stabbing each other in the back. That was a bad joke from a writer in a non-romance genre — who honestly should have known better.
Writers in the RNA are the most helpful, supportive, loving bunch you could ever meet. They know the romance market is vast. No single romance writer can satisfy all those readers out there. So it’s in all our interests to grow the market and help each other.
Which is what we do. What’s not to like?
I’ve been a member of the RNA for over 20 years now. And I think I got published because of the RNA. So I owe the association. Big time.
I’d been trying to write historicals for Mills & Boon for the best part of 10 years. I’d got into a familiar cycle — I’d send a MS to the M&B editors, wait several months, and then the MS would arrive back with a rejection letter and, usually, an encouraging paragraph suggesting I keep on submitting.
But I didn’t give up. I forced myself to brave the outside world and tell people that I was trying to become a writer. I went to creative writing classes. Where I learned a lot of craft. And then — oh frabjous day! — someone mentioned the RNA and the New Writers’ Scheme.
I joined. Of course I did. And I sent in my latest MS (which M&B had rejected in an earlier version). Then I waited.
The reader’s crit was terrific. No, my MS wasn’t publishable as it stood, but it could be, with revisions. She made suggestions for things to change. It was the most encouragement I’d had up to that point. And it came from someone who was successful in the romance business and knew what she was talking about.
So I knuckled down and spent three months revising my MS in the light of the reader’s report. It was hard work. Then one day, having decided I couldn’t do any more to it, I posted it off to M&B, crossed everything, and waited.
And the M&B editor picked it off the slush pile, read the first page and took it home to read the rest. Which resulted in an offer to publish it — in a businesslike letter which reminded me that I wouldn’t make a fortune from publishing with M&B and shouldn’t give up the day job 😉
All of which was true, alas.
But, in the end, I was published. And without the RNA’s NWS scheme, it might not have happened at all.
So thank you, dear RNA.
I joined the RNA way back in the 1980s, before the World Wide Web — almost before electric typewriters! I had had three historical romances published, so was eligible to join as a full member, even if a very ignorant one! Then the historical market took a dive and my publisher didn’t want any more for the time being.
I had three young children to look after so I was content to potter rather than push for another publisher, but time went on.
That is where the RNA came up trumps. The other members gave me HOPE. Other writers had been there and encouraged me to keep going, to have faith in myself and eventually I did get published again.
In the early days, there were only the meetings and the magazine to keep us informed, but we managed.
Much has changed since then. The internet makes it easier to keep in touch but still, nothing beats the joy of getting together with other writers to talk shop, to celebrate or share problems and generally be with like-minded souls.
And I agree with Joanna. Romance writers are so helpful and generous with their time and sharing their knowledge.
I honestly believe that if I hadn’t been a member of the RNA back in those early days, I would have remained an author of just 3 published books, rather than almost 50!
Liz’s thoughts — and enduring regret
I joined the RNA when my first book was published – after three earlier attempts had been rejected. Those three rejected book had been written over a period of seven or eight years and my enduring regret is that I didn’t join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme at the beginning of my journey as a romance writer.
I was already published, although D C Thompson don’t credit their comic script writers. There came a point, however, when I decided that, while writing scripts for “Twinkle” was fun, it was never going to pay the mortgage.
I was about to embark on a full length children’s book when a timely article about a couple of Mills and Boon authors caught my eye and off I went.
I heard about the Romantic Novelists’ Association through Mary Wibberley’s wonderful To Writers With Love, my first romance craft book, but I wasn’t brave enough to join.
Losing my job was the impetus to pick up my pen once more. But If I’d realised just how extraordinary the NWS scheme is, if I had put on my big girl’s pants and joined years earlier, discovered the amazing support and friendship of the RNA membership – stars included – I have absolutely no doubt that I would have been published a lot sooner.
But then I approached Sara Craven in a reader fangirl moment. Discovering I was a writer and we both still used typewriters, she advised me (make that instructed firmly) to join the RNA. We made the Amstrad switch together.
In those days I had a full time job, my writing was squeezed in round the edges and I never got to RNA events, just read the newsletter. Then I changed jobs, managed my own time better and went to my first meeting at the old Cavendish Club.
The speaker was great and RNA members, whose books I’d been reading and loving for years, were lovely, welcoming, often very funny and so kind.
And Diane Pearson, a massive best seller long before I started writing, had even read one of my books. She was so sweet about it and gave me hugely valuable advice.
Then for the 50th Anniversary, Di, by then a true friend, and I collaborated on Fabulous at Fifty, a Memoir of the origins and history of the RNA.
Di, a respected editor as well as wonderful story teller, collected some brilliant anecdotes from her long term mates. And I trawled the RNA archives. It resulted in a history of publishing and reading habits as well as an enormously inspiring account of the courage and vision of some of our predecessors. And a lot of their eccentricities too. And Diane wrote a marvellously spare and touching short story for the RNA’s 50th Anniversary Collection.
If you want to read Di’s story, The Censor, however, you’ll need to buy Loves Me, Loves Me Not. You’ll get a clutch of stories by other best sellers, too: including Elizabeth Chadwick, Nicola Cornick, Liz Fielding, Katie Fforde, and Sue Moorcroft as well as Joanna Maitland and me.
It’s a fantastic tapestry of the huge variety in romantic fiction. In her introduction, Katie Fforde, then RNA Chairman, now President, called it a box of chocolates. Too right! Pretty classy chocolates. And delicious.
There’s a terrific programme of events planned for 2020. Readers and writers, whether members or not, can join in. All are welcome. And we’re publishing this blog earlier than usual so that you have time to sign up for February events.
If you love reading romance, there’s a chance to spend a whole day with readers and writers in Manchester on Saturday 15th February. It’s only £10 a ticket and you get cake and fizz thrown in 😉 Special guest speaker will be Debbie Johnson, author of the Comfort Food Café books.
And there will be lots more. Keep going back to the RNA’s Events Page to see the latest updates.