Reflections on the Santa Barbara Writers Conference
Founded in 1973 by Barnaby and Mary Conrad, then owned and directed by Marcia Meier from 2004 to 2009, the Santa Barbara Writers Conference enjoys a reputation as one of the best in the West. After a two-year hiatus, it was back in full swing this summer thanks to Monte Schultz, who bought SBWC last year and Nicole Starczak, who did a stellar job as conference director. (Click here to see conference photos by r.s. thurston photography.)
What a difference a few years makes. In just two years, the publishing industry’s tectonic plates have shifted, maybe not a 6.5 shift, but enough to feel a rumble. Agents have always been in great demand at the conference and it was no different this year. As usual the agent panels (there were two panels this year), were among the most popular with attendees.
But at the panel discussions, informal sessions and informal gatherings one topic kept coming up: DIY publishing as a path to traditional publishing. Questions focused as much on using new ways to get an agent—by self-publishing/independent publishing/e-publishing—as on going through the long-established query process.
Since major houses are concentrating more and more on the potential bestsellers or known names, more writers are going the DIY route. If you can show an agent or publisher that you’ve had some success self-publishing your book (sales of about 7,500 in the first few months), it increases your chances of having your book picked up, said San Francisco agent Michael Larsen.
In her marketing workshop, Marla Miller pointed out that writers have great tools at hand now to get the word out with blogs, websites, Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks, as well as book signings and reviews in print publications (See “The buzz on social media,” March 2011 issue of The Writer).
“Publishing is where music was in the early '90s,” said Aaron Mason, a guest speaker at the workshop. He self-published an interactive children’s book, The Baffelgagging Blundernagging Blunder Brothers. “When you find the [publishing] doors locked, you’re going to have to go through the window of down the chimney.” He now has a print, electronic, and digital brand and the book is optioned for a film.
One caution came from Gayle Carline, who published a collection of her humorous newspaper columns and a novel with CreateSpace. Whether you self-publish or work through an agent, the first step is to write a good book. “There’s a lot of mediocre or poor writers out there,” said Carline. Good writing stands out.
Author Samantha Hoffman, who has a great blog called Life in Chicago, shared her success story with me at an informal gathering. She shopped her novel Mr. Right-Enough to several agents before deciding to publish it herself. Then she promoted the heck out of it using all the social media tools at hand as well as readings and book reviews. She even handed out free copies of her book on Michigan Avenue in Chicago to get a buzz going. It paid off with a book deal from St Martin’s Press who will publish What More do You Want next Spring.
While there was lots of talk about DIY publishing, writers were also busy improving their work at the daily morning and afternoon hands-on workshops where exercises and critiques were part of the routine.
I visited Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr.’s Travel Writing session (photo, right; credit: r.s. thurston photography), Susan Miles Gulbransen’s Nonfiction with a Fiction Twist, and Ernie Witham's Craft of Humor and wanted to stay for more. I was impressed by the caliber of the teaching, the critiques, the insightful and helpful direction from the instructors, and the fun everyone was having.
I was pleased to participate in the first Nonfiction Freelance Writing Panel, sponsored by The Writer. Gulbransen moderated with aplomb the lively, intelligent and informative discussion and Q&A session, covering print and electronic media. Panelists included Jane Heller, novelist, nonfiction writer and blogger; Barney Brantingham, columnist and travel writer for the Santa Barbara Independent; Jerry Roberts, the former editor and publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press and co-founder of calbuzz.com, covering California politics; Russell Bishop, senior editor-at-large for the Huffington Post and author of Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work.
There were the usual round of questions about queries and submissions. Panelists agreed that social media may be important for promoting yourself or your work, but nothing replaces a well-written query with a fresh approach to a timely subject. The number one take-away was not new but one that any editor will agree bears repeating: Know the publication and its audience before submitting a query.
I joined in an evening “pirate session” that lasted until 11 p.m. Even after a long day it was an energizing, fun Q&A free-for-all, mixing instructors, editors, agents and conference attendees. Hot topic? You guessed it: DIY publishing.
Final thought: Santa Barbara is one of hundreds of great conferences across the country. If California is out of your range, check out a writers conference near your hometown. You can’t beat a gathering of professionals, colleagues and fellow writers for inspiration, information, networking and fun.
-- Elfrieda Abbe, publisher for The Writer
NOTE: 1st photo: Elfrieda Abbe and literary agent Stuart Miller. Credit: r.s. thurston photography.
Filed under: Marla Miller, Ernie Witham, Barney Brantingham, Susan MIles Gulbransen, Gayle Carline, Aaron Mason, Michael Larsen, Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Samantha Hoffman, Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jane Heller, Russell Bishop
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re: Reflections on the Santa Barbara Writers Conference
Tue, Jul 19 2011 11:08 AM
This is a very informative blog; thanks SO much for spotlighting MarketingtheMuse workshops offered @ SBWC.
I'd like to add this as a 'PS':
When the publisher of our industry's oldest and most revered magazine sits in on workshops with the intent of learning -just like the rest of the writers in attendance-it makes ANY workshop better. My writers just loved your accessibility!
Thank you for making my MarketingtheMuse workshop even better--& the one you attended wasn't too bad....:)
With great appreciation for all that you do for writers around the world,
re: Reflections on the Santa Barbara Writers Conference
Tue, Jul 19 2011 11:56 AM
I enjoyed my two experiences at SBWC in 2008 and 2009. Would love to return some day. Thanks for this report. I will try to find a way to promote what you are doing at The Writer and SBWC on my blog www.100memoirs.com.
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