Roanoke Regional Writers Conference – Part Two

On Saturday, after the great Friday evening social hour and opening events, we got down to the nitty-gritty. The first session started at 0830, and there were three possibilities to choose from: “Ten Things You Can Do Now to Promote the Book You Haven’t Even Sold Yet,” presented by Gina Holmes and River Laker; “Why New Media Changes the Way We Write and What We Can Do About It,” presented by Bill Kovarik from Radford University; and “Writing Cookbooks,” by Waynesboro, VA, author Mollie Cox Bryan.

I chose Kovarik’s presentation on New Media, which was a brief primer on social media. We introduced ourselves and told how involved we were in social media, which ones we used, etc. I was surprised by the number of people much younger than I who were terrified or who lacked knowledge of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. So much for the Gen-Xers and Millennials who are supposedly the most cyber-smart of us all. Kovarik did a fascinating measurement of the number of monks it would take to produce the amount of information moved about in one day on the Internet. He used monks because they were the ones who first delved in media by reproducing by hand the Bible and other, then-rare books. Basically, it would take billions and billions (sorry, Carl Sagan) of monks to generate the information we have access to today, but it was a fascinating way to show how media have grown over a couple of millennia.

We got into a debate about whether we, as writers, adapt to technology or whether it adapts to us and concluded it was probably a little of both, but Kovarik got the point across that today’s social media “has changed the way we write, publish, and promote,” and that we definitely need to adapt to media as they evolve.

The second morning session offered “Refining the Pitch for Your Book,” presented by Neil Sagebiel; “Writing Humor,” presented by Michael Miller; “Legal Protections for Writers,” presented by Roanoke attorney Erin Ashwell; and “The No B. S. Guide to Networking,” presented by Sarah Beth Jones, a freelance writer.

Because I’m in the process of developing a query letter to obtain an agent, I opted for “Refining the Pitch for Your Book.” This was perhaps the only disappointment for the conference. The conference brochure clearly said, “Refining the Pitch for Your Book,” but the presentation itself was “Refining the Pitch for Your Non-Fiction Book.” And the presenter noted the process was somewhat different, namely when you’re pitching a non-fiction book, it doesn’t really have to be completed. The agent bases his or her decision on  a lengthy and detailed proposal. Why didn’t I leave? Well, climbing over a row of people in an auditorium would have been too obvious, and Sagebiel had an interesting story to tell of how he turned his love of golf into a best-selling book about a little-known but significant event in golf history.

In the third and final morning session, we could choose from “Marketing Your Own Work,” presented by Kathleen Grissom; “Self-Publishing How and Why,” presented by Brooke McGlothlin; “Memoir: What’s So Important about Your Life?” presented by Judy Ayylidiz; and “Making Your Photos Better,” presented by Christina Koomen.

I’d enjoyed Grissom’s keynote address from the evening before, I attended her session. Grissom indicated after she finished a draft of her novel, The Kitchen House, she set out to understand “the business of publishing.” Through trial and error, she learned that one of the most important aspects of that business is “don’t send a manuscript out too soon,” which she sees as the reason for all her early rejections. By chance she encountered another writer in the town where she lived, and that writer became her mentor, assisting her with a re-write and a second, successful agent-querying round.

However, Grissom may have a leg up on the rest of us: She had previously worked in marketing and promotion and had built a career doing that. She did, though, explain to us how she took that knowledge and applied it to marketing and promoting her book. For example, once she developed a list of bloggers who reviewed books, she familiarized herself with the blogs, contacted the blogger directly and sent review copies, then followed up. When she got a review, she sent a thank-you to the reviewer, whether it was a good review or not, and she followed any comments on the review–and responded to them.

Grissom also made personal contact with independent book stores and libraries within a three-hour drive of where she lived, i.e., she went to those places and gave a copy of her book, then set up a reading or signing event on the spot. She also emphasized the use of social media– “Make sure each book has its own Facebook page”–and drove home the importance of positive interaction with commenters on social media.

Yes, a busy morning with lots of note-taking, discussion, and great ideas. In Part Three, we’ll move on to the equally busy afternoon sessions.

I live for your constructive comments.

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