I just returned from Seattle, where I went to the AWP (Association of Writing Programs)
conference, along with Hamline MFAC folks Mary Rockcastle, Judi Marcin and Claire Rudolph Murphy. I thought I’d just write and give a look at how I got to the conference and how I used my time once I got on the plane. In other words, here is a glimpse of what a travel weekend looks like for a writer, and the practical stuff of how this particular one came together. When I was just starting out I really had no idea how any of this part of the job worked, so I figure maybe you don’t either. Yet.
My writer friend Robin Wasserman
and I got the idea to explore the AWP Conference because we both teach at low-residency programs and because we usually attend conferences that are just for writers of children’s literature. We were curious about a more academic-type conference and what we could learn there. By the way, next year’s AWP Conference is in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area!
Robin and I got in touch with two other writers who are also published by Penguin Random House–Sarah Mlynowski
and Adele Griffin.
Then the four of us decided what two panels we would propose for the conference–and Robin and Adele wrote up the pitches according to the specifications on the AWP website. Once our panels were accepted, we inquired whether Penguin Random would be willing to support our trip. They covered it in part, though for the rest we were out of pocket.
Before the conference, we planned our panels. This was a luxury, because often you are on a panel and you don’t know much of what will be asked, nor much about your fellow panelists unless you do some research–which you should! It’s manners. But anyway–in this case we all knew each other and we all knew one another’s work, so we just brainstormed what questions the moderator should ask. Sarah was moderating a panel on having a long-term career in children’s literature, and I moderated a panel on sexuality in YA literature.
l-r: Sarah Mlynowski, Emily Jenkins, Robin Wasserman, Adele Griffin (photo courtesy Josefina Ávila Andino)
Then we set to work figuring out how to maximize our time in Seattle. We contacted the head YA librarian at Seattle Public Library and arranged to do an event there one night. We wanted it to be more than just a standard reading, because it can be hard to draw a crowd for that. Robin had the idea to read sneak peaks from books that are not out yet, plus embarrassing juvenilia. This gave us a fun little hook to tweet about, and helped Seattle PL in its marketing of the event. The library arranged for a local bookseller to sell books at the event, and that was great because we all got to meet the bookseller, too.
Friday, Sarah and I did elementary school visits, partnering with a second independent bookseller. This is the kind of thing that is tough to organize on your own–and also the kind of thing most writers usually get paid for. A typical set-up is that a school will book me by inquiring through my website–but in this case, we were looking for visits and willing to do single presentations with book sales for free, because Sarah had a new book out for 3rd – 5th grade readers. We used Sarah’s outside-the-publishing house publicist to book and organize the events, and spent a great morning sharing books with kids. Later we drove over to to a third indie store to say hello to the buyer and sign what stock they had – the kind of event called a “meet and greet” or a “stock signing.” Robin joined us there, and then Sarah and I went to a fourth indie store for an after-school event.
It was a gorgeous day. Seattle never has gorgeous days! It always rains. So: almost no one came.
This happens all the time! And the fact that you might be reading to only three kids is one reason I like to do events with other people. Because Sarah was with me, we were lively and fun even though the crowd was so small. And we were able to chat happily and make connections with some great booksellers. We signed loads of stock which they are excited to hand-sell.
Notice we managed to connect with four independent booksellers in 24 hours? That was the meat of this plan. The events were lovely and fun to do, but to my way of thinking, connecting with the people who will hand-sell your books for the next several years is more valuable than anything else.
That night we had a party–nothing fancy, just meeting for drinks. It took some work, but we thought that what we’d really like to do at AWP is meet writers we might never meet otherwise. We invited all the Seattle children’s book people we could find, and all the writers who had panels on related topics–finding them on Facebook or through their websites. Everyone met at a bar and I met loads of new and interesting writers. This is another kind of event that might seem trivial but in the long run can be very useful. How do I know three other writers (Adele, Robin and Sarah) who fit well with me on a panel and who are published by my same
publisher? From going to events like these.
The last day we all attended the conference (Adele and Robin had been there on Friday, too)–and did our two panels, looked at the exhibits, went to hear other people speak and so on.
Then I was really tired and came home. Now I feel like a zombie–but I think it was worth it.
Hope you find this useful and that you think about investigating AWP when it’s in Minnesota next year.