2019 Washington Writers Conference Wrap-Up

  • By Audrey Bastian
  • July 10, 2019

Our chair shares participants’ feedback and some of her own thoughts.

2019 Washington Writers Conference Wrap-Up

The conference ended. Adrenaline had pumped through me the entire day. I didn’t even know I needed to sit down until the goodbyes started. Thank you for coming and strengthening our community of writers. I hope your book projects are now that much closer to your goals.

Before I became chair of the Washington Writers Conference, I was a participant who had a few ideas about how to make things better. In that vein, I’d like to share — and respond to — some of the feedback we received from this year’s attendees.

First, an overview:

We received 121 evaluations. When asked to rate the conference overall on a five-point scale (with 5 being the best, and 1 being the worst), the breakdown was: 5 (44%), 4 (38%), 3 (14%), 2 (4%).

Participants rated the agent-pitch sessions the most relevant part of the conference by far. The next two most highly rated features were the Friday reception/agent panel and the lunchtime keynote address from Jeffery Deaver. (Our new editorial one-on-ones were much more popular than we expected, too. More about that later.)

From your comments:

“I [told] a friend, and she joined us this year! It’s a wonderful place to meet with agents and editors, and to network locally.”
Thanks for sharing the conference with your friends! Glad you had a good time!

“We’re all in the same leaky ark.”
I like this comment. Yes, we are!

“Too much of a focus on traditional publishing, but still useful.”
Good feedback. This will help us prepare sessions in the future.

“It’s perfect for pitching agents.”
“A ‘must’ event for writers.”
“Great energy and lots of fun.”
“Warm, informative, supportive — with open-minded agents available and eager to hear pitches.”

Glad you enjoyed it. We felt the energy, too.

“Great for fiction and nonfiction writers. Not much for poets.”
We’ll have to think about this one.

“It gives the writer a lot of information — both about their own work and the state of the industry.”
We really wanted to create a conference that centered around building you up as a writer and helping you find avenues to succeed whether it was through information or contacts.

“Year after year, the best agent-pitch venue in the area.”
Thank you!

“Great content, strong focus on publishing (vs. craft).”
We’re thinking about adding a larger craft element. Stay tuned.

“Not enough CHAIRS.”
You are right! Let’s get more chairs next year.

“The conference was interesting, but I think better resources are available to writers.”
“It’s jam-packed w/ information and contacts…I couldn’t get to as many workshops as I wanted, but the extra access to editors was helpful.”

We worked hard to invite the best resources and contacts we could find, but we’re always improving our resources and look forward to hearing more feedback and suggestions. Glad that the editors were helpful.

“I’d recommend the experience, tell them the panels are excellent, and the conference is incredibly well managed.”
Thank you!

“Busy, exhausting, productive…you will be energized by being surrounded by writers…no matter where you are in your journey as a writer, it will be worthwhile.”
This is what we strive for! Glad someone felt this way.

“The space made the event feel crammed and chaotic.”
“The conference center was great. Convenient and comfortable. Parking was easy.”

We had some mixed reactions to the space. We plan to get more space for next year. The goal is to keep it intimate but have room to breathe.

“Lunch was better than ever.”
I really appreciate our hotel liaison, Rebecca Mashek, who suggested food options and serving suggestions. Thank you.

“Having one cashier for the cash bar was inadequate to handle the number of people buying drinks.”
We definitely need to find a better solution for the cash bars. Thanks for the feedback.

“The panels were great, and it was easy to find at least one per session that were interesting.”
“More choices for panels. More advanced topics in a few.”

We’ll keep working on our offerings, including more advanced topics.

“Schedule was in impossibly tiny font & I wished for a little map of the conference rooms…I was very glad for the ‘speed pitch,’ [but] I couldn’t find anything about how to sign up for it; I found out on Twitter.”
We’ll work on this.

