Posted On September 10, 2012 by Print This Post

Lessons Learned at the Killer Nashville Conference with Kelsey Browning

Squee! Kelsey Browning is back at RU to tell us about her roundtable conference – and all the wonderful things she’s learned!

In August, I attended the Killer Nashville conference with my friend and co-conspirator Nancy Naigle. This was my first regional writing conference, and I found the more intimate format offered benefits such as:

  • The pace seemed more relaxed, although the conference offered plenty of sessions and opportunities for social interaction.
  • The cost was less than half that of larger national conferences (but no meals were included in the conference price).
  • Attendees had more access to speakers, panelists and publishing professionals.

Rather than one-on-one pitches, Killer Nashville offered roundtables where the first two pages of a writer’s manuscript were read aloud in a group of twelve writers, one designated reader and two feedback providers (agents/editors).

I attended two roundtables, the first with two agents as feedback providers and the second with an agent and an acquiring editor. I took notes on the feedback offered to me and the other writers, in addition to my own observations. I want to share those notes with our RU readers.

  • Having someone else read your work aloud is priceless. You can hear how the reader stumbles on names or awkward phrasing. This is valuable insight you might miss if she read silently or you read your own work aloud.
  • In a group situation, know and respect your time limit. If you’re asked to explain a detail about your manuscript, keep the explanation short and to the point. Otherwise, you’ve lost both the attention and respect of the agent/editor and the other roundtable attendees.
  • Early inner monologue from your point of view (POV) character can be distracting, especially if you’re moving back and forth from third-person limited POV to first person POV indicated with italics.
  • Don’t start your manuscript with too much description. Some pieces read in the roundtables included two full pages of scenery and setting, which did nothing to invest me in the story or characters.
  • One agent suggested a prologue should never be called a “prologue.” Instead she recommended writers use a time/date stamp or location if a prologue is necessary.
  • If you have more than one POV character in your book, use third person limited rather than first person. First person is hard to pull off with multiple POVs.
  • Semi-colons should rarely be used in fiction. For more insight on this, take a look at Theresa Stevens’ recent post.
  • Watch for too much narrative in your first few pages. Many times this indicates you’ve done a back story dump. Which information does the reader need NOW? Cut the rest.
  • If your character shrugs, the reader assumes he’s shrugging his shoulders. Cut “his shoulders.”
  • Small details can slow pacing. Do we need to know your character is climbing into his 2013, iced silver, Mercedes GL 450 with grey leather seats, rather than simply his new Mercedes? Maybe not.
  • Your reader needs to be invested in your narrator/POV character within those first two pages. That’s hard when your reader doesn’t know your character’s name or anything about her. Give the reader a reason to like or sympathize with your narrator as soon as possible.
  • One agent mentioned a mock news clip or diary entry can be used as an interesting device to ground the reader in the story early on.
  • If your POV character has a nickname for another character, use that nickname in the dialogue, but not in the narrative.
  • Per one agent, books about Alcoholics Anonymous and alcoholic protagonists are apparently a hard sell to publishers. Regardless, the agent thinks there’s a market out there and requested a submission from the author.
  • Starting with a secondary character can be dangerous because your reader will assume she should connect with that character. Even more dangerous is having the reader bond with a character you’re about it kill off.

My overall impression about the roundtable format was positive. Hearing others’ work and seeing the same mistakes in my own work was helpful. Even better was the knowledge that I’d outgrown many of the mistakes other writers struggled with. It was also interesting to hear the publishing professionals’ opinions and how they (dis)agreed with one another. Each roundtable took an hour and a half from my conference schedule, so I missed another workshop or panel. Would I choose to invest that time again? Only if I were targeting a particular agent or an acquiring editor was in the session.

However, I had a specific agenda for these roundtables. I wanted to know if the new first scene in my paranormal “worked.”

Feedback I received in the first session:

  • Be careful of introducing too many characters early on (even if they aren’t physically on the page and just mentioned in dialogue). Duh – I knew this, but it became very apparent when the passage was read aloud.
  • Leave the reader wanting to know more, but be sure to give her enough information to ground her instead of scratching her head in confusion.
  • Pacing is important, but it’s okay to slow down in order to seat the reader solidly in the story.

Before the second roundtable, I added five words to my first line and took out two character names. Response? I received a full request from the acquiring editor. Lesson learned? Small changes can have a big impact.


Have you ever participated in a roundtable like this? What small changes have you made to a manuscript that completely changed the way it was received?

Join the awesomesauce Sara Megibow on Wednesday when she discusses the 2nd book deal.



Kelsey Browning writes contemporary and paranormal romance with a hint of southern sizzle. Originally from Texas and after four years in the Middle East, she now lives in Southern California with her IT-savvy husband, baseball-obsessed son and seriously spoiled dog. She’s currently at work on the first book in a new contemporary series. For more information, please visit

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24 Responses to “Lessons Learned at the Killer Nashville Conference with Kelsey Browning”

  1. Lots of great tips. Thanks so much fo sharing.

    Posted by Mercy | September 10, 2012, 6:30 am
    • Hi, Mercy –

      It was certainly good to experience the roundtables once. I felt like writers who had less writing experience got the most out of them.

      Happy Monday!

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 6:47 am
      • That’s what the arrangers were told, too. Helpful to the newbies, not so much to the more established writers. This was the first year for the round tables, as a way to try something different from the one-on-one pitch sessions that are murder on agents/editors and very scary for the beginning writers. From what I know so far, the round tables will stay for next year, but there are plans for something else too, that’ll be more helpful to the in-betweeners.

        Congrats on the request!

