2023 Washington Writers Conference Panels & Workshops


An Agent, an Editor, a Publisher: Publishing’s Holy Trinity
Getting a book into print takes a team of professionals, but sometimes it’s hard to understand what specific role each person plays, especially when lines get blurry. Moderator Chloe Yelena Miller leads the discussion of an author’s publishing journey. Agents Andrea Blatt, of William Morris Endeavor (WME), and Katharine Sands, of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency, describe their role in preparing and selling their clients’ manuscripts. Michael B. Tager, the managing editor of Mason Jar Press, offers a publisher's perspective. And Evelyn Duffy, founder of Open Boat Editing, details how authors and the different types of editors work together in both fiction and nonfiction.

Building Your Writing Community
Putting words on the page is often a solitary pursuit, but — as these award-winning authors reveal — we can go farther when supported by a writing community. Moderator Tara Campbell, writer of flash and speculative fiction, editor, and teacher, leads the conversation about opportunities and resources. Joining her are Myna Chang, editor, interviewer, frequent reader for publications, and author of the flash-fiction collection The Potential of Radio and Rain; Amy Freeman, who serves as development director at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, and writes for a variety of publications and anthologies; and Melanie S. Hatter, a participant in the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program and winner of the inaugural Kimbilio national fiction prize for her novel, Malawi’s Sisters.

Debut Authors: Paths to Publication
A murder mystery told by a 6-year-old girl, a love story with roots in the WWII era, a YA novel set at an elite prep school, a study of Irish crime writers: Each debut book has its own journey to publication. Moderator Eliza Nellums — author of suspense novels All That’s Bright and Gone and The Bone Cay — leads a conversation about mileposts along the way for fellow writers Martha Anne Toll (Three Muses), Charlene Thomas (Seton Girls), and Anjili Babbar (Finders: Justice, Faith, and Identity in Irish Crime Fiction).

From Page to Screen: Is It As Sexy as We All Dream It Is?
It’s every author’s dream, right — to see their work on the big (or small) screen? Well, sure. And yet, we sense that what goes on outside the limelight might not be as glamorous as we imagine. Listen in as novelists S.A. Cosby (Razorblade Tears), Angie Kim (Miracle Creek), and Louis Bayard (The Pale Blue Eye), all of whom have had — or are having — their work adapted for film, give us the straight scoop on how the experience really feels.

Historical Fiction: In Living Memory
To write novels about historical events that are still within memory of the living poses particular challenges. In their most recent books, our panelists make a shift in genre, subject, or voice by turning for inspiration to family stories or our 20th-century past. Moderator Mary Kay Zuravleff, in American Ending, draws on stories of her grandparents’ immigrant life in Appalachia. Louis Bayard’s novel Jackie & Me portrays Jacqueline Bouvier before her famous marriage to John F. Kennedy. In Anthony Marra’s Mercury Pictures Presents, the protagonist’s hidden history catches up with her during the chaos of WWII. And Cheryl A. Head, author of the Charlie Mack Motown mystery series, bases Time’s Undoing on an unsolved murder from her family’s past.

Keynote: Dolen Perkins-Valdez in Conversation with Bethanne Patrick
Dolen Perkins-Valdez, a New York Times bestselling author, is acclaimed for her novels Wench, Balm, and Take My Hand. Her achievements include being a finalist for two NAACP Image Awards and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for fiction, and a nominee for a United States Artists Fellowship in 2020. Currently serving as chair of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and an associate professor of literature at American University, Perkins-Valdez is dedicated to fostering a love of reading and writing in public high schools. In this keynote, she will be in conversation with Bethanne Patrick, a renowned critic and commentator in the publishing industry, host of the Missing Pages podcast, and author of a forthcoming memoir, Life B: Overcoming Double Depression.

Muzzled Expression: The Alarming Rise in Book Banning
Moderator Sarah Trembath — poet, creative nonfiction writer, and educator — leads a timely discussion with others standing on the front line for freedom of speech and explores what we as authors can do to push back. Nadine Farid Johnson is co-author of Banned in the USA, which deals with book censorship in schools; in her capacity as managing director of PEN America Washington, she champions the cause of free expression issues around the world. Author Cheryl A. Head regularly speaks out against book bans and the suppression of speech. And most recently the chief of neighborhood library services at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, David Payne oversees the administration of 21 branch libraries.

