Another Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in NYC is in the books (*self-eyeroll*) but this one was different because it was my first as an agented writer. For me, that changed the vibe some and I found myself pulled more toward the marketing and book release side of things than ever before. I still attended craft sessions too, and sat some terrific, insightful presentations.
Which was the answer I gave to the question, “If you have an agent, why are you here?” late Friday night.
It’s no secret MANY attendees travel to WDC for the Pitch Slam. I did the same my first year, but what’s kept me going back is that I learn something every con. How could you not when listening to experienced talents like NK Jemisin, Steven James, Min Lin Lee, etc.? Every perspective, every way of approaching something adds to your own bag of tricks and development. None of us know it all.
BUT you’re not reading this for my high-horse soapboxing. You want to know how the sessions went. Happy to oblige.
A Recipe For Disaster: The Four High-Stakes Elements Every Story Needs
Kicked off 2019 with a discussion on story elements that keep readers turning pages. While these concepts were familiar, one of the great things about a session like this is it can confirm whether you’ve got those things in your book. Another great thing is you learn terms to apply to what you’re doing, that you didn’t have before. An example is how Danger is broken down into Physical and Emotional. Within Physical, you have Intentional, Accidental, Environmental, and Supernatural. Applying that to my latest WIP, I have the latter three, but not Intentional. A neat thing to think about!
Off to a strong start.
Buzz: The Anatomy of a Powerful Book Launch
Stepping from craft into business, I attended this session to get a feel for the kinds of things to do leading up to a release. Focused on engagement with your audience, this session delivered on ideas like when and where to talk about your book, redesigning your web site to build anticipation, creating swag, etc. Not the kind of things a lot of writers think about, I’m sure this session opened a few eyes, for the better. Important.
Marketing Myths: What do Publishers Really do for Authors?
Keywords and platforms and publicity, oh my!
A fun discussion on what your publisher will and won’t do for you approaching your book release, complete with the disclaimer: ‘every publisher is different’. Some will do your web site if you don’t have one, some won’t. Most will go to publishing business conferences to try to impress retailers to carry your book (this is one of the reasons a book takes so long to come out – the publisher is talking about it!). My favorite statement was, ‘Readers have a million resources, authors and publishers are just two of them.’
Real-world stuff, ya’ll.
Disclaimer: I LOVE the Broken Earth Trilogy, so I’m a little biased. Also, I’m one for hearing it like it is, and OOF did NK deliver.
Paraphrase – “They asked me to talk about something uplifting, but if you’ve read my books, you know I don’t do uplifting.”
NK discussed her path to publishing success, which included working 90 hour weeks, splitting time between a day job she loved and her writing, for six years. She showed financial statements that illustrated that in her first three years, she made an average of $10K a year from writing, even though her sales were great. She then discussed getting death and rape threats, including being targeted during Gamergate. This was all said to advise us, to illuminate how being a professional writer is a constant battle against forces that want you to quit, but ones you can overcome if you prepare and take your career and safety seriously.
Let me be clear: this session was NOT a downer. It was the real, and it was excellent.
Friday night at WDC is usually when I make bad decisions while hanging with people I love. Like, espresso-martinis-until-the-bar-closes-then-a-fitful-fifteen-minutes-of-sleep-for-Saturday bad. This year was the opposite.
I ended up in the hotel bar with my friends and Janet Reid. Hella generous with her time, she gave my pitching friends literal mountains of advice on their pitches and books, all with humor and professionalism. And she called my silly writer business card ‘perfect’, lol. A good time was had by all.
How to Subvert Cliches for Fun and Profit
Jumping back into the craft pond, I attended this session because I’m pretty meta with my writing, and like taking clichés and tropes and playing with them. This was precisely that.
Some of the techniques discussed were stacking clichés on each other to create something new (mad scientist and absent-minded scientist have to work together) and digging deep under the cliché to ask questions and reveal character truths (Why is the snarky sidekick so snarky? Have they always been that way?). Super useful ways of looking at clichés and tropes. Great start to Day 2.
Panel: Debut Authors
Mostly personal storytelling about journeys to publication and decisions made (small press vs. large press, agent or no agent, etc.). Always terrific to listen to people’s successes. I wish them all long careers. I also want to be on this panel in the not-too-distant future 😊
Another panel I’d love to be part of someday. This year’s discussion leaned business over craft, with trends, what different publisher imprints are looking for, and the growing (not fast enough) diversity in genre writing in the mix. Ruoxi Chen from TOR.com pulled back the curtain quite a bit. Good stuff.
Storytelling Skills for Speakers: How to Present Like a Pro
If you’ve read any of my previous WDC wrap ups, you know how much I love attending Steven James sessions. Seriously, he’s worth the price of admission alone. In this new session, he pivoted from discussing novel construction to how speakers can apply storytelling techniques to wow and move their audience.
Did I laugh? My ass off. Did I cry? Maybe a little. Was I thoroughly entertained, and did I leave with some new truths—even as someone who’s studied presentation theory and done public speaking for almost twenty years? Hell yes. Tremendous as always.
Kind of ashamed to admit I skipped the Central Keynote (which I heard was AWESOME) and the cocktail hour, but with good reason: I had a chance to grab some time with the very busy Marisa Corvisiero, founder and owner of the literary agency with which I’m partnered. We talked about travel, family, and of course, publishing, including my badass agent, Kaitlyn Johnson, and the work we’re doing.
Approachable, funny, and hella knowledgeable, Marisa went out of her way to make me feel like a member of the agency family, and I can’t thank her enough for that.
Continuing the theme set by NK Jemisin on Friday, Min Jin Lee told her publishing story within the context of we, her audience. She wished writing were easier for us. She wished us all lucrative publishing deals, and the financial stability to write full time. Then she reminded us we all have the superpower to love, even when the object of that love causes us pain, and challenged us: Do you love your writing enough to stick with it, even when it hurts you?
Wow. Just, wow.
I can’t do this presentation justice in so few words, so I’ll just say it was a top highlight of the weekend and leave it at that.
Demystifying Publishing Deals
As someone hoping to sign a publishing contract (don’t we all?) I attended this session to learn both the lingo and what to watch out for. Sub-rights, options, notification clauses, good/very good/great deals, etc. were all covered in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way, through both clinical definition and fun/horrifying stories. Walked out much more knowledgeable than I’d entered. Crazy useful.
There it is, Writer’s Digest 2019 Annual Conference, done and done. Another terrific time with terrific friends and professionals eager to share their wisdom.
Thanks for reading,