What I learned at the Chicago Writers Conference

So...where do I begin?

IMG_3666.jpg

Maybe by telling you that if you're a writer and you missed this year's Chicago Writers Conference, you missed a really unique experience and opportunity to see and meet the people who are out there getting it done.

Whether you're a novice or professional, writing fiction or non-fiction, have several chapters/novels already in the works or have never put pen to paper, THIS is your conference. It has something for everyone, and while this may have been my third year attending, I walked away with some valuable insights, key connections and even made a few new friends.

Friday night started with a trip over to Brando's Speakeasy on Dearborn, where attendees picked up their conference badges and mingled in the bar. I ran into someone I used to work with at the Tribune, some connections I've made at previous conferences and met a lovely gal from Northwestern University. All weekend, all I could think about was getting a Masters degree. Aside from robbing a bank, or offing my hubby for the insurance money, perhaps the best way I can garner some money for that venture is to start publishing my novels and make a little cash. Lucky for me, I was in the right place to learn how to do that!

Saturday morning, bright and early, I worked the check-in table at the venue (University Center on State). I met dozens of people in exactly the same boat, all looking for the same direction on how to get their work out there. Attendees had the opportunity to hear speakers and panels discuss different aspects of the business, from "The Art of Revision" to "Ask the Agents" to "Steps to Successful Freelancing" among other informative sessions.

For me, the most eye-opening session was called "Fifty Shade of Publishing: All the Ways to Publish a Winning Book" presented by April Eberhardt, who is a literary agent. There's more than just "traditional" and "self-publishing." April provided the audience with an arsenal of information to use when the time comes, whether it be traditional, small press, self, assisted or hybrid. There are pros and cons with each option, the trick is knowing what might be right for you. It's also key getting acquainted with the business aspect of publishing no matter what route you take.

I also enjoyed "Seven Ways to Get your Site in Shape" with Lisa Hazen. Lisa offered examples of different eye-catching websites. These days, it's critical to involve your audience. You should make your website personal and allow your readers get to know you. Take advantage of social media and don't be afraid to share good press you receive. Invite the audience to interact and make sure they can link to your book to buy it.

Sara Paretsky, who is a famous Chicago author, who still lives in the Windy City, closed Saturday with inspiring words and hilarious anecdotes. I will say there's nothing like hearing a successful author tell tales of what it's like to research for a novel. She left us on a high note as we made our way back to Brando's to listen to original work from our fellow attendees. 

On Sunday, I attended a session that--to be honest--I wasn't really interested in, but I thought well, let's see what happens. Eric Charles May's presentation about causality was perhaps the most thought-provoking session I attended all weekend. "This Happens, Which Causes This to Happen, Which Causes This to Happen, And So On...Cohesive Plot and Story" was riveting. And after he finished I told him that he made me rethink my entire novel!

I returned home that evening, inspired (and exhausted) and anxious to get to work. I have since decided that if this is something I want to do for a living, then I need to get my ass in the chair like it is now, finish editing novel number one and move onto the next. Thanks to the Chicago Writers Conference, I have the tools, the motivation and the connections to head in the right direction and fulfill my dream of being published.