I have attended many writers conferences and each one has its own atmosphere and character. What strikes me most of the annual BOOKSALIVE venue, organized by the WASHINGTON INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF BOOKS (WIRB), is its special spirit inspired by the venerable DAVID STEWARD, its President and founder. In four years, the WIRB has grown into a fully attended writers event with engaging speakers on salient author subjects and a tightly run but effective pitch program on the side.
And who would not be thrilled to sit at the same lunch-table with Bob Woodward, the key note speaker, and Kitty Kelley, that charming and cute lady-author who wrote many best-selling biographies of brand name celebrities of our time, and received a life-time award for her work at the conference, handed to her by David Steward? That was my honor!
Bob Woodward with Gene Meyer and Kitty Kelley (in blue) with David Steward
The Conference started off on Friday evening with a launching party and a packed workshop on how to pitch and write a query, and especially what not to do. Every writer knows that it takes a world to acquire an agent. If you want to get published, writing is not just writing, it is a business to get representation, because agents must make a living from your royalty when they sell your product to a publisher, who in turn must spend his money on printing and sending your book to bookstores. That’s for many writers the frustrating thing: so many want to write (like so many want to sing at American Idol) and so few make it through the grind. You must prove you have an outstanding “voice” and a book that “rings.” A writer becomes an author when he/she gets published, that’s the traditional deal. But agents are people too and know how hard it is. They won’t bite you when you pitch, but they do tell you when your book would be a tough sell (they know this from experience as they have to pitch your book to the publishers) and, if it is not marketable, you had better improve or drop it and start with something new .
Of course, traditional publishing versus self-publishing was again the talk of the day. Frustrated writers can now publish their books via Amazon-Create Space or small presses, but everyone, including traditionally published writers, still faces the uphill battle to market and sell their books. And agents won’t be interested in your self-published book unless you have sold thousands of them. In other words, publishing and getting known remains a vicious circle for many. There are millions of books in the clouds! What the BOOKSALIVE conference does is reinvigorate your spirit to keep trying, no matter what your “age.”
or in whatever psychological state you are:
Bob Woodward’s Key Note Speech was funny and deep on the political scene, his insightful interviews having thought him that whatever historical judgment will be felled on presidents and their administrations of our lifetime will occur only when we are all dead. Thanks for that. As a foreign writer from Holland I expressed my perplexity with the American voter for being so fixated on the personality and personal features of presidential candidates rather than choosing the political party that best represents your interests, as we do in a parliamentary system, regardless of the leaders. Bob Woodward then asked the audience if they were as perplexed as I, and to my surprise everybody raised their hands! Now what! Change the Constitution?
Two wisdoms of the conference stood out for me: If you do self-publish your work, do it as close to what is needed for traditional publishing (Larry De Maria: use a good editor, scrupulously research for your best interior and cover design, and do your marketing as best you can), and join and build your writers community (Jen Michalski) to talk about writing and escape your writer’s insularity. Why not start with the Washington Independent Review of Books at http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com. You will not be disappointed and find a wealth of good material and people to talk to.