Write to Publish, Then and Now

Write to Publish 2017 recently wrapped up, and I’m pleased to have been a part of it as a member of Ooligan Press. Most of my role in Write to Publish consisted of promoting the conference at the last minute and setting up the event, as well as monitoring one of the panels. After the rush to pull everything together in the final days before the conference, it was nice to sit back and listen to panels of authors talk about their experiences in the industry, and it reminded me of a previous Write to Publish experience that I’d had.

While this was the first Write to Publish conference that I helped organize, it was not my first exposure to the annual event.

The first Write to Publish conference that I attended was as an aspiring author way back in 2010. Of course, the premise of the conference to “demystify the publishing process” stands out—even looking back seven years—but I remember the conference having a sort of grand sensibility to it. There were speeches from Ursula K. Le Guin and Chuck Palahniuk! The Smith Memorial Student Union ballroom was filled with chairs facing the stage for these talks, and attendees buzzed with excitement as we packed together to fill the enormous space. Le Guin spoke on the realities of balancing one’s creative vision as a writer against the practical voices of editors and other industry professionals. Apparently, a world-building detail regarding pickle barrels had been cut from one of Le Guin’s Earthsea books at the advising of her editor, who argued that the detail was superfluous to the plot. All of us in the audience laughed along with the starry-eyed thought that someday we would have to leave quirky details of our own stories on the cutting room floor at the behest of our editors. The event felt very much a spectacle, as far as university-organized writing conferences go. The open space and the big-name authors gave the whole ordeal a sort of glitz.

At Write to Publish 2017, I received a vastly different impression of the conference’s tone. It wasn’t just that I was older and participating as a team member rather than an attendee. The 2017 conference was a softer, more intimate affair. The vendor’s hall shared a space with the breakfast table, and those drawn in by the promise of free food looked happy to stop by the tables to chat, while the vendors could be seen conversing with each other and those of us in Write to Publish T-shirts. Sitting in on panels, which were held in much smaller rooms with smaller crowds, I didn’t feel like I was being spoken down to by a grandiose figure in the book world, unlike in 2010. Instead, our guests (including talents such as David F. Walker and Adam O’Connor Rodriguez) were able to speak to their audience at eye level, not just answering one question at a time but having real conversations with them. In the absence of that formal distance between globally famed authors and massive crowds, established writers and those trying to break into the industry were able to have honest discussions about the importance of research, the continuing struggles of underrepresented voices in publishing, and the value (or lack thereof) of reader reactions to one’s work.

Perhaps some of what I felt was the result of having a hand in putting the conference together. Certainly there was a somber element because of the current political climate, which was a topic addressed in many of these panels with unfiltered expressions of anger, fear, and a desire to build meaningful communities together. Whatever the reason, this year’s event felt as much a personal affair as it was a professional one. While this year’s conference may have missed that star-studded element from 2010, this year’s focus on intimate dialogue and community was no less energetic—and perhaps even more valuable to aspiring writers.

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