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A conference of writers

A lot of conferences for writers and journalists held around the world, empower them with knowledge and learning. Most writers’ conferences held in the US, for example, endow writers of fiction and non-fiction, with know-how that helps them develop their writing skills and learn more about the publishing industry.

A particular conference aimed at arming fiction and non-fiction writers with tools and information they can use to further their writing and related work, was held in New York, Manhattan in the first week of August 2014—this conference is known as the Writer’s Digest Conference and is an annual event. This conference lasted three quick days. It was attended by many participants—from professionals from the writing industry, established writers of fiction and nonfiction, new writers and emerging storytellers, to other inquisitive participants.

Some of these international conferences however, come at an expense, so if one wishes to be a part of such a conference one should register well in advance, to save expenses, and in case one cannot afford the expensive venues of such conferences for purposes of lodging, inexpensive accommodations around the area should be explored. It is best to research well in advance to be a part of any such conference.

Following passages elucidate the many subjects covered at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference 2014 and also sheds light on the experiences of some participant writers who attended the conference.

Extensive Schedule

The conference had an extensive schedule, including classes and lectures, which mostly contained information and learning related to books—fiction and non-fiction—and catered to those interested in following the traditional publication path or to those interested in the route of self-publication and also crowdfunding.

From topics ranging on author branding, insights on the general publishing industry, learning about advanced social media skills, learning how to draft query letters, to those addressing issues of formal rules of writing fiction and non-fiction and lessons on networking—the conference was brewing with noesis.

There were some other sessions covering themes about crowdfunding platforms, such as Kickstarter; then there were extended lectures on promotional activities that writers could use—like being publicised on television to promote one’s work; how to sell books, how to strategically market books and how and what platforms to access to help a writer market their work.

Then there were more intricate and fundamental writing subjects covered—like writing dialogue, focusing on settings in novels, how to revise one’s work, how to write from personal experience, how to write a book proposal and know-how on what readers want to read.

There were classes on how to strengthen creative skills in addition to sessions on knowing more about new and emerging publishing trends on the whole—to panoptic information about writing that could help writers of any genre. There were classes on basic writing guidance and relevant information on certain legal formalities associated with writing—information every writer should know about.

Technological advancements in publishing, innovations and other enterprising opportunities in the field of publication were also discussed in some of the seminars and lectures. The list of classes, sessions, panel discussions, lectures was so exhaustive that it was not possible for participating writers to attend all of them. They had to choose sessions to attend as per their interest. Apart from the many sessions and classes, the conference also included exhibits from varied publishing related endeavours, which were illuminating.

Published Authors and Speakers

The conference had some common sessions for all participants, where some well-known published and bestselling authors and novelists from the US, spoke about their experiences of getting published and shared a lot of advice related to the process of publication. Some of these authors were New York Times Bestselling Authors like Harlen Coben, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Dan Hampton, a pilot and author and a popular US-based speaker and writer Chuck Sambachino.

Most of their success stories emerged from anecdotes shared, which focused on actions related to persistence, consistence, and hard work. Different authors had different stories to share—on their process of writing, the obstacles they faced, and how they overcame them.

Literary Agents

Other than published novelists, the conference also had literary agents speaking on various issues related to publishing. Literary agents, generally select authors they would like to represent and present their written work to publishing houses. Many representative agents from some important literary agencies were at the conference to support the entire quality writing endeavour.

They shared their views on how the publishing industry works, how writers can contact agents, what agents look for in a writer’s work, and how manuscripts find their way to the right publishers. The conference also had an interesting and interactive session called the Pitch Slam—where writers who had registered for the slam, had about a minute each with agents of their choice, to whom they could pitch a summary of their manuscripts.

Attendee Writers and their Experiences

All the speakers and the various sessions were highlights of the conference, however, the conference would not have been complete without its gathering of enthusiastic writers who had congregated there from many parts of the US and from some other countries. Three attendee writers—two fiction writers and one poet, have in the following passages shared their exciting experiences from the conference.

Tanya Bijlani has held various corporate jobs and worked as a researcher for the Harvard Business School, based in their Mumbai office, where she co-authored case studies on Indian companies with faculty. She is currently working on a novel and has taken sabbaticals from work to write it.

She shares some information on her writing with us, “I’m working on a novel set in India and the United States. Since my writing style is fairly lean and simple, my work tends to fall on the shorter end of the spectrum. I don’t have formal training in creative writing but have enjoyed the process of writing and storytelling for as long as I can remember. I enjoy exploring multi-protagonist and multi-plot stories that run parallel to each other or intersect in some way. I am fascinated by the idea that despite our differences, we are all fundamentally the same.”

