Writing Conferences: A Recap Of PNWA 2013

When I heard author/freelance writer/friend Jeri Walker-Bickett was heading to the PNWA Writers Conference this year, I asked her to share the nuts and bolts of her experience. Here’s what she has to say:

Attending my first writing conference this year ranked high on my writerly bucket list. I would like to thank Molly for having me guest post on her blog once again so I can share highlights of the experience with you.

At times, searching for a good conference felt overwhelming, but I knew I wanted to attend a large in-depth gathering in a major city. Moving from North Carolina back to Idaho helped me narrow my choices. It was a no-brainer really. Fellow blogger friend and Washington resident, Laura Zera, had attended the PNWA writing conference the year before in late July and gave rave reviews. So, just two days after delivery of my furniture, I hit the road to Seattle.

PNWA Writers Conference 2013

PNWA Writers Conference 2013

Overall Conference Goals
The chance to connect with fellow writers and publishing professionals in person provided some much needed motivation in my efforts to start revising my first novel. Too often, the writing process is a solitary endeavor. My past experience in writing workshops and critique groups has made me all too aware how important fostering a sense of community can be to a writer’s progress. I certainly learned a lot at my first writing conference.

Costs to Attend the Writers Conference
The total cost of attending came to $1,040. Registration for the conference set me back $425, and I also paid $65 to become a PNWA member. Early registration meant being able to sign-up first for a pitch session (among other perks). My half of four nights for the hotel room came to $350, with another $100 or so on meals and wine, and $100 for my share of the four tanks of gas needed to make the nearly 1,000 mile round-trip drive.

Granted, you might be lucky enough to live in a city where a writing conference is taking place. I wanted to stay at the conference’s Hilton SeaTac location since it’s nice to be able to go back to the room as needed. Also, a round-trip flight from Boise to Seattle would have been around $200. Thankfully, a portion of the expenses can be claimed come tax time.

Who Attended and What We Most Wanted to Learn
I’ve self-published short stories, but the conference helped confirm why I will seek traditional publication for my first novel: I would like a team of professionals in my corner. I am not a PR and marketing whiz. I tend to write slowly. I lean towards literary fiction. Horror stories of bad contracts and non-existent advances may abound, but I’m willing to take my chances when most self-published books sell relatively few copies. One thing rang clear: there is no “best” or “right” path to publication.

My friend, Carmen, has been writing for years, but she is in the beginning stages of developing her author platform. She came away from the conference with a ton of buzz words, not to mention the realization that writing is just a small slice of all it takes to become a writer.

Laura Zera PNWA 2013

Laura Zera preparing to pitch her memoir to agents

Laura Zera pitched her memoir about growing up with a schizophrenic mother again this year. She managed to speak to six agents during our 90-minute block (I managed my top four, and Carmen spoke to five). Coupled with the two pitch-sessions that last year’s early registrants could sign-up for, Laura now has at least 18 agents who have expressed interest in her manuscript. (Yaaay, Laura!)

Favorite Sessions and Speakers
The pitchcraft session presented by agent Katharine Sands really helped set the tone for the conference. Her advice was to highlight the place, person, and pivot of the story. Up until then, I’d really stumbled on trying to write my agent pitch. Granted, it’s still a work in progress.

PNWA - 03

Editor-in-chief of Author magazine Bill Kenower

Another excellent talk by Bill Kenower, PNWA Board member and editor-in-chief of Author magazine, centered on how authors are increasingly responsible for marketing their books. He emphasized that writers have the right to find the right audience for their book, and above all, “Focus on the social media you like.”

Disappointments
Unfortunately, the session descriptions I spent the most time salivating over (all by the same presenter) were disappointing. Maybe it’s just the former teacher in me, but multiple red flags went up during the initial session and I felt we wouldn’t hit it off. Luckily, the presenter’s valuable insights can be downloaded online for a nominal fee. Takeaway: Be flexible when you set up your conference schedule!

Also, I left another panel I had my sights set on attending before it even began. The speakers trickled in one by one, all with the same question: “Does anybody have an idea what the hell we’re supposed to be doing?” Not a good sign. Maybe their discussion turned out fine, but the lack of professionalism didn’t make me want to stick around to find out.

Worth the Price of Admission
The chance to pitch my book to agents really made me focus on articulating the high points of my story. Also, getting to hear so many writers and publishers speak on the state of publishing give me hope that any writer can find the proper fit if only they are willing to work hard.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s PNWA writing conference. I’m excited about entering the PNWA Literary Contest because all entrants receive written feedback. Not to mention my book will be complete and ready for another round of pitching.

What writing conference advice can you share? Or perhaps I can answer a question?

JeriWBJeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB) is an author, editor, and teacher. She primarily writes contemporary fiction and psychological suspense. Such is Life, her short story collection, is now available. Her forthcoming novel, Lost Girl Road, is a ghost story set in the woods of northwest Montana. She blogs about literature and writing on her twisted book blog: What do I know? Please connect with her at JeriWB.com.

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12 Responses to Writing Conferences: A Recap Of PNWA 2013

  1. Anne R. Allen August 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    I think pitching is one of the best things to study at a Writers Conference, because that’s something that has to be practiced in person. Almost everybody gets tongue-tied the first few times they try it.

    I definitely think writers conferences are worth it for the knowledge you get about the industry and the personal connections you can make. Great post.

    • Molly Greene August 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

      I haven’t been to a writers conference yet, Anne, but agree pitching would be great practice – and terrifying! I think one of the toughest things (but something we must learn to do) is effectively “sell” ourselves.

    • Jeri August 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      Anne, I wasn’t brave enough this year to take advantage of the in-person practice rooms available for use. Next year I won’t be writing my pitch at the last minute, and will be able to more fully take advantage of a live practice audience.

      • Belinda Pollard August 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

        The thought of pitching terrifies me completely, even more than writing a synopsis. ;-)

        Maybe we should all practice with each other on Skype. :-)

        • Jeri August 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

          Belinda, that is a genius idea!

  2. Belinda Pollard August 19, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Ooh, I love a conference. People + learning together in one place, two of my favourite things!

    Week after next is the Brisbane Writers Festival — for readers, but also plenty of sessions for writers.

    I have signed up for a 3-hour workshop on memoir, to help me with writing my humorous dog book. I checked out the teacher’s bio, and she is not just a published author of memoir, but also teaches creative writing and mentors post-grad writing students. (like Jeri, I have had some disappointing experiences in the past and I’m careful to check now!)

    Also signed up for an hour with the publishers of 2 of the Big 5 plus a university press. They are going to talk about the myths and realities of publishing in 2013. Should be some good stuff in there, to see how they view the world, what they expect from writers these days, and how it compares to the indie perspective.

    We don’t tend to have those big pitch sessions here, probably because there are so few literary agents in Oz! But I have applied for a thing called “20 pages in 20 minutes” where one of three people (1 publisher, 2 agents) will pre-read your first 20 pages and give you feedback. I’m hoping I get to do that one, but will have to wait and see, as they have to choose among all the people that want it — I guess there’s only so many hours in the day! Steeling myself not to be too crushed if I miss out. ;-)

    • Jeri August 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

      Belinda, you have a lot on the ball. Good luck in your journey. I would love to be able to do two conferences in a year, but will have to be happy with just one for now.

    • Molly Greene August 20, 2013 at 8:47 am #

      Belinda!! Would you be willing to write a recap-type guest post about the myths and realities session? lol, had to ask – or are you planning that for your own blog??

      • Belinda Pollard August 21, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

        Ooh, I’ll think about that Molly. Thanks for the invite! :-) I’ll let you know after I’ve been to the session.

  3. Laura Zera August 19, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    All I have to say is that i hope I didn’t make the same face for the agent as I was making when you took that photo, Jeri. (Maybe I got requests for my manuscript because I scared them into it?) Oh, and I also hope that you did the conference survey and gave input on that session where they presenters turned up without a clear direction to set the tone. That’s just unacceptable, really. So glad you went, that we met, and most importantly, that you found the conference to be a valuable investment!

  4. Jeri August 19, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    Laura, I did fill out that survey and it took FOREVER ;) I’m always happy to offer constructive feedback. Plus I really hope that next year they do come through with a chunk of informal time when the agents and writers can mix. Though by then some agent will probably have snapped your memoir up already.

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