I just returned from the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) conference in Seattle, which reinforced for me the importance of joining the larger writing community. For us (mostly introvert) writer-types, a huge conference – AWP this year had about 13,000 attendees—can make you feel like a very small minnow in a vast, noisy sea of Famous Authors, publishers, editors, booksellers, publicists, writing instructors, midlist authors, emerging writers, and eager readers, but that’s also the attraction. Every aspect of the writing/publishing culture and business is offering you the opportunity to learn, meet people, and contribute your own experience.
Like many writers, I juggle different roles, so I volunteered to help staff the information booth for Western Washington University, where I teach creative writing. I also took a turn in the booth for the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, a terrific group of freelance editors who offer services to writers.
Volunteering gave me a chance to contribute in a small way to the conference and my groups, and rewarded me with the chance to meet and talk with group members I’d previously only “met” online. We shared some tips about teaching and editing and of course writing, in between chats with attendees who came to the booths with questions and hopefully left with insights.
The rest of the conference was filled with the mind-boggling array of information sessions, author readings and talks, book signings, and receptions (with snacks and wine!) hosted by various groups. If you attend a conference, be sure to go through the schedule of offerings in advance (usually available online), so you can pick out the sessions of highest interest to you and plan a tentative schedule.
I repeat: tentative schedule. You’ll probably discover that you need some breaks in the nonstop flow of stimulation, which for me means getting outside for some brisk walks around the neighborhood. In Seattle, one such break took me down the street to the Pike Street Market on a glorious sunny afternoon, to stand on the overlook above Elliot Bay and watch the boats.
You will also want to stay open to serendipity, those discoveries that take you to an unexpected delight such as a fantastic reading by an author new to you, lunch with old or new friends, an exciting session you stumble upon by chance.
Some personal highlights:
More Author Cooperatives are cropping up! Since I’ve joined www.BookViewCafé.com , the author-owned publishing cooperative co-founded by the amazing Ursula K. LeGuin (see more below!), my radar is tuned to this movement of writers joining their efforts to publish and promote their work. BookLift, a group active in Seattle, discussed ways authors can do just that: help lift each other’s books. See member Kelli Russell Agodon’s blog for more info: http://www.ofkells.blogspot.com
A chance encounter: I paused to sort through my growing trove of samples, books, handouts, and schedule, and overheard a young man confiding to another attendee about his unhappiness with the conference and lack of connection at the sessions. I couldn’t help asking him about it, and in our chat I discovered that he was an alumnus of WWU in the creative writing program where I teach. I offered him some suggestions for tapping into the conference, and invited him to the evening reception hosted by WWU. He brightened up and said this conversation was the best part of his conference so far. And such a simple little thing to offer!
Meeting Ursula K. LeGuin, one of my early writing inspirations with her Left Hand of Darkness: Wandering through the vast rows of bookseller, publisher, author, and editor booths, I caught sight of a new book with a LeGuin story, poems, and essays by PM Press and learned that she would be signing the books later. Joining the lineup, I enjoyed a brief chat with this amazing author and literary arts supporter, who later entertained a huge ballroom of fans with her reflections on her long writing career.
At the close of a session about social-media book promotion, featuring the dynamic editor of Jaded Ibis Press, Debra De Blasi, I couldn’t help hearing the confusion in the voice of an attendee behind me, wondering how she could possibly navigate the challenges of promoting her upcoming first novel publication. Maybe the culture of the conference had seeped into my pores, because I’m usually not one to approach strangers, but I mentioned my wonderful web designer and social-media coach Amanda June Hagarty–find her at www.mandysmedia.com We exchanged email addresses for further discussion, and she expressed her gratitude—again, for such a small effort on my part.
Finally, I want to thank those who, over the years, have offered me tips and assistance. We truly are all in this together.