        Posted by Jenna Bennett | September 10, 2012, 8:08 am
        • Thanks for stopping by, Jenna. I had heard it was the first year of roundtables at KN. I do think it was useful regardless of craft level because of using an independent reader.

          I look forward to seeing what else KN has in store next year!


          Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 3:17 pm
  2. Hi, all –

    Just FYI…I’ll be on the road today driving across the great state of Texas ;-), so I’ll check in as I can.

    Happy Monday to all the RU Crew!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 6:46 am
  3. Hi Kelsey,

    From Sri Lanka to Nashville, you’re my idol! The roundtable sounds like a great idea and congrats on getting the editor’s request.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | September 10, 2012, 6:46 am
    • Thanks, Mary Jo!

      Don’t know if you noticed my comment above, but I’m actually around the panhandle of Texas this morning – LOL. I feel a bit like that Beach Boys song Barbara Ann. 😀

      I knew within the first five minutes of the roundtable that I wanted to share the experience with our RU readers. In the 5+ years I’ve been writing, I’ve never run into a format like that, so I wanted others to get a feel for the pros and cons. One writer I talked with after said it felt a bit like a poor man’s writer’s workshop experience. This writer is currently getting his MFA and feels like he has plenty of that included in his program. Other writers might love the critique group or workshop feel to the whole thing.

      Have a great week!

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 6:51 am
  4. Thanks for sharing these tips with us, Kelsey! This sounds like a fun conference – I love the regional ones! Who was the keynote speaker at this one? Were many authors there?

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | September 10, 2012, 7:02 am
    • The keynote was Dr. Bill Bass, forensic anthropologist and creator of the Body Farm at UT Knoxville. Although I don’t write deep, dark suspense, I’d LOVE to visit the Body Farm one day. Now very doable based on my latest location.

      I pulled this from the UTK website (italics mine):
      The Anthropology Research Facility is the first of its kind to permit systematic study of human decomposition. The 1.3 acres of land made famous by Dr. Bass will soon be expanding. This addition will allow for studies using advanced technology to quantify how bodies interact with the environment.

      Killer Nashville provided excellent conference booklets. If I had mine with me, I could tell you how many authors were there. But I can tell you, it felt like a ton based on the size of the conference.


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 3:22 pm
  5. Kelsey – that sounds like an amazing roundtable and conference. I love the idea of having others read your book aloud. I always have my book read to me by “natural reader” software as my final edit pass.


    Posted by Robin Covington | September 10, 2012, 7:52 am
    • Robin –

      I do the read aloud software as well, but I loved having a live person read. I think one challenge in the software is regulation of breath and pauses. Sometimes that’s so significant to pacing, dialogue, etc.

      Alas, most of us probably can’t hire a dedicated reader to read aloud to use while we swing in a hammock eating peeled grapes. Too darn bad!


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 3:25 pm
  6. Morning Kelsey!

    I think you’d be singing On the road again…. =)

    I have a software program read my work as well, but I imagine a real person reading it aloud would give unbelievable insight into how your story will be read…that’s one thing I don’t like about the software, it has no inflections or emotion in the voice to let you know how someone else is reading it. That’s priceless to know!

    Have a wonderful trip today and drive safe! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 10, 2012, 8:11 am
  7. Thanks for this, Kelsey. I learned something, several things, in fact, and had a whole lot of other ideas and my own way of writing validated. No matter how much I write, I think hearing/reading good ideas again is helpful.

    Posted by Ann Macela | September 10, 2012, 8:42 am
    • Ann –

      You’re right. That’s one reason I wanted to take notes in the session and turn them into a post for RU. Otherwise, I might’ve skimmed over some important information that I could use a refresher on. For example, the intro of too many characters early on.

      Thanks for stopping by today!

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 3:28 pm
  8. Thanks for sharing your conference experience, Kelsey!

    I’m taking lots of great points away from your post, including a couple I’ve been on the fence with for a few months. I’ll be retitling my prologue and I’m thinking long and hard about switching to third person deep POV rather than first person in a completed ms.

    Posted by Roxanne | September 10, 2012, 8:47 am
    • Roxanne,

      Thanks for stopping by today.

      Obviously, these are just opinions of the agents/editors in the roundtables I attended. However, each roundtable participant had a copy of the others’ two pages in front of him/her, so I could absolutely see where those two issues created problems for the authors.

      Then, sometimes you have to disregard the advice and go with your gut. Ain’t writing grand? 🙂


      Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 3:30 pm
  9. Yay, Kels. Great post. It would have been interesting to hear all the various comments.

    Congrats on the request.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | September 10, 2012, 9:19 am
  10. Hi Kels,

    Extremely useful tips! I really like the time stamp idea for prologues.

    I’ll have to check out the read back software. I’ve tried reading my stuff aloud, but I always stop to fix something and then lose my concentration.

    How many attendees were at the conference?

    Hope your saving your frequent flyer miles for your bucket list.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 10, 2012, 4:20 pm
    • Jen –

      If only I had enough FF miles on one airline!

      I would say there were around 250-300 attendees at Killer Nashville, enough for an interesting conference, but also intimate enough that you could approach folks easily.

      I agree – love the idea of titling a prologue some other (sneaky) way. Check out some thrillers and I bet you’ll find some that are done with time stamps.

      Hope all is well on the west coast. It’s 90+ here in Texas!

      Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 10, 2012, 4:51 pm
  11. Hey Kels,

    Glad you had such a great time at KN! Love your tips, too! Learned some new stuff and it’s always good to be reminder of the other stuff. LOL

    Have a good time with your family!

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 10, 2012, 6:33 pm

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