Bitter cold and whipping winds were no deterrent for the barrage of 500 writers taking over New York City this past weekend for the annual Writer’s Digest Conference.  We connected, we learned, and most importantly, we were a community.

The 2011 Writer's Digest Conference (Photo Caption: Dan Blank)

The weekend was full of sessions on the craft and the business of writing. The days of writers hiding in their rabbit holes and letting agents and publishers do all the business work are over. Nothing was more clear than that. The theme throughout was about making choices and empowering writers.

Social media and marketing yourself in the digital age were the buzz topics, with several sessions dedicated to that arena. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Dan Blank, and Kate Rados were among the resident experts, helping writers break down all the networking options into bite-size bits. Al Katkowsky, author of Questions of the Day led a session on Writers and Mobile Apps. Yes, your book might be a good fit for an iPhone. Who would have thunk it? Anyone who knows me knows Twitter is my “thing,” but even I picked up a few new tricks. For example, I learned of, a social aggregator that allows you to set up one posting to go to all your social media accounts. It can be a time saver for those juggling updates.

Former Publisher and Editorial Director of Writer’s Digest, Jane Friedman, discussed publishing options as well as moderated panels focusing on self-publishing, e-publishing, and multimedia options with guests Patricia V. Davis, David Carnoy, April Hamilton, and Moriah Jovan, all with personal experiences to help us learn. Nothing compares to hearing it out of the mouth of those who have walked the walk. I urge you to check out Patricia’s site and see her when she’s speaking in your area. Many writers told me her discussion of “Book or Best Seller” was the best session they attended.

While the conference addressed the ever-changing industry of self-marketing and self-publishing, what would Writer’s Digest be without the core teachings of craft?

Award-winning novelists James Scott Bell and Hallie Ephron shared tips on revision, building the perfect plot, page-turning advice, and how to expose your characters’ backstory effectively. Both have books on craft, as well as incredible novels. What a joy to hear their advice!

Determined to squeeze every last drop of information out of the speakers, writers would follow them out of the room, continuing to ask questions. The generosity of the experts eased the writers’ fears of being perceived as stalkers. Cards were exchanged, connections made, and validation received. We came to learn, and learn we did.

Pitch Slam (Photo Caption: Dan Blank)

The highlight of the conference is always the Pitch Slam, where writers present a 3-minute pitch to agents, speed-dating style. Chuck Sambuchino, Writer’s Digest editor of Guide to Literary Agents, organizes the golden opportunity for writers to meet agents face-to-face. If you think this is just about getting an agent to request your work, you’re wrong. It’s also about you, the author, interviewing the agent. They will be working with you, side-by-side as a team.  Even in three minutes, you can get a gut feeling if it’s a good fit. All the agents were generous to give their time to hear us, and we all deeply appreciated the opportunity. It was especially fun for me to see the faces of two of the agents I follow on Twitter, Janet Reid and Michelle Wolfson.

Given the theme of the conference, it was not entirely shocking to hear the big news of the weekend: Writer’s Digest announced that they are partnering with Author Solutions, Inc. to launch their own publishing division: Abbott PressWriter’s Digest aims to bring the writing community more choices in publishing. They are putting their money where their mouth is. It’ll be fascinating to see how it plays out. For more information about Abbott Press, read this article on Yahoo.

No matter what your experience as a writer, there was something to learn. Perhaps the learning was simply opening your mind to the thought of self-publishing or revisiting things your college professor taught you about plot structure and character development.  But the greatest benefit of attending a conference is connecting face-to-face.  As much as I love Twitter, I love conferences more. Nothing compares to shaking someone’s hand, looking him or her in the eye and saying, “Hello.”

If you’re wondering if I really learned anything, I did. I filled an entire yellow legal pad with notes and even had to write on the backside of pages. Here are a few of the tips I picked up:

– After writing the first draft, recreate the outline to check the story’s pace. For every leisurely-paced scene, highlight it in yellow. For every slow scene, highlight in red. For every fast-paced scene, highlight in green. Step back and see where the story lags and if the pace quickens as it goes.

– Don’t hesitate to ask the publisher for a copy of their catalog, so you can see where you fit in on their docket. And ask for a copy of the galley proof to send to reviewers before your book hits the shelves.

– Build email lists by offering something free on your site, such as an excerpt from your book. Require an email address to send it to, and voila, you have an instant mailing list.

