Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What I learned at the 2017 Writer's Digest Conference

By April Moore

August 18-20, I joined a thousand other writers for the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in New York City. This is the second consecutive WD Conference I’ve attended and like last year, this year's event didn’t disappoint. Backed by the WD name and number of attendees, scoring high-profile speakers isn't difficult, which means, there was no shortage of valuable advice and information. 

While I spent a lot of time tweeting some of these tidbits of information over the three-day conference, I came away with pages and pages of writing advice, from marketing to freelancing, from craft to querying. Plus, I also got to catch up with NCW’s 2017 keynote and presenter, Chuck Wendig!

The following is a compilation of helpful tips and advice from bestselling authors and industry professionals. Let us begin . . .


One of the best ways to break into the freelancing world, is to write and sell essays. Relating your unique personal experience to current events is a great way to get noticed by a magazine editor.

Tyler Moss, Managing Editor of Writer’s Digest Magazine, also points out that you should always aim to get paid for your work, even if it’s pennies. (The 5 other freelance panelists agreed.) 

Other takeaways:
  • Use Twitter to develop relationships with magazine editors and to find freelancing opportunities. Editors often tweet what articles they are looking for. Comment on their tweets; retweet them; and tweet relevant information on your feed. Once you’ve established your interest in them and their magazine, you could direct message them with your pitch. (Avoid tweeting it because if they say yes, you could potentially create a lot of competition for yourself.)
  • All it takes is selling one article to develop a relationship with an editor; as long as you’re professional and can write well, they’ll love working with you over and over. 
  • Your creativity is your currency. Surprise an editor with your unique take on a subject. -Tyler Moss
  • Airline magazines are a great opportunity for freelancers. When people are on a plane, sometimes their only option is the magazine in the pocket in front of them. Plus, these magazines tend to pay well.
  • Use Media Bistro and Reedsy as helpful tools.
  • Digital can be easier to get into at first.
  • Use a catchy title in the subject line of your pitch to get an editor’s attention (shorter is better).
  • Above all, write about topics you’re passionate about.  


       This is where we often find varying opinions from agents; everyone has their own preference for how a query should look. Here are some tips that tend to be universal: 

  • “Treat your query like your book’s resume. Don’t be cute.” – Literary agent, Barbara Poelle
  • Don’t be self-deprecating. (I’m just a debut author). “You guys are the backbone of this industry. Don’t forget that.” – Literary agent, Janet Reid (Query Shark)
  • Don’t call it, “fiction(al) novel.” It’s a novel. (Janet Reid will stop reading.)
  • Avoid rhetorical questions in a query. It pulls the agent out of the letter.
  • Think “hook” (title, genre, word count), “book” (premise) and “cook” (who are you? Who cooked up this book?) – Barbara Poelle
  • It’s in your best interest to not divulge you used a freelance editor. That’s a sign of an amateur.
  • A query and pitch must: Who is your main character? What does she want? What is stopping her? What must she sacrifice to get it?
  • When pitching, keep it short and to the point. No backstory (I’ve been writing since the fifth grade, or I started this book five years ago, etc.). Keep it to 150 words so that the agent can ask questions.
  • Make your point and then stop talking. – Janet Reid
  • Avoid calling your book a surefire hit; don’t talk about the cover; and don’t talk about the “film potential.” Stick to the story.
  • And last but not least . . . There’s no right way to write a query.


  • Nonfiction writers: If you have expertise in an area, pitch presentations/readings to libraries. They are always looking for interesting topics to present to their patrons.
  • Develop relationships with book reviewers/bloggers 3-6 months before your book comes out.
  • When seeking interviews or reviews, “Don’t think about what the media can do for you; think about what you can do for the media.” – Sharon Bially Show media outlets how you will impact their audience.
  • Consider radio and podcast interviews. Pitch to them like you would a magazine editor.
  • Facebook is the largest social media outlet and your odds of getting attention through ads, is much higher than any other platform. - Crystal King, author of Feast of Sorrow
  • Take advantage of Goodreads and do giveaways.
  • Submit your book for awards.
  • Do a blog tour.
  • Take books with you on vacation and leave them in vacation rentals and coffee shops (hotels and airports throw them away).
  • Attend literary events.
  • Review books.
  • Promote other writers’ events and books.
  • Do not send a general press release to reviewers, media, etc. Reach out personally.
  • You are the best champion for your book. Don’t rely on your publisher or even friends and family to promote your work.