Politics and History: Even Nonfiction Needs a “Story”
How do you choose the “story” you want to tell in your nonfiction? Finding the right framing and through-line is crucial to make a nonfiction project cohere and keep it focused. Moderator Gene Meyer, a longtime writer and editor at the Washington Post and author of Five for Freedom: The African-American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army, discusses the selected “story” approach with panelists Evan Thomas (Road to Surrender: Three Men and the Countdown to the End of World War II), David O. Stewart (George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father), and Elliot Ackerman (The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan).

Small but Scrappy: Independent Small Presses
Join four prominent voices in the small-press publishing world as they discuss their experiences and insights. The panel will feature Caroline Bock, an accomplished author and co-president and editor at Washington Writers’ Publishing House; Michael B. Tager, the managing editor of Mason Jar Press and a freelance editor and writer; and Annie Marhefka, writer and new executive director of Yellow Arrow Publishing. These experts will share their unique perspectives on the world of small-press publishing, including their experiences in editing, writing, and running their own presses. They will also offer advice for aspiring writers and discuss the future of small-press publishing. This panel is a must-see for anyone interested in the world of independent publishing.

Thrillers & Horror & Crime: Oh, My!
Join moderator Anjili Babbar for a thrilling panel discussion with authors Alma Katsu, S.A. Cosby, and E.A. Aymar on the increasingly blurry lines across multiple dark genres. Katsu’s novels are a combination of supernatural, horror, and historical fiction. Cosby is a “Southern noir” crime writer. Aymar is the Anthony Award-nominated author of No Home for Killers. And Babbar’s nonfiction focuses on crime fiction and criminality. Each will share their experiences crafting edge-of-your-seat tales, delve into the creative process, and offer insight into the techniques they use to create suspense that keeps readers guessing. Get ready for an unforgettable journey into the dark and dangerous.

Voices Across Genres
Gather together five writers from a variety of genres and discover how they identified the forms best suited to their individual vision and voice. In an expansive conversation about writing journeys, Tara Campbell (flash/speculative fiction) moderates an accomplished panel featuring Leeya Mehta (poetry), Diana Parsell (nonfiction), Bethanne Patrick (memoir), and Mary Kay Zuravleff (novels).

What’s New in Middle-Grade/Young-Adult Fiction
Three recent and very different stories: the battle to save a farming community from horrifying blight, a gender-bent retelling of The Three Musketeers, and an adventure tale that travels from small-town Virginia to the jungles of India. Meg Eden Kuyatt, author of the forthcoming novel-in-verse Good Different, chats with debut authors about their fierce female protagonists and other trends in MG/YA fiction. Ann Fraistat (What We Harvest), Lillie Lainoff (One for All), and Sathya Achia (In My Hands) explore such themes as belonging, identity, girl power, family, and diverse representation. 


Are You Publicist-Ready?
Over 3 million books are published yearly in the U.S., and more than 1.7 million of them are self-published. How does an author stand out in this crowded book world? One solution could be to hire a publicist. But then there’s the task of finding a publicist who will work for a single author and who’s the right fit for you and your book. And what does “prepared” even look like? In this workshop, PR veteran, book publicist, and author Cherrie Woods will share six things authors need to know to answer that question.

How to Be a Rockstar Freelancer
Want to become a full-time freelance writer or start a rewarding side hustle? Elizabeth Chang, a former Washington Post staffer, and Nevin Martell, a veteran freelancer, have worked together for years and will teach you techniques and tips from both sides of the craft.

The Agent Search
Keep your head, keep your heart, keep the faith. The agent search can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be devastating. Join agent Haley Heideman and author Laura Scalzo as they discuss the process. The conversation will include manuscript readiness, query letters, targeting, networking, relationship-building, and community, as well as lots of time for Q&A. 

Which Editor Do You Need?
Get your questions ready for top book editors Ally Machate and Katherine Pickett. In this session, Ally and Katherine will give you the inside scoop on the types of freelance editors available to you, what they do, why you might need them, and how you can make the most of the editing experience. They’ll discuss developmental editors, line editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders. There will be plenty of time for Q&A with this dynamic duo, so come prepared. Attendees will leave with a clear understanding of how editors can help them achieve their dreams of publication.