– Do the “opposite exercise:” once you know your character’s motivation, explore what the opposite of that would be. You might learn something about your character and how to make them more interesting or more proactive.

I wish I could have cloned myself to attend more than one event at a time, but the buzz was Writer’s Digest recorded the sessions. I’m hoping they’re available for download at some point. If they are, I’ll definitely let you all know.

Whether you’re a novelist, non-fiction writer, or screenwriter, Writer’s Digest is classic, yet still very much in style. Next year’s conference is rumored to be on the West Coast. Personally, I’d love to see more screenwriters at these events. Story is story! I say, “Bring it!”

Write On! Online’s philosophy is to promote and educate writers in all areas. I wish more places would bring these two worlds together.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kim Garland, Writers Guild Found., Slush Pile Hero, Jeanne V Bowerman, Jeanne V Bowerman and others. Jeanne V Bowerman said: RT @WriteOnOnline: @Jeannevb reviews the 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference @writersdigest #scriptchat #writechat […]

  2. Andrew Rosenberg 11 years ago

    Great post!
    There was so much energy there.
    The other thing I noticed was the dedication of the writers involved. I forget whose session it was, but they talked about the reader/writer dichotomy as being a myth, that it’s really like speaking/listening…all part of the same experience (might have been Maass but don’t quote me). I could really see that.

  3. Melody Lopez 11 years ago

    Thanks for sharing those awesome tips! I really liked the color coding concept for pacing!

  4. Andrew, sorry I didn’t get to meet you there. Perhaps if you had that hat on, I would have noticed you right off 😉 I’m glad you enjoyed the event as much as I did. Incredible energy.

    Melody, I loved that tip as well. I do a similar thing with subplots. I put each scene on a color coded index card, a different color for main plot and sub plots. It helps me see if I’m weaving them in and out appropriately for pacing.

    I should credit each tip I mentioned above:
    1. Highlighting for pacing is from Hallie Ephron, author of Never Tell a Lie, which was just adapted for Lifetime and aired last night, entitled And Baby Will Fall.
    2. Asking publisher for catalog and galley is from Phil Sexton of F&W Media in his class Three Hurdles to Publishing Success, which will also be a live webinar this Thursday. Check out Writer’s Digest website for details.
    3. Building an email list came from the Social Media panelists
    4. The opposites exercise is one Donald Maas and James Scott Bell use.

  5. virtualDavis 11 years ago

    Jeanne, you’re a superhero! Great review in record time. Share the Kryptonite… I agree that Patricia Davis was a major highlight of the Writer’s Digest Conference. Clear message, well organized and a world class performer. She worked that room like it was Vegas despite the wide disparity if backgrounds, questions, etc.

  6. Patricia V. Davis 11 years ago

    Jeanne, this is a great review of the conference. There was so much to learn there, so many awesome speakers that I could have stayed another three days just to get a chance to hear each one of them! Thanks so much for the mention of my talk, too. It means so much to know it was well-received…

  7. Patricia, I could have written post after post on all I learned. I agree, I wish we had a couple of more days at the event. But even so, it was wonderful to meet you and all the other speakers. I love writers helping writers learn and grow. We have an incredible community that I am proud to be a part of. Can’t wait to hear you speak again!

  8. Marta Weeks 11 years ago

    Thanks for the article, posted this on my blog:Been There Done That

    Read Jeanne Veillette Bowerma’s Write On Line review of the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City where Writer’s Digest announced Abbott Press self-publishing in partnership with Author Solutions, Inc.

    In the Abbot Press site, drawn by a ‘come in’ guy on a top-right-corner-box that offered free publishing guides, I clicked. Filled in required info followed by what I write, and why. A new page opened with a menu of publishing options, and prices, and a promise that a representative will call me. Yikes, I thought I was just going in for a pamphlet, did not expect to be ‘solicited’. Hope I feel forgiving when they call and for sure will ask for my free publishing guide.

    About self-publishing: for now, after I send my manuscript I will continue working on another – because what else is there but to write and be accepted or have a pile of rejections? If I decide to look into self-publishing, it will most likely be online or with a local publisher.

  9. […] 2011 Writer’s Digest Conference was in New York last weekend. Read Jeanne Veillette Bowerman review of the conference on Write On! Online. For a complete recap, including tips and coverage of the sessions, check out […]


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