From literary agent, Jennifer De Chiara:
  • For children’s books and middle grade, your audience is also comprised of parents, teachers, and librarians. They are the ones purchasing the books for this age group.
  • For both MG and YA, avoid “parenting” your readers; they get enough of that at home. They read to escape or to relate.
  • MG is 90% action and 10% description.
  • In MG, cast of characters is small and time span is short. No subplots.
  • Trendy slang can date a book; avoid when possible.
  • 60-65% of YA is written in first person, present tense. Don’t write as an adult looking back.
  • Everything is intense for teens. Capture the gravity and intensity of teen experiences (love, sexuality, school, social life, bullying, etc.). 
  • YA doesn’t always have a happy ending, but there is always a kernel of hope.
  • YA horror is becoming a sought-after genre.
  • YA is about emotional truth. Readers want to be able to identify with the characters. – author, David Levithan


From Heather Webb, author of Becoming Josephine:

  • To help “find your natural voice” free write about 3 defining moments in your life.
  • Use YouTube to research authentic voices for characters.
  • Only use slang and dialect for flavor. Don’t “over season it.” It can degrade the quality of the narrative.
  • A conversational voice (think, Mark Watney from The Martian) draws readers in.


From author Windy Lynn Harris:

  • Generally accepted word count is 1,000-8,000 words. Established short story authors can submit 8,000+-word stories.
  • Use prompts to find the “door” of your story (character, plot, or theme). Walk through the door with confidence.
  • Observe setting last. Focus on theme, plot, character, and conflict; work your setting around these other elements.
  • Short stories haven’t evolved. They’re not trendy, but rather, a mainstay. (That's a great thing!)
  • Short story ideas are way better if you write them down (pre-first draft). Stop thinking your ideas and write them down.
  • Readers want to read about the most messed up person you can think up.
  • Deep, “touchy-feely” short stories sell.

Where short stories are published:


  • “Personal connections grease the wheels of publication.” – Janet Reid. (I particularly love this because it’s one of the reasons I love NCW and our conference. Networking and making connections are a critical part of being a writer and can lead to great things. Don’t think that conferences are just for pitching to an agent; there are lots of other ways to get on an agent's radar.)
  • A shady agent is called a “schmagent.”
  • Like it or not, your social media presence is all part of your branding. (Yes, the first thing an agent will do, is check you out on social media.)
  • “Don’t tweak your manuscript until it’s sawdust.”
  • “Being a hermit doesn’t foster creativity.” – Sally Koslow Get out there and explore the world.
  • “Get it down, then get it good.” -keynote Lisa Scottolini
  • “Value yourself. Value your wish. Protect it. Be yourself.” -Lisa Scottolini
  • On conflict via Laura DiSilverio: Pull the rug out from under your main character. How s/he deals with it propels character change and growth.
  • And also . . . “Let your protagonist fall for a lie. If your reader knows it’s a lie, it builds suspense for them.”
  • Overall, go forth with confidence as a writer. Be brave, be true to your authentic voice, and don't stop learning.

Thanks for hanging in there with me—I know that was a lot of information (and only a fraction of what I learned!) You can see more on our Twitter feed (@northcolowriter). I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to attend conferences, regardless of where you are in your writing career. Not only did I learn the latest in the industry, I met some great writers, connected with potential NCW Conference presenters, and left feeling charged and inspired to write!


Laura Mahal said...

Thanks for "taking us with you," April! I feel smarter already. As well as immensely grateful for the many wonderful writers and industry professionals I've met through Northern Colorado Writers. :-)

Kerrie said...

Thank you for taking the time to put together all this great information! It's awesome---just like you. :-)

CarrieC said...

Great points! Thanks for sharing!

Randy Manney said...

Nice post.

Randy Manney said...

April Moore you are right. You talk about Writer's Digest Conference. It is a very interesting post. I found more information here. I am waiting for your next post about child psychology personal statement.

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