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Finding inspiration in the company of fellow writers
Summer and fall are the busiest time for writing conferences, where published and aspiring writers gather to network and learn the latest about the business of writing and publishing.
I’ve attended half a dozen of these conferences now. The first one was closest -- the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) Conference. I signed up hoping to entice a literary agent with my just-completed manuscript starring a seventeen-year-old backpacker. (That book is still unpublished in the drawer.)
Naturally, I was nervous going in, in part due to my advanced years. Would literary agents even glance my way, someone just starting to write books in her mid-forties? When I received the registration materials and my name tag read CLAIRE GEBBEN – Young Adult (referring to genre of my novel), I chuckled with relief.
Another thing helping me relax was the hubbub of conversation in the hotel conference center. Complete strangers were striking up conversations in the registration lines, in the hallways, and in the classrooms while waiting for the sessions and panels to begin.
Not to mention the stories! One of my more memorable exchanges went something like this.
“Where are you from?” I asked a woman during a break between sessions. She was lingering by a window, the sunlight illuminating her like a halo.
“Wow! Doesn’t Hawaii hold writing conferences?”
“Probably. I have no idea.”
“If they do, let me know. I’m there. So what do you write? Are you here to pitch a novel?”
“No, but I’m thinking about writing one. I told my husband, ‘go ahead and spend your retirement on the couch in front of the TV. I’m getting out of here.’ Looking for things to do in Seattle, I came across this conference. I realize I’m out of my league, but I’ve gotten some great ideas.”
Some people do attend conferences to improve on their craft, but most attend with a completed manuscript (or, in the case of nonfiction, a well researched book proposal) for the purpose of securing representation for their book(s) from literary agents and/or editors of big name publishing houses. Best-selling authors often headline as evening keynoters, an additional draw.
Most conferences touch on all aspects of writing, but some focus in on certain areas. The Willamette Writers Conference in Portland has a strong emphasis on screen-writing. Spokane’s “Travel and Words” (held in May) zeroes in on travel writing. Sometimes writing contests are held prior to the events. Being a finalist during the conference is a way to gain credibility and panache. In addition to PNWA’s regular twelve-category writing contest, this year’s conference features a first ever Nancy Pearl Book Award.
Agents and editors attend conferences hoping to meet the writer of the next big breakout novel, or the hidden gem the rest of the industry has overlooked. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Agents and editors have an ever-growing “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts. Writers keep submitting their work into the void. Via writing conferences, authors, agents and editors get to meet face to face. If the agent or editor is intrigued by a pitch and wants to see more, it’s the writer’s rare opportunity to pole vault from the slush pile to the short stack. Literary agents and editors also attend to put a personal face to the email addresses, to support and encourage writers, and to network with one another.
The following are just a few of the writer’s conferences taking place this summer and fall in and around the Pacific Northwest.
Conferences for writers near and far, Summer and Fall 2014
• The Port Townsend Writers Conference, July 10-20, 2014
Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend WA http://centrum.org/the-port-townsend-writers-conference/
• The Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference, July 17-20, 2014
Seatac Hilton, 17620 International Blvd, Seattle, WA 98188 http://www.pnwa.org/?page=conference
• Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference, August 1-4, 2014
Los Angeles, California https://www.scbwi.org/events/43rd-annual-summer-conference-in-los-angeles/
• Willamette Writers Conference, August 1-3, 2014
Doubletree, Portland, Oregon http://willamettewriters.com/wwcon/
• Oregon Christian Writers Conference, August 4-7, 2014
Red Lion in Jantzen Beach, Portland, Oregon http://oregonchristianwriters.org/sc2014/
• Write on the Sound Writers Conference, October 3-5, 2014
Frances Anderson Center, Edmonds, Washington http://writeonthesound.com/
• Whidbey Island Writers Conference, October 24-25, 2014
Coupeville, Washington http://www.nila.edu/wiwc/
Islander and author Claire Gebben is an occasional columnist for the Reporter. For more, go to clairegebben.com.