San Francisco Writer’s Conference-Lessons Learned, Inspiration Gleaned

Our five-year-old son flung the front door open as I energetically range the dilapidated doorbell of our Belmont rental house.
“Mommy’s home!”
A flying leap landed him in my arms, with a whoop that summoned the other kids and my husband.

Gone for the better part of four days at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, our three kids were more than ready to have Mom back.  Not that Andrew didn’t do an awesome job with them in the preceding days.  Oh, to be a kid again and have him for a daddy.  (Yesterday, they were out back making hose water rainbows in bathing suits in mid-February.)

On the train ride back down from the city, I felt the transformation happening.  In my knee-high black leather boots, sheek leggings and stain-free white eyelet top with a red bamboo wrap flung around my shoulders just-so, I morphed from cosmopolitan, charismatic conference attendee to stay-at-home housewife/mom with each passing mile.  (As I write, I am simultaneously teaching my three-year-old how to play preschool games on the internet on another laptop.)

To attempt to do justice to the conference in a single blog post would be futile.  And, because reality is echoing loudly in my subconsciousness (do I really have time to devote a week’s worth of daily posts to capture the full essence of the conference experience, or should I apply my stolen moments of writing time to something like…polishing my manuscript?) I will choose to summarize my conference experience here, and then get going on the hard work of revising and polishing:

Over the course of four days, while hanging with a crowd of three hundred other writers, I had the opportunity to meet dozens of high caliber presenters including best-selling authors, large and small imprint editors and twenty-seven literary agents.  I selected nineteen out of the eighty lectures offered and absorbed guidance on topics such as:
-Branding Yourself
-Creating Literary Fiction That Keeps Readers Turning Pages
-Opportunities in Publishing: Past, Present and Future
-The Business of Publishing: What Every Writer Needs to Know
-Writing For Change:  Creating Books that Matter
-Why Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions:  How to Start or Join a [Writer’s] Critique Group
-a smokin’ full-day, ” How to Write the Break-Out Novel” workshop with famed literary agent Donald Maass of Donald Maass Literary Agency
Amid Mark Hopkins Intercontinental Hotel-catered breakfasts and lunches, I networked with loads of other established and amateur writers, swapping business cards like Olympic pins.  I met two other women with whom I am potentially starting a writer’s critique group.

Having initially rejected the idea of participating in the Speed Dating with Literary Agents event (yes, it’s exactly as it sounds) I bought a spot from another conference attendee who’d decided she didn’t need to participate after all, and actually enjoyed the opportunity to talk one-on-one with five agents and receive requests to submit my work to three of them.  Lesson learned:  speed dating (in the writers conference setting) isn’t NEARLY as scary or stressful as I’d imagine it would be.

On several occasions, I had in-depth discussions with other attendees about the future of the publishing industry and the role self publishing companies are playing.  At each conference I’ve attended, (four in all) this has been a hot topic.  I have my own thoughts on the topic, having self-published my first book:

1.  There are more and more companies cropping up on what seems like a daily basis, offering a wide range of “self publishing” options:
– strict POD (print on demand) companies that do little more than provide you a digital printing press through which to have your book printed.  No assistance with cover art design, interior formatting, ISBN number assignment, etc.  This option is cheep (as low as $37 through Amazon’s Create Space) but may not deliver very high royalties for authors (around 50-60% vs. 80% with vanity PODs) and certainly does not guarantee a high quality product.
– boutique, vanity or otherwise self-named companies that offer varying levels of “printing packages” that help you polish, print and promote your book project to varying degrees.  Editing, cover art, formatting, etc. may all be included–depending on how much $$ you want to fork over.  Be prepared to pay anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars for this option.
-e-formatting companies that help you take your word document or PDF file and turn it into an e-book for downloading readership.

The folks who support/promote the idea of authors publishing themselves of course believe it’s all the rage and the only way to go.  “Why not skip all the angst-causing circus tricks of trying to land an agent, hoping that agent can sell your manuscript to one of the six main publishing houses (or one of numerous university or small independent publishers) and then hope your said publisher will actually choose a title for your book that you like, apply a cover design that you adore and apply a few budgetary dollars toward promoting your book upon its release?  Why not, instead, keep yourself in the driver’s seat the entire time?

