Recap of RWA 2014

RWA photo

Last week, I attended Romance Writer of America’s (RWA) conference in San Antonio, TX. It wasn’t my first National conference and it certainly won’t be my last. For the most part, writing is a solitary job. Authors keep their characters and their stories in their head, sharing with critique partners and beta readers. Attending a conference with approximately 2,000 other writers, agents, and editors is an amazing and inspiring opportunity to break out of that shell and network.

Here’s a highlight from a few of the fabulous workshops I attended:

I was surprised and excited by the number of workshops geared towards the romantic suspense genre. There was one on Guns for Writers where I learned the different classifications of guns and the correct stance for holding a gun. There was another for Writing a Believable Police Hero, Practical Self Defense (which, sadly, I missed), and Homicide Investigation 101. In case you didn’t guess, the hero in my WIP is a cop.

Cindy Ratzlaff gave an engaging talk about social book marketing strategy. Catch the Animoto video I created at the end. Totally cool!

Kristan Higgins, Alyssa Day, and Elizabeth Hoyt gave a fun workshop on Beyond the Alpha Male and Spunky Heroine. They challenged us to get deep into our hero’s character, including things such as knowing their weaknesses, how they’ve suffered, and deepest fears. What don’t they want the heroine to know?

For the heroine, there is a fine line between a strong heroine and a bitch. Be careful not to make her too bitchy and unlikeable, unless, of course, that’s your intent. What are her ambitions and desires that define her? What is her low point and why is the hero the worst person for her? How does he bring her back to that low point? How does she find her own inner strength to overcome it?

“Writers today must be both a writer and an entrepreneur.”Sylvia Day

“Each happy ending is a brand new beginning.”Karen Rose

Random highlights

  • Riverwalk boat tour with Michele Mannon
  • Meeting Joan Johnston in the elevator and gaining some interesting career advice
  • Meeting Nora Roberts and getting my own signed copy of her RITA® nominated book, Whiskey Beach
  • Signing at my first RWA Literacy signing
  • Cheering my fellow NJRW chapter mates, Nancy Herkness, Beth Ciotta, and Marnee Bailey on at the RITA® and Golden Heart® award ceremony
  • Books – I got way more books than I intended. Look for a giveaway soon on my author Facebook Page (Maria K Alexander – Author)
  • Getting my headshot taken at the trade show
  • Cowboys – you’ll have to watch the video link below for details
  • Meeting new friends, including another early riser and co-swag queen, Anabelle Bryant
  • Meeting wonderful Wild Rose Press authors, including editor and freelance designer, Diana Carlile, who designed the cover art for Untangle My Heart
  • Meeting Julie James, whose FBI/US Attorney series covers inspired Untangle My Heart. I even gave her a bookmark!

While I’m back to the grind and the day job today, I’m re-energized to jump back into edits for Forever In My Heart and my WIP.

Check out the video below which I made with pictures from the conference.




Why You Should Go to a Conference

With the one year anniversary of The Violet Femmes fast approaching, I’ve realized once again how blessed I am to have such a great group of women supporting me.

As you may or may not know, The Femmes came to fruition at last year’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, put on by New Jersey Romance Writers, an excellent sub-group of Romance Writers of America. Encouraged by a glass (or four) of white wine (it’s surprising how much wine can promote creativity), holed up in a hotel room after the awards ceremony, the Violet Femmes were born. It goes without saying that if we weren’t all at that conference, our little group might not exist. Which is what prompted me to write this blog.

First of all, I want to propose that we coin a new term…Pro-ference. Because, really, there are no “con”s to attending a writers conference.

So, here are my top five reasons for attending a Pro-ference…whether it be Put Your Heart in a Book, another local conference, or (gulp!), RWA Nationals:

1.  Camaraderie.  There is no better feeling for a writer than being in the company of others…lots of others…who understand the daily trials, self-doubt, and successes of being a writer. Plus, the sharing usually involves cocktails!


 2.   Advice.  Michael Hauge recently spoke at a special event for New Jersey Romance Writers, and he made an observation I found to be true from my first NJRW meeting. Romance writers, he said, above writers of all other genres, are generous to a fault when it comes to sharing information about our business.  Sure, there are egos, but I have never met a romance writer who guarded trade secrets more closely than Colonel Sanders guarded his secret fried chicken recipe. For example, at my first NJRW conference a couple of years ago, USA Today bestselling author Leanne Banks gave the Special Presentation, reserved for the first 100 registrants for the conference. We spoke a bit before her presentation, and I actively participated in a little exercise she conducted.Photo: Me sipping a "Harlequin Heartbreaker" at the Harlequin bash.

Later, she sat on a panel with Susan Litman, of Harlequin, and they talked about what Harlequin looked for in its different lines. Susan had just requested a full manuscript from me when I pitched her my category romance, so I sat in on that session. Leanne greeted me when she came in the room. Afterwards, I cornered her (poor woman!) in the bar as she grabbed a quick glass of wine, and asked her a question that had been nagging me ever since I had pitched to Susan. Leanne spent about fifteen minutes with me, answering questions and giving advice. And I had just asked her one question!

3.  Pitches.  As Michele discussed in last week’s blog, pitching is a prime reason to attend a pro-ference. Where else do you have the opportunity to meet, chat with, and pitch to several editors and agents in one place? Most regional conferences offer pitch sessions. NJRW’s conference offers lots…probably aided by our proximity to New York City, that publishing mecca. This year, NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference offers a choice of almost 30 agents and editors…that’s a lot of potential to sell your manuscript!

 4.    Workshops. Probably the biggest draw for serious writers is the schedule of workshops offered. From the craft of writing, to resourcing, to brainstorming, workshops give us writers the tools we need to get the job done…not an easy feat, I can assure you. They help with confidence building, show us ways to get out of that corner we’ve just written ourselves into, and tell us what to do once we feel our manuscript is ready for someone’s eyes other than our own.

5.     Market knowledge. Whether it’s gleaned from editor and agent panels, or in conversations with other authors, finding out what agents and editors are seeking is invaluable information for aspiring and published authors alike. As audience demands are constantly changing, it is important to understand where the minds of the people helping you sell your book lay. Understanding the business of writing is instrumental in getting those books of our hearts published.

So, have you attended a pro-conference? What was your reason for attending, and what did you take away with you?



p.s. Stay tuned for a special contest celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Violet Femmes! Thank you to everyone who has followed us over the past year. We appreciate your support!

Special Event: Author Nancy Herkness visits with The Femmes!

Today, the Violet Femmes are thrilled to host romance author, Nancy Herkness, a truly inspiring, supportive and lovely woman who showers all of us with positive energy and miles of smiles. We asked her loads of questions about her experiences as a published romance author.

Nancy Herkness’ two contemporary romances, A Bridge to Love and Shower of Stars, were published by Berkley Sensation.  Music of the Night was her first romantic suspense novel.  Her upcoming release Take Me Home will be available in November 2012. 

She’s a member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers and Novelists, Inc., and has won numerous awards for her work, including the Golden Leaf, the Write Touch Readers’ Award and the Aspen Gold. Nancy graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English literature and creative writing. 

A native of West Virginia, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and two mismatched dogs.   

For more information about Nancy and her books, visit

In her usual generous style, Nancy has offered to send an autographed copy of any one of her backlist books to one commenter on this week’s blog. You will also be entered into our drawing for the month of April, where you just might win a $20 Barnes & Noble gift certificate. So be sure to leave a comment on the Violet Femmes board this week!

1.   You were such a great cheerleader during our February writing challenge. Are you part of a critique group? How many of you are in it? What is your process?

Thanks for the compliment about my cheerleading for Jersey Romance Writing Month, but all I did was channel all the positive energy flowing from all the participants, including you wonderful Violet Femmes!

