Setting the Scene… Which Suddenly CHANGES

jeff salter~ By Jeff Salter

Sometimes when we’re writing and have a particular scene going, we realize that all kinds of things could happen AFTER that initial scene set-up.


            The following actually occurred, in early July, four years ago.

Sometimes you see things that make you wish you hadn’t. My wife and I were eating supper at a local spot we like. Seated next to the windows, we couldn’t help but notice two guys approaching from a newly-parked vehicle.

            “His barn door is open,” I said… with the casual observation skills of an experienced writer.

“Why’d you tell me? Now I’m gonna have to look,” she replied. And she did.

“He made it easy to spot since he’s wearing red skivvies,” I added. I’d begun to think his display was purposeful.

“You’d think his buddy would’ve told him,” my wife mused out loud.

I, on the other hand, wondered if the buddy had deliberately withheld that info.

“He’ll probably come sit right next to us,” she warned me. You’d have thought she was viewing a horrific traffic collision in progress.

“Well, it won’t show so much if he’s sitting down,” I replied.

But my wife was not to be calmed. So she hurried me through my last few bites and we departed… in time to see the furtive glances of the service crew behind the counter taking the orders of the new arrivals.


Okay, that’s the scene as it actually played out. But what if my real-life anecdote had been only the introduction to a much larger scene?

If this were your story, given this introductory scene, where might you take it?

What if the guy walks up and introduces himself like this, “I couldn’t help noticing you watched me coming in. Do I know you?”

What would you say?

What would his buddy be doing at this point?


As we authors are composing scenes, let’s not be too quick to end them prematurely. Sometimes the characters can take us in a totally different direction.

Jeff Salter, who has written 12 novels and five novellas, already has 13 fiction titles released with three royalty publishers. His most recent is “The Duchess of Earl” released in mid-July by Clean Reads. Two more titles are due out this year and he has several works in progress.


Where I Get My Hero-spiration, a.k.a. The Top Ten Reasons Why I Love Supernatural

RGA photo~ By Rebecca Grace Allen

I have been a fangirl of the CW’s Supernatural for years. If you don’t watch the show, or never got past some of the more gory, monster-of-the-week episodes, I am sad for you, because in my opinion, it’s one of the best-written shows out there. It’s about Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who hunt all things evil in an attempt to save the world. Played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, the two characters were the inspiration for my heroes in the first two Portland Rebels books.

Want to know why the two of them are worthy of Hero-spiration (or just why Supernatural rocks the Casbah)?

Here are my top ten reasons:

1. Sam without a shirt on.

(I could stop here, because seriously, do you need more reasons than that?)


 2. Dean’s expressions.

Dean is the soldier of the two brothers, powering through no matter what, but he’s also the comic relief. And whether he’s smiling, laughing or crying, Dean makes some of the best faces out there. I sometimes work on writing down the way he looks to practice how characters express emotion. Check out this Buzzfeed post of the top 25 Swoonworthy Dean faces.

3. Real men do cry.

Sam and Dean are some of the toughest characters out there. They’ve lost both their parents, as well as their pseudo father figure Bobby Singer. They have both literally been to hell and back.  Everything in their worlds wrecks them, so when their emotions break lose, these guys aren’t afraid to cry.  And their beautiful crying faces motivate me to write characters whose sadness breaks through in the same way.


4. Smexin.

This show has some of the most incredible made-for-TV sex scenes I’ve ever seen. If you’re looking for some hot and heavy inspiration, here’s Sam and Ruby.

You’re welcome.

5. Angels watching porn.

Sam and Dean are both befriend by the angel Castiel in season four, and many of their adventures with Cas have him trying to understand human behavior. I’m always struggling to put a bit of comedy in my books—they’re usually extremely angsty—so I’m always looking for comic inspiration. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything funnier than an angel trying to understand porn.


6. A seriously badass soundtrack.

AC/DC to Iron Maiden, Metallica to Led Zeppelin, and even nabbing Kansas’ “Carry on My Wayward Son” as the theme song, Supernatural is a classic rock lover’s dream. I’ve often pulled songs from it for some of my writing playlists. Even the actors rock out to it.

7. Awesome pop culture references.

While the overarching theme of the show is on the dark side, many of the episodes are on the lighthearted side, and the writers are always poking fun at pop culture. This doesn’t necessarily help with my writing in anyway, but it is pretty entertaining! Season 6, episode five is about vampires and is titled “Live Free or Twihard.” One of my favorite episodes, “The French Mistake” has Sam and Dean magically appearing in a world where Supernatural is an actual TV show.  There is also more than an occasional reference to the Back to the Future movies. (Thanks to Buzzfeed for this awesome side-by-side comparison.)


8. The concept of brotherhood.

I don’t have any siblings, which makes it challenging to write about both sibling rivalry and the bond that exists between brothers. Supernatural has both in spades. Sam and Dean often poke fun at one another, but they will also do absolutely anything for one another. They literally have died for one another. (And come back to life afterward several times over– yay for TV’s reality-bending rules!) Nothing is more important to these two than family, and the actors are really like brothers in real life, which I love. Here they are at Jared’s wedding.


 9. “Wink wink, nudge nudge” moments.

The writers are always putting in little mentions to current events which break across that fourth wall, such as this awesome line from Crowley, the King of Hell, in Season 11, episode 22.  He’s another character you can be inspired by, because he’s a villain and a bit of comic relief all rolled up into one with a lovely accent to boot.


10. Jared’s always keep fighting campaign.

Recently, Jared admitted to suffering from depression, and has now become very vocal about it with his Always Keep Fighting Campaign. I’m always impressed when any celebrity speaks up for mental illness, and in recent months, he has spearheaded a bunch of fundraisers. Other cast members from Supernatural have gotten on board with his campaigns as well.

