Monday, August 16, 2010

Erica O’Rourke Has A GOLDEN HEART!

Tap.  Tap.  Tap.  Is this mic on?  Testing.  Testing.  Ahem!  Please welcome a fabulous guest post by Erica O'Rourke, award winning author of UNCHOSEN. (Women who wear crowns know what they're talking about, so pay attention!)

So, Jamie kindly invited me to guest-blog today on why RWA is a valuable resource for YA writers. I am, admittedly, biased. In July, I won RWA’s Golden Heart® Award for Best Young Adult Romance Manuscript for my novel, UNCHOSEN. That alone would make me a cheerleader, because what girl doesn’t feel a certain gratitude towards an organization that would say such nice things about her work and give her a pretty gold necklace?

But here’s the thing: winning the Golden Heart, while lovely, was just the cherry on top. The truth is, joining RWA was the single best move I ever made in my career, even before I won.

Still, a lot of YA authors aren’t sure RWA is a great investment of their time or money. “I’m just not sure what I’d get out of it,” I often hear. “I write young adult, not romance.”

Maybe you don’t. Perhaps you don’t write happily ever after endings, or perhaps the romance is a minor subplot. Calling a book a romance implies some pretty specific genre elements – it’s why they have their own section at the bookstore. But I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent YA book that doesn’t, in some way, touch on romantic relationships. Not always happy ones, of course. Lauren Strasnick’s RITA-nominated NOTHING LIKE YOU is brutally, painfully honest, and at its core, about a girl coming to grips with her mother’s death. But it’s also a story about love and sex and how difficult it can be to differentiate the two. And it is BRILLIANT.

If you’ve written a YA book that has kissing, or people thinking about kissing, or people trying very hard NOT to think about kissing someone who is both 1) bad news and 2) irresistible, you should join RWA. Not “in spite of” writing YA, but specifically BECAUSE you do. I tell you this for two reasons:


Period. Full stop. People who suggest teens don’t deserve compelling, meaningful books solely because of their age should be kneecapped. When I wrote UNCHOSEN, I didn’t try to make it sound “teen” or dumb down the language. I didn’t simplify the characters or the conflicts. I didn’t try to teach anyone a Very Important Lesson About Growing Up. I wrote the story I wanted to read, and it happened to be about a seventeen-year-old. Suggesting YA is easier to write or that the standards are lower is crap, frankly, and insulting to teenagers and authors alike.

But it’s for this very reason that you’ve got to bring your A game. You need to hone your craft just as much as authors writing for adult audience, and you need to learn about the business side, too. That’s what a good author does, regardless of genre.

RWA does a fantastic job of educating its membership: on craft, on the publishing industry, on how to conduct oneself professionally. It provides opportunities to meet agents and editors at conferences. It runs contests – both the Golden Heart and chapter contests – to get feedback on your writing and bypass the slush pile. It shows you take your work seriously, and the publishing industry should too.


Of course, YA authors still have specialized issues. The market and conventions are different, as they are for other subgenres. The industry professionals are (sometimes) different. What you need is a group of people in your field, collected in one place, with wisdom and experience and a willingness to share. You need YARWA, the online Young Adult chapter of RWA. It’s an incredibly vibrant, intelligent, giving community, comprised of authors at every stage in their career, from newbie to bestsellers, in every genre from steampunk to contemporary. Their dues are minuscule compared to the amount of information and support they provide. And while you might not put names with faces until Nationals, they are most assuredly your tribe.

I said RWA was the best thing I did for my career, and I wasn’t being glib. Every good thing that has happened to me in my journey as an author is directly linked to RWA, and particularly my local chapter, Chicago-North. They taught me about craft as I was writing UNCHOSEN, and they held my feet to the fire as I revised it. They pushed me to enter the Golden Heart. They organized the Spring Fling conference and invited Joanna Volpe, who became my agent and who does wondrous, amazing things for my career on a near-daily basis. When I won the Golden Heart, the cheers from my chaptermates were deafening. A tribe, I tell you. Get one.

(By the way, this year’s RITA winner for Young Adult? NYT Bestseller, Simone Elkeles – another C-N member. Coincidence, or proof my chapter is made of awesome? You decide.)

RWA has been an incredible resource for me, and the other YA authors I know. It’s given me knowledge, a sense of community, amazing friends and incredible opportunities. I’ve never felt marginalized or looked down on by the greater membership, and the chapters I belong feel like home. It’s one of those rare situations where there is no downside – take advantage of it. You’d be crazy not to.

Erica O’Rourke writes dark urban fantasy about girls who learn to use their loud voices, and make their own fate. Her first novel, UNCHOSEN, was the 2010 Golden Heart Winner for Best Young Adult Manuscript. You can read more about Erica at her website, or follow her on Twitter at

Thanks for guest posting, Erica!  You're welcome to stop back any time. 
Leave Erica questions/comments gang!  She'll be by to answer. 


Katie Ashley said...

