MASTER Recap of 2011 Writer's Digest Conference

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This post is a collection of:

  • Best tweets from the 2011 Writer's Digest Conference
  • Links to official live blog posts of selected sessions
  • Best recaps of the event by attendees & presenters
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Search #wdc11 to view all tweets from the event. (Pictured above: Me hunched over at WDC11, tweeting, alongside Guy Gonzalez and Kevin Smokler.)


A hero must show glimmer of humanity or a flaw in 1st 5 pages. —Don Maass

Avoid "happy people in Happyland" when starting a book. Readers don't connect with that.”
James Scott Bell

Commercial women's fiction: premise should have something that couldn't happen to most people.”
[Ask Agent panel, unattributed]

At about 20,000 words, I stop and ask, "Is my lead character sympathetic, as I wanted him to be?"
James Scott Bell

[Collection of tweets on the revision session]
After a draft, take at least two weeks' break. Then read. In first read, I put in check marks where the story is dragging and parentheses around bad phrases. Circles go in the margin for where emotions aren't working. Question marks are for confusing passages. After the first read, I ask, "Does this story make sense?" Do characters act as people really would?" Characters in a novel have agendas, they don't just take up space. What do they want in each scene? Look for coincidences that help a character, and cut them out. You don't want a deus ex machina effect. Novels should be like a chess match. There has to be a purpose for the characters to act. After draft revising, do a polish. Polishing involves looking at scene openings and chapter endings.
James Scott Bell


Biggest problem for self-publishers is visibility. If you can achieve it, the money can rival traditional.
agent Richard Curtis

If you're going to give your writing away (e.g. Huffington Post) do it on your own platform instead.
 —Guy Gonzalez

Major keys to success are good story & true editing. Self-pub cannot be lower quality than traditional.
agent April Eberhardt


[Collection of tweets on blogging session]
The more you work your blog, the more value you build for readers over time and the more they find you. Your blog is a body of work, not just some marketing channel. Don't think: "I'm going to create blog (a thing)." Think: What is my purpose? What are my goals? Before you start blog, think about who'll send you traffic. Know community players, who you'll build relationships with. Cannot overstress how important headline writing is in your blog. It's your hook. Make it descriptive, compelling. Comment on other people's blogs. Create a post as a response to someone's blog + tweet + comment + e-mail. Guest-posting builds credibility with partnership. And a weekly digest / newsletter on your topic builds value.
Dan Blank

Marketing, platform & social media

The book is not your whole brand. It's about connection to readers. Brand starts before a book and resonates. Brand means you've ID-ed your audience, learned its needs, gotten a clear vision of how you connect to that. Where you hang out online can say a lot about your brand—without you having to say it, per se. —Dan Blank

Rather than think of platform as an economic leverage point of misery, think of it as what makes you happy.
Richard Nash

I use Twitter to focus on certain people. Prior to this conference, I was watching Twitter for who was coming to wdc11. … But it's not about the platform you use, it's about the quality of the connection. … What's the ideal number of followers? There’s isn’t an ideal number. It's all about quality. You want the right people more than big numbers.
Dan Blank

It all seems like a waste of time until something happens.—unattributed [Social Media panel]

You analyze connections between people, not just topic but person-behind-topic. Then build relationship.
Dan Blank

Blogging on existing sites can be a good addition to building a topic-specific blog of your own. Also consider participating in forums, writing guest posts.
Kate Rados

Don't expect to make money with the 1st book (no matter how you publish); use it to build readership, move onto 2nd. … Your job is to get your name out there. That's how you become successful as an author.
Patricia V. Davis


(Pictured above: WDC11 pitch slam!)

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In pitching agents, don't mention "blockbuster," Oprah, or the fact that God or aliens told you to write.
Chuck Sambuchino

Should an author get a pro edit before submission? Start with beta readers for affordability.
Chuck Sambuchino

In nonfiction, platform often more important than in fiction. In fiction, story & writing may trump other issues.
—Jud Laghi

“When is your project is ready to query? If beta-readers see more you need to do, do it. Often, it takes years.”
Donald Maass

“If you're not published, don't apologize! No pub credits? Just leave that info out of query. Focus on that book!”
[Ask Agent panel, unattributed]

“Editors are constitutionally unable to say 'no' to nice people at conferences. No answer after submission means: no (rejection).” —Janet Reid

On persistence in querying: If you're not getting the right response to your work, something isn't working. If you're getting rejections, look at your novel and query. Don't exhaust all queriable agents before you rework things!
Donald Maass

Single biggest problem in queries: What's the book about? Start where the book starts: a choice that illustrates the stakes. Don't reach for publishing credentials! If in doubt, leave it out. Don't need to mention sequels/other work in your query. Agents sign you for your whole career, so focus on the book you’re querying.
Janet Reid

Pitch: Who's the main character, what decision do they face, what will happen if he chooses A vs B? One or two sentences max! Your pitch is comprised COMPLETELY of your main character (name, age) and what CHOICE they face. Drop backstory/situation. After those two sentences, stop talking! The agent will ask you questions—have a conversation!
Janet Reid

Nonfiction writer: If your blog is your platform, you've got to have THOUSANDS of hits. If that's not the case, don't bring it up! —Janet Reid

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Many sessions were covered live during the conference. Here are recaps.

Go read what others had to say (both attendees & presenters):

  • Recap & thoughts from attendee Julie Weathers (I don't agree with everything she says, but that's mainly because conference tweets almost always deliver a message out of context, and can be interpreted to mean things they really don't … so she takes different meaning from the tweets than what was often intended. Hard to avoid, though.
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