My First Writer Retreat Was a Blast! And Marlene Winners Were Revealed…

In my last post I mentioned that I was off to the unknown adventure that was the Washington Romance Writers retreat. I had no idea what to expect, got a ride and shared a room with someone I met that day and just generally hoped for the best.

All I can say is that the retreat far exceeded my expectations!

The Atmosphere Was Intimate and Collegial

What I loved most about it was that it was intimate. Only about 120 people were there including authors who had published dozens of books and others who were hoping to one day get published like me. The group was diverse in every sense of the word—from genre (ranging from paranormal romance to women’s fiction) to location to race to age. And it wasn’t just writers in attendance—top agents and editors were there, including one from St. Martin’s Press.

In addition to the small number, the atmosphere was collegial because there was no distinction in terms of activities, seating arrangements, etc.—all of our meals were together (remember- no room service!),  so you could sit at the same table as these accomplished authors, editors and agents. (I ended up having a really informative conversation with an agent I wanted to pitch to, but couldn’t get on her schedule and definitely plan on sending her a query letter!!) The same was true with the night activities—the people on the panels during the day were the same ones singing karaoke that night. There were also a ton of useful panels and workshops.

The experience was both inspiring and fulfilling.  When I got there I knew no one, when I left I felt really connected to a lot of people who could share this experience of sitting down and writing a novel.

Marlene Contest and Pitch Sessions

I did not win the Marlene contest, but I did not expect that I would! Several of the other finalists had already been published for goodness sakes! I was one of the few Marlene finalists in attendance, however, so that was cool.

I also did four pitch sessions—three editors and one agent. I was so nervous, but the more I saw them all drinking and hanging out, the less worried I got. When I finally did meet with them, they were all open to my idea, and asked that I send them chapters or pages—but only when I’m done (which I’m not)! No rush they said!

Note that this alone would have made the trip worthwhile. Half the battle in this game (I’ve heard), is just getting the agent to respond and ask for pages. It turns out in these pitch sessions, many of the agents/editors will just ask for pages if the concept falls within what they represent because, unsurprisingly, authors are notoriously horrible at pitching their books in this fashion lol. Also—you can’t really make a decision on a novel when you haven’t read a single page.

And The Speakers Were Awesome

Other highlights included the speakers—Liliana Hart, Robin Perini and Cathy Maxwell. Liliana had these sky-high heels and talked about how we all understood each other simply because we were writers (and overall gave a hilarious speech). Robin Perini had some incredibly helpful tips on organizing your novel and developing strong characters and Cathy Maxwell, who gave the final speech, was so, so, so inspiring. One of the best author-speakers I’ve seen—she talked about continuing to find inspiration and passion when writing because more like work—a lesson applicable to newbies and accomplished writers alike.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Best part is the retreat is a gift that keeps on giving. I learned that Washington Romance Writers is actually a great organization to be part of. Membership is only about $30, and with that you have access to free workshops in the DMV area that I believe are monthly. Numerous people told me that the workshops are incredibly impressive and definitely worth the small membership fee.

Ultimately, I left inspired, eager to work, and having made many new friends and contacts. I really felt like I was part of the community, and I highly recommend the retreat to others in the future!!


I’m a Marlene Contest Finalist!

I was really excited to blog this week about the ways minority skin is described in fiction (here’s a challenge for you: try to do it without using food metaphors), but that will have to wait because I received some news.

I’m a Marlene Contest finalist!

Marlene pic

What is the Marlene Contest?  It’s a writing competition sponsored by Washington Romance Writers.  I chose to enter because it seemed perfect for a love story set in D.C.–like Lessons from Robin  (Although I now believe that the novel didn’t actually have involve D.C. to qualify, but whatevs—it couldn’t have hurt!)

I decided to look for a contest to enter after scanning several “query letters that worked” (that is, pitch letters that led to agent representation) because they often included  credentials such as winning a contest or being published in a literary journal or magazine.  I decided that those credentials—rather than whether they were “pithy” or “had a hook”—is what truly made them stand out, but others may disagree.  Since pitching literary journals is almost as difficult as finding an agent, I figured a contest was my best bet.   It also seemed like an easy way to gain some exposure (at least 3 people read each entry) and the prize is a free critique.  That’s a pretty decent prize given how expensive those things can get.

Anyway, I entered the “Romantic Elements” category, which is described as “a work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.”

The winners are announced next month at the Washington Romance Writers retreat.  I wasn’t planning to go, but now I’m like why not?  Many people have recommended attending writers conferences to me in the past (apparently they offer great workshops and opportunities to meet agents and editors in person).  Plus, I’ve been putting off the final edits to my novel, so now I have a deadline to get it done.  I’m getting this thing in tip-top shape by April 4!!  Can’t wait!