The Florida Writers Association Conference dominated the Altamonte Springs Hilton from October 20 to 23. As a first-timer, new FWA member, I enjoyed the event with equal parts wonder and nervousness. Wonder, because the workshops and panel discussions featured top-notch experts. Nervousness, because one of my books was a finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards. The theme of the conference–Carpe Diem, conquer the world one book at a time!
- Attorney Anne Dalton tackled the topics of Fair Use and Copyright. Her presentation of these complex issues clarified the perils and pitfalls in terms non-lawyers can understand.
- Erik Deckers shared marketing branding secrets that work. How many authors have mastered marketing? Not me. So I greatly appreciated advice from someone who has co-authored four books on social media marketing. Deckers also presented a fabulous workshop on humor writing.
- Keith Ogorek of Author Solutions detailed the need for great stories in Hollywood and how to promote a book to producers and directors. He explained how movie deals work.
- Keynote Speaker John Gilstrap delivered a funny and encouraging speech on the roller-coaster life of becoming a bestselling author.
- A panel of authors, led by Chris Hamilton, conducted two hilarious and helpful Gong Show Pitchfest sessions. Brave writers took turns pitching their story concepts to the panel of experts. After the panel gonged the pitch twice, the writer was supposed to stop. The panel members then took turns to give constructive critiques of the pitch.
The forward-thinking FWA provided a spiral-bound detailed conference schedule, a small spiral-bound notebook, and–best of all–a spiral-bound copy of the workshop handouts. Seriously, I am grateful for the handouts because I don’t take shorthand and having the handouts makes it easier to pay attention to the presentation instead of trying to scribble faster. How many of us have come back from a conference with incomplete or illegible notes? Well, done, FWA. Well done.
ROYAL PALM LITERARY AWARD
On Saturday night, the conference attendees, staff, and families of the finalists gathered in the Crystal ballroom for a steak dinner and for the presentation of awards in twenty-six genre categories. A separate youth awards ceremony with fifteen genre categories had been held at lunch. The young writers ranged from 9 to 17 years old.
My friend Author Carol J. Post won second place in the published novella category. Her work has also finaled in the prestigious Golden Heart and RITAs. (I was especially thrilled that her work was in a different category from mine. She has published soooo many books more than I have…) The very last category winners announced were Women’s Fiction. My book North of the Killing Hand won second place in unpublished Women’s Fiction. It was published in ebook and paperback October 16. For a complete list of winners see the Royal Palm Literary Award Winner List.
During the conference, authors had their works for sale in the Capital ballrooms. Volunteers manned the store and handled sales and bookkeeping. Authors held scheduled book signings in the bookstore. A portion of all proceeds was donated to the nonprofit Florida Writers Foundation which partners with literacy programs for adults and children. In addition, two 50/50 raffles and a silent auction also raised money for the foundation. Last year the raffle and silent auction raised $1,500.
The Hilton Orlando/Altamonte Springs hosted and sponsored the conference. They fed us far beyond the expected with buffets and snacks to keep us going through the event-packed days and nights. The service was amazing. On the night of the awards banquet, the chef prepared a special desert. Each luscious piece of chocolate cake came with an edible chocolate frame surrounding the FWA logo crafted onto white chocolate. At first I thought it was too pretty to eat, then I decided to preserve it by taking a photo. Then I ate it.
Other sponsors included: OnLineBinding.com, Black Oyster Publishing, EDIT911, ROY’L GRAFIX, and Author Solutions.
As an incentive to fill out evaluation forms on the workshops, FWA gave out a door prize ticket for each workshop evaluation turned in. They gave out four tickets to those who obtained a signature from the sponsors. The door prizes ranged from an FWA water bottle to paid conference tuition for 2017. Themed baskets of goodies, books, discounts on professional services, and a giant chocolate bar door prize entertained and delighted the attendees.
Of course, a great joy of writer’s conferences is meeting old friends and new. Writing tends to be such an isolated task. When we crawl out of our writing caves into daylight, we tend to celebrate life and friendship and encourage one another. We talk and talk, eat, and drink. Swap stories. Stay up too late. Rise early and repeat.
While many writers conferences offer agent pitch sessions, FWA offers one-on-one interviews with experts in marketing, humor, genealogical research, editing, audio books, collaboration, children’s fiction, forensics, and many other topics. I’ve been to other conferences in which agent pitch session last five minutes. Think speed dating with timers and volunteers to herd you in and out. FWA conducts the one-on-one sessions to be useful and less stressful for all.
My FWA conference experience convinced me to participate again in 2017.