Hampton Roads Writers - Where Characters Connect


Hampton Roads Writers 15th Annual Writers Conference
November 9 – 11, 2023

Holiday Inn VA Beach & Norfolk Hotel & Conference Center
5655 Greenwich Road
Virginia Beach, VA

Registration open!

Basic Conference Rate—Includes 2 plus-day admission (November 9 - 11), daily continental breakfast and lunch, (no outside food permitted), all-day beverages, no-fee writing contests, First 10-Line Critique Sessions, two 10-minute pitches with any of the five agents, 90-minute social, and open mic.
  • Aug 12 - Oct 27, 2023 Member = $329, Nonmember = $369
  • Oct 28 - Nov 9, 2023 = $409
  • 2-day FULL TIME Student = $199
  • 1-day FULL TIME Student = $150
  • 1-day (Friday OR Saturday) member or nonmember = $209 (may attend Thursday evening session for free)
  • Thursday evening only = $59
A few need-based full and partial scholarships for tuition are available; scholarships do NOT cover hotel lodging or transportation to and from the conference. Contact us to inquire and be prepared to show the financial need.

NOTE: Members must be logged in to receive discounts.

How to Make the Most of Your Ten-Minute Author/Agent Pitch

First, if your project is not complete, let the agent know that right off the bat. Tell them that you are using this time to learn from them and/or to practice honing your pitching skills. Most agents will appreciate your candor and will be happy to answer any questions you might have about trends or the publishing industry.

Second, bring nothing but yourself to the pitch; the agents will not accept your query letter, your synopsis, chapters, or the complete manuscript. All they want from you during your ten minutes with them is to hear your pitch, which is comprised of your logline, your mashup, and your comps.

Finally, practice, practice, practice delivering these things ahead of time so you won’t be nervous. Aim to speak for no more than a minute or two. Let the agent ask questions based on what you have said.

Your logline is a 1 - 2 sentence summary of your story concept and its primary hook. It's sometimes referred to as your elevator pitch, a short, pithy sum up of the story that piques an agent's interest.

Optimally, the agents want to comprehend conflict, stakes, and motivation immediately. That doesn’t mean giving away the whole story, but you will need to engage the agent emotionally. Why should the agent care about this character, this story? What is your protagonist’s conflict? They may have several (and they typically do in most novels), but which one propels them into the action of the story? What are their stakes?

Stakes may change over the course of the story (hopefully they become greater, and should begin with the protagonist’s personal stakes and then the stakes should grow and evolve beyond the hero’s sphere of concern – conflict should grow from micro to macro). But in the logline, focus on the immediate stakes to the protagonist. We know their conflict, so what is at stake if they do or don’t take action? What is their motivation?
Loglines often can be successfully structured in a ‘when/then’ format.

When John Doe is called back to his home town to cover the mysterious disappearances of young girls, he is then forced to confront troubling memories from his own childhood and risk his sanity, and perhaps his very life, to stop a killer who has risen from the ashes to strike again.

So when X inciting event occurs, then John Doe must face his conflict and his motives to propel the story forward.


The agents often expect that you will know your comps--similar books to your own manuscript.

Is there a shorthand to communicate a great deal about your story and grab a reader’s interest? Yes, and that shorthand is called a mash-up. You may have noticed in the Publishers Marketplace deal notices that many successful stories are positioned as X meets Y (sometimes with an additional Z). This premise formulation is intended to quickly make the story feel familiar, recognizable, and intriguing. With mash-ups, unlike your actual comp titles, you CAN use big blockbusters and bestsellers.

So your madcap rom-com set in a lab filled with brainy inventors might be Big Bang Theory meets Honey I Shrunk the Kids. And yes, you can use movies and TV series in creating your logline! Using iconic examples helps create an instant understanding. Just choose examples that really make sense for your project. It’s okay to use somewhat older examples provided they’re nearly universally recognizable.

As an alternative to a mash-up, you can pick a familiar comp but present it in an entirely different setting or backdrop that gives it a unique spin. For example, Marley & Me set in an African wildlife preserve. Legally Blonde set in an uptight Wall Street firm. Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.
While it’s important to get that mash-up or unique spin down pat, you also need to provide the agent with actual comp titles for marketing and positioning purposes. But what exactly are comp titles and what are they used for?

