Monday, September 26, 2005 | Not so long ago, a writers conference was just that. It was an intensive few days of aspiring authors working with professionals to hone their craft and hopefully meet agents and editors who would assess and appreciate their talent. For many, it was a part of the road to publication. It was at these conferences that many writers made the contacts that later led to major houses buying their books.
Thus far, some of the successes La Jolla Writers Conference attendees have had include a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press, a two-book deal with Morrow, a deal with Nelson Business Books, Durban House Publishing, and Helm Publishing. And the conference itself has been named “One of the 84 Conferences in the Country Worth Your Money” by Writer’s Digest Ultimate Resource Guide. With more than 1,500 conferences each year, that is an honor!
In 2004, 194,000 new ISBNs were issued, up from 175,000 in 2003. Rumor has it that only 5 percent of those were issued to major publishing houses. The rest went to small and independent publishers, many of whom were self-publishers. And what this has meant to writers conferences is a broadening in the scope of what needs to be covered.
Fielding the La Jolla Writers Conference, which will take place Oct. 7-9 this year, as it has every October since 2001, we have been keenly aware of this change. From the beginning we were determined to cover the art, craft and business of writing. Thus, while we brought together some of the premier writers in the country, we balanced fiction with non-fiction; agents and editors with gurus of self-publishing; and PR and marketing experts with intellectual property attorneys. Knowing that the craft of writing is key to any good book, we have had a strong faculty emphasis on writing skills. Simultaneously, however, we have also focused on the myriad ways in which the author could get the book out there.
What began as a new idea in conferences in 2001 has grown so that in 2005 self-publishing and small press gurus Dan Poynter and Jan Nathan will teach at the same conference as New York Times bestselling authors Michael Connelly, Margaret Weis, Joe Wambaugh, Dorothea Benton Frank, Lisa Jackson and screenwriters Warren Lewis and Paul Levine; Marcella Smith of Barnes & Noble Small Press Vendor Relations will give classes alongside Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Agency and Jill Marsal of the Dijkstra Agency; distributors present alongside publicists. You get the point.
More and more, writers conferences will have to fall into this format: providing a strong basis in the art and craft of writing while addressing all aspects of the business. And as more writers choose to self-publish and the business side becomes more a part of the equation, more conferences will, of necessity, follow suit.
The publishing industry is changing along with the public perception of it. Media no longer asks whether a book is self-published when considering an author as a guest; instead, content is key. Authors previously published by major houses are setting up publishing companies and opting to self-publish. Writers riding the crest of media waves are self-publishing to get their books out there quickly. Speakers recognizing the financial benefits of self-publishing to back of the room sales are doing so, too. What was once a cottage industry has become a whole branch of the establishment, poised on the cusp of true acceptance. And writers conferences have to take notice.
Although it is true that writers write, these days many of them also edit, publish and see to their own PR. They oversee cover design, choose distributors, create press kits and marketing plans, and pitch media. And in order to truly serve the writing community, today’s writers’ conference has to address it all, providing writers with the knowledge necessary to make the best possible choices for themselves and their books in the rapidly evolving industry we call publishing.
The Fifth Annual La Jolla Writers Conference is Oct. 7-9 at the Hyatt Islandia Hotel, San Diego.
Antoinette Kuritz is a literary publicist, the host of Writer’s Roundtable Radio Show (www.worldtalkradio.com), and the founder and director of The La Jolla Writers Conference, Oct. 7-9, 2005 (www.lajollawritersconference.com). She can be reached at (858) 467-1978 or