Last weekend I (and 11,999 of my closest literary friends) went to Los Angeles for the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference, aka AWP.
LA is not my favorite city to say the least – the sky outside the plane’s window got visibly darker as we descended into smog (ick). Still, the location gave me a chance to wear some outfits that would have given me frostbite at last year in Minneapolis. As for the conference itself: that gave me much, much more.
For AWP 2015, I was part of a group of students representing the Santa Clara Review, Santa Clara University’s literary magazine.
This year, my time was split: I was there first and foremost for myself. As a writer polishing her third MS, my priority was attending panels to help sharpen my skills. Beyond that I wanted to attend talks about trends in publishing, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and (of course) how to secure representation.
The rest of my time was spent helping represent Counterpoint Press, where I currently work as an intern. It was exciting to see our titles – some of which I’d helped proofread or publicize – all lined up and ready to go. Working the booth also meant I got to socialize with co-workers out of the office and meet some new ones (looking at you, Dan Smetanka.).
I also got to meet some of Counterpoint’s authors – John Jodzio, Tod Goldberg, and Brett Fletcher Lauer, to name a few. After seeing their names printed on galleys and press releases, it was surreal to shake the writers’ hands and tell them how much I enjoyed their work.
Last year’s panels did not blow me away. No matter the subject, panelists had a tendency to talk about themselves…and only themselves. I have a distinct memory of nodding off during a magical realism panel while my friend, already asleep, drooled on my shoulder. Turns out even magical realism can be made dull.
So for AWP16, I hedged my bets- and it worked. I went to twice as many panels and judged them using a very offical smiley face rating system.
The verdict: one frowny face, two “so-so” faces, and five big smiles.
The most instructive panel was title Treating Your Setting Like A Character. The panelists – Elizabeth Briggs, Jessica Love, Kathryn Rose, and Rachel Searles – divided up the sections of how they treat character and offered a stellar mix of personal anecdotes, recommendations for books that use setting intelligently, and useful questions a writer can ask themselves when developing setting. The result? A perfect panel that left me energized and inspired.
A Touch of Kismet
My AWP highlight came on Saturday morning (and pinch me here, because I’m still reeling that this actually happened), the last morning of the conference. While en route to a panel, I shared a taxi with a young woman who turned out to be Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management.
I write YA. She reps YA. We discovered this connection immediately, at which point Erin smiled introduced me to my new favorite word: kismet.
We got to talking, and I pitched her my books. She asked me about my writing background and my internship at Counterpoint. We joked about the strange vastness that is LA. When we parted ways – coincidentally, Erin was on the panel I was attending – I thanked her and promised to send my MS when it was ready.
Note: Thank you, Erin, for your kind words and listening ear. I throughly enjoyed meeting you; look for my query in the coming months!
My experiences at AWP15 and AWP16 were radically different. I’ve grown as a person and a writer since Minneapolis, and it showed. This year I knew to bring business cards, ask better questions, and to take advantage of each aspect of the conference. In short, this year I felt like I belonged.
Attending a conference like AWP isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. My sleep schedule went out the window. My eating schedule went freely with it.
But in the end, I wouldn’t change a thing. Not the three days of living off coffee and free chocolate. Not the tired feet, or the dent in my bank account, or eating concessions on the bookfair floor (see left).
None of that matters because of the people I did it all with. I reconnected with former college professors, talked to alumni, and met dozens of publishing professionals who are just as in love with writing as I am. I learned about myself as a person, as a writer, and as a part of the writing community – all in the span of four days.
So thank you, AWP, for another staggeringly amazing time. As I said to my friends when we left the bookfair on Saturday evening: “Next year in Washington”.