On March 20 – 22, 2014, the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, an organization for writers of all genres, sponsored The Write Stuff Writers Conference — celebrating its twenty-first anniversary this year — in Allentown, PA. The first conference, a small luncheon which focused on craft and how-to’s, has grown into a multi-day event which includes editors and agents in addition to published authors and has expanded to embrace all the new options available to writers today. Each time I’ve attended, the conference has been informative, enjoyable, and inspirational, and the 2014 conference was no exception.
Each year the main conference begins Friday evening and continues all day Saturday. Those who do not wish to stay overnight at the hotel can just attend the Saturday sessions, and writers interested in the pre-conference workshops on Thursday and Friday can sign up for them separately. Lunch is part of each day’s package, and a continental breakfast starts off the day on Saturday. The hotel restaurant is open for breakfast every day; dinner was only available on Friday evening, but many good restaurants are located nearby. GLVWG board members, conference committee members, and hotel staff are ready and more than willing to answer questions and help with any problems you may encounter.
The pre-conference sessions on Thursday and Friday, ranging from ninety minutes to four hours, are longer than Saturday’s sessions and give the presenters a chance to go into more depth. I tend to feel sluggish and headachy when I spend extended time in an artificially lighted room (they are never as brightly lit as I’d like), and I appreciated the hourly breaks the presenters gave us. During these breaks, the presenters remained in the room and answered any questions people might bring to them, so I have to admire their fortitude in not stepping out of the room to take breaks themselves.
Scott Nicholson opened the conference with “Re-Imagining Your Writing” in which he encouraged writers to expand their thinking and imagine their manuscripts (novels, short stories, etc.) in other formats and storytelling forms, such as comics, children’s books, or screenplays. Don Lafferty presented “The Essential Elements of Every Author’s Online Marketing Strategy,” a comprehensive look at setting goals, website basics, creating a social media platform, email marketing, and more. (I’ve been to other presentations that Don’s given and the scope of possibilities can be overwhelming. I’ve found that it’s best to concentrate on one or two things at a time, learn to use them effectively, and then attend another workshop and learn more.)
Every writer wants to know how to “Make Your Plodding Prose Prance and Your Plot Dance,” the I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that title of Sally Apokedak‘s session. Mary A. Shafer’s “Indie Publishing Intensive” presented information about all publishing possibilities and marketing tips of value to all writers. The two other pre-conference workshops were Kathryn Craft’s “Incite Me!” about crafting the story’s critical inciting incident and creating the tension to carry your reader from the beginning to the end and Scott Nicholson’s “Nuture Your Inner Hack: the Best Way to Get Your Story Down” about generating story ideas and conflicts, structuring the story and building characters, revising, and much more.
On Friday evening, writers who signed up ahead of time for Page Cuts had the opportunity to have their manuscript’s first page and 100-word synopsis critiqued by a panel of publishing professionals — authors, agents, and editors. Scheduled from 8:30 – 10:00 (although I didn’t get back to my room until 11;00), the Welcome Reception gave attendees an opportunity to meet presenters, agents, and editors and to connect with others on their writing journeys.
Saturday’s offerings ranged from Jessica Dimuzio‘s “How To Catch a Kid” and Jennifer Hubbard‘s “Teen Voices: Writing YA” to Kathryn Craft’s “Women’s/Literary/Book Club Fiction” Genre Chat and Hank Phillippi Ryan’s “Mystery/Thriller” Genre Chat to Karen E. Quinones Miller‘s “Guerilla Marketing.” [For the complete list and descriptions, check the conference website.]
The keynote speaker was award-winning, best-selling author of six novels, Hank Phillippi Ryan. Her latest suspense thriller, The Wrong Girl, has been nominated for a 2014 Agatha Award. Hank is also an investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate and has won Emmys and many other awards for her journalism. If her face looks familiar, you might have seen her coverage of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. If you get a chance to see her at a writers conference, don’t miss it. She is a bright, energetic, and appealing speaker, and her keynote address, which received a standing ovation, was one of the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. [For more information, check out GLVWG member Tammy Burke’s interview with Hank Phillippi Ryan.]
Saturday’s sessions were fifty minutes, and writers could who had signed up early had ten-minute pitch sessions with agents and editors. The agents and editors at this year’s conference were Sally Apokedak, Deborah Emin, David Forrer, Lawrence Knorr, Sarah LaPolla, Monica Odom, and Kathleen Zakhar. The conference closed with a book fair and autograph session, where door prizes were also awarded, and all of us headed home, tired yet energized, inspired, and eager to plunge into writing once more.
One final note. One of the joys of attending writers conferences is the unexpected connections you make. On Friday evening I was invited to sit at a table of other writers, none of whom I knew. We had a wonderful conversation, and after the others had left, the woman sitting beside me — Ramona DeFelice Long — and I discovered an unexpected connection: last fall the Author Chronicles included one of her blog posts on Top Picks Thursday. The excitement of meeting someone whose blog post we loved is one of those wonderful, unexpected bonuses of attending a writers conference.