I’ve been rather impulsive this year when it comes to making decisions about my memoir. When I arrived home from my Paris trip, a beautiful 10 year anniversary gift from my husband, I made a snap decision to attend The annual Writers Digest Conference held in New York City. I packed my bags, my manuscript and my snazzy purple glasses for another adventure with a scant two weeks to prepare my query and myself. Did I mention I attended a Yoga Retreat a few days prior to leaving? It was fantastic. You can read more about that here.
I’m going to tell you something dear reader, something I have been shouting from the rooftops since my attendance to everyone and anyone who asks me about it. Attending the Writers Digest Conference and pitching my book during the pitch slam – a cost of just under $600.00 – was, the BEST MONEY I HAVE EVER SPENT when it comes to writing! Yep, over retreats and courses, and books. At this conference I was immersed from Friday until Sunday in live best-selling author chats, Q&A’s, pitch slams and cocktail hours and met the best people. It was the first time I’ve attended an event such as this where I truly felt 100% that I belonged, that I wasn’t alone, and I was fully support learning more than I ever imagined.
In truth, my draw to the conference was the pitch slam. A chance to practice pitching my book in person, to get comfortable with my subject matter and selling myself. But the pitch slam was a small portion in comparison to the informative back to back classes I attended. In between sessions writers could be found huddled around small tables on their laptops, or practicing together in line ups for pitch slams, and book signings.
I fell in love with authors like Jacqueline Woodson, as she read from, If You Come Softly, silencing a full ballroom at the Roosevelt Hotel to tears. I shook hands with established agents, editors, publishers and fellow writers. I laughed with Tim Johnston, author of Descent. Both humble and wonderful speakers of our craft. I immersed myself in everything to do with books from how to market, what questions to ask, building my platform and pitching do’s and don’ts.
The advantage to conferences like this is that you are able to really see all of the facets of book publishing whether you go the traditional route or self-publish. Meeting other writers is key, I can’t tell you how affirming it was to speak to one another, commiserate, laugh and lament.
Here I’ve Written a Run Down of the Events I Attended:
Pitch Perfect with Chuck Sambuchino – This class was offered only to attendees who had chosen and paid for the upgrade to attend the pitch slam. Over the course of the hour Chuck covered do’s and don’ts of pitching, and gave some very helpful advice. The most important tip that I witnessed almost everyone ignore? The night before the conference they post an update on the agents who have cancelled attending the pitch slam, and there are always at least a few replacements. Chuck updates the blog and you can see which agents are new to the conference – these agents NEVER have line ups – people are too prepared for the agents they researched. I scored big by doing this, as the new agent I wanted to pitch to had absolutely no line up and I was able to scoot around and see several others before the line ups got longer.
Great Writing! Great Story! Author Platform? with Dawn Michelle Hardy – A helpful hour on how to build your platform, tips to consider and what to look for and expect when hiring a P.R. firm. Dawn Michelle gave great advice and answered the plethora of questions we all fired her way.
You Should Really Write A Book: How To Write, Sell, and Market Your Memoir with Regina Brooks – I picked up her book of the same name and found it to be a useful tool. It was jam-packed with examples and tips and her talk was fantastic outlining the genres of memoir. (This came in very handy when I had to re-write my pitch that night).
Ask The Agents with Chuck Sambuchino, Marisa Corvisiero, Adriann Ranta, Stephany Evans & Alec Shane – A chance to pick the agents brains live before the following days pitch sessions and general question and answers about publishing and approaching agents. This session was really helpful and all of the agents were really great at answering every question asked.
On Saturday I was scheduled to pitch at 10:00am. I had heard I might want to line up early, I really didn’t want to miss the Effective Query Letter Workshop with Janet Reid but I also knew it’d be important to secure a space at the front of the line for pitching, so I skipped this session and hoped it would be offered in the recordings after the conference.* I was really bummed to miss it because Janet shares so much on social media helping so many authors daily. Next time!
