The WFWA 10th Anniversary Writers Conference Was Magical.
|350+ Women's Fiction writers in one space generate a dazzling amount of creative energy.|
(Image by Susan Foster)
I just returned to Montana from the WFWA 10th Anniversary Conference in Chicago. I'm still in awe of all that I learned and all of the wonderful women that I met.
At the beginning of January 2022, I joined the Women's Fiction Writer's Association (WFWA). It was unquestionably the best thing I have done for myself as a writer.
"WFWA is a diverse international community of aspiring, debut, and multi-published authors."
WHAT IS WOMEN'S FICTION?
To answer this question, I'll share parts of the definition provided on the WFWA website:
Women's Fiction stories are "may have elements of romance, mystery, thriller, or other subgenres; and can be contemporary or historical; commercial, upmarket, or literary fiction but "...the driving force of women's fiction is the protagonist's journey toward a more fulfilled self."
When I read this definition, I knew I'd finally found the genre that I write.
A note on the genre name:
There has been debate as to whether calling our work Women's Fiction is the best label, as we wonder if it best describes our work and whether it still is appropriate and inclusive enough in our current culture. Renaming is not just up to our organization but is dependent on how the industry (the publishing houses, editors, and agents) labels the genre, but there is active discussion as to what a new name might be.
The very first night I joined WFWA, I scoured the website to learn more about the organization. I filled out my member profile and clicked on all the links, becoming more and more astonished by the amazing wealth of information and writing connections suddenly available to me.
I stayed up well past midnight that night, listening to some of the webinar replays, the first of which was Camille Pagan's "Plan to Succeed in 2022!" Her suggestions for a three-year road map and borrowing from the future got me fired up and helped me believe I was on the right road to publication.
The benefits I've enjoyed since joining WFWA include:
- For about a year, I've been working with two amazing critique partners, thanks to the Critique Group program.
- Online workshops have helped me to improve my first pages, character arc, back-cover blurb, pitch, and synopsis.
- Writing Dates. These are scheduled Zoom sessions to write with WFWA members, where we check in via Zoom with other members and encourage and learn from each other before and after each session. These women were friends I immediately recognized and felt bonded to, as soon as I finally got to meet many of them IRL at the conference.
- As I mentioned earlier, I have listened (at least once) to most of the Webinars–there's a whole library of replays for members! I try to attend the monthly live webinar broadcasts as often as I can. It feels like we are all in a room together, and all the questions posted in the chat are usually answered.
- WFWA holds an Annual Online Auction to raise funds for the scholarship program "for members with financial need and members who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and those with a disability who have been underrepresented in the publishing industry." This year I was fortunate enough to acquire a full manuscript review donated by Hend Hegazi at a price well under actual value. Many thanks to Hend for donating the critique package to WFWA and I can't wait for her to read what I have written. I'm sure her feedback will be invaluable!
- Women’s Fiction Writers Diversity Book Club - This book club meets online every other month, and discusses "Women’s Fiction novels that explore characters from marginalized or often silenced groups, so that we may better understand ourselves as readers, writers, and individuals within our societies." I'm hoping to read all the selected books and attend the meetings scheduled for this next year.
The WFWA 10th Anniversary Conference
September 20-23, 2023.
This was my first writing conference, but it will not be my last. Everything about it was top-notch.
Other than one paid employee, WFWA is a volunteer-run organization. The number of volunteer hours it took to pull off this excellent conference must have been astonishing. A HUGE shoutout to everyone who helped make it a success!
One of our members, Melinda Canny, created the most amazing book and flower centerpieces for the Awards dinner, and I was lucky enough to bring a gorgeous flower home. (Image by Susan Foster)
The conference ran seamlessly. Every aspect of it was well chosen and well executed, including:
- The Fairmont Millennium Hotel - which housed the conference and offered a discounted rate to the attendees for its beautiful rooms.
- the interesting and informative speeches, talks, lectures, and master courses
- the networking with new friends and talented writers
- the breakfasts, coffee (!), cocktail hours, and the Awards Dinner
- the Whova App (so helpful for keeping track of the agenda, meeting attendees, arranging rides, sharing photos, messaging attendees, and so much more. I surprised myself and even ended up near the top of the participation leaderboard for a while! 🤣
|View from my room on the 30th floor. In Montana, we only get this high if we climb a mountain! 😉|
(Image by Susan Foster)
An inspiring opening keynote address got us fired up.
The conference got off to a rousing start with a motivating speech by the amazing, lovely, and kind Nancy Johnson, author of the best-selling, award-winning novel, The Kindest Lie. (It's so good I've read it twice.) After many other words of encouragement, she reminded us, "This community's got your back!" So true!
|Nancy Johnson, delivering the opening keynote speech. (Image by Susan Foster)|
WFWA holds an Annual Contest.
