Writers’ conferences might have not recovered fully from the pandemic yet, but I’m certainly glad they’re back in person! Since the start of the pandemic three and a half years ago, I’ve found that my life is structured more around the home than it used to be. I work full-time from home. I find it convenient to get food and household items delivered. I still have calls on Zoom with friends who live in other parts of the country. When I take writing classes, I can get cranky in anticipation of sitting in rush hour traffic to get there and experience feelings of relief when they’re offered online. Writing is primarily a solitary pursuit, so shouldn’t I want to get out once in a while? In August, I ventured out to NYC for the Annual Writer’s Digest Conference and I’m sure glad I did!
First of all, New York is a stunningly beautiful city. Every time I’m there, I notice something different. During the pandemic, as people fled the cities for more space and the nature of the countryside, there was lots of talk that New York would never recover. New York has heard that kind of talk before. It’s back. When I arrived at New York’s Penn Station around dinner time, I decided to walk the sweaty mid-summer 25 minutes up Sixth Avenue, thinking it would be quieter than Fifth. Instead, it was a riot of dazed tourists, humming Halal food trucks, luxury automobiles, razor scooters, and roller skaters. What was new were the boldly decorated bicycle rickshaws, each blasting a different 90s hit as it sailed by. What wasn’t new was some Ghostbusters out on an afternoon stroll.
The Writer’s Digest (WD) Annual Conference is held each year at the tremendous New York Hilton Midtown. According to Wikipedia, the hotel has 47 floors and 1,929 rooms. I’d been told before the pandemic that the WD annual conference was huge. I think this year that there were no more than 200-300 attendees and our meeting rooms were all in one wing, so it didn’t feel overwhelming. Even with reduced attendance – as many conferences are experiencing – there was a broad array of topics on offer. At a reasonable $449, the main conference ran all day Friday, Saturday, and a half day Sunday. There were parallel sessions throughout, organized into craft, genre, the publishing business, indie publishing, non-fiction, inspiration, and promotion. It was a nice mix enabling me to break up more intensive craft sessions with business and creative inspiration topics. What stood out was the quality of the instructors. I’ve taken Tiffany Yates Martin‘s online classes and was excited to see her in person. She’s a veteran of the business and an engaging teacher. Also familiar was the multi-talented Hank Philippi Ryan, who is a local celebrity in my home city. I was introduced to several new instructors, whose classes I would definitely take in the future, including Jordan Rosenfeld, Lilly Dancyger and Estelle Erasmus.
There were a few booths and a book shop selling the presenters’ published works, including opportunities to get your books signed. In addition, there were optional full-day classes for $179 held the Thursday before the Friday main conference kick-off. An optional pitch slam for $149 ran during the workshops. The pitch slam is a big draw for many attendees, but I’m not at that point in my writing journey yet, and I didn’t want to miss any workshop time. Some attendees I spoke to hadn’t completed a manuscript, but presented at pitch slam anyway, to gauge interest in their topic and make agent connections. I hope to pitch in a future conference, but I would definitely return to WD for the quality instructors and the friendly, accessible vibe of everyone present.
To top off my productive weekend, I stopped on the way home to adopt a sweet, older kitty who had been without a family for some time ☺ 💗 🐱.
For more Pens Around the World writing on conferences, see John Nixon’s pieces on the Stockholm Writers’ Festival here and here. You also might be interested in Gail Aldwin’s post on writing residencies and Angela Williams’ experience with the Ultimate Novel Writing Course.