Conference Fever

Be sure to stop by the Violet Femmes blog each week this month and comment to be entered in our contest. This month you’ll be entered to win two novels, Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins and Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas. Come back every week and leave a comment to increase your chance of winning!

I’ve never been a lucky person in terms of winning things. I’m horrible when I go to the casinos and the most I’ve ever won on a scratch-off lottery ticket was, surprisingly, $20. So when I went to the Connecticut Fiction Fest conference last weekend and waited, anxiously, while the results of the Write Stuff Contest were read out, I tried to prepare myself not to take first place.

And I was overwhelmed with emotion when, amazingly, I did exactly that.

FIRST PLACE in Single Title Contemporary. Woo Hoo!!! It was a great feeling to win and I was especially glad to have fellow Femme, Michele, with me to cheer me on. Many thanks to the Connecticut Chapter of RWA, the judges, and agent Sara Megibow who picked the winner in the Single Title category.

I’ve posted the first paragraph of Love’s Second Chance at if you’re interesting in stopping by.

The Conference

Above is a picture of Michele Mannon (left) and me at the Connecticut Fiction Fest conference.

Aside from the contest win, which had me shaking and grinning like a new parent, there were a lot of other nice things about the conference. This conference was smaller than NJRW’s conference, which made it more intimate. It was easier to network with people and provided lots of opportunities to pitch to agents and editors. Below, I’m going to share some of the learnings I took away from the conference.

Sherry Thomas kicked off the conference with an inspiring keynote speech. She encouraged us to not give up on our manuscripts, despite the rejections. She re-worked hers quite some time before finally getting published. I personally believe that the trick is finding the magic combination of all the skills that work and that once you do, everything will click into place.

The fabulous Kristan Higgins held a workshop on writing the dreaded Chapter 1. If you’re like me, I’ve written and re-written Chapter 1 many times. Finding the right place to start your story can be a challenge and it might take a couple attempts until you get it right. One of the main things Kristan shared is finding that eye-catching first line. You know it when you hear it, but finding it is not that easy. Another key component in the first chapter is to make sure the main character’s primary goal is clear. If we don’t have an invested stake in knowing what’s important to the H/H, then the reader may not continue. The other main takeaway is about backstory. I’m sure we’ve all gotten feedback that our first chapter has too much backstory. Finding that right balance of just the right amount is definitely something I’m still working on. It needs to hint at events of the past that you’ll eventually build on in the later chapters. Essentially, you need to put in enough to tease your reader and want them to keep reading more.

In the workshop Raising the Stakes, Toni Andrews spoke about character-driven plotting. She encouraged us to figure out our H/H worst case scenario, and then to make it happen. It’s about not being afraid to create problems for your characters. Who wants to read a book where everything is perfect and no one has any problems. Yawn! We want issues, drama, and conflict. Make your main characters hit rock bottom and then show how they overcome their obstacles to find their HEA.

What conferences do you all have planned this year? The NJRW conference will be here before we know it. Registration hasn’t started yet, but keep checking the website below for more details.

Is anyone going to RWA Nationals? If so, I’m very jealous. I went with Joanna last year and it was a wonderful experience. Next year’s conference is in Atlanta, so start saving your pennies, Femmes! It’s roadtrip time.


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  1. Congratulations on your win, Maria! Sounds like it was a terrific conference – Sherry Thomas and Kristan Higgins? Wow. And I can’t wait for this year’s NJRW conference. With the number of agents, editors and authors who attend, it is definitely a “best buy” where conferences are concerned.

    • Thanks, Diana. NJRW definitely puts on a great conference. I’m looking forward to the great speakers and hoping I won’t need to pitch this year (sigh).

  2. Nicole Doran

     /  May 21, 2012

    Congratulations Maria -I know we applauded you at the meeting, but reading about your experience in winning was even better…Kudos! I too would love to do National, but CA is not possible. Next year..east coast…I hope to be there. Keep up the great work and the good fortune too!
    Nicole Doran

    • Hi Nicole. Thanks for the congratulations. Maybe we need to rent one of those large party buses and plan a roadtrip through NJ down to Atlanta. Diana, we could stop by and pick you up 🙂

  3. Lori

     /  May 21, 2012

    Hi Maria,

    The contest wasn’t about luck in winning it was about your hard work and vision. So the bad news (imho) your still not lucky; good news your an awesome writer. I’m glad you enjoyed the conference. I’ll have to check into that one next year. I went to chicago’s Spring Fling. Loved it. Best conference besides national I’ve ever attended. I wish NJRW did some of the things they do. Like a group critique at mtg and conference. They really help each other like you femmes do for each other, but they do for everybody.
    I’m glad you had fun and even happier to hear you won. Congrats again.

