Conference Report — Writer’s Digest Novel Writing

The Writer’s Digest Novel Writing Conference returned to the West Coast last weekend with a great selection of speakers and four tracks of conference sessions for fiction writers at all stages of the novel writing spectrum. Sponsored by Writer’s Digest, the event was held at the Westin Pasadena, a nice hotel close to the civic center of Pasadena. Both Writer’s Digest and the hotel provided a cordial, positive atmosphere and attentive service to the attendees.

The list of speakers can be found HERE. There was a keynote speaker each day, beginning with Lisa See on day one, and then Heather Graham day two, followed by Neal Shusterman day three. Each is an accomplished writer and each shared insights, thoughts, and advice about the writer’s journey, creativity, discipline, and aspects of the publishing industry.

The conference ran as it should. I was able to meet writers and professionals from different walks. The focus in two of the tracks (CRAFT and CHARACTER) was on improving and honing skills as well as sharing approaches and exploring how to make each novel, setting, story, or character deeper, better, richer, and more enjoyable. For each of these tracks, one big takeaway for every writer, regardless of the level of development, is that readers should not struggle. That is the writer’s burden. Diligent mastery of the craft transports a reader into the story/character/world without effort. The struggles the reader experiences are the protagonist’s struggles, not the writer’s. Of course, there are many aspects to reaching this goal. These tracks delivered, and the discussions and presentations were professional and concise.

The GENRE track also delved into these aspects as well as publishing and marketing in each specific niche. The speakers included agents, editors, publishers, and writers. This track helped the genre-writing attendees synthesize the other tracks in the context of their specific genre or genres.

The fourth track (BEYOND) took a look at the market and everything that writing entails beyond the refinement and creation of a story–pitching for publication, the trends in the markets, the reliability and unreliability of such trends, self-publishing versus traditional publishing, the technological and physical tools of the trade, and other things.

As with any conference featuring multiple tracks, one could not pick up everything, but the program was well defined, permitting each writer to select intelligently, and the sessions were recorded so the audio of sessions missed will be available.

One thing missing was pitch sessions. Many writing conferences organize time-limited time opportunities for writers to pitch their current work to professional agents and editors. If the agent or editor finds the pitch intriguing, then the writer is asked to send a partial or full manuscript for the agent or editor to consider. These submissions fall into the category of “requested” manuscripts and usually receive a prompt review. “Acceptance” is certainly not guaranteed, but most would agree that the submission has a fairer chance than an unsolicited submission into the slush pile. I did not ask why there were no scheduled pitch sessions. It was clear going into it that this conference would not include them, so I accepted the focus as it was and the conference met my expectations. Also, there were plenty of agents and editors at the conference, so the opportunity for an “elevator pitch” was ever present and many writers availed themselves of that opportunity.

If you are a writer and have not attended a writer’s conference, you should consider it. Even if your skills are well-honed, you understand marketing, and you are published. It is encouraging to confirm your understanding of craft and market, it is refreshing to meet other writers at different stages of development, and there is always something to learn or new perspectives to consider.



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