If all that’s not enough to get you watching, and maybe gaining some hero-spiration of your own, I don’t know what is. Check back with me this November after I go to my first Supernatural Con!

Rebecca Grace Allen writes sweet, sexy and soul searching romance, emphasis on the sexy! She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a double concentration in Creative Writing and Literary Comparison, as well as a Master of Science in Elementary Education, both of which seemed like good ideas at the time. After stumbling through careers in entertainment, publishing, law and teaching, she’s returned to her first love: writing. A self-admitted caffeine addict and gym rat, she lives in upstate New York with her husband, two parakeets, and a cat with a very unusual foot fetish. Her new release, The Theory of Deviance, is out on August 2, 2016.

Website || Facebook || Twitter

Top 5 Takeaways from My RWA 2016

krisjayne~ By Kris Jayne

Note: This post originally appeared here

RWA’s program amazes me every year. It offers information and guidance on everything from craft to business to wellness. The worst part? I can’t attend every session.

So I’d love to share my top takeaways from the sessions I attended — small and large. Maybe in the comments, we can compare notes.

1) Boost your back matter (“Newsletters, Back Matter, and Other Indie Marketing Strategies,” Deanna Chase and Violet Vaughn)

I self-publish, so I know the importance of back matter. I include the blurbs for the next books my series, email list sign-up, buy links, and an excerpt of the next book. But I didn’t ask for reviews, and the buy link for the next book in the series required turning the page. Now, I’ve put both immediately after “the end.”

Have a separate sign-up list for each book, so you can know the source of each sign-up. I’ve now created separate sign-up pages (via LeadPages) and separate lists (in MailChimp) for each book. This way, I can target emails to my audiences to buy the next book or send them book-specific bonus scenes and content.

2) Layer scenes that hook your readers (“Frame Your Scene, Build Your Story: The Art of Layering,” Lori Freeland, handout in the RWA app)

Layer for clarity so the reader can see the movie in your head. Ensure that every scene pushes the story forward. I’m in the middle of editing my next book, and I cut an entire chapter that added little to the book’s forward momentum.

Each scene should flow from:

  1. Setting the stage – Does the reader know where they are? When the story takes place? Who is there? What relevant props or environment cues are there to paint the picture?
  2. Letting the scene play out – Get the basics down. What happens? Then, layer in emotion and mood with dialogue, internal thoughts/feelings/visceral responses, heightened action, and interactions with setting.
  3. Hooking the reader – Leave them asking questions that make them turn the page.

Start by writing your strength. If you’re a dialogue person, start with what they’re going to say. If internal thoughts are your forte, begin in the character’s head and reveal the emotion of the scene. Then, go back and layer in the other elements.

vintage-technology-keyboard-old-largeLast, layer the emotional subtext with dialogue cues and body language and spiff up the writing with more expressive language.

3) Deepen POV (“Build a Character, Build a Book,” Christie Craig, handout in the RWA app)

Link gestures, jobs, your character’s decor, clothing, what do they have in their pockets, etc. to the specifics of the POV character. Think about everything, but don’t overdo it. Pick a few things to highlight and root them in the character’s psyche.

Tie these elements to the defining conflict or traumatic moments of your character’s life. Make them meaningful. Another tip: the reader can get a deeper sense of your character by seeing him/her read another character. You learn a lot by how they interpret others.

4) Keep up with the industry (PAN Track)

I don’t mean follow every trend, but understand some of the overarching trends and numbers and where you and your career goals fit. Here are some stats from the Data Guy at

  • 89% of all romance sales are digital
  • Of those, over half are self-published
  • 67% of romance sales aren’t tracked by any traditional metric (like BookScan, which tracks print sales)
  • 74% of paid ebook sales (all genres) happen on; next is iBooks at 11%
  • Top 5 genres in romance on by total author earnings are (in order): Contemporary, Romantic Comedy, New Adult & College, Mystery & Suspense, Paranormal
  • However, the top genre earnings per title and pen name are: New Adult & College, Contemporary, Sports, Romantic Comedy, Military (with Paranormal a very close 6th)

“Total author earnings” reflects the volume sold in the category, but the per title/pen name gives you a sense of which genres make an individual author the most money.

5) Know your why (“From Mid-List to Mad Money: How to Set Yourself up for Self-Publishing Success,” Kristen Painter and Roxanne St. Clair)

Why do you write? Do you want to make a living? Win awards and recognition? Just write for fun? Knowing what you want shapes your priorities, and you have to be honest and clear.

The truth is: if you want to make a living, that changes your priorities. If you want to win a RITA, that changes your priorities. Since I want to build income self-publishing, I know I need to write faster. I can’t spend two years polishing a manuscript.

Saying that out loud (or in print) can be scary. I want to produce quality work. I work hard on it, but I have to move fast and be willing to let the story go and move on to another. That’s a different writing cycle than someone who wants something else.

There’s no right or wrong motivation, but we have to know ourselves and align our process.

What did you learn at RWA?

Christina—a devoted writer, reader, and traveler—writes as Kris Jayne. She spends her days blissfully sweating out the writing process in the Dallas area with her dogs, Otis the Shih Tzu, Rocco the Terrier, and Red the Foxy Mutt.

Her passion for writing is only matched by her passion for the adventures of travel. In 2008, she let a friend talk her into sleeping outside for the first time in her life when she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

She will release the fourth book in her Thirsty Hearts series, Chasing You, in September.

P.S. If you’re buying her a gift, she has a penchant for single-malt Scotch and scarves.

