AWP: A First Report for the Snowbound Conference
March 8, 2013 § 3 Comments
From AWP Guest Blogger Lori May:
One of my first conference highs this year came from a morning session “Being a Good Literary Citizen.” In a room of nearly two hundred people, panelists gave examples of how to get others involved and excited in book discussions, writing events, and even the simple—but often overlooked—components of being a valuable literary citizen. In particular, author and bookseller Emma Straub said, “As a bookseller, I have been astonished by the number of writers who don’t know how to behave—from making eye contact to saying thank you. Even if you’re socially anxious, you can still send a thank you note.”
The overwhelming theme of this panel was that it’s important for writers to focus on the writing quality first, social networking and marketing second, but that no matter how much or how little we engage within the community, that being kind, generous, and grateful are the cornerstones for success. The bottom line? You can’t fake enthusiasm, but other writers naturally gravitate toward those who are authentically kind and genuinely interested in the overall wellbeing of the literary ecosystem.
There was no shortage of enthusiasm in an afternoon session for nonfiction writers, “From Parts to a Whole: Turning a Bunch of Essays into a Unified Book.” Again the room was overflowing—this time with the full effect of people sitting on the floor in the aisles, along the walls, and perched in the doorway.
Like most others in attendance, I was curious to hear the latest insights into the dichotomy of writers versus editors; meaning, how is it we writers love the essay collection yet the industry pros seem to think such a thing doesn’t sell?
Panelist Meghan Daum, author of Life Would Be Perfect if I Lived in That House, encouraged writers to stick to their guns if an essay collection is truly at play, despite the “kiss of death” agents and editors see in such a work, unlike the unified single theme manuscript. Daum related how her book began in pieces but was encouraged to take the shape of a memoir with a more narrow focus that more tightly wove her threaded themes together. Her agent, she said, also refused to use the word “essay” in the book proposal and instead pitched the work as a single memoir—that had a definite selling hook.
“In order to tie threads together,” Daum said, “I needed to add what I call ‘gratuitous connective tissue’ that I would not have otherwise used.” This creative twist emerged as a dominant occurrence; agents and editors seem more comfortable seeing a manuscript unified by one major theme, connected by transitional matter that connects essays into one larger narrative. More than one panelist confessed their agents referred to their essays as “chapters” within the book proposal, as though this somehow fools the powers that be and bypasses the possible rejection based on sub-genre labeling alone.
This year’s conference has a number of exciting nonfiction panels in the line-up, so it will be interesting to hear the various perspectives over the next two days. And, as the panelists in the morning session encouraged of us all, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here and to engage with as many fellow writers as possible in a far too short amount of time.
Lori A. May’s essays and reviews may be found online with publications such asPassages North, The Iowa Review, Hippocampus Magazine, Connotation Press, andNew Orleans Review. Canadian by birth and disposition, she now calls Michigan home. Visit her at www.loriamay.com.