Comp titles should be RECENT books that have performed well and would resonate with the readership of your book. Don’t go beyond books older than two or three years. Comp titles should be from the same genre (or blended genre if that applies) and the same format. Don’t use a graphic novel as a comp for a traditional novel, or a YA novel as a comp for an adult novel. Agents look at books for the same readership as yours, and how they performed. You want to give the agent you’re pitching the idea that your book has the same potential. However, don’t use as comps titles from huge, established stars – these are never a good gauge for the potential from a new writer and the books are selling based on that writers’ long history and name recognizability, and new authors don’t have that advantage yet.

Look for books from writers still developing their career. You may find a super-successful debut or second book, books that were well-reviewed, sold well and would resonate with your reader because of voice, characterization, plot and conflict, and perhaps setting. Be ready to explain why it’s a good comp to yours. For example, ‘My book would appeal to readers who enjoyed the nonstop action, authenticity and high-level stakes of Title X’, or ‘Fans drawn to heartwarming sibling stories of Author Y would fall in love with my characters’. Great, well-chosen comps help demonstrate your knowledge of your market and give the agent confidence in your understanding of genre demands, so invest time in your research and choose wisely.

Editors and agents use comp titles’ sales to project how well your book might perform, but keep in mind that there are other considerations. The comp needs to be selling in the same price range as the titles they market. Often that means that self-published books and e-only books are not viable comps if you’re pitching to a large, traditional publisher or to an agent who works exclusively with large, traditional publishers. Even if the comp title sold well, if the price point was $5 less a copy than what your target publisher would be charging, the publisher can’t realistically project sales for your book at their preferred price point. So, be sure to pick comp titles that performed well in the same format and price range as those sold by the publishing house you’re targeting.

It’s hard to hunt for comps. Publishers Weekly is a good place to start, especially in their “round-up” editions. Bookstore employees can also give great recommendations. And, don’t forget about Booklist—the publication of the American Library Association is a goldmine.

Armed with a powerful, persuasive logline, mash up, and comp titles that present your story in its best light, you’re ready to write a convincing query or pitch at an instant’s notice in the upcoming conference season! Good luck!
Next Zoom Social hour, AKA the Quarantini, is Friday,
September 1, 4:30 - 5:30 PM.

Get your Zoom Link
martini glass

Traveling Pen Series of Writers Workshops for 2023

Our 2.5 hour workshop (9:30 AM thru noon EST) cost $10 for middle and high school students, $20 for current HRW members and $30 for nonmembers. Scholarships always available for those people with a true financial need. ALL workshops are zoomed.

September 16, 2023 — TPS Workshop — HORROR WRITING: Creating Light in the Darkness, presented by Craig Spector

Best-selling author and screenwriter CRAIG SPECTOR leads a fun and free-ranging examination of writing horror and all things dark and delirious for publishing as well as film and television.

Presenter Bio
CRAIG SPECTOR is a best-selling novelist and editor, screenwriter, and musician, with millions of copies of his work in print and reprints in nine languages. His first novel, The Light at The End, was a New York Times bestseller for mass market paperback; his first anthology, Book of The Dead, featured stories by Stephen King, Rick McCammon, Joe R. Landsdale, and others.
He has published with such major mainstream publishers as Bantam Books, Avon Books, and Tor/St. Martins Press, as well as leading independent publishers such as Crossroad Press, as well as many specialty presses.

His novel Underground won the Masterton Award for Best Translated Novel of Horror for 2008 (Bragellone Press, fr. edition.) His film and television work includes A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and the ABC TV movie Volcano: Fire on The Mountain, as well as projects for New Line Cinema, Beacon Pictures, Anonymous Content, ABC, NBC, Fox Television, and others.

As a musician, Spector is an honors graduate of the Berklee College of Music. He has written, performed, produced, and released four indie solo albums since 2017, all part of his project The Art of Not Dying, charting Spector’s ongoing battle with Stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer.