Website || Facebook || Twitter || Goodreads

On Competition and Writers

Marilyn Brant--author photo~ By Marilyn Brant 

Note: This post originally appeared here

At the end of last year, I’d spent a lot of time pondering Criticism and Writers. This week, having reread those reflections, I realized I didn’t have much to add to them after another year amidst the thrill, the chaos and the frequent insanity of being a part of the publishing industry. What was true for me 12 months ago is still true for me now. Although I have to admit, my determination to pull away from the gossiping maelstrom wasn’t without consequences…

Two friendships I’d valued came to an end in 2010, both due in part to our having different approaches to dealing with life stressors and criticism. Letting go is rarely easy and that was certainly true in these cases. However, there are times when the path on which we’re traveling splits and we have to make a choice if we hope to move forward and live a healthier life. This year was, for me, a reevaluation year, and while there were a couple of losses, there were quite a few more gains. I met some awe-inspiring people and had the pleasure of getting to know better or reconnect with some wonderful friends — online and off. This year made me even more appreciative of the insightful, compassionate, secure and genuine travel companions who are sharing the journey with me…and I thank you all for that.

Now, as 2011 approaches, my thoughts have turned to a different but marginally related theme:Competition. I had an interesting, somewhat unexpected experience with it in recent months. I was taking part in a multi-author booksigning event and a reader came up to all of us to ask about our novels. Since the reader questioned me specifically about one of my books, I was in the midst of explaining the story’s premise to her when the writer to my left jumped in and launched into a description of her own novel. It was a noticable interruption, but I liked the writer and attributed her behavior to a combination of over-eagerness and the simple desire to make a sale.

The reader, however, raised her eyebrows, took a step back and laughed uneasily. “What? Are you guys in competition or something?” she asked. I started to shake my head, but the writer jumped in again and immediately said, “Yes!” Before I could respond, another writer near us said emphatically, “Oh, no! Reading one of our books makes readers want to find others that are similar. It’s not a competition.” I nodded mutely in gratitude, but found I couldn’t put into words all that I was feeling at the time. The issue is complex. It has logical and emotional components, real-world battles pitted against internal, intensely personal ones — and rarely are all of these addressed. As a result, I haven’t been able to get the incident out of my head.

Looking back, I probably should have been offended by the first writer trying to horn in on a potential sale, but I wasn’t. I just thought it was ineffective, if it was a strategy (in the end, the reader chose to buy my book anyway), and merely strange, if it wasn’t. I’m aware it’s a mindset some people can get trapped by — that whole zero-sum game where all the world is classified into winners and losers. In the realm of the arts, it tends to perplex me more often than not because, IMO, it may be an unavoidable business reality on one level, but it’s a fallacy on a dozen others. Yes, there are Amazon rankings and, if someone else’s book earns the #1 spot, that means mine will inevitably be lower. If someone else sells the most copies that means mine will sell fewer. If someone else’s novel wins the fill-in-the-blank award that means mine won’t.

Okay. That’s true — literally. But that’s not the only game that happens to be in progress. And in the game that’s most often in the forefront of my mind, the win-lose construction is almost…laughable.

Because I already won. I won years ago.

And so did many of you.

I won when I decided to pursue a passion rather than do something I hated. I won when I chose to write stories as honestly as I could whether or not anyone else on the entire planet liked them, understood them or cared about them. I won when the side of me that is grounded in self-belief chose to stand up to the side of me that isn’t…or, rather, I’ve triumphed in a handful of battles against Lack of Confidence but the war is far from over. This much I can tell you about it, though: The end result won’t be determined by a royalty statement. Or by the number of GoodReads raves or bashes. Those are irrelevant in the heat of such combat. Tell me, how many “wildly successful” (in the eyes of the society) actors, musicians, writers, athletes, etc., do you know who’ve crashed and burned when forced to face themselves? That have lost their fortunes, their families, their sobriety or their sanity? Yeah. A lot. So, a focus on comparing sales figures as a measure of success — while not a wholly worthless endeavor — is limited in scope when placed alongside all of the truly significant conflicts fought within.

I physically cringe when I see someone setting him- or herself up as some kind of opponent against me. I want to tell them to chill out (“Here, have a cookie!”) and to please use their energy more productively. Out of fairness, they should know there’s no external competitor in the universe more powerful than somebody’s internal demons. The notion of a mere human rival being strong enough to turn my attention away from Fear…well, that’s absurd. I wishthe real battles were so simplistic.

Alternately, how can anybody put a price tag on having done what one set out to do? On reaching one’s intended audience — no matter the size? What author could possibly “lose” by overhearing a reader tell another author that his/her novel touched them? That a character the other author created was one the reader closely identified with? That the author expressed something for that particular reader that this person couldn’t express for him- or herself? How do you quantifymeaning and slap a win-or-lose label onto it?

No one will convince me that what’s meaningful to 5 people is worth less than what’s meaningful to 50. I don’t believe that the thoughts and emotions of those 5 can be dismissed just becausemore people happen to agree on something else. I think of all the times I saw a film or read a book and LOVED it and, yet, my positive opinion was in the extreme minority. Is the fact that it changed my life of less significance than the fact that another film or book changed someone else’s? I know more than one book and more than one film have influenced me, but I fail to see where the competition is between them. They were each a gift to my mind and my soul. Each brought me something I needed. Each shared with me a message of value — even if it only illuminated a tiny corner of some concept. There is no ranking that can be stamped on illumination. Am I the only person that finds such attempts futile?!

Sigh. (Yeah, I’ll get off my soapbox now… ;)

Of course, on the materialistic, tangible plane of existence, competition abounds and it’s often hard to ignore. Writers can’t afford to go on writing if our books don’t sell enough copies. Publishers won’t take a chance on a debut author without a P&L statement that’s in the writer’s favor, and they won’t pick up our option books if the financial pros don’t outweigh the cons. But just because I can’t completely close my eyes to the reality of competition in the literary world, it doesn’t mean I have wrap my heart around it. I know what I’ll remember in old age about being a writer in 2010 will have far less to do with my novels’ placement on one list or another than the thrill of knowing I fought off Fear or Lack of Confidence long enough to write something a few people told me they loved…

Wishing you all a 2011 filled with important battles won, meaningful memories created and peace throughout the process. And joy. May the New Year bring you much of that, too!

Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. 

RWA Nationals (and Penguins. . .) [REPOST]

casey~ By Casey Clipper

Books ordered. Check. Swag. Check. Flight booked. Check.

Wait, where’s the conference and hotel reservation confirmation emails? I didn’t print those out, did I? Crap. I hope I can locate them. Kind of important.

Ten cardigans, because you know, I might change them out twice a day. Check. Twenty pairs of shoes, you know, for the pop-up club party that’ll occur. I need to bring these stilettos and five pairs of running shoes, ‘cause I do plan to hit the gym. At some point. Maybe. Probably not. But just in case. Check.

Three outfits for each day. One for morning, before dinner, and before hitting an open house or party. Certainly can’t wear the same outfit all day. And what if I spill something down one of my six white shirts I’ve packed? That is inevitable. I mean, it’s me, mouth klutz. Check. Sunglasses for when I leave the hotel. Check.

Ten notepads because each year I misplace the thing after a couple of hours. Don’t ask. If it’s not attached…. Check.

Volunteer for the literacy signing so I can be put in the glamorous job of hanging with Nora and/or Sylvia, who will fall in love with my stellar personality and we’ll become BFFs and travel the world together, all the while plotting. Check.

Download the RWA2015 app and choose five workshops each hour of each day to be added to my overbooked phone calendar. Check. Maybe I should order the recordings. Probably. Still waiting on the lab about my clone. Can’t be two places at once, no matter what type of mind-telepathy I try to call upon. Hey, plot idea?

Separate suitcase for the goodie room raid…wait, where will I put my supply of three different style business cards? I have a two bag airline limit. What can I leave behind? Do I need my laptop?

Seriously, the RWA2015 National Conference is upon us. Social media is a buzz amongst authors. Meet-ups are being arranged. Newbies are excited and nervous. Seasoned attendees are trying to figure out how not to over pack. Again. (Still haven’t figured that one out. Maybe I only need two different business cards.)

Here are a few First Timer helpful packing tips:

1. Cardigans. Each workshop room is well air conditioned. Trust me. Even if you claim you’re always hot, at least take one.

2. Comfortable shoes and/or flats. Heels are for the awards ceremony (think cocktail hour, unless you’re nominated, then it’s formal dress).

3. Dress attire would be considered business casual. Why? Because you never know who may strike up a convo with you. Think four day business interview.

4. Do not over pack. You will leave the conference with loads of books and swag. Unless you’re willing to pay FedEx to ship your items home, you’ll need room in your suitcase.

5. Make sure to attend the First Timers welcome workshop. You’ll get fantastic conference advice.

8. Say hello to Casey. I hear she’s kind of cool. She loves penguins and chocolate. Just sayin’.

With this my third year attending, there are a few new activities I plan to do for the first time. Volunteer, attend the general meeting, “accidentally” bump into Barbara and hope to have some of her success rub off. (Okay, okay, I won’t touch Barbara. Boundaries, I get it…maybe Bella?)

My biggest piece of advice? Go in recognizing that the conference can be geared toward you. First Timer or Seasoned Author, what is your conference goal? Make that decision now. Knowing what you want out of the conference will enhance your experience and help choose workshops best to suit your needs. Do you want help with craft, marketing, research or all of the above? Even for those who’ve attended more than once, it can feel overwhelming, wanting to take in as much information as possible.

But no matter how you choose to work your individualized conference, appreciate the fact we’ve been granted a fantastic opportunity to learn from the best of the best in the romance industry. A community where we get to spend days surrounded by and rub elbows with like-minded industry professionals, who embrace our passion for penning romance novels and some who are gracious to share their successful insight. Not everyone understands our world of romance, but here our writer world quirks are accepted and celebrated by all. Come Monday when you’re back home, and the reality of what happened over the course of four days hits, you can smile and say you were there, and you walked away with a better appreciation and knowledge of everything romance. Personally I know there’s no other place I’d rather be mid July.

Have fun and did you know rock hopper penguins can jump 4-5 feet?

Contemporary Romance Author Casey Clipper is from Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a noted sports fanatic, chocolate lover (all right, maybe that could be classified more as an addiction), and is slightly obsessed with penguins (seriously, they’re forever dressed in tuxes!). Like you, she’s an avid romance reader and loves to lose herself in a good book. Casey is an active member of the Romance Writers of America, Contemporary Romance Writers, the Three Rivers Romance Writers, Passionate Ink, ASMSG, and IAN. Casey is preparing to release her fourth and final novel in The Love Series, Taken Love on July 21, 2015.

Conference Season [REPOST]


~ By Sarah Vance-Tompkins

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s conference season!

I always look forward to go to writing conferences even though these events are overwhelming to me. I’m an introverted introvert. (That may not be the official diagnosis, but no kidding. I’m shy.) Sure, I know how to mind my Ps & Qs at a conference. I can put on lipstick and chat with the best of them…but I have to force myself to be social…even in a group of writers, many of whom I’m sure are suffering from the same kind of social anxiety.