Yes, I am now part of a fantastic critique group, although it took me years to decide to join one.   For a long time, I was reluctant to expose my fragile first draft to criticism.  Then my Evil Inner Editor got too powerful, and I needed a counterbalance, so I found the Sunday Night Ladies through New Jersey Romance Writers.

My critique group celebrating the release of PROPER CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF FRIENDSHIP by group member Lisa Verge Higgins wearing hats made to match the cover of the book.

There are four of us in the group, which seems to be just the right number.  That gives us a tie-breaking vote when people disagree about a critique point.  We meet in person as close to monthly as possible, sending up to 20 pages of our works-in-progress to each other a week before the meeting.  We print the chapters, critique them in writing, and then discuss them when we meet.

We find the face-to-face meeting helps clarify any confusion about comments, allows us to brainstorm solutions, and gives us the chance to exchange useful business information while we chat over dinner.

2.      Are there any places you’ve visited that have influenced your writing?

My books tend to be set in places I know really well, so the New York metro area (where I live now) and West Virginia (where I grew up) are my favorite settings.  My first book’s heroine was an engineer so I researched bridge building, focusing on the George Washington Bridge.  The climactic scene of A BRIDGE TO LOVE takes place on the bridge itself, so I spent a lot of time walking across it while snapping photographs, and having my husband drive me across it so I could take copious notes. 

SHOWER OF STARS featured meteorites (I’m fascinated by outer space) which gave me a great excuse to visit the meteorite exhibit at the Museum of Natural  History in New York City.  I ended up setting one very hot scene in the Museum.

 My upcoming release TAKE ME HOME (November 2012) goes back to my roots in a small town in the mountains of West Virginia.  I found it very powerful to return to my memories of my years there.

3.      What authors have inspired you?

Oh my goodness, so many it’s hard to name them all!  I credit Georgette Heyer with developing my addiction to romance novels.  She is a goddess of a writer; I reread her books regularly.  Mary Jo Putney’s books are also marvelous, and she is an incredibly nice human being.  Eloisa James is one of the most elegant writers and smartest businesswomen I know; talking with her is like taking a course in Publishing 101.  Ian McEwan crafts sentences that make me weep with joy and envy because I wish I could write like that.

Robyn Carr’s fantastic Virgin River series inspired my upcoming release TAKE ME HOME, which is the first book in a planned trilogy set in a fictional small town.  Robyn even shared her original proposal for the series with me.  How nice is that!  As you know, romance writers are the most generous of people, always willing to share their experience and expertise with their colleagues in the field.

4.      You’ve been writing for a number of years and have seen many changes in our industry. What do you think has changed in the way romances are viewed now as compared to when you started?

Honestly, I’m not sure the way romances are viewed has changed much at all.  I always joke that romance writers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the publishing world: we get no respect.  What many people don’t realize is that the sales of our popular novels support many more “literary” books which often aren’t profitable for publishers.  Since I read all sorts of books, I’m happy to contribute to their publication.

5.      How have you adapted in your career from the time your first book was published, until now? Did you do anything differently to re-invent yourself in phase two?

I think I have simply become more market-savvy.  I still write books I am passionate about, but I have learned how to present them to an agent/editor in a way that helps them understand how to position my work in the market.

Sometimes I deliberately add an element to the stories that I know will provide a “hook” for marketing.  That’s an easy thing to do without changing the central themes of my work, and it always enriches the book.  For instance, in TAKE ME HOME, I wanted to bring horses into the story since I was an avid horsewoman in my youth, and horses are popular in the romance world.  While I was playing with ideas, I was struck by the concept of the “whisper horse”, the special creature you can tell all your troubles to.  My editor loves that aspect of the book, both for artistic and marketing reasons.

