A First Time Finalist’s Awestruck Days at a National Romance Writers of America Conference
by Theodora Bryant and Cara Crescent
What is it like going to a Romance Writers of America’s National Convention when nominated for two awards?
It’s a little different! I hadn’t expected it to be, I wasn’t up for a Golden Heart or a Rita, after all. I can’t imagine what a whirl-wind conference is like for those nominees. The authors I spoke to who were finalists in those contests spent their days going from one event to another doing interviews, meeting with agents and editors, and celebrating their amazing achievements.
My week wasn’t so hectic but was still amazing. I’d been to the conference twice before as an unpublished author. RWA17 was the first one I attended as a published author with four books under my belt. This year, my third book, Don’t Let Me Forget You, was nominated for two awards that were held at Nationals—The Prism Award for Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Romance, and the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense (Paranormal), given annually by the Kiss of Death Chapter of RWA.
All that said, I still expected to be invisible at this conference, same as always.
I wasn’t. I’m absolutely humbled by the number of people who glanced at my name tag, stopped, and said, “I know you.” Don’t get me wrong, there were 2500 people at RWA17, writers, bloggers, agents, editors, and support services and a couple dozen of them recognized my name. Still, for a newbie author, to meet people who had actually read my books and wanted to talk about them was astounding. Of course, participating in the awards events helped.
The Daphne Awards were presented at the Kiss of Death “Death by Chocolate Party” which was beautifully done. Rebecca Zanetti won the paranormal category. I texted my editor, Theodora Bryant, right away to let her know and she texted me back a very sweet pep talk. I had to laugh because I wasn’t upset. All I could think was: I was nominated in the same category as Rebecca Zanetti! My name was right next to hers! Rebecca is one of my favorite authors, I have all her books, so I fully expected her to win—it was well deserved in my opinion.
The Prism Awards were presented at that chapter’s famous to-do, The Gathering. I was very nervous about this one because all the nominees had to get up and speak no matter how they placed. I’m terrified of public speaking, so as I walked in, all my focus was on that. I signed in and took a seat with the other finalists and after a few minutes, I started to relax and listen to the conversation at my table. And then I wasn’t thinking about public speaking anymore because Kathy Lyons was sitting across from me, and Rebecca Zanetti’s agent was next to her, Anne Aguirre, and Angela Quarles were on her other side. I turned to the lady next to me, and whispered, “That’s Kathy Lyons.” She grinned, and in a thick Australian accent, replied, “Isn’t she lovely?” I asked if she was from Australia and it turned out that she’d just flown in from there for the awards. I glanced down at her name tag and damned near started to hyperventilate—Bec McMaster! Yeah, I’ve got all her books, too. I spent the next hour trying to speak like a normal person and not go fan-girl all over her.
Don’t Let Me Forget You took second place in the Sci-fi & Futuristic category, and while I was jumping up and down on the inside, I tried to appear calm as I walked up to the stage and gave my speech, thanking the chapter, the judges, and my editor, Theodora Bryant. All I could hear was my mother’s voice telling me to stay calm, don’t show anything more than humble gratitude—and it was hard. I wanted to celebrate.
A few minutes later, Kathy Lyons taught me a valuable lesson. When she won her category, she wasn’t graceful or politely grateful. She celebrated her victory with a shout and arms raised and it was absolutely beautiful to watch her joy. We all joined in and celebrated with her and as we did, I realized she had the right of it.
A lot of hard work went into these books. They’re not easy to write, nor are they easy to edit. It takes months of time, energy, thought, and money to put together a good product and whether you’re nominated for an award or win one—it is a victory. Not just for the author, but for the editor, too.
I’ve been working with Theodora Bryant for about four years now and while I was in Florida having a ball at RWA17, she was at home editing my seventh book. She didn’t get to hear my speech or enjoy the feast at the Death by Chocolate party or ooh and awww over the costumes at The Gathering. So while this post is supposed to be about the experience, I feel the need to brag on my editor where she can hear me: I love working with her.
She’s blunt and to-the-point while still being encouraging. She digs down into my plot and finds the places that need more backstory or more explanation or better motivation. She double-checks my research on historical location, travel times, and slang used during different periods of time. Don’t get me wrong, she makes me work hard. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a first manuscript back with less than 200 comments that require some kind of action on my part. The editing process is all about blood, sweat, tears, and a great deal of swearing and ice cream, but man, when you end up with a good product, it’s all worth it.
Yeah, going to conference with a couple award nominations under your belt is a lovely experience but I don’t think my conference this year would’ve gone nearly as well without Theodora at my back. Nor do I have any delusions that I would’ve gotten those nominations without her as my editor.
I will tell you on Cara’s behalf that she took First Place for National Excellence in Romance Fiction (NERFA, First Coast Romance Writers), and was also a finalist for a Maggie Award (Georgia Romance Writers) and a HOLT (Virginia Romance Writers) for The Beacon, which also came out in 2017.