I returned from the most recent conference with a jumble of information on my computer and sketched in the margins of my notebook:

  • Handouts from every session at the conference.
  • Titles of must-read romance novels recommended by people I admire.
  • Titles of must-read writing workbooks recommended by speakers.
  • Titles of must read romance novels written by people I met.
  • Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of authors I met.
  • Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of authors I should meet.
  • Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of agents & editors I met.
  • Names/FB pages/Twitter handles of agents & editors I should meet.
  • Manuscript wish lists of the agents & editors who spoke at the conference.
  • Manuscript wish lists of agents & editors I met.
  • Email addresses of author, agents & editors I met who requested my MS.
  • Email addresses of authors I met with whom I’d like to stay in touch.
  • Ideas for new romance novels that popped into my head while daydreaming during one particularly boring session.
  • A killer recipe from someone I chatted with at the opening night session.
  • Detailed (and mostly illegible) instructions for how to do fool-proof plotting.
  • A broken link to a website detailing how to get 1,000s of new Twitter followers quickly.
  • Detailed (and mostly illegible) instructions for how to create a website in under an hour.
  • Photos of old and new friends at the conference.
  • Photos of every dessert I ate at the conference. (Seriously!)

I found myself getting anxious as I tried to process and prioritize all of the new information. I wanted to put it all into action immediately. I became a whirling dervish of activity, but I wasn’t really getting anything done.

My husband noticed I was struggling to find my focus. I told him about the sense of urgency I felt to use all of the information I had been given at conference.

“I thought this was about writing,” he said. “Why don’t you just sit in your chair and write?”

And here all this time I thought I’d married him for his good looks.

He and I made a pact that day. Whenever I return home from conference, full of overwhelming tidbits information and inspiration — he’s allowed to remind me that the real reason I’m sitting alone in the spare bedroom every day is because I’m a writer.

Just write.

Sarah Vance-Tompkins is a social media consultant for small businesses. She earned an MFA in Film Production from the University of Southern California and worked in feature film development. Prior to her attempts at writing fiction, she has been paid to write everything from obituaries to the directions for use on bottles of personal lubricant. She is a member of YARWA and CRW-Online. She welcomes your questions and comments. 

Email her at

RWA Conference Bootcamp [REPOST]

Mellanie~ By Mellanie Szereto

Attending the RWA National Conference for the first time is a bit scary and overwhelming, but some planning and research can go a long way in easing those butterflies, especially for those who have never attended a professional conference. Take a deep breath and read on to find out what to expect!



Besides conference registration, hotel, and transportation expenses, attendees need to plan ahead for other costs. Since RWA2015 is my sixth conference, I have five years’ worth of expenses to help create a fairly accurate budget for myself.

RWA Conference 2015 (Budgeted)

Conference Registration (Actual) $450.00

Transportation /Airfare (Actual)   383.70

Hotel/6 nights (Estimated)   500.00

Baggage Fees (Estimated)     50.00

Transportation to/from hotel (Estimated)     50.00

Chapter Receptions (Estimated)     60.00

Airport Parking (Estimated)     54.00

Meals (Estimated)   200.00

Shipping (Estimated)     75.00

Books (Estimated)     50.00

Total           $1872.70

  • Register early to get the best possible conference fee.
  • Reduce hotel expense by finding a roommate(s). I have two roommates this year to cut my expenses.
  • Compare flying vs. driving expenses and advantages/disadvantages
    • Flying—gas to/from airport, meals, long-term parking fees, airline tickets, baggage fees, transportation between airport and hotel, less travel time. Share a cab or car service to reduce that expense.
    • Driving—gas, wear and tear on vehicle, meals while traveling, tolls, hotel parking expense, more travel time; rideshare to reduce expenses.
  • Avoid hotel room internet expense by bringing a portable wifi device.
  • Avoid going over budget on book purchases by choosing Literacy Signing authors ahead of time. In addition to the free books in the conference bags, more will be available from publisher signings and at the Indie Book Signing. Shipping books home adds an additional expense.
  • Spend less on meals by researching nearby food options ahead of time. Remember to budget for coffee/drinks with friends. Three breakfasts and dessert at the RITA/GH Awards are included in the registration fee.
  • Budget sightseeing expenses by checking out local attractions online before the trip.



  • RWA National Conference is a professional event. Attendees should dress business casual to business professional for all workshops, spotlights, chats, and functions, except for the case of costume parties. The Literacy Signing is more casual, but remember that publishing industry professionals will be attending as well. The GH/RITA Awards Ceremony is dressy to eveningwear. All rooms will be air-conditioned. Bring a sweater, blazer, pashmina, etc., if you get cold easily.
  • Business casual consists of khakis, casual skirts and dresses, capris, etc. paired with nice tops, work-appropriate shirts, sweaters, etc. Do not wear T-shirts and jeans if you expect to make a professional impression. Wear comfortable shoes, but avoid athletic shoes if possible. Dress flats, walking shoes, and sandals (not flip-flops) are fine. If you prefer heels, go for it! For guys, khakis and button-down shirts work well.
  • Business professional consists of pantsuits, skirts and jackets, dresses, etc. for women or suits and ties for men. This is my preference for daytime conference events like workshops, the AGM, etc. because I’m comfortable in this look—and I like to wear nice shoes. :)
  • Downtime—Unless you’re in your room, headed to the exercise facility, or away from the hotel, plan to be “on” at all times. Industry professionals will be in the restaurants and bars and at parties and other functions in the hotel. Sweats and ratty jeans are not a good choice if you’re in the conference area.
  • If you want to be viewed as a professional, present yourself as one.



  • Again, if you want to be viewed as a professional, present yourself as one.
  • Wait times at the elevators may be long with about 2500 other conference attendees in the hotel, so be polite and patient. Plan ahead and allow an extra 10-15 minutes, especially on Wednesday evening for the Literacy Signing and Saturday night for the RITA/Golden Heart Awards Ceremony.
  • Some editors and agents are receptive to pitches outside the scheduled pitch appointments, but interrupting conversations or cornering someone in the restroom is rude and can leave a lasting (negative) impression. If asked what you write, you can safely assume you’ve been invited to pitch. Otherwise, ask first to be on the safe side.
  • After a day of workshops, many attendees congregate in the bar area to socialize. If alcohol makes you say/do stupid things, consider the consequences before you order that fourth margarita!
  • Private conversations are not private in public areas during the conference. If you need to rant about a workshop, editor, agent, author, etc., do it in the privacy of your room where you won’t be overheard and cause hurt feelings or a grudge.
  • If you notice an attendee who seems to be alone, introduce yourself. Conferences can be overwhelming to first-timers and those who are by themselves. This event is a great way to make new friends and connections.



