At the Brava Theater in San Francisco, Poets & Writers West brought together Bay Area writers with seasoned, successful agents, publicists, and writers for a day of honest, straight-forward discussion about writing today, and the creative ways authors are reaching audiences today.
Let it be known that Literature and Poetry are far from lost arts, resuscitated by expanding marketing by way of technology, and the broadening list of authors that self-publishing and growing content markets reveal.
As someone who has come into the Literary world by way of invitations to publish that lead to my first publications, and, as a photographer/designer of book covers, I really considered myself a ‘newbie,’ as I learned of the rich tradition and history of the literary arts in San Francisco and the Bay Area.
The conference provided an overview by way of the range of speakers and panelists, and offered basics for authors still starting out with the first, second or third book, about how to connect publishers, agents, and team of editors, book designers, cover artists, and publishers that any book requires – even if you wear all those hats as with self-publishing. (Wearing all the hats is definitely not recommended, even if you have to trade editing with a fellow author!)
I came to the workshop as someone with a book draft, stuck in the editing process – meaning – I have not even started to dig back in and already months have passed!
The workshop opened my eyes to the literary world around me, and, I was in awe of the people who spoke about the Bay Area literary community that they themselves had shaped over 30-40 years.
Hearing of how so many authors and editors and lovers of literary arts contributed to shape this abundant landscape gave me pause to ponder on the countless hours and collaborations over that time span.
Many stories shared how the magazines, and chap books were given away freely with no thought to anything more than expanding the reach of words and the sharing of ideas.
And, we aren’t talking about a give-away as a lead into a sale!
It was beautiful and inspiring to see how many people came together to create a living, breathing community that has embraced new waves of people while retaining their historical intellectual wealth, respecting the experience of elders while reaching out to younger writers.
The diversity of the panelists gave frame to persistent challenges, but definite progress.
Times are different.
San Francisco and Oakland are in upheaval of planning developments and underneath are those who have lasting values that are no longer needed.
You won’t find me counting out the Bay Area Literary community any time soon! Just explore online the numerous organizations, events, and contests that abound.
‘Writers in New York read other writers’ reviews, writers in San Francisco read each others books.’
One of the sayings at the conference that stuck with me was that ‘Writers in New York read other writers’ reviews, writers in San Francisco read each others books.’
Several of the best panels offered guidance on the writing process, including a pitch session that illustrated how publishing house editors ‘hear’ book pitches, with several writers selected by submission to read their pitches before the audience.
The responses from the editors was a education! I came away with the sense that there are growing audiences that publishing houses want to reach and make sales!
I must say, this being the first pitch panel I have seen since I pitched a film project myself at the NALIP Media Conference, it was very nice to not be in the hot seat this time!
I finished the first draft of ‘Homebound by Sea’ last year as I promised myself I would do.
This year’s contract with myself is to complete the book and submit for editing and publication.
One of the reasons Poets & Writers Conference was such a gift to me – and it literally was a gift to receive the ticket of someone who could not attend – was to hear how writers and poets move beyond ‘stuck’ to ‘action!’
Briefly, here were some of the tips that resonated and might for you too:
1) Reading aloud the work of an author you admire, a tip shared by several authors. Author Wendy Lesser shared her experiences as a creative child growing up in an artistic household and immersed in the words and art that inspired her to become a writer;
2) Copying down the work of an author you admire as an exercise for learning good story structure and to better understand the sentence structures of respected writers you read and support;
3) Reading the letters and journals of writers you look up to and respect, a great tip shared by Yiyun Li.
Seeing her literary heroes helped Li see her own process in a new light, and she felt, took some pressure off to know even these writing geniuses had their own faults and disappointments. Yiyun retells the story of one of her favorite writers, Checkov – whose letters she reads for inspiration – and how he wrote to his friend about a book he had in mind, and over numerous letters, laid out the entire map of the book’s story structure, with very specific detail about the arc and each character.
And still, Chockov never completed that book.
Alejandro Murguía, author of the American Book Award-winning, ‘Southern Front,’ and, ‘This War Called Love,’ spoke about the importance of ‘time’ in the structure of a story, and in mapping the book’s arc.
In fact, mapping time in the story may very well be the most important element of the story structure, said Murguía, professor of Latina Latino Studies at San Francisco State University and first Latino Poet Laureate of San Francisco.
You can order Alejandro Murguía’s books at www.alejandromurguia.org
It was very grounding to hear Murguía share his wisdom, and writing guidance. The notion of time resonated with me, as time – reaching as far back as the Ohlone have been on the coast of California, and to the ancient pyramids in Mexico, where I lived for 7 years – has been something I have given a lot of thought in writing Homebound by Sea.
Literary agent Ted Weinstein, publicist Amy Packard Ferro and publishing veteran Debra Englander gave a run-down of the publishing process and important tips in The Savvy Self-Publisher.
This panel – together with author Keith Devlin – gave a straight-forward, advice- filled talk about the self-publishing industry, and the examples of creative packaging that point to how authors can reach new readers through a combination of traditional and cutting-edge publishing.
I have great respect for writers who are leading the way as self-published artists.
Designing book covers with original photographs and commissioned art for writers and poets has been such a profound joy in my life.
Kim Shuck, Cherokee Poetess and Author, is one of those authors with whom I have worked who has crossed back and forth between traditional and leading-edge publishing. Kim Shuck’s long list of publications, including the recent Sidewalk NDN, reaches an international audience. Visit her site at Kim Shuck.com.
Nitza Agam, Memoir author, is working on her second book, due out in 2016, the cover for which I have already created some mock-ups. You can find Nitza’s first book, Scent of Jasmine, here at AuthorNitza.com.
‘Why We Write,’ Panel at Poets & Writers Conference
By the afternoon, the conference peeled back the layers, exposing some of the more intimate challenges as writers, facing criticism, sustaining oneself in the face of rejection, how to move beyond blocks and how to keep the view forward to be be able to complete the books we want to share and feel passionate. Melissa Faliveno, associate editor for Poets & Writers Magazine asked good questions of the panel that included D.A. Powell, and Michelle Tea.
One of the writers I met that day spoke so highly of D.A. Powell as a writing instructor, and recommended him as someone who will push a writer to grow positively to extend their craft.
D.A. Powell spoke on the importance of reading one’s work before an audience, so the author can hear how audiences react to the writing, to listen to where there is room for improvement. Readings offer an important step in the writing process, so the hard work of the author is not lost in an incomplete or less crafted book.
Reading is Sexy!
Alejandro Murguía got the biggest applause of the day when he mentioned his view that nothing is sexier than lovers reading to each other!
For whatever reason resonates with you in 2015, join the literary community in the Bay Area, check out local authors and recommend their websites, and attend with a friend local readings on topics of interest.
We are quite fortunate in the Bay Area to have such literary capital and legacy to foster community, sustain long writing careers, and, invest in the next generation and the many communities where writing can serve.