There is much to be said about remaining in the driver’s seat.  There’s A LOT to be learned from it.  But when it comes to gleaning book reviews from voices that still have clout in the industry and distribution and (good) placement in nation-wide bookstores that might collectively sell enough of your books to send a few royalty bucks your way, the trade publishing industry still has a lock-hold on these issues.

Book reviewers (I’m talking professional, paid book reviewers– not friends & family and occasional strangers who upload reviews on Amazon, B&N, etc.) don’t want to review self-published books.  Many of them flat-out refuse.  The stigma is still out there: many (close minded and occasionally justified) people assume self published books are poor quality products from untalented writers.

When my book came out in March of ’08, I sent out 25 media kits to book reviewers all over the country.  After sinking a couple grand into the production of my (extraordinarily professional looking and sounding) book, I spent several hundred dollars more in promotion activities.  At the end of the day: not a single main stream review came my way.

I don’t begrudge having self published at all.  I learned a ton of valuable information from the experience.  Yes, the trade publishing houses are heading down a dicey road of uncertainty.  If they don’t change their ways, and do it quickly, they are going to be in worse trouble than they are now.  Like any other business, if they’re not building their pipeline now, they’ll find themselves amidst talent drought later.  But the jury isn’t quite out.  Still steeped in practices of old, it is and will continue to be the rare self publishing author who actually “makes it” and sells tens of thousands of copies of her book–a mark of success by the traditional industry.


Filed under Balancing career and motherhood, book promotion, family, From One Mother to Another, Kids, Mommy and Motherhood, Writing and Publishing

4 responses to “San Francisco Writer’s Conference-Lessons Learned, Inspiration Gleaned

  1. Hey there~
    Did you get any feedback from agents or others that suggested that your published on demand book, having sold very little, is now a liability for your publishing future?
    Just wondering–

  2. Hi Kimmelin,

    Alan Rinzler just wrote about self-publishing on his blog – good article. I didn’t know you self-published (guess I didn’t ask!). I’m thinking about going that way with my first manuscript but it’s almost as daunting as seeking an agent.


  3. Jen

    I just found your blog and, to me, it is refreshing! I am no writer, but a fellow healthcare provider (PNP), mother of twin girls, and agree with many of your thoughts on varied topics…especially breastfeeding!
    I have had many experiences in my short 31 years that have influenced my opinions about women and how we treat each other. I would like to write these thoughts for others to read, but always fear that I will somehow hurt feelings or damage a relationship. What are your thoughts?

    • Thank you for your lovely comments on my blog…an endeavor I must return to after a several month hiatus!

      I think we are amidst such great times in regards to being able to speak the words that are true to our heart without nearly the fear of stigmatization that may have occurred a generation or two ago. Think about the frankness with which women are writing about motherhood these days (my book included): if a woman from our grandmothers’ generation were to go on record saying how difficult, lonely and isolating motherhood often is in the early years…she’d never live it down. Yes, we all know that motherhood also includes many of the most cherished moments in a woman’s life–there’s no questioning that–but the flip side of the experience is one that women (in our culture) are finally feeling OK with speaking out about.

      That all being said, a person’s opinion is just that: an opinion. Rarely can a person speak her mind without having someone else disagree. I understand your concern about not offending others–but as long as your writings are only specific to you, and otherwise generalized to others–I think the majority of offense is mitigated. (Some people allow themselves to become offended at almost anything…their problem, not yours, right?)

      When writing a blog, you also have to be prepared for the folks that surf and comment on blogs because it is their anonymous, safe place to slam other people. (I assume these folks were playground bullies in their earlier years.) I’m sure there is some interesting psychology behind it all. I’ve have some down right nasty comments show up on my blog–some of which I calmly point out misinformation contained in those remarks, others I ignore and still others, I delete! But at the end of the day, if you feel you have things to say about women, mothers, and our relationships with each other, by all means–join the conversation!


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