  • Do not leave your room keys in the envelope with your room number. Memorize your room number and discard the key envelope in your room trash. Lost keys could mean someone knows which room they open. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to endanger you or steal your belongings.
  • Remove your nametag when leaving the Conference hotel.
  • Know the way to the nearest emergency exit.
  • Use the safety latch when you’re in your room so hotel employees and/or guests inadvertently assigned to your room can’t enter without knocking.
  • Use the designated driver rule if you’re drinking. At least one person in your group should be sober enough to get everyone back to the hotel/their rooms safely. Only accept drinks from the bartender or wait staff and don’t leave drinks unattended.
  • Be careful when sharing your number. Don’t shout it across the ballroom or lobby. See the first tip in this section!
  • Use common sense. Other guests besides RWA attendees may be staying in the hotel. Don’t assume you’re safe in the company of romance writers, agents, and publishing industry professionals.



  • The conference is offering 136 workshops on career, craft, industry, marketing, research, self-publishing, and writer’s life topics as well as six special topics this year. In addition to workshops, attendees can also participate in four author chats and learn more about publishing with fourteen publisher spotlights. A complete list of all workshops, chats, and spotlights with dates and times is available on the RWA Conference Workshops page.
  • An RWA2015 app is also available for viewing the schedule, creating a personalized calendar, and much more. For more information, contact Erin Fry at RWA ( Users must have a login ID and password to download and use the app.
  • Workshops are first come, first served to registered conference attendees, so be sure to plan ahead for high-priority workshops. While many will be recorded for the conference recordings, some will not. PAN sessions and a few other workshops noted in the conference program will not recorded. Only PRO members may attend the PRO Retreat and only PAN members may attend PAN sessions. Conference ID badges are designated with PRO and PAN, when appropriate, to allow entrance to these workshops.
  • Many events are held during the conference, including annual meetings for online chapters and their members, publisher parties for their authors, and the RITA/Golden Heart Awards Ceremony. The Literacy Signing takes place Wednesday evening and is open to the public. This event draws a very large crowd, so line up early to see your favorite signing authors. All monies raised will go to local and national literacy charities.
  • The Indie Book Signing is open to registered attendees, as are numerous publisher signings. While these books are free, remember that they have to be carried or shipped home!

Conferences are a great way to learn about writing and publishing, make new connections, and advance your writing career. So, make the most of the experience and have fun!

When her fingers aren’t attached to her keyboard, Mellanie Szereto enjoys hiking, Pilates, cooking, gardening, and researching for her stories. Many times, the research partners with her other hobbies, taking her from the Hocking Hills region in Ohio to the Colorado Rockies or the Adirondacks of New York. Sometimes, the trip is no farther than her garden for ingredients and her kitchen to test recipes for her latest steamy tale. She is multi-published with Siren-Bookstrand and is self-publishing her foodie contemporary series, Love on the Menu, in addition to her nonfiction Writing Tip Wednesday handbooks based on her informational blog series. Mellanie makes her home in rural Indiana with her husband of twenty-eight years and their son. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Indiana Romance Writers of America, Contemporary Romance Writers, and FF&P Romance Writers. Visit her website at for information on book signings and her upcoming release, Iced Latté. Sugar and spice and everything…naughty!

Social Media Links:


SJeffery~ By Susan Jeffery

I know, I know – the RWA national conference is just a few weeks away. If you’re a nominee, you may be stressing about what you’re going to wear to the awards ceremony. You might still be uncertain of your ensemble for Harlequin’s Black and White party, or whatever party you’re invited to.

When the finalists for the RITA and Golden Heart awards were announced on March 26, I believe the earth shifted on its axis. And I am pretty some writers jumped up and down, screamed, cried, and called everyone they know.  If they dialed the wrong number, they shouted the news to a perfect stranger and hung up.


And, once that was over, they’ve been struggling since then with that dull, ugly lump of dread blooming in their innards: WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I GOING TO WEAR?


If you’re like the majority of us, you’re not a nominee, but you are still welcome to stress!

Because, it’s not just the awards ceremony, people. It’s the parties, and more parties happening during the week. Cocktail parties, workshops, evening events, signings, or themed parties, whatever – it’s like a family reunion gone wild.

image005Back in the day (1986, to be specific), the events were fewer, and the dress code was easier. The finalists knew in advance if they were winners. Was it calmer? Oh, yes. I don’t even know who was in my finalist class for the Golden Heart, because Houston informed the winners in advance.

This finalist/winner wore a chic white cocktail dress she found in a bridal shop, and some very nifty gold-and-black jewelry. For the Harlequin party, I wore a blue silk maid-of-honor dress I’d sewn for my sister’s wedding. The white dress is long gone – thank goodness shoulder pads went out of style. The blue dress lives in a storage closet. The necklace is still in my jewelry box, a beloved and respected treasure. The medal has changed since I received mine, and no one really recognizes it anymore.