    • Awww…thanks for the nice words, Lori.

      The Chicago conference sounds like fun. I’ve always wanted to go to Chicago. It’s nice to see different things the chapters do. In CT, they did an agent/editor cold read panel (similar to what Angela James did earlier this year, but around 8 agents/editors). We were allowed to submit 1 page of our MS and members from the chapter read them aloud & they were critiqued in front of everyone. They ran out of time and didn’t get to mine or Michele’s. I thought that was a neat thing to do.

    • Right on, Lori! No luck involved. All skill and patience, Maria.

      I wish I could have gone to Spring Fling. Besides an excuse to go to Chicago (my old hometown), I have heard it’s a great conference. Glad you found it useful. Bring up some of those ideas and experiences from other conferences to Ruth. Maybe we can adopt a few!!

  4. Congrats on your win Maria! This is so exciting!
    I love the NJ conference. It’s absolutely the best. Tons of wonderful speakers, networking opportunities, as many editors and agents as nationals, AND we were the first to have some of the roundtables for published authors. I can’ wait for this year’s–especially Heather Graham being a speaker! She’s terrific.
    I won’t be at nationals this year but hope to go to Atlanta next year. Nationals can be a bit overwhelming, although I enjoy it and have learned to pace myself. And at nationals I see friends I don’t get to see anyplace else. Our NJ conference is the perfect size.

    • Hi Roni and thanks for the congrats. Parts of Nationals was a bit overwhelming, given the sheer volume of people, but I was grateful to get the lay of the land from you. It helped give me the right expectation and know what to expect for next time.

  5. jennablueblogs

     /  May 21, 2012

    Congratulations again on the contest win! That’s so cool! And thanks for recapping the CT Fiction fest conference for us! I always love hearing what the keynotes & other authors I admire have to say. All advice welcome! Sounds like you feel the same!

    • Hi Jenna. I find it interesting to get different people’s opinions on writing topics. For me, repetition is useful. Sometimes hearing the same advice 6 months later makes all the difference and something just clicks. I love it when that happens.

  6. hieubietusa

     /  May 21, 2012

    Great advice…and an even better congrats from the contest. Those people can be brutal…take it from me.
    The dreaded chapter 1…oh…dreaded is too mild a word.


  7. Again, congratulations Maria! I know I stole a bit of your thunder by putting up a separate post right after you won.

    Nice to hear what they do at CFF. I like the idea of critiquing a first page.

    We’re all so proud of you!

    • Thanks, Joanna. I was touched by your congratulatory post. I like the ‘Recent News’ section, too. Great idea. Let’s keep the good news coming, Femmes!

  8. Hi, Maria, I loved hearing about the CT conference. We all need to try to get there next year. It seems like it’s a great opportunity to network in a smaller setting.
    I love the NJRW conference, although it is a bit overwhelming the first year. Then you get the hang of it, and it’s easy peasy. I can’t wait for this years conference, although it will be a bit nerve-wracking leading up to it with the PYHIAB contest.

    Congrats again on your win! You deserve it!


    • Thanks, Jaye. The more I go to conferences, the more comfortable I feel. Or maybe it’s just easier because, lately, I’ve been going with friends and not by myself. My first NJRW conference was stressful because I didn’t know many people and have to literally force myself to be outgoing. It’s helped me ‘get out of my shell’ at least a little bit. You’ll do fine with PYHIAB. You’ll have Michele, Joanna, and me up on stage with you. We’ll have a blast.

  9. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  May 30, 2012

    Congrats on your win. It sounds like a great time. I’m gunning for Atlanta!

  10. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  May 30, 2012

    I just read your first paragraph. Definately makes me want to read more. Congrats, again!


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