Pitch Slam! – This is whole different post – line up early, I recommend at least an hour ahead to get near the front of the line. This was exciting, fun, and very helpful. Although I would prefer a longer pitch session to be able to really answer all of the questions the agents had and receive feedback. It was a great opportunity and I would do it again. Definitely worth signing up to participate.
I took a break and missed the other session I had signed up for, I was slightly buzzing from my pitch slam session and met some wonderful folks in line – we hung out at the bar, had a drink and squealed about our wins.
How To Become a Regular Contributor to Any Publication with Jessica Strawser, Zachary Petit, and Susan Shapiro – How to write for magazines/papers, submission guidelines and tips. Each speaker offered a great amount of detail on what publications look for, tips on securing jobs and how to make sure you are chosen again and again by editors of publications. ie) Submit early with photographs, bios and anything else they might need so they don’t have to ask. Making the editors job easier secures your space as a top pick! It doesn’t hurt to pay for an editor before you submit to make sure your work really shines either.
How to Create Your Best Selling Author Career Plan with Nina Amir – I took copious notes here and Nina had a great deal of information on the topic. Another helpful and very useful workshop to attend.
Beyond Bookstore: Selling Your Book in Unexpected Ways and Place with Kristen Harnisch, April Eberhardt, Anjali Mitter Duva – authors that have had the experience and gave us tips on the unique ways they have sold books in unexpected locations and the best ways to continue to promote your book long after the publishing deal.
Then it was time for Jacqueline Woodson to give her keynote speech and blow us all away. What I loved so much about Jacqueline is that she is a highly decorated author with numerous awards and experiences on Oprah and the like. Still she opened with, “How many of you don’t know me from a can of paint?” I would say half the room raised their hands. I recognized her book, “Brown Girl Dreaming” and when she began to read a passage from her haunting tale, “If You Come Softly.” I was hooked. Jacqueline was humble and funny as well extremely helpful with advice afterwards.
Time for the cocktail reception! All conference attendees, vendors and agents are invited. I didn’t really notice that many agents, I suppose they were swarmed and left early but I did manage to say hello to an agent who had requested my full manuscript and meet some new authors as well. The hour went by fast and no matter where I found myself someone always approached me to spark up a conversation. This event is heavy on the networking so expect to be bombarded with business cards. I didn’t bring mine and instead printed my twitter profile and picture which I slipped into my name tag – I got people to photograph that instead. Tip – Don’t bombard the agents. They’re there to mingle and enjoy themselves too. Not the time to pitch your book FYI.
By Sunday I was considerably tired after a surprise dinner out offered to me by some lovely attendees. I took the morning off and worked on my query letter.
Dirty Little Secrets: Learn How The Publishing Industry Really Works In Order To Become A More Successful Author with Phil Sexton. Whoa! So glad I slipped into this chat because it was highly informative. From suggestions on what colours to use for titles and bindings, which questions to ask your publisher, and how buying sessions actually work. I was floored with the amount of information in this session and would highly recommend you attend this at future conferences.
For the finale we had the chance to hear Nail by Nail: A Carpenter’s Guide To Building The Debut Bestseller at Midlife – perfect! Tim was extremely funny and detailed how his life changed, or evolved as he became a best seller and how he funded his own book tour. He was an excellent speaker and I made sure to purchase a copy of his book Descent to have signed.
With the conference now over I bumped into my new friend Luke, who had made a friend, and then we hit up the bar. A fellow writer friend of mine, Blair joined me and together we all read our queries, practiced pitches and talked about the weekend we had just experienced. The vote was unanimous – it was worth every penny and the friendships were priceless!
So if you’ve pondered attending a conference or merely wanted a sneak peak inside of what goes on, I hope this post has proved helpful. As always, I am happy to answer any questions you have in the comments below. Until next year…
*Not only do you get to attend whichever presentations you like – the conference is recorded and most sessions are available to download and listen a couple of weeks after the conference. They are yours to keep forever. Holy value Batman!