FWA Conference Part III

Part III  The RPLA Banquet

The Royal Palm Literary Awards Banquet took place Saturday night. I had it in my mind to not think about winning, but to be grateful that I was a finalist. I could query agents and publishers with the line, "This manuscript was a finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards," and that would be great even if I didn't win.

I had no way of knowing how many entries were in my Unpublished Fantasy Novel category. Nor did I know how many others were finalists like me. The chances of winning were completely unknown to me, and still are, in fact.

I had the privilege of meeting Nicole Resciniti, an agent with the The Seymour Agency, just outside the banquet hall before the doors were opened. She and I had chatted about Sprinter at breakfast that morning, and she was willing to take a look at the manuscript. I planned to email her after the conference was over.

When I spotted her waiting to get into the banquet, I realized I hadn't even mentioned Livinity, let alone the fact that it was an RPLA finalist. So I tapped her shoulder and told her. She asked about the story, I gave the elevator pitch, and she wanted to see that manuscript, too. She asked me to follow her inside when the doors opened so we could talk more about it.

At our table, she saved spots for Mary Sue Seymour, the head agent (is that the right term?) for the The Seymour Agency, and for Shelley Shepard Gray, the best-selling author I mentioned from Part I. I spent a great deal of dinner chatting with Shelley. She was extremely sweet and encouraging.

All three of those sweet women encouraged me and rooted for me as the dinner progressed since they knew I was a finalist for the RPLA. By the time the awards began, my stomach started to knot. I was more nervous thinking about possibly not placing at all with these amazing agents and the author right next to me cheering me on.

There were about 2,000 categories...no, not really. Maybe 50 or so. But it took a while to get to mine. The president, Chrissy Jackson, who read the results, explained that the stories were judged with a rubric with a possible 200-point total. Any finalist was required to get something like 160 points (I forget now) to even place 1st, 2nd or 3rd. That meant some of the categories only had a 1st place or a 1st and 2nd. Some had 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Chrissy announced my category and said, "First Place."

I sunk low in my chair, my heart shrinking to the size of a pea. No Second or Third Place? It's definitely not going to be me. So I practically tuned her out. Then I realized what she was saying:

"The life of a king hangs in the balance, and a fairie..."

Wait a minute. I know that plot!

Nicole, the agent, had started pointing at me and said, "That's you! That's you!" because I had just pitched the line to her.

It was me. I won First Place!

I was out of my chair, and I didn't hear another word of what Chrissy said. I was in the back of the room, which was filled with about 500 people, so it took me a minute to get to the stage. I practically bounded the entire way there to accept the award and get my picture taken.

One side note: I drove back and forth from my aunt and uncle's house to the conference each morning and night to save money (no hotel bill). Saturday morning, I had planned to bring a nicer outfit to the RPLA Banquet. However, my alarm did not go off. Turned out to be my fault, but I got ready in about 5 minutes and got to the hotel as quickly as I could. I was stuck with the super casual jeans and shirt (which was a cute one) that I was wearing from 8am to11pm that night. The banquet had no dress code, but a lot of people dressed like it was the prom. I had wanted to look a little nicer, but the funny thing about winning that award is that I could have cared less if I was in a burlap sack when I ran up to get it.

When all is said and done, the award is more like a really, really nice pat on the back. I received my critiques in the mail from the judges, which were very helpful. I also emailed the agent and eagerly await her response. If it's a no, that's okay. I can keep trying. And this time I'll get to say in my query, "This manuscript won First Place in the RPLA..."