What I Learned from CT Fiction Fest


Terri-Lynne DeFino’s workshop on the Truth About Rejection: Writing Successful Query Letters was a great way to kick off the workshops.

  • There is no truth. It is all a matter of opinion. And sometimes just catching someone on the right day.
  • A good query letter conveys the major plot arc and the side plots fall away.
  • The briefer you are, the better your chance of being read.
  • The turning point in the query is not the big turning point in the book but the first major turning point (inciting incident).

One thing she touched on that really resonated with me was that there are 4 stages to writing:

  1. Unconscious incompetence–you have no idea you suck
  2. Conscious incompetence–you know you are doing something wrong but you don’t know what it is
  3. Conscious competence–you know what you are doing and how to do it
  4. Unconscious competence–you just do it and it becomes second nature to you


Smashwords’ ย Jim Azevedo taught Secrets to E-Book Publishing Success (a two part workshop) to a packed room. I joined for part II and picked up tons of information.

  • The cover needs to make a promise and show the reader what they are getting into
    • A great cover can increase sales
  • Publishing multiple books allows you to cross promote
  • Maximize distribution and avoid exclusivity
  • Give your book away for free–free ebooks are downloaded lots more
  • Play with pricing
  • Patience is a virtue to an indie author
  • Never unpublish a book–it destroys your ranking and your presence
  • Build your platform and fan base before you publish


During lunch, we had the editorial and agent hotseat, where agents and editors shared their perspective on the industry and answered our burning questions. I sadly didn’t take notes because I was eating cheesecake. and it’s impossible to type on my iPad and eat cheesecake.


I did attend a terrific panel on The Three Takes on Love–Traditional Romance, Women’s Fiction, and Erotica with Gwen Jones and Linda Parisi.

Some of the key takeaways were:

  • Women’s fiction is about a woman finding her happily ever after, not necessarily a couple finding HEA
  • Erotica is about sex
  • Romance is always about HEA
  • The difference between erotic romance and erotica is that the sex must lead somewhere emotionally
  • Love sells
  • Word of mouth doesn’t take off until 20-30k people
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32 Responses to What I Learned from CT Fiction Fest

  1. Sounds like this was a really awesome conference. Thanks so much for sharing the highlights!

    In particular, I’d never heard those “four stages to writing,” but I feel like they’re spot-on. Stage 4 is similar to some things I was just writing about in a couple blog posts.

    Again, thanks for posting! Best of luck to you in all your writing projects.

  2. Mae Clair says:

    Great information. I’ve definitely got to make it to a writing conference. Thanks for sharing these terrific points!

  3. It looks as though you learned a lot at the Fiction Fest, Kourtney. I loved the 4 stages of writing. I’m working toward #4… ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sounds like an informative workshop. I wrote my query (and synopsis–yuck) a couple weeks ago. Now just need to tweak them. I don’t find these as daunting as I used to, but the synopsis is still a pain to write. I like the tip that the turning point in a query should be the first major turning point in the book. After all, that’s what hooks the reader, so hopefully it will hook the agent or publisher, too.

    • It’s funny how we get better at things. Even query writing. ๐Ÿ˜‰ In the beginning, I definitely struggled with using the right turning point. I think that’s why that bit of advice resonated with me.

  5. I’d never heard the never un-publish a book tip – interesting! Sounds like you gained a lot from the fest. Thanks for passing highlights along. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Awesome tips, Kourtney. I’m saving this one… I think I’ll want to read it, a few more times. ๐Ÿ™‚ Excellent!

  7. jmmcdowell says:

    Sounds like it was a very productive conference! I really like the 4 stages of writing. Hopefully my rebuilds are moving me into Stage 3. ๐Ÿ˜€

  8. Great stuff here. I’m curious about the 4 stages to writing – does this mean every writer goes through these 4 stages with each new piece she creates? Or is this more the personal journey that develops over a writer’s career?

    I’ve got under 40 pages to go with Pompeii – can’t wait to get back to it for the climax! The story was on my mind yesterday at work as I imagined possible directions the ending (good sign, right?? ;)) I’m compiling a sheet of general thoughts and the ms is full of specific comments, too. My goal is to get both to you by Sunday afternoon.

    • Thanks Gwen. The way she presented it was as an author’s journey over their career. It probably could apply to individual work too though. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yay! Thank you so much. I love getting the feedback like that! And it’s awesome to hear that it was occupying your mind, one thing I meant to mention–this is a trilogy so the ending might seem a bit different than most series books. We can chat about it afterwards. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. 4amWriter says:

    Great info. I really love Terri-Lynne DeFino’s 4 stages to writing. I think I’ve cycled through all those stages more than once!

  10. Terri-Lynne DeFinoโ€™s 4 stages to writing really struck home for me, I think there is a lot of truth there – especially the unconscious incompetence (I remember it well!!)

    • Yes, same for me. I was explaining it to my audience last night at hart House. I said unconscious incompetence and there was confused silence. I said you don’t know you suck and everyone burst out laughing. ๐Ÿ˜‰ we’ve all been there.

  11. EllaDee says:

    Even to a non-writer like me, this was interesting, from a readers POV, I guess. And you came away will a new challenge, how to take notes and eat cheesecake at the same time ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. Mayumi-H says:

    Great insights, Kourtney! Thank you for attending this festival for the rest of us, and taking such solid, helpful notes. ๐Ÿ˜€

  13. Pete Denton says:

    Sounds like another good one to visit. I do like the idea of having multiple books out there. I’ve seen a few authors say that the more books they have available the better their sales are and I guess it makes sense. If a reader enjoys your book they’re likely to search for another one.

    Building your platform before you publish is another good one. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • it definitely makes sense. Every time someone finishes Six Train, they ask me when the next one is coming out or when my YA novel will be published. When people like an author they will read her other works too. ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been to try to built my platform while everything else was going on. So glad I invested in the blog and FB way before I was published.

  14. Thanks for sharing your notes ( cheescake must take priority…gotta keep strength up to take notes…)
    Laughed over the 4 stages of writing.
    Bottom line: it’s true a lot of publishing is hitting the right person at the right time. (and those query letters – so difficult – so critical to do right)

    • Just the highlights. I used to put all my notes up, but well that was a snorefest. ๐Ÿ˜‰
      I love those 4 stages of writing.
      Indeed. It’s where hard work, luck and timing all meet. No pressure right?

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