Phyllis Duncan says, “In my opinion, worth the membership fee.” https://www.awpwriter.
Jan: What were the most interesting presentations that you attended at this year’s AWP conference in Boston?
Phyllis: A panel on writing historical fiction and one featuring women crime thriller writers were particularly useful to me since I write historical espionage thrillers. The writers on both panels offered practical advice (e.g., when do you stop researching and start writing) and enthusiastic support. The writers on the Women in Crime panel were all driven and erudite but hilarious, and the Q&A session after delved into issues of gender equality in publishing, which was timely and lively.
The keynote speakers on the first night were Novel Laureates Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott–both poets, but Heaney, being Irish, has secured a place in my half-Irish heart. Just to be in the same room with him was thrilling, and the mutual admiration society between him and Walcott was refreshing. Walcott has been known to imitate his favorite poets, and he read from a piece, looked up at the audience and said, “That’s pure Heaney,” and Heaney agreed. It was wonderful. Then, the next day, I passed Heaney in the hallway, and he gave me a nod and a smile. As I said in my blog, I’m sure he’s polite to every middle-aged woman who gawks at him, but I want to believe he thought, “Ah, what a great Irish lass!” 😉
Phyllis: I selected one program, “Career Suicide,” which was for teachers of writing, but that was entirely my fault because I didn’t bother to read the description. Over the three days, there were nearly 500 different sessions offered, so you’d be hard-pressed to find one that wasn’t useful. It’s usually the opposite–you wish you could clone yourself and be at several sessions at the same time. That redundancy was good because there were several sessions I wanted I couldn’t get into because they were full, but there were plenty of alternatives to attend.
I was a bit dismayed at several sessions when neither the moderator nor the panel introduced themselves. Yes, they are listed in the one-inch thick program, but most of us worked from a much smaller planner which just listed the sessions. You got the impression the panelists didn’t think they had to introduce themselves because we all should know who they are. Most are mid-list writers, so recognizing them is not that easy.
What was missing was any acknowledgement of self-publishing at all. AWP is heavily invested in traditional publishers for sponsorship and for donations, so it doesn’t surprise me that there were maybe one or two sessions that even hinted at self-publishing.
Jan: In your opinion – do you think it helps future sales and contacts for writers to have a table or display at the “back of the room”?
Phyllis: Normally, this would be a good idea but not for a conference where 12,000 people show up and there are only fifteen minutes between sessions. At the AWP Bookfair–the largest bookfair I’ve ever seen–publishers associated with the presenters offer their books, usually with a conference discount. Individual author tables are rare, mainly because paying for the table is expensive, and you’d have to sell a lot of books to cover it. Better to have your publisher pay for it, and book signings are always scheduled throughout the Bookfair.
Jan: What “take-aways” do you have from your experiences this year at AWP?
Phyllis: Wear comfortable shoes. You do a lot of walking. I tended to skip out on some of the Q&A sessions so I could hit the head and get to the next session and have a seat. Engage in conversation with the writer next to you. Don’t be shy with the panelists. If they say to follow them on Twitter, do it. You never know what networking may occur. Obviously, that’s not a license to stalk the author or beg them to read your manuscript, but you can make valuable connections.
Phyllis: Stretch yourself a little. Even if you don’t teach writing, try one of the “pedagogy” sessions because they can be useful.
About Jan Bowman: