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.
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 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.
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.”
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?
Jeri 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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