2012 Writers' Conference @ Hunter College

On June 9th, I traveled NJ Transit and the NYC Metro to reach Hunter College on 68th and Lexington for the Writers’ Conference 2012. Sponsored by The Writing Center at Continuing Education at Hunter College, the brochure laid out a variety of writing-related panels to choose from and promised a chance to hear famous authors like Harlan Coben and Mary Higgins Clark speak about writing and the publishing business. It didn’t disappoint.

This conference ended up more of an informational smorgasbord than networking event for me. Granted, just attending the conference gave me the foot in the door I needed if I submit to the specific magazines or literary agents that attended.

The suspense panel was my favorite. The friendship between the authors on the panel made it very entertaining. Plus, the information was coming from successful writers that demonstrated what a good story, craft, and perseverance could achieve.

Below I’ve put together highlights, interesting snippets, and valuable information I scribbled in my notebook during the panels I attended. I hope you find it helpful!  

Editor’s Panel:
Ed Brown (publisher, Laptop Magazine)
Tyler Cabot (senior editor, Esquire Magazine)
Allen Houston (executive editor, Manhattan Media)
Beena Kamlani (senior editor, Penguin Group USA)
Yona McDonough (fiction editor, Lilith Magazine)
Marianne Rohrlich (former columnist, The New York Times)

First and foremost, editing makes publishing. Be sure to submit writing completely FREE of grammatical and punctuation errors.

An editor is your ally. When starting out, try to meet or call the editor on the phone. Most often you’ll communicate via email.

Pitching ideas…
-                    Present an ordinary subject with a unique approach. Be clear, simple, and focused. Demonstrate how your idea or article differs from what’s already published. Insert your personality. Don’t be afraid to be clever.
-                    Email Subject Line: “Story Idea:…”
-                    The first idea might not spark interest. So, show up (in person, on the phone, or through email) with multiple ideas.
-                    Peruse the bylines and table of contents of a publication to determine if there is room for new comers.
-                    Be sure to read many back issues to ensure your article or idea will fit the publication.
-                    Increase your chances of acceptance by pitching to a specific location within the publication that your article or pitch would fit.
-                    Limbo Time: wait a couple weeks before following up. BUT always follow up. You never know if it was lost in the shuffle.

Suspense Panel:

Andrew Gross (author, Eyes Wide Open and 15 Seconds)
Lee Child (author, Worth Dying For and Killing Floor)
Steve Berry (author, The Columbus Affair and The Jefferson Key)
Joseph Finder (author, Buried Secrets and Vanished)
Harlan Coben (author, Stay Close and Tell No One)

Joseph Finder: "Publishing is ALWAYS in crisis."

Ask the right question to achieve compelling writing. Drive your audience to read the next page:
Not: How do you bake a cake?
But: How do you make your family hungry?
It’s not just about the story, but how will you get someone to read. Entice them. Coax them. Put them into a situation where they need to continue reading to get the answers.

Suspenseful writing: Present a question and don’t answer it till the end of the story. Each time you answer a question you should present another question to keep the reader turning pages.

It can take up to 10 years to find your place.
-                    Lee Child’s 12th novel was his first U.S. #1
-                    Harlan Coben grossed $20,000 on his first 6 books.

Me and Harlan

Harlan Coben:
-                    “If what you write is good enough, you’ll be ok.”
-                    “Write. Send it out. Then, start writing your second one because your first one is probably not as good as you think it is.”  

Chasing the market is flawed. The minute you finish your novel that is trying to catch the trend bandwagon, that trend is outdated.

Andrew Gross on working with James Patterson (paraphrased): The novels are Patterson’s idea. They won’t see the light of day without his creativity and ideas. The work proportion is irrelevant.

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series has been adapted for a movie with the same name. Tom Cruise will play Reacher. Child spoke about the decision to cast Cruise as Jack Reacher. Although he doesn’t embody Reacher’s height and size, Cruise can play the part of Jack Reacher. His acting ability makes him the best candidate to portray Reacher’s intellect and quiet introspection, to “portray what’s in his head on screen.”