Do folks still wear cocktail dresses when they final? I wouldn’t know, since that hasn’t been a blessing for me since re-activating my membership in 2009. What I do know is, you’d better get your Oscar vibe going as a finalist, You’ll be expected to be wearing some serious flash when you’re at the awards – and before! Still, let’s not forget: New York is a shopping capitol of the world (if not THE shopping capital). I know it’s late, late, late to be thinking of which dress to wear. But we can dream, can’t we? Which is why you want to browse this list before you land in the Big Apple.

image008New York Magazine lists the drool-worthy shopping destinations. I know you’re going to be super busy chasing down editors and agents and making appointments, and maybe you can fit in one more workshop (thank goodness for Starbucks!), but seriously: make time to hit just one of these icons. Personal favorites: Saks Fifth Avenue and Tiffany. Not like I go buying things there all the time, people. I mean, really? I can look, though. And you can, too! (Another FYI I heard from a cabbie during the last New York conference: New Yorkers take cabs. Tourists walk. Don’t be shy, take a cab.)

Now that you’ve had to stop off in some going-out-of-business dive somewhere off Broadway to buy a second suitcase, let’s not forget the ultimate Mecca of all that is good in the pursuit of loveliness: Sephora After all, you’re at image009Nationals! Hie thee to this website before you’re in the Big Apple:

You can make an appointment for a tutorial. Or, you could cross the street if you have a spare moment, to admire the wonders there – promising to make you a sultry vixen or a stylish know-it-all or just… You, But Better (my personal favorite).

And, just an FYI, makeup containing SPF doesn’t photograph well. I wore an SPF 35 tinted moisturizer and finished it with dusting power for RWA Atlanta. All my photos include happy people and one ghost. Take it from me: don’t.

Finally, what do I *wear* at Nationals?

Good question! I’ll leave you with this list – a wonderful post on by a kind and organized (and fashionable!) member named Asphalt. Her answer to my Help! What Do I Wear? post was this:

makeup i would bring +

  • bright pencil skirt
  • white jeans
  • pretty silk blouse
  • nice t-shirt graphic t-shirt
  • button down (chambray, cotton, whatever)
  • cocktail dress (2 of them)
  • linen blazer
  • scarf
  • sandals
  • neutral heels (or flats)
  • evening heels
  • and whatever fun jewelry you have

then you could wear:

  • day 1: bright pencil skirt, pretty silk blouse, scarf, neutral heels
  •  day 2: bright pencil skirt, nice t-shirt, linen blazer, neutral heels
  • day 3: white jeans, button down, neutral heels
  • bar: white jeans, pretty silk blouse, neutral heels or sandals
  • party 1: cocktail dress 1, evening heels
  • party 2/dinner: cocktail dress 2, evening heels
  • bar: white jeans, pretty silk blouse, neutral heels or sandals
  • playtime 1: white jeans, nice t-shirt, scarf, sandals
  • playtime 2: bright pencil skirt, graphic t-shirt, sandals
  • playtime 3: white jeans, button down, sandals

Voila! Change out one of the cocktail dresses for an evening gown, and you’re ready to show up at the awards ceremony. PS, I used this list for Anaheim and Atlanta, and had a blast. Although, in Anaheim, I broke down and visited a Skechers shop to replace my incredibly impractical sandals. On the big day, after all, we want to still be fresh enough to look like this:


And, about packing?  There are, of course, plenty of videos on YouTube. Take your pick and see if you can glean some tips.

image017I created a master packing list on my iPad’s Trello app, with categories for clothing, lingerie/sleepwear/ makeup, shoes, hair, medications, electronics and power cords.

See you there! I’ll be at Check-In on Wednesday morning. Stop by!

Love, Susan

Susan Jeffery (irl Susan Andrews) writes contemporary romance. A romance reader since the early 1970s, and a writer since 1982, she won a Golden Heart in 1986, and published Fair Game with Harlequin in 1987.

She’s a high-school librarian who loves working with her students (all boys? you’d want a pseudonym, too!). A member of CRW, CTRWA, TGN, and WRWDC, she’ll be at #RWA15. She will also be wearing of the outfits organized with the list in this article.

Susan Jeffery is online at, on FB at, and on Twitter @susannjeffery.

How to Prep for a Writer’s Conference

KATIE RED SHIRT (1 of 1)~ By Katie McCoach

Note: This post originally appeared here

Attending a writer’s conference is a whirlwind of activity; meeting wonderful people, learning new things, and growing your career. It’s amazing. It’s exhausting.

When I went to RWA in 2014 it was hands-down the best writer event I had ever been to. I’ve since been to a few more events, workshops, and conferences, and I still stand by this statement. RWA is the conference for romance-focused writers, but honestly, any writer would benefit from the conference. The workshops are wonderful and can be applied to any genre. If you do write romance, please go.

Let me put it another way: If a writer wanted to work with me for developmental editing and also wanted to attend RWA, but couldn’t afford both, you know what I’d say? GO TO RWA. HANDS-DOWN.

Attending a conference is a big step, and it’s a lot to take in at once.

Here are tips for BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER to get the most out of your next conference:


  1. Plan your outfits. Will it be hot outside? Cold in the AC? What does the FAQ site for the conference recommend for attire? Most conferences are business casual, with allowance for jeans – sometimes. Use your best judgement on an outfit.
  2. Pack your best, snazziest, most comfortable shoes. Shoes get noticed! Believe me. I read this before I went to RWA the first time and my shoes (they had cat ears) and the shoes of others were the beginning of a conversation starter many times. But keep in mind you’ll be walking back and forth between workshops all day.
  3. conferencePrepare your pitch. You never know who you’ll meet, and one of the most common questions you’ll be asked is, “What do you write?”
  4. Have an action plan. Use the time before the conference to determine which workshops you don’t want to miss and how to plan your day for them. If there are two you want to go to, go to the one that doesn’t offer a recording of the event later (many workshops have recordings you can purchase during or after the conference).
  5. Bring an extra suitcase. At RWA specifically, you’ll receive SO many books. No joke; tons. I had to ship about 10 to my friend and I still barely fit the rest in my suitcase, even though I prepared extra room.


