It’s that time of year once again! For my third American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference I decided to switch things up—I attended Members’ Day for the first time. (Curious about my past experiences? Check out my highlights of last year’s ASJA conference and 2013 ASJA.) For those unfamiliar with the ASJA annual conference, it is held each spring in New York City. Over the past few years ASJA started holding smaller conferences at different times of the year—more recently in Chicago and San Francisco—and the next event is this August in the Washington, DC area.
Members’ Day offers a similar format as the rest of the conference with sessions and panels. However, instead of on-site lunch everyone has the options of lunch on their own or informal lunches with other members nearby. The biggest difference: Client Connections.
Client Connections is a ‘speed dating event for writers’ of sorts. Through a lottery system you can ‘win’ a spot with a literary agent or magazine editor for a 10-minute face-to-face meeting. I entered the lottery and got five spots! I spoke with many members throughout the conference and didn’t find anyone that got that many. I met with two literary agents and three magazine editors. More to come on those meetings in the months ahead. 🙂
Generally, I take handwritten notes at conferences or I use my iPad’s notepad app. I decided to use Evernote this time. I haven’t used it in a few years and thought it would be wise since all the notes I take on my iPad would then be accessible when I’m typing this on my laptop circa now! It was a wise decision–I’m going to use this for note-taking at all future conferences.
If I could tell you the three most important things I took away from this year’s ASJA conference they would be:
- Podcasts. My favorite panel was the first one I attended: ‘Tell Stories Using Audiobooks and Podcasts.’ Jay Snell, the former editor of Macworld and now successful podcast host, currently makes half his income from podcast sponsorships. He explained the common resistance many people have to starting a podcast in a simple way. It’s common to hear someone say, “Why bother making a podcast when there are so many out there anyway?” Jay’s logical retort: “There are so many websites out there, you might as well not bother having your own.” Having a podcast might become just as essential as having a website. This is reassuring to hear as I’ve been pondering making “Write Naked On Air” this year!
- Freelancers reign. A panel I went to called ‘Breaking into Food Writing’ underscored how much magazines rely on freelancers today. The (new) editor of Saveur Adam Sachs said, “Staff writers are sadly an archaic title.” All the panelists stressed how much they love a good query letter and how important it is to be as specific as possible in your queries: Embed links to past articles and say exactly which section of the magazine your pitch fits.
- Journalist-turned-author and vice versa. I connected with several members throughout the conference who are successful book authors and are only just starting to pitch magazines for the first time in their careers. On the flip side, I met writers like myself who have a heavy freelance journalism background and want to transition to fiction writing. Fortunately, ASJA had a panel ‘From Journalist to Novelist’ that reinforced how helpful it is to have a journalism background before focusing on fiction. The panel also stressed the downsides! On the positive end of the spectrum, a journalist’s articles in prior publications provide a significant credibility, are more attractive to agents, and offer built-in connections for when the time comes to request book reviews. On the flip side, as journalists we are so comfortable with deadlines and structure that novel writing does not provide any of that—it is entirely self-disciplined. Panelist Sallie Wiener Grotta, author of the much-hyped The Winter Boy said it best: “I don’t recommend getting into fiction unless you are obsessed about it.”
Thanks again to the volunteers and staff that organize my favorite event for writers!