6.      You recently signed a deal with Montlake Publishing. How important is an agent in negotiating an e-book deal?

My agent did an amazing job for me with Montlake.  In fact, I couldn’t have done it without her.  Although most of Montlake’s sales are digital right now, it also offers audio and print books, and handles foreign rights, so it’s a complex contract.  Montlake is a division of Amazon, a sophisticated and powerful corporate entity, so when dealing with them, it’s great to have another professional on your side.

7.      What was the attraction with Montlake? Why did you pursue e-publishing? Is pitching to an e-publisher different than traditional publishing? How does an agent help you negotiate that?

I didn’t actually pursue e-publishing per se.  My agent submitted to Montlake as well as traditional publishers, and as far as I know, the pitch was identical for all of them.  One unusual aspect of the pitch (for me) was that my agent did not pigeonhole my book as “contemporary romance”.  She presented the plot summary and let the publishers decide how they wanted to market it.  As a result, Montlake sees real crossover potential for TAKE ME HOME in the general women’s fiction market.

Montlake is attractive to me as an author for a variety of reasons.  First, they publish very fast.  TAKE ME HOME will be released November 6th, 2012.  That’s moving at light-speed for the publishing industry.  Second, they are author-friendly in many ways: cover consultation, monthly sales figures, quarterly royalty payments, etc.  Third, they have the entire marketing resources of Amazon at their disposal.  That’s HUGE.

The drawback is, of course, that Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million will not stock any of the Amazon Publishing Group’s print books in their stores (although you can order them through those bookstores and their online entities) since they view that as contributing to their competition’s profits, a position which is understandable but which I hope they will reverse in the future.

8.      Another NJRW member, Kathleen Long, has had great success recently with self-publishing. Did you ever consider going that route?

Absolutely!  All three of my backlist books are now self-published because I made a point to get my rights back from the original publishers before digital books got hot.

It’s also a wonderful option to have for a book that might not fit into a publisher’s marketing plan, and I may yet self-publish books that have never been published before.  It does require some upfront investment though.  I had my backlist covers professionally designed, and if I were offering a never-before-published book, I would have a professional editor review it before I self-pubbed it.  I want my readers to be assured of a quality read.

9.      Have you set yourself any new goals?

After my amazing experience with Jersey Romance Writing Month, I have learned that I can set much higher productivity goals for myself.  Not 30,000 words in a month (as we did in February) because while that was exhilarating, it was also exhausting!  However, I think 20,000 is doable without burning out my Muse.  So one new goal is to write my books faster.  That makes romance readers happy because once they find an author they like, they gobble up her books.

Of course, my on-going goal is to write a better book every time.  Which is challenging but necessary to me as a writer.

10.  So much of marketing now falls in the author’s lap. Can you share some of your successes in self-marketing? Do you have a marketing plan?

Oh gosh, marketing!  The ever-present concern in every author’s mind.  I wish I could offer some brilliant insight into how best to reach our readers, but the truth is that no one really knows what creates the much-desired “buzz” about a book.

My own efforts are multi-pronged.  I have a website (with a monthly contest), a blog, two Facebook pages, a Twitter account, and an email list of readers.  I always carry bookmarks with me and hand them out to anyone who expresses even the smallest interest in my work.

 I’ve done book-signings in bookstores and libraries, made presentations to groups ranging from library science students to local book clubs, signed stock, done television, radio and print interviews, advertised in print publications, and attended conferences.  The truth is I enjoy meeting and talking to readers so this is all fun for me.

However, I think my publisher’s efforts have more effect on my sales.  The covers they design and the placement in bookstores they negotiate for my books probably have the most impact.  The simple fact is that they have vastly more resources at their disposal than I do.  As you can imagine, I am fascinated by what Montlake can do for my book because of their affiliation with Amazon’s immense array of customers.

I would just like to thank the Violet Femmes for inviting me to join such a dynamic, talented group of writers, even for just a week.  You guys rock!

Thank you, Nancy! It was, as always, a pleasure talking with you!

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