Writer’s Digest Conference 2016: So how did it go?

Let me do something no sane author would ever do: revealing the conclusion in the very first line. It was a blast!

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One of the highlights of the Conference:
David Baldacci speech and photo session on Saturday night

 

From women’s fiction panels, to editing secrets, insider truths from an agent, and keynotes from star authors, #WDC16 was a three-day whirlpool of learning, challenges, networking, and emotions.

 

But let’s start from the beginning: here are my Five Highlights From The Writer’s Digest Conference 2016, Not Necessarily Ranked By Relevance.

 

One: #Pitchslam

And how could it not be the first one?

I will say it out loud: I have discussed theses in college (twice), endured hours of job interviews (many), led countless meetings with very senior people (more), and yet I was scared to death by pitchslam. Maybe not so much on the day itself, since I always tend to process my anxieties well in advance, and get to the D-Day with a sort of Zen peace. But during the weeks building up to Saturday August 13 I couldn’t stop repeating my pitch in my head, or out loud, or even in my dreams. I couldn’t stop looking for and devouring information on the agents I was planning to get in contact with – will she be interested in my novel? Will I be able to connect with her? Will she give me her card at the end and ask to know more about my work?

Maybe I was lucky, or maybe I had been preparing for so long, that most of the agents were very engaged with my pitch, that they called compelling and original. One even said awesome.

I left the pitchslam room with a smile on my face, filled with excitement and energy. Sometimes it’s hard to keep believing in yourself when you (and your spouse, I owe him this and so much more!) are the only one who does so, and this boost of confidence made me feel ten years younger. Yey!

 

Two: Let’s talk about the ladies

The Craft and Business of Women’s Fiction, with Jessica Strawser, Brenda Janowitz, Emily Liebert, Sarah Domet, Catherine McKenzie, Kimiko Nakamura (Moderator)

This was my tipping point: I am an author of women’s fiction but I didn’t know the extent of it as a genre. I didn’t know that basically any novel written by a woman that is not a clear genre is women’s fiction. Somebody said during the panel: “If a man writes fiction, it’s fiction; if a woman writes fiction, it’s women’s fiction. That’s marketing.”
I don’t know how I feel about it, but it surely makes it easy for me to define who I am, as an author.

[Catherine McKenzie also hosted a very insightful talk on the editing process for novels – that I would have subtitled: no pain, no gain.]

 

Three: The tricks of the trade

From Mire to Page-Turning Momentum: Three Common Plotting Mistakes that Keep Writers Frustrated, Unpublished and at the Bottom of the Slush Pile, with Annalisa Parent

The Well-Sold Story: An Agent’s Secrets to Writing Stories That Sell, with Paula Munier

As they say, we never stop learning, and we really never should. Both Annalisa Parent and Paula Munier did a remarkable job in explaining how to structure our novel, which is a house standing on a few pillars: plot, conflict, characters, tension. And only when you have solid walls you can add your furniture: dialogue, settings, scene building, point of view. Without forgetting the roof: the author’s own voice.

 

Four: Amazon’s secrets

Maximizing Your Business as an Author on Amazon, with Jason Kuykendall

One of the best offerings of the Conference is its incredible amount of practical sessions, of live how-to guides. This data-based and concrete discussion about Amazon Kindle was one of the most helpful: how do you decode Amazon’s algorithms to get the most out of the platform? What promotion types do you get access to, for your digital and printed books? What are the most effective strategies and tactics? And most importantly: what is Amazon looking for, and how can you use Amazon, rather than be used by it?
I lost count of how many to-do items I added to my list during this hour.

 

Five: The keynote speakers

I was empowered, entertained, moved, cheered up, and overall motivated by these three astounding keynote speakers.

Kwame Alexander shared his life lesson: say yes! And how right is he: say yes to the opportunities that might look challenging, out of our comfort zone, but that could reveal themselves as real game changers. Say yes to trying new and different things, to learning and creating our own careers. Say yes to ourselves: we need to believe in ourselves (this was one of the main lessons I took away from the Conference), we need to do what makes us better, stronger, prouder.

David Baldacci was the strong second act in the play. I have to say he surprised me: I didn’t know what to expect from a blockbuster thriller writer, and he was a pleasure to listen to. He was funny and entertaining, while telling us stories about his writing life, about the struggles and the achievements he went through. He also told the most absurd story about a trip to Italy to find his origins: he thought he was going to share a private moment with the major of the small town where his grandfather had been born, but he found himself in the midst of the celebration of “David Baldacci Day”! Somehow that didn’t surprise me: we Italians know how to throw a party.

Emily St. John Mandel gave the most intimate talk of the Conference, and she said the most valuable of truths: writing and publishing are two very different things. If you have written a novel, then you are a writer, it doesn’t matter if your novel hasn’t been published yet. She made me look at things in a more positive and inspired way, and I was happy to thank her in person after the keynote – and to get a sweet autograph on her last novel, Station Eleven.