Lunch with Keynote Speaker:
Mary Higgins Clark
Carol Higgins Clark

One word: Hilarious! Mary Higgins Clark had me giggling the entire time. She’s getting older and struggling to move well on her own. Someone helped her get on the little stage. When she reached her chair safely, she turned around and spoke to the crowd, “And to think I used to be a pole dancer.”

Mary’s full of life, laughter, and incredible insight. The stories she shared with us will keep my networking/cocktail party conversation bag filled.

Mary uses three sentence beginners to create her stories:
-                    Suppose…
-                    What if…
-                    Why?

Mary whispers two words to herself when she faces writer’s block: Royalty Checks

What’s the difference between what Mary writes and what her daughter Carol writes? Mary goes for the jugular. Carol goes for the funny bone.

You can’t use more than 1 line of music without paying for the rights. Carol was fined $10,000 for that mistake.

Offer to pay research experts.

Character Names:
-                    Mary uses charity dinner lists to create character names.
-                    Just be careful. Carol liked the name Blaze Darling. When she Googled it, it turned out to be the name of the hottest porn couple.

The editor at the publishing house needs to like the manuscript more than the literary agent.

Small Press Panel:
Gloria Mindock (editor and publisher, Cervana Barva Press)
Mark Pawlak (poet, Jefferson’s New Image Salon)
Susan Tepper (author, From The Umberplazen and What May Have Been)
Terry Richard Bazes (author, Lizard World)

If the Big 6 Publishers don’t want your book, it’s not a comment on your writing, rather a comment about whether it is sellable, a commercial success.

Small publishers interest is QUALITY.

You don’t need a literary agent to work with a small publisher.

If a small press publishes your book, you need to hire a publicist.

Vanity Press-asks an author to use their money to publish book.

Small Press Locator:
-                    NewPages
-                    Poets & Writers 
-                    Consortium 
-                    Publishers West 
-                    Small Press Distribution 
-                    Publisher’s Weekly  
-                    Duotrope 
-                    Council of Small Presses and Literary Magazines 

Livingston Press-Affiliated with the University of West Alabama 
-                    Joe Taylor
o   Separately or combined (off-beat, Southern)

Literary Agent Panel:
Katherine Sands (literary agent, Sarah Jane Freyman Literary Agency
Adam Chromy (founder, Artists and Artisans, Inc.)
Ellen Geiger (vice president and senior agent, Frances Goldin Literary Agency
Helen Zimmermann (founder, Helen Zimmerman Agency)

Query Letter-woo and win literary agent
-                    Know agent's name
-                    Know guidelines
-                    Research agents to find the right one, or at least one that represents the genre you write in.
-                    Lead with your strengths (endorsements, publishing credits, etc.) The publishing credits you have, the better the chance of snagging an agent. 
-                    NO cute. NO blue swirly font.
-                    Avoid starting out with word count
-                    Why you? Why now?
-                    Novel synopsis: setting, hero, and dilemma.
-                    Multiple/simultaneous submissions is understood.
-                    Have at least 10 people read query letter before sending to agents.
-                    Average response time: 2-3 weeks (will be on agent’s guidelines)
-                    Send out 10-15 to test the water. If you don’t hear any feedback, change the letter.

Slush Pile-blind queries
Solicitation-agent seeks author out

Zimmermann discussed the new publishing model emerging in the business: Push author and book to big publishing agencies. No success? Agency publishes book.

Choosing between agents: Who is offering the BEST strategies to sell your book?
-                    Get a written agreement

Then                                     Now
Books and Readers—Content and Consumers

Katherine Sands: “Happy Hookers-hook an agent quickly in the first few sentences.”

“An unhappy childhood is a writer’s paycheck.”

Adam Chromy: “A novel presents a message (value), then, takes it away, and, finally, brings it back in the end.”

What writing conferences, seminars, or workshops have you attended so far this year? 


What a great write-up of the conference. I'm not surprised the suspense panel was your favorite. You are an expert on poisons!

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