  1. Talk to everyone you meet; smile, engage, be friendly. You’ll meet people when you’re in line at the bathroom. It could be an agent. It could be your next critique partner. A new friend. I know things like this seem daunting to many, especially to introverts, but keep in mind the more you talk to others, the easier it gets. And the more you’ll get out of the conference.
  2. Business cards are great for keeping in touch with people you meet. When you meet someone, jot down a couple notes on the back of their card to remember them. One thing I liked doing was connecting on Twitter immediately if their handle was on their business card. This way we could easily keep in touch and stay active in the writing community.
  3. Use the conference hashtag to Tweet while you are there. This is a great way for followers to learn new things, and to connect with other conference goers. For RWA this year, the hashtag is #RWA16. Those staying home, I encourage you to follow along!
  4. At the workshops, take notes! I like jotting down quotes the instructor says that I plan to tweet or share in a blog post later. Consider what type of note taking is best for you…do you better retain by hand or by computer?
  5. Set up downtime if you need it. These events are a flurry of activity. I’m an introvert, like many writers, and I gain energy by being alone and regrouping. If this is you too, be sure to work that time in. If there’s a period when you aren’t really feeling any of the classes, then take the time for yourself so you’ll be more energized for workshops later.
  6. Planning to see a specific author or speaker? Get there early!
  7. Volunteer! Help set up a luncheon or workshop, or awards ceremony.
  8. Drink responsibly. Do NOT overdo it on the alcohol. Yes, there is a hotel bar, and yes half the conference will be there every night including editors and agents, but it’s very important you stay alert and professional, no matter how much you want to let loose. Know your limit, pace yourself, drink tons of water.
  9. Remember that going to a conference isn’t writing, so write when you can. Staying in a hotel by the beach might be the perfect writing retreat for you. Exploring might get those creative juices flowing, so if you are in a new area, take time to see the sights.
  10. Remember at a writing conference you are surrounded by others who love writing and reading as much as you do. This is a place where you can be YOU. This is the time that writing doesn’t have to be lonely.
  11. Talk to your local or online chapter about events or opportunities to meet other chapter members. This can be a great opportunity to meet others before the conference is in full swing. My first trip to RWA, I met two ladies from the local LA chapter (that I was not yet apart of) on the plane. It was great to connect—and we’ve since kept in touch (and I’ve joined the chapter)—but it was even better for those ladies because they knew each other already ahead of time. They had others to talk to about the conference, to know how to prepare.
  12. Put yourself out there. When I arrived to RWA14 on the first day, I knew no one. So I literally walked up for four women and asked to join them for lunch. They accepted me and we ended up getting together a bunch throughout the event. Not only do I recommend you take risks, but also recognize when others are putting themselves out there.
  13. Things to keep on you: Band-Aids, mints, WATER. ALL the water. Over the counter pain meds. Notepad. Pens. Business cards.
  14. Wear your Fitbit/step tracker. OK, this is for all the fitness lovers out there, but I personally love when I look at my Fitbit steps and feel super BA. If you meet others wearing theirs, you could even set up a friendly competition to see who gets the most steps.


  1. Work in at least a day to spend time doing whatever gets you back in the groove. That might be spending time with your family, lounging in bed, cleaning, unpacking – but take the time for yourself (if you can). Writer’s conferences take tons of mental and physical energy, it’s OK to take a day off.
  2. Organize all of the business cards you gathered and reach out to those you want to stay connected to.
  3. Put together a blog post, or a personal list for yourself, on the things you learned. It’s important to realize what part of the conference or workshops helped you the most. What do you want to apply to your writing? Was there something that inspired you?
  4. If you received a request from an agent or editor, take a couple weeks and apply everything you learned to your current manuscript, and then send it off to those agents.
  5. Read all of the fun, wonderful books you received.
  6. Write.

* What are your conference tips? Any questions about your first conference? I’ll respond in the comments! 

KATIE McCOACH is a freelance developmental book editor at KM Editorial working with authors of all levels to help them create their best story possible. Katie is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Editorial Freelancers Association. She has had essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope and is currently writing a contemporary romance novel. For advice on editing, writing, and publishing visit her blog at and be sure to also follow her on Twitter @KatieMcCoach.

Friday Writing Prompt -- The Bank Robber

jeff salter

~ By Jeff Salter

Happy Friday. :-)

Today, to kick off the weekend, we’ve got a writing prompt. Thank you to Jeff Salter for coming up with it!

Don’t be shy. Dive in and give this a shot. It’ll get you warmed up for a weekend of writing, and prompts are a great exercise in learning about your voice.

Have fun!


In NYC, you’ve just been taken hostage by a notorious bank robber from the 1930s.

Describe the robber.

He didn’t start out to involve you, but you were innocently standing behind his getaway car — so he improvised and pushed you into the rumble seat before speeding away.

pexels-photo-90601-largeWhat are you wearing?

The robber – let’s call him “Mike” – now has multiple offenses on his record (besides the theft itself). Now he’s also guilty of kidnapping and violation of the Mann Act… since he’s driving you all the way into Connecticut.

After a full hour’s ride in what’s basically a padded trunk (and even though he has not yet reached Connecticut), Mike finally stops to let you stretch your legs.

What’s the first thing you say to Mike?

Mike’s NOT really a bad guy. Now that the police are far behind, he takes the time to chat with you. He didn’t want to rob the bank, but when they foreclosed on his only property, he had nothing left… and no hope. During this stop (and after conversing with you), he has decided to keep going but is willing to let you go. Before you go, he has one question.

What is Mike’s question?

Leave your scene in the comments!

Find more writing prompts here.

Jeff Salter, who has written 12 novels and five novellas, already has 12 titles released with three royalty publishers. Three more titles are due out this year. He has several works in progress.