52 in 52: Attend a Conference

We’re only 10 weeks into 2018. It feels like it has been three years but here we are. This week I was able to cross number 48 off my list: attend a conference. This one’s a little long, and in retrospect I should have posted each day separately, but if you’d like to see more frequent updates and pictures you should join the Angry Angel Books Facebook group (new!).

The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference was held in Tampa on March 8th, 9th, and 10th. I was able to purchase a student membership because I was still attending USF at the time, but this year I’ll need to purchase a full membership when I renew. I am glad that my first foray into this environment was here at home so I could try it out without too much financial investment, because I loved it and I want to go back.

Panels

For the most part AWP panel discussions seemed to be for students and professors involved with MFA programs in creative writing or other writing fields. Most panels seemed to be possible thesis topics or ideas to explore as a master’s student. There were readings and tributes to writers I haven’t ever heard of, and more poetry panels than I could count.

But what I found very refreshing was that every day there was at least one panel in each time slot that would speak to writers and readers that might not be on the traditional path. I attended two panels in particular that really spoke to me about my own professional aspirations and helped me to come to some conclusions.

Writing Before You Write: How to Write a Book Proposal

This session was very eye opening for me. I have no knowledge of how the agent/editor/publisher relationship works and went to other panels to get a sense for how it works, but this panel explained, in detail, how to put together a proposal to present to an agent or agents. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was almost identical to a dissertation proposal.

It can stretch from 30-80 pages depending on your book, and it includes sample chapters, chapter summaries, and an author background and plans for marketing the book which includes comparable and competitive titles (think lit review). Suffice it to say that being a new author means I will probably have to pitch with a full manuscript anyway, but knowing that I’ve already written something like this before helps me feel better about writing something like it again.

Pitching, Publishing, and Promoting Reviews: A How-To Conversation

I am so glad I went to this panel. There wasn’t much for me to do on Friday. I planned to make another round of the book fair (and I did, I got some free books and bought a few more) and go to this one panel at 4:30pm.

I was shocked. The attitude that the panelists seemed to hold toward book reviews was not quite positive and not quite negative. I think resigned is the best word, like having to do laundry or brush your teeth. We don’t want to do it but it does yield some benefits and we should do it so here we are I guess.

I learned that most lit mags ad locations don’t pay review writers (well, just in ARCs) and the bigger ones that do pay require you to have “clippings” from the smaller ones (think unpaid internships leading to better jobs (?)). And to be able to write a review about a book you have to query the lit mag as though you are submitting an essay or short story, and you might get to review a book if a current staff reviewer hadn’t claimed it first. So you have to break in even at the lowest, unpaid levels.

What was less surprising was the idea that doing book reviews was distasteful to writers because they would rather be working on their own creative work than reviewing the work of others. Also that reviewing can get unethical really quickly when authors review each other’s work in order to get good reviews out quickly (I mean, anyone with any internet savvy could have seen that one coming).

I would never have felt the urge to turn review writing into book writing if I hadn’t read so many books over the past couple of years. I feel like I have an increased respect for book reviews, and how a well-written review can be both critical and humane at the same time, helping readers to make a decision about what to pick up. I also know that some things I critiqued about other books I would want to make sure to avoid in my own book, and so the old adage of  learning from the mistakes of others can really come in handy when you’re reviewing and reading a lot.

Bookfair

The bookfair was overwhelming to me until I taught myself about what was going on. There seemed to be 4 main categories of tables and booths: small press, university press, lit mags, and well-known publishers The well-known publishers were more up my alley because they had ARCs, either for free or through some kind of buy one, get one arrangement.

The university and lit mag tables were a mystery to me until I came to understand that they are where you can get small pieces published, and they are all fair game. Once I learned that I decided that this summer one of my projects will be to go through the AWP program and see which mags match my style and plan to submit to them this fall and next spring. The only way to learn the process is to read, write, and try.

The small presses had some really interesting books, and I bought a few. While I do want to try to get my book published by a bigger press, some of the smaller ones had very well-known books that I have read and enjoyed, and so it would be irresponsible to overlook them altogether. All I know right now for sure is that I do not want to self-publish. Everything else is kind of in the grey area and as I learn, write, and read more I’ll learn more about where I fit in the publishing world.

Celebrities

I am not the best at networking, and the fact that I am not an MFA student or professor set me apart more than I might be usually by nature. I am a tiny seed that is ready to grow, but tiny nonetheless. I felt like a little mouse skittering around, listening in on people that were much bigger than me so I could learn how to be big too.

There were two people that I got to see that made going so much brighter.

I was walking around the book fair just checking things out when I stopped at a little vendor table that was selling tote bags and funny posters about yoga, when I looked up and saw Eve Ewing. I am not sorry to say that I embarrassed myself right in the middle of that expo hall with a screech and several OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGs. She was very generous and took a selfie with me and then I walked away on a cloud.

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Read my review of her poetry collection Electric Arches.

The biggest meets of the conference for me were Megan Stielstra and Samantha Irby. Sam wasn’t able to make it, but I knew that Megan was on a panel about how fear plays a role in our careers on Saturday and so I planned to go. Nothing could have prepared me for how powerful this panel would be. I didn’t sort it with the panels up above because it was an immersive experience. It was a gathering. It was one of the safest spaces in which I have ever sat.

So when I approached the panel table after the talk and got a HUGE hug from Megan, she said “You did it! Let’s meet outside because we have to take a selfie and we should talk in a quieter environment.”

So we did.

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Read my review of Megan’s book The Wrong Way to Save Your Life.

As a writer you never know how what you write will affect those who read. I hope Megan, Eve, and all writers I write about here understand that they have all influenced me to expand and explore my own writing career. And of course, I will never stop reading.

***

This week is my birthday! So I’ll probably manicure or pedicure on the way home from work one of the days, but I’m not sure yet.

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Can you find all the puppers?

5 thoughts on “52 in 52: Attend a Conference

  1. Wow! I want to thank you for this post. I was not aware of AWP. (I know, where have I been?) This conference looks like something I’d like to start attending. And I agree with you about reviewing a lot of books will make you a better writer. On that vein, Toni Morrison comes to mind who was an editor for Random House for many years, before she became a writer.

    Liked by 1 person

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