“You’ll probably hear this from many, but the editor roundtables could have used a bigger space and better acoustics…The speed pitching was a great idea, but it was unclear how it worked…I thought the logistics were great. Even the buffet lunch, which normally is a nightmare with a few hundred people, seemed very orderly and smooth. And in terms of communication, I so appreciated having my agent names and pitch times in advance — that was wonderful.”
We do need a bigger space for editors. We will also work on explaining how the speed-pitching works. Glad the logistics went well for you.

“High praise. Especially the sound system. Comfortable seating. I loved that coffee was available the whole time, plus nibbles. The lunch menu was very good.”
“Microphone was far too loud at closing reception.”

Thanks for the positive comments. We agree that the microphone was a little loud at the closing session.

“Hotel was easy to find. But then a confusing labyrinth to actually find the conference — not well marked with signs. Welcome packet did not include map of venue, Wi-Fi password, or detailed descriptions of sessions — all of which I think are fairly standard and certainly would have been helpful.”
We are moving to a new, larger space in the same hotel next year. We’ll work to make the signage better. We certainly could entertain adding a few more informational items into the packet for next year. I tried to save a little paper by putting signs out on tables, but if that didn’t work, we will look into what more to add to the packet.

“It was tricky balancing time to attend the sessions with networking with attendees and prepping for pitch sessions.”
We have been brainstorming ways to make this easier.

“The agent assignments need to be handled better. Because my agents were full, I was assigned to an agent who doesn't represent political novels (and I pitched a political novel). Agents should never be assigned with no feedback from the writer. I could have given an ordered list out to 10 choices, or at least been given veto rights over particular agents.”
We did try to get feedback from a few writers about their agents, but as we almost doubled our participation this year, we weren’t able to get to everyone. We added speed-pitching sessions to help a few more writers get the agents they preferred. For next year, we are ready for the larger numbers and will be better at handling the load. Keep in mind that time with agents is valuable, even if they aren’t specifically dedicated to your topic, because they can answer lots of industry questions as well.

“Make sure you bring enough books for all the authors who speak or allow them to bring their own to sell. I wanted Randon Billings Noble’s book, but it was sold out.”
This is exciting! We had no idea these authors would sell out. Our bookseller is aware and will calculate that for next year.

“I know it’s difficult to round up a huge variety of agents, but I did not find too many agents who were necessarily interested in the style of novel that I have written. Not only that, but I was assigned an agent that I did not register for & who doesn’t work with fiction, yet I am a fiction author. Also, one of the four agents I chose I did not get to pitch because I didn’t register early enough, despite registering at the ‘early bird’ time frame.”
We are already planning on adding more agents to next year’s conference. Each agent has a limited number of time slots, so registering early is still important.

“A lot of substance and value, but difficult to navigate.”
We will do a better job at helping people navigate.

“Wonderful, terrific; put up a website, and I’ll sign up for next year.”
Great to hear!

“I was very impressed with the conference this year. The mix of agents was excellent, and the entire pitching process seemed to run very smoothly. Most of the panels were good, but the literary fiction panel was amazing. All three authors and the moderator were super insightful and smart. It was a great discussion. The book signings were also a great add and a way to talk with local authors one-on-one.”
Glad to hear it!

“An outstanding event made possible by dedicated volunteers. A special thanks to each one who worked so hard to make it happen.”
Thank you!!

“More! More about nonfiction. More about publishing in media other than books (e.g., newspapers, mags, online outlets, etc.). More!”
I am a nonfiction author, so I always appreciate more for nonfiction myself. The majority of the writers who attend our conference are fiction writers. We’ll keep looking for a good balance. As far as including other mediums, this is a good idea. That might require us to expand to a longer timeframe. Perhaps that is something we can think about in the long term.

“More for experienced writers.”
Okay. Good feedback.

“So many women on panels.”

“I can hardly wait for next year. I almost freaked when I realized PITCHING was at the core of the conference. I intended to lurk in the back. The conference has given me the tools and courage to PITCH.”

Photos by Bruce Guthrie.

[Editor’s note: Mark your calendars for the next Washington Writers Conference, which happens May 8-9, 2020! Keep an eye on the Independent for updates.]

Audrey Bastian is chair of the Washington Writers Conference.

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