She adds, “Before starting my novel, I wrote an English screenplay, set in India, which I shopped around to a few Indian filmmakers. Based on it, I received commissioned film writing assignments. Since I prefer to write for myself, I decided to focus instead on a novel.”

Speaking about the conference, she says, “I wanted to learn about the global publishing industry, and attending a conference seemed like a good way to do it. I am on the Writer’s Digest mailing list, and their annual conference is one of the biggest ones in the United States. I was planning to visit friends in New York and timed my trip so that I could attend the conference as well. It was a great experience. This was my first conference. It was interesting to learn both how traditional publishing works, as well as how technology is disrupting it. Writing can be an isolating process, and it was fun to interact with other writers.

A few prominent authors spoke about their work, life and struggles, which was encouraging and inspiring. This was a highlight of the conference. Pitching to agents was also surprisingly fun. They were more approachable than I had expected.”

Tanya shares some more of her thoughts on the conference, “I went in with few expectations other than wanting to learn about the industry, and it was certainly worth the time and money. I would encourage anyone who’s been writing for some time and never attended a writer’s conference, to try it once. In the future, I would also consider attending a writer’s retreat. From what I hear, they are smaller and more immersive and focus on developing a piece of fiction rather on the publication side of things.”

She adds, “I am new to this process of finding an agent and don’t have an agent as yet. I do believe that it takes years to write and develop fiction that is worthy of readers’ time, so it’s best to focus on the writing. Once a work is ready, I believe it will find its way into the world, whether through an agent or some other means.” —Tanya Bijlani, Researcher and Writer, South Mumbai, India

Meg Eden is a poet from the DC area, whose work has been published in various magazines, including B O D Y, Drunken Boat, Mudfish, and Rock & Sling. Her work received second place in the 2014 Ian MacMillan Fiction contest. She teaches at the University of Maryland.

Meg shares information about her work with us, “I started writing professionally in high school, when I met my first agent. I started writing poetry, when that was “the cool thing to do”. I am passionate about sharing what I have learned about the publishing industry with others, especially the next generation. When I started writing in high school, I had to figure out all the tricks on my own and made lots of mistakes. I wish someone had been there to show me how to write a query letter, how to find the agent who is right for you, etc.”

She adds, “I found out about the Writers’ Digest Conference through an issue of Writer’s Digest. I got a free copy at a conference I went to, and they mentioned the WDC—it was relatively local, I had some time, and it seemed really helpful—it’s not too often you get to pitch directly. I had a couple of novels that I felt like were ready for representation and wanted to get them in new hands. So I thought this conference would be a good fit.

The pitch session there was splendid. All the sessions I attended were helpful—all the nitty-gritties of the publishing industry that no one ever tells you about. Lesson wise—I got to learn, before coming, on how to condense my story into a concise pitch. I also learned to be careful with holding a glass of wine while talking to an agent. I guess what it all comes down to is that it was a fantastic experience for learning how to put what you are doing into practical, real world situations.”

She shares further, “We’re all writers, which is usually a solitary act, this thing we’re compelled to do and always hope that someone will get to read it. But then you go to a conference like this and people ask. And you realize that it is not just about writing on the page, but about what comes after that. I realized through this conference and other leading events that it is not just about selling your book.

That is not the happily ever after—there is so much more to do after that, from marketing to relationship building with your editor, and that after you land the book deal, you still need these conferences, you still need this fellowship with fellow writers, because it’s not an easy industry to be a part of.

Speaking about my work, I have three poetry chapbooks released, Rotary Phones and Facebook, Your Son, and The Girl Who Came Back, and one that is forthcoming this month - A Week With Beijing. In some time, I hope to have some exciting news regarding my first novel for publication. I am also working on my first full-length poetry collection, The Names of Animals, which focuses on various forms of persecution and how people maintain faith despite those circumstances and another novel manuscript about a girl who is kidnapped by her mother and is trying to re-find her father.”

Regarding her agent, Meg shares, “I had an agent until recently, but we parted ways because I wanted to move my work in a new direction. I have some interest from other agents, so we’ll see where that goes and am working with an editor on one of my novels right now.”

Sharing information on conferences she has attended in the past and other conferences she would recommend, she says, “I have been to mostly local conferences in Maryland—the Maryland Writers Association conference, Bay to Ocean, Conversations & Connections, Split this Rock and the meetings of the Pennsylvania State Poetry Society are some of the main ones.

