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Surprises: A Critique Session Alumna Post

Surprises come when you least expect them.

Back in 2013, California Dreamin’ was the first writers’ conference I attended. At that time I hadn’t joined RWA, much less any of my local chapters. I didn’t even know there were local chapters. However, a friend who knew of my love of romance and writing surprised me with a link to California Dreamin’ and, on a whim, I registered. I went not knowing a single person. I didn’t even have the faintest inkling of a story idea, or how to even craft a story.

SurpriseFast forward to 2015 and I was much more confident going in. I’d worked hard in the two years between conferences, polishing my craft and fleshing out a story. I even had a manuscript ready to pitch.

One thing that brought me back to California Dreamin’ in 2015 – and was a big deciding factor in my coming back in 2017 – is the additional opportunities that the conference offers, especially the critique session. This is something unique, something I haven’t seen elsewhere–the opportunity to have my manuscript read and critiqued by an industry professional. This is not an opportunity that comes around every day, so of course I jumped at the chance and paid the extra fee to participate.

The critique session is pretty straightforward: you and several other conference attendees are assigned an industry professional (hopefully the one you chose), and you submit the first ten pages of your manuscript ahead of time. This gives both the industry professional and the other critique participants a chance to read and make notes on the pages. At the appointed time, you meet as a group to discuss each piece of work and comment on it.

I went into this meeting nervous, but with an open mind. This was my first manuscript and my first experience with a group like this. While I had polished up the first ten pages (and left it on a rather delicious hook), the rest of the manuscript was not even close to being submission ready. It hadn’t been edited, much less revised. I was a fairly new writer and was primarily looking for feedback, and while I was not expecting to be totally laughed out of there, I was expecting to hear “it needs a lot of work” at the very least.

The feedback was incredible. My group had six people in it–five authors and one editor, and this was the first time anyone other than a few select individuals had read my work.

Having several people who didn’t know me and weren’t familiar with Regency romance comment and make suggestions was filled with surprises. Most of the issues discussed were ones I had found after I hit send (doesn’t that always happen?), but others were a surprise to me. Each person picked up on something different and no one had the same thing to say.

Another surprise was hearing “Oh, I’ve been waiting for this one” and “I want it” coming from the editor in my group.

Talk about incredible surprises!

When I walked out of the session, a friend commented on how I was buzzing with excitement. Thank goodness for the notes on my pages because I don’t remember much after that!

Once again, the quality of the editors and agents participating in the pitch and critique sessions are top notch–definitely not a surprise from the California Dreamin’ conference. The quality of the conference has only improved each time. Between the pitches and critiques, who knows what surprises lie in store come March!


SurprisesChristina Alexandra is a romance writer from Southern California. Always on the lookout for an adventure, she has worked and volunteered at many different jobs including both medical and veterinary offices, music teacher, law enforcement instructor, service dog puppy raiser, emergency grief counselor, coroner’s assistant and, currently, an emergency services operator. Christina writes stories set in Georgian and Regency England and credits her varied experiences as the foundation from which she builds true-to-life characters and emotional stories with a unique twist on modern issues. When not researching, writing or working, Christina spends her spare time traveling, cooking – oftentimes with a historical flare – and staying active on social media.

Her debut series, The Reluctant Lords, is currently in progress and the first book, The Seduction of the Duke, is on submission awaiting news from agents and editors.

You can connect with Christina online at her website ~ facebook ~ twitter ~ instagram ~ g+

3 comments

  1. Tari Lynn Jewett says:

    Really nice post Christina! I agree with everything you said. The quality of the speakers, critique’s and pitch appointments is top notch. This is an important conference especially for romance writers, but for all fiction writers.

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