Thank you so much for guest posting with us! And what a great and informative post. I'm totally checking out RWA right now. I'd love to go to one of your conferences too. It does seem like such a welcoming and wonderful community.

Eliza Evans said...

RITA and Golden Heart winners are no coincidence, I say. You've got some great points here, Erica. RWA has room for everyone.

Cory said...

I've been trying to decide if I wanted to join RWA. Seems like a good decision! Thanks for the post.

Debra Driza said...

I used to belong to RWA and let my membership lapse--I definitely think I'll be joining. Great post, Erica--and huge congrats to you on your achievements! Great idea, Jamie! :)

Anonymous said...

Krista -- thank you so much for having me! It's been great to read back through your archives and see the breadth and depth of your topics. Chicago-North's next conference will be in spring of 2012, and we would love to see you there.

Eliza, I think you're right -- C-N is a special chapter. And RWA pitches a very big tent.

Cory, is there a local chapter you could check out? Mine lets people visit for two meetings before they have to join, which gives them a good feel for the group.

Debra, thank you so much! YARWA is very new -- they just celebrated their 1 year anniversary, I believe. I think RWA was tremendously useful even before YARWA formed, but now that they're here, I can't imagine what we did without them.

Melissa Conway said...

Great post! RWA has been essential in helping me figure out the business end of writing, and being a member of the YARWA Tribe is a privilege. :o)

Shea Berkley said...

The awesomeness that is you is so apparent in your blog. I loved, loved, loved it. About YA being easier ... my agent told me that YA is one of the hardest genres to break into, so easy? Not on your life! I'm so thrilled you were able to break in. I think it was about as exciting for me to see as it was for it to happen to you. No doubts, I'm looking forward to reading UNCHOSEN.

Debra St. John said...

Hi Erica,

I, of course, have to agree...Chicago-North is all kinds of awesome.

Joining a local chapter and the National RWA organization was the best decision I ever made for my writing career.

Congrats again, Erica, your win is well-deserved!

Elisa Beatty said...

Thanks for the RWA plug, Erica! It really is the most amazing, generous, supportive organization for writers I've ever heard of. Published folks helping newbies, and teaching going on all the time.

Congrats again on your gorgeous Golden Heart and all your success!!!!

Anonymous said...

Melissa -- YARWA really is amazing. RWA always impresses me with the number of published authors who are willing to pay it forward, giving advice and sharing their experiences. The pubs in YARWA -- authors I have read and loved and had squeeing fangirl moments over -- post regularly and are so generous with their knowledge. We are so lucky!

Shea, THANK YOU. Becoming friends with you has been one of the best parts of this whole journey.

Debra, it's so good to see you here! You're just further proof that C-N is an amazing group!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Elisa! And congrats to you, too! (And yes, I'm going back to those pages RIGHT NOW.)

Misty Evans said...

Hi Erica. Great, inspiring post. I've been a member of RWA for four years and belong to several of their online groups. The support and friendship is amazing and I don't know what I'd do without my chapter mates.

Congrats on the GH win! May this be the start of something fabulous for your career.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Misty! Thanks so much for the kind words, and for all your hard work at Nationals. (Misty is one of those people who worked like crazy to pull off a beautiful conference in Orlando after the Nashville flooding and venue change. She was charming and patient and funny as hell...RWA is lucky to have her as a member!

B. A. Binns said...

As another YA writer and RWA member, I second what Erica says, and not just because of the YARWA chapter. There's a lot of support her for everything I write.

Heather Snow said...

Awesome post, and I totally agree. While I don't write YA, I do know that the knowledge about the craft of storytelling that I have learned through the sheer resources of people and educational material in RWA has been amazing.

I feel like I can write ANY story better now than I did before. And getting your own tribe, priceless :)

Story sounds amazing, and I can't wait until it comes out!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Hey Erica - Great post. Yep, RWA is an amazing place for writers - all writers. You couldn't have said it better. "A good book is a good book" no matter what the genre. I don't write romance, but I wouldn't be the writer I am without RWA.

Congrats on all your fabulousness. I can't wait to read your debut!!

Vanessa Barneveld said...

Well said, Erica! RWA is vibrant, supportive and professional. I love how strong the YA community within it has become. Writing YA is challenging but I can't imagine doing anything else right now.

Congrats (again!) on winning the Golden Heart!

Kimberly said...

I agree completely with the feeling of community within RWA and, by extension, YARWA. I'm amazed at the amount of published authors willing to give advice and further help to the unpublished. That networking and friendship-building is the backbone of the organization. Erica, I'm so glad you took the time to comment on it. Especially since I know you're trying to get your second book written on a deadline. :-)
I can't wait to buy your book and tell everyone, "I knew her when...."
Kim MacCarron

J.S. Wood said...

This is awesome! I had no idea the RWA has a YA group. I've always considered it for all those lovely adult romance writers so I'm kinda excited. Hopefully a GA chapter is near me.

Thanks for guest posting for us!!