The Do Re Mi of Conference Attending

I took the next step this weekend.  I invested in myself, and attended the Madison, Wisconsin Writers Institute Conference.  I got lost in the city with its one-way streets, froze by Lake Mendota in 40 degree weather, and hammed it up with some really great writers.  I love it here!

The conference was exactly what I needed.  The breakout sessions alone gave me all the tips I needed to improve the book I’m working on.  I found some holes in my story, but that’s good, because now I can work on them.  As one attendee put it, “Well, they’ve given us all we need to know to write a successful book, now it’s up to us.”  I tried my best to attend a variety of topics so I could improve my plotting skills, learn about non-fiction, learn about the publishing business today, and along with that how to write query letters and synopses.  There was such a plethora of people I met and am excited to now know.  What I loved about this conference is how many hands on exercises the speakers had us do.  And from that point, it was up to us what we did with that material.  I pushed myself to participate a lot and challenge myself.  So I shared work a few times, I asked smart questions, and I even volunteered for an improv activity.  Jess Witkins, Acting Extraordinaire…  Anyway, I’m so glad I did.  I met more people because they came up to me and told me they loved my voice, what I wrote, and apparently, I’m FABulous at improv.  😉

Lori Devoti

The speakers at the conference came from across the country and were able to speak to a variety of genres/writing styles.  Lori Devoti is a paranormal romance writer who hosted a plotting party at the conference.  It must have been her magic wand waving over me at the conference because I got paired in the best group for our plotting exercise.  We had so much fun talking about our projects and all of us started marketing them for each other.  Which reminds me, I’ve got a theme song to work on…  Ok, back to Lori, she’s amazing!  She talks fast, she’s shows you the basics, and then she puts you to work.  Her workshop on character was also so helpful.  If you’re struggling with any characters in your own works ask yourself these three questions:  What do they love fearlessly?  What haunts them?  What do they think they cannot do? — Now, make them do it.  See what I mean, she’s brilliant.  So simple, and so sound.  Thank you, Lori!

Josie Brown

Josie Brown is a women’s lit fiction writer and HUGE advocate for social media.  I felt good knowing that none of the terms the panels were using about social media were new to me, and I’ll give all that thanks to Kristen Lamb, Social Media Expert!  Kristen, I wrote in your name and blog site on the evaluation sheet as a person to bring to future conferences.  Please come to Wisconsin!  The last panel on sunday discussed the writer’s role in digital media and Josie was so knowledgeable about the importance of creating an author brand before you seek publishing.  I was able to ask some questions and she really gave me some concrete ways to use my blog and  my twitter account and my facebook to get my VOICE out there and she continues to do this with her own blog.  I really appreciated the encouragement.

Ted Weinstein

I chose not to pitch to an agent at this conference.  I’m simply not ready.  My story isn’t developed far enough and I had too many unanswered questions MYSELF that it didn’t make sense to pay for 8 minutes of rejection from someone ELSE.  But Ted Weinstein is the man!  He was one of the agents meeting with writers working on non-fiction books.  If I were ready to pitch my memoirs to an agent, I would want Ted on my side.  Ted sat on panels and did his own session giving writers an inside scoop on what agents are looking for.  His feedback was depressing and honest and invaluable.  And I mean all of that as a high compliment.  He emphasized that as writers, we have to look at this path as a career and be professional about our publishing plans, i.e. how do we plan to market ourselves, because the publishing houses aren’t going to do it.  Not unless you’re writing the next Oprah Book Club Book, but that’s right she’s retiring! Nooooo!  Seriously, if I hadn’t listened to Ted speak I wouldn’t know what to expect when it came time to publish.  For example, ask the agent your pitching to what they’ve recently published?  Don’t you want an agent that is successfully selling people’s books on the market?!  I think Ted is a rare gem in the world of agents, a man who wants to help his writers with their careers.  Careers?  Jess, you mean we could potentially make a living from writing?  *Borrows Lori’s magic wand* Yes, dearest writers, you can feed yourself and your families by writing for a living, you just have to be somebody famous first.  Which takes us right back to Josie, use your blog, your facebook, and your twitter account to show the world YOU.

