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AWP generally needs no introduction among writer circles. The Association of Writers and Writing Programs holds the largest* annual conference in the publishing industry. I have never been, but those who go tell me every literary journal and publisher is present there. (A chance to finally put a face to all those rejection letters! 😛 ) The location changes with each year. While AWP 2017 is just two months away in Washington, DC, the conference will move the following year to Florida, and then to Oregon in 2019.

I was happy to hear from veteran Write Naked contributor Kimberly Bunker. She went to California and attended AWP 2016 – her first ever! – and asked if she could share her experience with Write Naked. Kimberly is a conference pro. You may remember Kimberly from her exciting day-in-the-life post chronicling her experience at the New York Pitch Conference last year. Happy to welcome Kimberly back. If you’re inspired from her experience below, keep in mind AWP 2017 early bird registration has ended and pre-registration closes 12/21. Register for AWP here.

writing conference

Day in the Life at AWP
By Kimberly Bunker

Thursday, 10:20 pm (West Coast time) – hotel room

When I told my agent, Christopher, that I was coming to AWP, he said, “Try to get people to commit to write you ‘back cover blurbs.’”

“What are those?” I said.

“You know, the quotes that go on the back of a book, telling people how good it is.”

How am I supposed to do that? I wondered. But, I told him I’d try.

That was a few weeks ago. Now I am lying in my fancy hotel room in downtown Los Angeles, having just come the first day of AWP. After checking in, I’d walked to the convention center, feeling savvy and confident. I was ready to get those blurbs.

Instead, I peeked in, and my stomach dropped.

The book fair – the conference’s main area, where all the lit mags and publishers and MFA programs set up their tables – is terrifying. It’s like the internet come to life. The first I saw when I walked in were the Santa Monica Review, NYU’s MFA program, and a hundred other places who have rejected me. It felt like the first day of high school.

My confidence evaporated. I went in, but I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t even take any free chapbooks or candy, because I was too afraid to approach anyone.

After dinner, I met up with my friend Maria at a poetry reading downtown. She’s been to a few AWPs before, so when I told her how overwhelming it was, she said, “That’s normal. Everyone here’s been rejected by those places. Now when you submit again,” she shrugged, “you can say you met them.”

I guess that means I have to go back.

Friday, 9:30am (West Coast time) – Whole Foods café

I have a gigantic coffee with almond milk and agave, and therefore, renewed willpower. Today I will conquer the book fair.

Lunch, on a bench outside the convention center

That actually wasn’t so bad.

I walked around for about an hour, and met people from MFA programs and lit mags and publishing houses. All of them were friendly, and all of them agreed that the book fair can be intimidating. Apparently I’m not the only one.

3:30pm, panel – “In the Realm of the Unreal”

Feeling excited. I went to two really interesting presentations where I got ideas both for my next novel and for teaching nonfiction. In one, I sat next to Shauna, a poet from Brooklyn, who told me she doesn’t even go to the book fair because it’s too overwhelming. “You’re so brave!” she joked.

Sunday, 12pm – LAX

Here are the events I went to:

“Current Trends in Literary Publishing.” “Author as Entrepreneur.” “Are we there yet? Writing & Revision.” “Succeed Better: The Many Ways Our Words Can Bear Fruit.” A Reading & Conversation with Ruth Ozeki, Kelly Link, and Emily St. John Mandel.

And, on my last night there, Maria and I happened upon a party at a rooftop bar. Turned out it was sponsored by Tin House.

I didn’t get any promises for blurbs. I did, however, meet a dozen writers – poets, novelists, playwrights – whose business cards are now in my wallet. And I learned a ton from the panels. A lot of people, both presenters and attendees, talked about how scary it is, as a writer, to put yourself out there.

That’s why conferences and classes and rooftop parties are so crucial to writing – if you don’t meet other writers, and talk about your work and experiences, you risk losing that connection with people.

Isn’t that why we write, and read? To connect with people, and learn you’re not alone?

author kimberly bunker

Kimberly Bunker

Originally from Rochester, NY, Kimberly Bunker earned her MFA in Brooklyn, NY. She has taught writing at St. Joseph’s College, SUNY Geneseo, and SUNY Brockport, as well as community organizations. Her award-winning short stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Portable Magic: An Anthology, PANK Magazine, Storychord, and others. Her first novel is currently being shopped around by her fantastic agent, Christopher. She now lives in Fredericksburg, VA, where she works on an organic produce farm and practices aerial silks. