I ended up spending quite a bit of time overhauling my first chapter and then going through it again to address the suggestions from my critique group. I finally got the chapter into a state I was happy with, and I ran it by some more people to make sure the changes worked. Thanks so much to everyone who read and gave feedback!
It will be another two months before I find out if I've been selected for the conference, so I'm going to try not to think about it for now. I really don't have the slightest idea what my chances are. It would be very cool to be accepted, but I'm not investing too much in hoping for it.
The good thing about the work I put into improving my first chapter, plus writing up a new description of my novel, is that it needed to be done eventually anyway. My submission package for the conference is similar to what I'll send to agents once I'm ready to start querying. It's nice to know that the opening of my novel has already been scrutinized and made strong. Now I have to make it to the end of the damn thing.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ Edan Lepucki at The Millions analyzes literary fiction as a genre: "The reader of literary genre fiction should feel the structure in her body, particularly with short stories. It's a recognizable rhythm, it's a shimmering in one's veins as one moves from opening scene to well-placed background information to the next, more tense scene to that special, oh-so-revealing flashback about the time our protagonist ran over his rubber horse, or the time he knew he was in love with a real horse, or the time he -- oh you see what I mean."