Are you following me?  No I mean that literally, SUBSCRIBE right now!  I’m not going anywhere!  I just claimed my area of expertise, check it out in my newly edited About page.

Your turn!  What are the areas of writing you are working on in your path to publication?  Are you already published?  Share with us what got you there!  How have you been shaped by other authors, reading them or meeting them?

31 responses

  1. Jess, your energy level lately — and especially in this post — has risen dramatically. I believe that if you keep writing and stay enthusiastic, you’ll reach your goals and leave them in the dust. I’m rooting for you.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Charles! I just try to keep up with the other writers I’m reading. *cough, points*

  2. It sounds like this conference really sparked something in you – your new “About Me” page is awesome, and I agree with bb55, your energy and enthusiasm are really showing lately. I’m curious about creating a brand and getting your voice out there; anybody who reads my blog can easily find my real name through links on there, but I’ve been hesitant over giving out too much info. I’ve only real-life friended you and one other blogger on Facebook. It sounds like Josie Brown has some good ideas about that, though – and I’d guess encourages it. Am I to assume this is so?

    1. Glad you liked the about page, but we have the same humor so I knew YOU would. I think you establish you and your voice really well on your blog, you have me hooked, I look to no one else to find out what’s happening in my favorite city, Portland. What got me to bite the bullet and start doing social media was a comment kristen lamb made on her blog She said if we want to be writers, why won’t we put our name out there? It will be out when we’re published, so why not now? Why not have people already familiar with you and wanting to buy your brand/voice? It comes down to fear of success, and I think that’s true. So I’m making decisions that show I want a career as a writer. I loved how accessible Josie Brown was. I linked to her blog in this post, so you can check her out. She writes about things that inspire her, and then readers that like her voice find other things they may like. That made sense to me.

      Mark, just go to a conference already, it’s not like they make you eat a live chicken…at least not on your first visit.

      P.S. You get a $5 starbucks gift card if you can name the movie I just referenced!

      1. Thanks…that’s very helpful, and makes perfect sense. I’ll think about doing it. 🙂

        Umm…wild guess…The Rocky Horror Picture Show??

        1. Steel Magnolias! You do NOT win a caramel macchiato on me today.

          1. You do realize I’m a heterosexual male, right?

            1. Cinematic Gold cannot be enjoyed with gender bias 3D goggles on. Please remove and add to netflix list immediately.

  3. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the conference. Blessings to you, Jess…

    1. Thanks Carol. I thought of you actually while at the conference. I was chatting with one of the speakers about the market for poetry today, and he said there is a niche for it, but it’s in university lit journals and lit magazines. Do you submit your poems anywhere? I hope so.

      1. I have not submitted my poetry anywhere. I may someday. Thank you for thinking of me. I appreciate it.

  4. I think Ted’s advice about asking agents what they’ve recently published is very smart. Or better yet, finding out the answer to that question before you meet with the agent. An author should be looking for a good agent as much as the agent is looking for a good author.

    1. You’re a published author, Margaret. What route did you take to get you there and how do you continue to market your name? I know you have a separate website for your book/author brand that links to your blog. I don’t know if you were instructed to do this, but that’s really smart because all the speakers said don’t use your blog to advertise your work (at least not too much) and don’t display excerpts, use your blog to let the readers see you and hear your voice, and you do that. Thanks!

      1. Jess, I started my blog before I was published as something fun to do. I had no thoughts of getting my name out there just in case. I’d never been to a writers’ conference. I think it’s great that you’re already preparing for THE BIG MOMENT. My friend Julie Compton, a two-time published author, warned me to start getting the promotions plan in place. You can’t wait until your book comes out. It’s too late.

        Once my book was accepted for publication, I started work on my author website. I didn’t want to use my blog for that purpose. If someone visiting my blog wants additional information on my book, there’s a link to take them to my website. I think of my blog as my cyber living room. If you come to visit, I want you to hang out and be comfortable and feel free to comment, etc. Imagine how boring it would be if the only topic of conversation was my book. Blah! 🙂

        1. I agree and think you balance the two sites beautifully! So, what’s the promotion plan for volume 2, The Benefactor vs. Pain Austen? I’m all ears!