This year's winners were announced at the Conference Awards Dinner.
The categories were:
Rising Star - The winner of this award must be an unpublished un-agented writer of Women's Fiction.
2023 Winner: Out of the Crash by Susan Poole.
2023 Finalists: Time to Choose by Katherine Caldwell; The Domestic Diplomat by Christy Matheson; A Hiker's Guide to Falling by Frances McInnis; and Seeds of the Pomegranate by Suzanne Samuel.
Star Award - The winner of this award is a published women's fiction author and there are two categories.
"General" - full-length published Women's Fiction.
2023 General Winner: The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken.
2023 General First-Round Finalists: Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler
and These Numbered Days by Anna Collins.
"Outstanding Debut" - first-ever published work in any genre.
2023 Outstanding Debut Winner: Truth and Other Lies by Maggie Smith.
One of my biggest takeaways from the conference:
Throughout the entire conference, the lobby, hallways, and auditorium/conference rooms of the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Hotel were buzzing with creative conversations and shared information.
My ONLY complaint about the conference was that with multiple lectures and classes offered simultaneously, I couldn't attend them all. It was hard to choose, but I am so grateful that many of the speakers have shared their slides with everyone.
I learned so much, but some key breakthroughs happened for me in Anna Quinn's presentation, Your Wily, Elusive Voice; Maggie Marr's, Legal Knowledge for Authorpreneurs; Courtney Maam's, Hook Them on Page One; and Christina Clancy's masterclass, Unputdownable: How to Create and Sustain Momentum Throughout Your Story, Essay, or Novel.
Somehow, all of these presenters managed to offer the exact tidbits of wisdom my manuscript (and writing career) has been needing.
Many, many thanks to them and all the other presenters.
I shared my premise with other writers and they shared theirs with me, and these conversations sparked ideas for improvement for us all. I had registered for a critique of my query letter and first three pages, and gave a pitch for my novel to a small press editor - and came away from both with plans for improvement (and an offer to send in some chapters and my synopsis! 😊)
So Many New Friends
One of the most wonderful benefits of belonging to WFWA has been the women I have become friends with through the online Zoom writing dates we've had. It was so much fun to meet and hang out with the "Write-Inmates" in real life!
When you go to a conference, don't forget to bring your business cards!
|I created my cards with Canva. The inspirational quote on the box seems quite fitting for an author. |
(Image by Susan Foster)
I tried not to be shy about introducing myself to people I didn't know and came away with many more friends and connections than I had before... and even some new followers on my social media accounts, free newsletter, and website.
I'm sifting through the business cards I collected and trying to support my new friends in any way I can.
My to-be-read list is now so long!
So many good books have already been published by our members, and I'd love to read them all.
|This is just a fraction of the books available for purchase at the conference. I wished my budget (and my carry-on luggage) would have allowed me to buy them all! (Image by Susan Foster)|
An encouraging closing keynote address fueled our hopes.
The closing keynote of the conference was delivered by our guiding scribe, Camille Pagan. As I mentioned above, the encouragement and knowledge she has provided in the webinars she's done for WFWA, on her podcast, and during the delivery of her keynote speech are inspiring. When I was lucky enough to chat for a few minutes with Camille at the conference, she was every bit as warm and encouraging in person. She has been generous enough to share her keynote address on her podcast, You Should Write a Book (episode #54). We all left with her message bolstering our hopes: "Of course you can."
|Camille Pagan, delivering the closing keynote speech. (Image by Susan Foster)|
(Image by Susan Foster)
If you are lucky enough to attend a conference in a location other than where you live (especially if it's somewhere you've never been) be sure to try to schedule in a little time to explore some of the charms of that location.
|"The Bean" is a mirroring bean-shaped sculpture in Millennium Park. (Image by Susan Foster)|
And, maybe even more importantly, grab a few of your new or old buddies and go out and find some good places to eat. Chicago did not disappoint!
|Grilled Halloumi Kebab with Greek cheese, red onion, date, and red zhoug, served at Ēma. |
(Image by Susan Foster)
The conference benefits didn't end when I left Chicago
I came away energized with ideas for how to improve my manuscript, query letter, and other writing; slide decks from presentations to study; and even a new craft book - of which I managed to devour about a third on the plane ride home! Thanks, Courtney Maam, your book Before and After the Book Deal is so helpful!
|(Image by Susan Foster)|
Should you attend a Writer's Conference?
This has been a long post, but I hope it's been helpful, especially to anyone who writes or is considering writing Women's Fiction.
My novel is not ready yet for publication, but after this conference, I'm feeling one step closer.
If you're an established or aspiring writer and have an opportunity to attend a conference, I highly suggest you do. As for me, the 2023 WFWA 10th Anniversary Conference was my first, but hopefully not my last.