Two Days Among My Fellow Writers, Listening and Learning

I virtually attended the Writer's Digest Conference.

Posted Nov 08, 2020

© alexskopje | Shutterstock
Source: © alexskopje | Shutterstock

I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks as I was frantically getting ready for the Writer’s Digest Conference which was held virtually this past Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, I virtually pitched several literary agents with a proposal for my memoir, so these past weeks, I’ve been polishing the first few chapters and getting what’s called the non-fiction book proposal together. Just in case.

I didn’t need either. Five agents visited my “virtual booth” (more on the technical stuff later). One agent seemed to take an interest in me and although he said he hadn’t had much luck making money with memoirs, he said I could e-mail him and he’d send me information that he did have on what makes a memoir tick. I did e-mail him last night and he did send over the info this morning. I looked at some of the stuff and it’s pretty awesome. And he stopped by my booth before the conference ended to see what some of the other agents’ comments were. His comment was "Great!"

Another agent said that she liked that I started my idea with articles and asked if there was a reason why I believed a book is better than continuing to write my message in an article format. She said she asked because her background is in magazines. She also invited me to e-mail her for some thoughts on platform building while I look for an agent. (I’ll explain what a platform is later.) I also e-mailed her last night, but I haven't received a response yet.

And finally, yet another agent said she thinks I have something to say but agreed with some of the other agents who commented that I need to distinguish my message – what I’m saying about my mental health, my journey and my practice – and what sets me apart. She said I need to hone my message more and when I believe I have done that to the extent it stands out in a “hellishly competitive marketplace,” I can re-query her if that is something I want to do.

So, while it wasn’t a resounding success in terms of getting a book deal, I wouldn’t call it an abysmal failure either. When the conference closed, I was satisfied with the outcome.

As promised, the technical stuff: To pitch virtually, I had to make a 90-second video pitching my book and the platform Writer’s Digest used allowed us to create a booth in which we were able to load our video, a still photo and links to our websites and a word document containing our book synopsis. There was a chat feature in which we chatted back and forth with the agent; it wasn’t like Zoom where we saw and spoke to each other in real time

What is a platform?

An author platform refers to a writer's ability to market their work, using their overall visibility to reach a target audience of potential readers. The strength of a writing platform is measured by the author's ability to use their influence and reach in order to sell books and boost their writing career. (Source: Master Class)

I spent the rest of the conference attending a variety of classes which I enjoyed immensely, as well as hearing two unforgettable keynote speakers — Maaza Mengiste and Viet Thanh Nguyen. 

Maaza Mengiste’s second book, The Shadow King, has been shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016 for his debut novel The Sympathizers. The discussion between these two intellectual people was one of the most stimulating, intelligent discourses I’ve been privileged to hear in a long time. I enjoyed myself immensely and felt honored to be privy to their conversation. Earlier that day, (November 7, 2020) Joe Biden had been declared the President-elect, and so for a while, the discussion took on a political tone.

Both authors are immigrants — Mengiste is from Ethiopia and Nguyen is from Vietnam — so much of the discussion focused on living in the United States and writing from the perspective of an immigrant. And then there was a fabulous discussion on the craft of writing.

© ff-photo | Shutterstock
Source: © ff-photo | Shutterstock

“No getting around those 10,000 hours,” Nguyen ended the keynote by saying. He was referring to the absolute minimum amount of time we as writers must park our rear ends in a chair and just write. I will never forget.

Thanks for reading.

Be well.