Spector lives and creates in Virginia Beach, Virginia


Twelfth in a series of essays about steps taken by HRW member Drema Deòraich on her way to indie publication success with her debut novel, Entheóphage.

Let's Talk about Fonts

We’ve touched on formatting, whether doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you. But if you plan to do it yourself, there’s an important element you should consider. Let’s talk about fonts.

Most fonts, especially the ones that come with your computer or software, are available free of charge for personal use. But if you want to create something commercial with one of those fonts, you may be looking at a different scenario.

In the U.S., fonts are protected by copyright. Some font designers make them free, others have levels of free use, and some require a license. Keep in mind that not all licenses are created equal; some don’t allow their use in commercial print publications. Do your homework! There’s a great breakdown on this subject at the Kindlepreneur site, including links to sites where you can find the different types of fonts, and for which level of use.

It's worth noting that the fonts that come with Atticus and Vellum are free for use in ebooks and print publications. If you are using another formatting application, check this detail before finalizing your book. (And if you are using a professional formatter, ask them about their use of fonts. Are they licensed for print publications? Be sure!)

It’s probably unlikely an indie publisher would get nailed on this detail. But it is possible. Besides, if we want others to respect our copyright, we should extend that professional courtesy to the font/typeface designers. Right?

Next, you’ll need to choose a release date for your book. The release date is a target, helping you aim your process and time the steps so that you are not rushed. Some things to consider:

a. Many sources say that there are months of the year—even days of the week—when a book release has a better chance of success. Many I found say the first quarter of the year is the peak time to release a new book. Check online for resources and the reasons behind this.

b. Does your book have a summer theme? A winter one? A school-year storyline? Scheduling your release to precede that time of year could help with marketing. But think ahead, too. Give yourself ample opportunity to announce and promote the book, and allow your readers a chance to discover it!

c. Do you intend to set up preorders? If so, you should plan even further ahead, and market the work long before it’s ready to release. (Do note that on Amazon, if you set up preorders and don’t make your promised release date, they will penalize you.)

That’s it for now. See you next month!

Author Spotlight

Dani Pettrey


by: Sandy Robinette

“I’m thrilled and honored to be the keynote speaker for such an esteemed conference. I’m also excited to teach four workshops covering topics I’m passionate about. I hope they, and my keynote, will leave you inspired and with a renewed passion for writing.

"All the workshops look fabulous. I know we’ll all come away with new skills and new friends. I’m excited to meet everyone. I always walk away from my time with fellow writers inspired and refreshed.”

Publisher’s Weekly and #1 Amazon bestselling author, Dani Pettrey has sold nearly 800,000 copies of her 15 novels to readers eagerly awaiting every new release. As one of the two keynote speakers for the HRW 15th Annual Writers Conference, Dani is ready to tell us what it takes to reach this level.

Dani combines the page-turning adrenaline of a thriller with the chemistry and happy-ever-after of romance. Interesting characters catch your imagination in believable stories of people with integrity and values. The colorful locales add a layer of reality and grounding. One example is the Alaska Courage Series, which invites you into the Iditarod race world.

Moving across the country, Dani has two recent series on the East Coast. Coastal Guardians introduce you to the world of the Coast Guard as it meets the unique challenges of its mandate. You’ll be surprised by the danger and thrills of these stories – and the heroes and heroines of the service.

Another series is called Chesapeake Valor. Familiar East Coast locations pop up as Dani’s characters work their way through tension-filled adventures that could damage them as well as our society as we know it. Suspense, romance, thrills!

For more information about Dani and her books, please email her or visit her on Facebook @DaniPettrey

Sign up now for the Conference and see Dani in person!


By: Heather Brown Barrett

Rae Spencer
Recently released Watershed, her newly published book featuring poems about Tennessee and Virginia and what it means to be an adult human in a world made of change. Available at Kelsay Books and on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

Patrice Wilkerson
Published her first children’s book, My Favorite Season is Spring. This beautifully illustrated picture book is available in paperback or for Kindle.

Ken Poyner
New drabble published, “Art Appreciation” in Jersey Devil Press.

Two poems published at American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (print only).

Five drabbles out in Literary Yard.

New drabble published, “Citizen’s Duty” in Friday Flash Fiction.


Do you have a recent writing publication or writing award you’d like to share for the Kudos section of the Hampton Roads Writers monthly newsletter? If so, please email your name and publication information to Heather Brown Barrett.

Burlington Writers Workshops

By: Jay Gendron

The joy in my writing room was palpable as the 90-minute WritingScapes session with my friends in the Burlington Writers Workshop came to a close. I will join them again in two weeks.

WritingScapes is a twice monthly event hosted at no cost by the Burlington Writers Workshop out of Burlington, Vermont.

WritingScapes is just one of over a dozen workshops available for free to members. How much is membership? Membership is free and used to access to the site.

Workshops address light-hearted, fun events like WritingScapes where the facilitator provides a theme-based prompt and we share our craft after writing for 10 minutes. I’m always amazed at the talent that shines after a short amount of writing time.

Other workshops get more serious. You can submit full chapters for peer review, including a live discussion on your work. One workshop is for published poets and another for songwriting.

I have attended Burlington Writers Workshop events since the summer of 2022. I encourage Hampton Roads Writers to check out burlingtonwritersworkshop.com. Search for an event, register, show up, and have fun.

Looking for another writer group?

Here are just a few in our local area.

Virginia Beach Writers

The mission of Virginia Beach Writers is to provide a forum for writers—both published and unpublished—to read original prose or poetry and be given critiques of their work. Alternating between Zoom and in-person, the group meets every Tuesday from 10-12. Members who want to submit for that week need to email their work by Sunday afternoon. Submissions are limited to 1200 words.

Their members have different levels of experience and competence. They offer a positive environment to encourage writers to improve their craft. For more information, see their Facebook page or email them at virginiabeachwritersATgmail.com.

Sisters in Crime-Mystery by the Sea

Mystery By the Sea is the Local Hampton Roads area group of mystery writers. Sisters in Crime is the national affiliate. Yes, Misters in Crime are welcome too! Meetings are either in person or via Zoom the second Monday of each month from September through June at 7pm. Summer break happens usually July and August.

Poetry Society of Virginia

There are no set meetings. Instead, the state is divided up into regions and each region hosts several poetry events through the year. Check out their website to see what district you are a part of and upcoming events. Poetry Society of Virginia

Chesapeake Romance Writers

The Chesapeake Romance Writers meetings are the second Saturday each month at the Russell Memorial Public Library, 2808 Taylor Road, Chesapeake, VA 23321. You have the option of joining in-person and via Zoom. The next meeting is Saturday, August 12 at 10:30 am at the Russell Memorial Public Library where Jenna Jaxon will be speaking on 'Traditional Publishing-Benefits and Pitfalls.'

KPC Writers

Looking for a Writing Group in Virginia Beach? Perhaps the KPC Writers Group is for you. Their goal is to encourage and nourish your God-given talents for writing. All genres, ages, and levels of experience are welcome! Even if you haven’t written anything yet but are interested in learning more about writing, you are welcome. There is something for everyone. They have a range of speakers each month who cover topics related to writing, from craft to publishing, along with writing exercises and prompts, readings and discussions.

They meet in-person and on Zoom each month. Please email Evelyn for the Zoom link or if you have any questions.

Where: Kempsville Presbyterian Church
805 Kempsville Rd, Virginia Beach, VA 23464
When: 3rd Tuesday of each month

They just celebrated their 19th year! Come join the fun. Meet other writers and make new friends among the “write-minded” folks at KPC. They look forward to meeting you.

Chesapeake Bay Writers

The Chesapeake Bay Writers group endeavors to help all aspiring and established writers achieve their individual writing needs and goals. Founded in 1991, Chesapeake Bay Writers is a chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. CBW serves writers from the Middle Peninsula, the Northern Neck, and Williamsburg and adjacent areas. Become a Member

If you are in a local writing group that you would like to include in HRW's list, please email a short blurb.
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Thanks for reading. See you soon!

facebook twitter youtube instagram pinterest website email 
Thanks for reading. See you soon!