  5. It sounds like you had a great time at the conference, Jess…keep at it! You’re already head and shoulders above a lot of your contemporaries in your writing abilities!


    1. I found that to be really shocking at the conference. The age difference. There were probably no more than 10 women in their 20’s at this conference! And I’d say less than that for males. I can’t begin to answer why because in the world of blogging, there are TONS of 20-something writers. It makes no sense to me.

  6. Thanks for sharing that, Jess. I’ve always wanted to go to Madison: my brother and sister-in-law (both profs) did a full year sabbatical there and spoke highly of it. Never made it to visit them, though.

    What’s the memoir you’re working on? I’m in the research phase of one right now.

    And, sorry, no Search Bombs today. 😉

    1. Madtown is very cool. It’s such a hippy town. State St. is full of shops that sell jewelry, hippy clothes, organic made items, and various music paraphernalia. Lots of variety in cuisine, and the capital is gorgeous. Lots of people riding bikes, lots of markets. Lots of beer! You should check it out, or hit up the writers institute next april 12-15. We could meet!

      My memoir? Umm it has yet to take on a key plot theme, but essentially I’m recording wacky memories of growing up in a small town. I’m hoping by answering some questions that came up at the conference people will care about my story. LOL. That’s the trick right? Get famous, and then talk about my life as a redheaded vagabond?

      Tell me, mistress of search bombing, what is your memoir about? I tried search bombing the subject matter, I did find you!

  7. Rock on sister. Way to hit up a conference. Glad you had a good experience.

    1. Your big week long conference is coming up isn’t it? Can’t wait to hear what you come back to us with after that!

  8. Gosh! You sound like a one person cheerleading team. I like it. 🙂 You’re so passionate and enthusiastic it’s causing me to do my own pep rally.

    1. Be. Aggressive. Be Be Aggressive. R-O-W-D-I-E, that’s the way we spell rowdie, ROWDIE! Let’s get rowdie! Woo!

      Sorry, lapsing into a past memory of 8th grade catholic school cheerleading. *shudders* Glad it inspired you though!

  9. I enjoyed your post, and the comments too 🙂 I like reading about others’ conference experiences because I’m attempting to prepare for one that comes to my area in 2012. I’m not nearly as outgoing as you are, so I’m sure my experience will be much different, but I am hoping it will be just as helpful.

    1. I went by myself and didn’t know anyone there. I purposely pushed myself to volunteer because I wanted to get the most out of the conference. I learn best by seeing and doing something, so having immediate feedback was helpful to me. And even though I didn’t pitch this time, I talked with lots of writers who had and found out what they learned from their experience, which basically it will be different for everyone! lol. Enjoy your time at the conference next year, and make the most of it!

  10. […] This past week, I did go home again.  I thankfully took a week of vacation to both attend the Writers Institute Conference and spend some quality time at home with the family.  Of course, after attending the conference I […]

  11. […] time I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this, but then I read a post by another blogging buddy, Jess Witkins, that talked about utilizing social media to achieve your goals, and part of that was devoted to […]

  12. […] lost some of you at “want, motivation, but” it’s a plotting tool I learned at the Writers Institute by the wonderful Lori Devoti.  Lori is a paranormal romance author and if you want a great deal on […]

  13. […] Attend a writing conference.  (Madison Writers Institute – Wonderful experience) […]

  14. […] writing conference and I was downright giddy with excitement.  I blogged about my experience in The Do Re Mi of Conference Attending.  I’m hoping to attend the DFW Conference in Dallas, TX this May.  *crosses fingers* Dad […]

  15. […] Wisconsin Annual Writer’s Institute.  You can check out my conference posts if you like:  The Do Re Mi of Conference Attending, Creativity? How to Force More of It and Have Fun Too, and City Slickers and Social […]

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