I mostly know about USA conferences and one or two in Canada, but would love to be in writers’ conferences around the world. It was an awesome surprise, meeting writers from around the world at the Writers’ Digest Conference, and I’m always excited about the international writing scene. I also am a culture geek and have the travel bug, so I would go to international conferences.”

She has the following advice for those who are new to attending writing conferences: “Writing conferences are so vital. There are so many people writing and submitting that meeting someone in person makes such a difference. It also requires you to talk about your work on the spot, which not only helps you understand your work better, but also builds confidence.”

She adds, “I have learned so much from conferences and met so many people—and I have ended up, maintaining connections with many of them. I can personally say that I have gotten some of my most valuable resources, opportunities and relationships as a writer through conferences.”—Meg Eden Kuyatt, Poet, Maryland, USA

Melissa Albert is a college student studying Industrial and Organizational Psychology. She has been writing fictional stories since the time she learned how to hold a pencil. She started her first novel at 14 and finished it a year and half later. Now, at nineteen-years-old, she has three completed young adult novels—contemporary, fantasy, and contemporary romance—and four more are in the works.

Melissa lets us know more about the Writer’s Digest conference, “I subscribe to Writer’s Digest so I found out about the conference through a newsletter. Originally, my main focus was on attending the Pitch Slam event in order to try and find an agent. However, miracle of miracles, I signed with my agent only a few days before the start of the conference. With this out of the way, I began to realize the importance of networking and not just with industry professionals.

Speaking with other writers at the conference yielded me some new critique partners and beta readers, plenty of tips and tricks for writing, as well as numerous friends and a much wider support group. We’re taught that writing is a solitary profession. But to be at a conference with hundreds of other writers who are all in the same boat as you? Suddenly, you’re not so alone anymore.”

She shares further, “One of my favorite sessions was The Art of Distraction: Using Red Herrings to Create Suspense. At first, I wasn’t sure if I should go to this one or not considering I’m not a mystery writer. Still, in the end, it seemed interesting, so I attended. It was the best decision I could have made. The speaker, Jane K. Cleland, was extremely knowledgeable and conveyed techniques for adding red herrings in a manner that was easy to implement in your own story, be it a mystery or not. It was actually in the middle of that session that I figured out how to fix the mystery element in one of my manuscripts. I would have never gotten the idea if it weren’t for what I learned there. Moral of the story: even if you think it’s not for you, go. You might just be surprised.”

Melissa shares a short summary about her current work-of-fiction in a few sentences, “On October 24th, eighteen-year-old Kate Mitchells left her job at 11:00 pm. At 11:01, she was held down and raped by her ex-boyfriend, her close friend and a third attacker that she couldn’t see. Twenty-one days “Post-Incident,” Kate still refuses to talk about what happened. As the trial draws closer, she must wrestle with the fact that the events of that night were not her fault. Because if she can’t convince herself that she’s not to blame, then she has no shot at convincing a jury.”

Speaking about her agent, she says, “My agent is the wonderful Uwe Stender of TridaUS. I accepted his offer of representation only four days before the Writer’s Digest Conference began and he’s been nothing but a brilliantly insightful and overall amazing person.”

She has the following advice for other aspiring writers on the importance of attending a writers’ conference, such as the one held in NY: “If you can, definitely attend a writers’ conference, even if it’s a small, local one. On top of learning more about the craft and field, you meet amazing writers and form lifelong friendships with them. If you can’t attend a conference at all, get online and search for writing forums or local writing groups. I can’t stress this enough: meet and connect with other writers. It makes a world of difference.” —Melissa Albert, Student and YA Fiction Writer, New Jersey, USA

Conclusion

These three interviews are reflections of the many interesting, new and aspiring voices in fields of fiction and non-fiction who attended this conference, and continue to attend such incredible conferences around the world. The conference made one thing clear—it is not the destination that a writer should always care about, but the journey and the learning instead.

Other than this conference, there are several conferences held in the US and in many parts of the world, which help writers and journalists in particular, learn new concepts and build on their existing skills. One of them is the Mayborn conference held in Texas, US, every year. Conferences such as these help one learn more about the writing industry. Whether it is an emerging author of fiction, non-fiction or a journalist, these conferences are interactive, enable learning and help a writer develop their skills furthermore.

Author Website: www.trishabhattacharya.com

Picture Credit: Photo of the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference ’2014 participants, by Trisha Bhattacharya

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