This past weekend I traveled to New York to the Writer’s Digest Conference. I returned home well after midnight due to a delayed departure. Having gotten 5 or fewer hours of sleep for nearly a week, it took some time to recuperate. The conference was equally invigorating and exhausting. You arrive home, eager to go straight into writing while also needing a pillow, all the pillows! While I cannot replicate all of the amazing presentations, I walked away with a number of lessons. Here are but a few:
Do your research, but focus on writing first!
Several panels helped with an understanding that too much world-building or going too far with research hinders your primary goal: writing. Two panels of very different subjects (one was Worldbuilding in Sci-Fi/Fantasy, the other on Culture-Specific Writing) had the same lesson: write first.
The authors know writing can be complicated. many feel that it can slow you down from your primary goal: write.
Jeff Somers brought up the point that in SciFi & Fantasy, along with every genre, the collective whole of your readership will always be smarter than you, the individual. They’ll find plot holes and complications with your writing you never even thought about. To which Chuck Wendig, author of the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy hilariously responded, “Try writing a Star Wars novel!”
They concluded that when all else fails, write the story. Because from there the needs of your world will become apparent. When you have questions for yourself as the writer, answering them inevitably builds the world you want to create.
In an entirely different panel, Anjali Mitter Duva spoke about culture-specific writing. Regarding the subject of how much you need to research other cultures, or look into things you need to understand, she had almost the same advice: write the manuscript first. Then you can edit, research areas that were left in question during your writing, and when all else fails you should have people from the culture you’re writing about read it for a sensitivity check.
So in conclusion: write first!
I ran out of fingers to count the times the importance of an established newsletter had on an author’s platform. It’s the proven method to create dedicated readers that will be lifelong fans. Jane Friedman talked about how Tweets and social posts can generate awareness, but cannot generate hard sales like a newsletter can.
It seemed like every successful author speaking at WDC couldn’t emphasize enough the validity and benefit of a well-curated newsletter. From non-fiction to generating client leads to good-old fashioned
One aspect Gabriela Pereira presented was that to make a living as a writer, you need less dedicated fans than you may think. She promoted the hell out of an article by Kevin Kelly called “1,000 True Fans.” It points out, with data validation, that with an established newsletter and fan-base of 1,000 individual fans that are dedicated to you, the author, you can earn a living. Read that article here.
Jane Friedman had an entire panel on the subject of newsletters. And again, with hard data to back it up, she showed just how much her newsletter was responsible for building a dedicated group of fans that generate revenue for her.
At the closing keynote, author/editor/publishing extraordinaire David Levithan said something amazing: “If you see a gap in the shelves, fill it.” He said nothing resonates more than honesty in writing. His personal stories made him the first voice in his genre to provide queer characters in children’s publishing. His continued work helps provide honest narration in the world. He didn’t see those books and wished they were around when he was a kid. Rather than wait for another author to beat him to the punch, he wrote them. Now he’s ludicrously successful and has a storied career that most authors couldn’t even dream of living.
This point was further enhanced by Round Table Companies. They had a board at the conference. We all anonymously filled out a form asking “What makes you feel vulnerable?” As the weekend went on, artists filled the board. And by the time the weekend was over, we had a board filled with honest commentary by the attendees. It was incredible to see the common threads.
Corey Blake, one of the founders of RTC, had this incredible approach to attracting ideal readers to your blog. By being honest, and following patterns that are often seen in dating, you can be honest about who you are, what you want people to think of you, and what your legacy will be by the time everything is said and done in life.
It all boiled down to one takeaway: write honestly. By writing who you honestly are as a person, you can open yourself up to an audience that will relate to your work. As a result, you’ll also write the books that aren’t on the shelves yet, because no one else has read your story.
Watch the 15-minute documentary made by Round Table Companies to get a glimpse of the experience. I spent hours playing their Vulnerability is Sexy game with other authors and it was beyond a blast. We opened up, laughed, danced, cried. It showed how much honesty can connect you to others.
Another persistent lesson that came up time and time again: keep going. It’s often the differentiator regarding what separates those who will make it and those who will give up. While that seems to be an obvious point, it bears repeating because every keynote and major presentation seemed to be a person who’s faced incredible challenges.
Their challenges were as varied as their writing and career trajectories. But the throughline remained the same: keep going.
Opening keynote speaker Lisa Scottoline performed what could arguably be an inspiring keynote doubled as stand-up comedy. She talked about how she got tons of credit cards and told herself that she could max those cards out, and by the time she reached her max she’d be a successful writer. It came down to the wire, and lesser people would’ve caved to find financial security, but she kept going. And now she’s a New York Times Bestseller and lives the life she wanted, writing fiction while also creating comedic works with her daughter.
Even the marketing seminars said the same thing. Gabriela Pereira had a great presentation about a breadcrumb technique, the way to bring dedicated fans to your platform. Her big takeaway? Once you finish creating one trail of breadcrumbs, you need to make another. You have to keep going.
Write. Market. Write some more.
If you have the means to afford this conference: go. It was on another level. I’ve been to a few conferences at this point and nothing compared to this. It shows why there are benefits to being in New York. I’m not going to move, I love Colorado too much and wouldn’t be able to handle the Big Apple long term. However, I hope I can return again in the years to come.
The help this conference provided from pitching to marketing to craft to just downright emotional courage proved this conference is a great place if you’re ready for a serious level of a writing career.
The writing community is stupidly supportive.
I’m not used to humidity, Colorado is a pretty dry state. Not sure how people deal with that. I was a vat of sweat after walking 5 blocks.
I also don’t understand what people do for food in the city. There were two grocery stores within 30 minutes of my location. It wasn’t easy just in the weekend I was there. Can’t imagine living in New York, but that’s my personal experience.
Big thanks to Date with the Muse and Annalisa Parent, who gave me an incredible giveaway package including Storytelling for Pantsers, Ready Set Novel, as well as gorgeous composition notebooks and pen. Definitely, check out their respective sites to see what they have to offer. Date with the Muse and Annalisa Parent.
PitchSlam showed me how willing agents are to listen to your pitches, especially when you show up ready. You could see them light up when they were given pitches that were well-rehearsed. Even if there were minor issues, they’d look passed it if it meant you had passion, heart and wanted the book to succeed. It’s contagious.
Confident prediction (perhaps to a fault): I will go back there someday as a keynote speaker. Don’t know when, but it’s going to happen and I’ll share a keynote called “You’re going to get your ass kicked.”