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Conference Insider: Historical Novel Society of North America All-Virtual Conference

Going remote in 2021 has allowed this historical fiction conference to bring attendees a stellar list of presenters from all around the world.

Teel James Glenn, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, and Anne Easter Smith stand onstage dressed formally in front of microphones.
Teel James Glenn, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, and Anne Easter Smith.
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When members of the Historical Novel Society (HNS) learned that they’d need to put their 2021 conference online due to COVID-19 concerns, they wasted no time gathering presenters worldwide to speak on a multitude of topics related to historical fiction. Previous in-person conferences entertained attendees with workshops and panels, plus classes in sword-fighting and period costuming. Likewise, the virtual conference will offer creative instruction and networking opportunities for writers working in all of historical fiction’s subgenres.

Rose Spears is the marketing director for the North American branch of HNS. She’s particularly excited about the international roster of speakers and writers attending the 2021 event. “People who might otherwise have been prohibited from attending because of travel costs will be there,” she explains. “This will be a great way to connect with speakers we don’t normally get to see at our conference.”

What you’ll learn

Three-hour master classes take place during the first three days of the conference. For an additional fee, writers will learn about the role of a literary agent and the state of historical fiction with agents Melissa Danaczko and Cate Hart, and how to create dynamic characters with historical novelist Gillian Bagwell.

Dozens of other classes, panels, and Q&A discussions over the weeklong conference offer insight into multiple aspects of historical fiction. Participants will learn how to research and write in the genre, how to set a scene, and how to write historical fantasy, historical romance, and historical westerns. They’ll gain insight into various ways to publish a book, build a platform, market a novel, and approach a sequel or series. “One of the hottest sessions at our last conference examined the ‘dual timeline novel,’” Spears says. “That’s a story that jumps between two time periods, connected in some way.”


Participants will be able to attend live sessions and then watch the recordings for 90 days following the conference. Writers will also have the opportunity to pitch to editors and agents, and attend query critique sessions. “Those cap at eight participants,” Spears says. “Everyone brings a one-page query, and an agent goes through them and talks about what’s working and what needs revision.”

Writers will also have the opportunity to participate virtually in the conference’s regular feature, “Hooch through History.” In 2021, HNS’s board members will visit and film historical sites and bars around San Antonio, Texas. “We’ll do a live hooch-making session, as well,” Spears says. “If people want to make one of the drinks at home, they’re welcome.”

Featured presenters

New York Times bestselling author Lisa See will lead a conference reading group focused on her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. She’ll also sit on a panel titled “Connecting Mainstream Audiences to Unfamiliar Historical Periods” with authors Janie Chang, Jeannie Lin, and Weina Dai Randel. Libbie Hawker, author of historical novels and the how-to guide Making It in Historical Fiction, will teach a master class on outlining a novel with a fully structured story arc.


Industry expert Jane Friedman, editor of The Hot Sheet newsletter for writers and publishers, will teach a master class on self-publishing. She’ll also weigh in on the state of publishing with writers from around the world, including Suneetha Balakrishnan, Ann Marti Friedman, Richard Lee, and Elisabeth Storrs.

Denny S. Bryce, Piper Huguley, and Vanessa Riley will appear on a panel titled “Biographical Historical Fiction: Black Authors Write about the Past with an Eye to the Future.” Aimee Liu will sit on a panel titled “Shaking up Time and Place: Historical Characters in Unfamiliar Cultures” along with Janet Fitch, Jennifer Steil, and Liza Nash Taylor. The panel discussion “Art and Spirit Shestories: Rebel Mystics” includes Stephanie Rénee dos Santos, Laura Morelli, and Nancy Bilyeau.

Advice for first-time attendees

Sandy and Vern Frykholm, dressed as Martha and George Washington, greet attendees beside a sign that welcomes attendees to the Historical Novel Society Conference and Readers Festival.
Sandy and Vern Frykholm dress as Martha and George Washington to greet attendees at the HNS Conference Readers Festival in 2019.

Spears suggests that attendees check out the conference program on HNS’s website ahead of time. “Feel free to browse between the different live events while they’re going on because we’ll also give you recorded content,” she says, pointing out that unlike in-person conferences, the virtual event allows participants to attend all sessions, even those happening at the same time, via recorded material for several weeks afterward.


She tells writers to plan on attending the first-time guest orientation on Monday, June 21. “That way, we can show you the ropes plus how to make friends and get the most out of each session,” she says.

The online conference includes a virtual bookstore and dozens of online conversation rooms designed to gather together those writers interested in a particular time period like the Medieval or Regency era, genres such as fantasy or gothic writing, and demographically diverse subjects like LGBTQIA themes and Indigenous history, along with craft topics including dual timelines and how to record an audiobook.

“There are a lot of reasons people go to a conference. They don’t just want content,” Spears says. “We’ve worked really hard to create social outlets so that people feel a sense of camaraderie and networking.”



Historical Novel Society of North America All-Virtual Conference at a glance

Conference: Historical Novel Society of North America
All-Virtual Conference

Dates: June 21-27, 2021

Cost: $219-$249

Location: Online

[email protected],



Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart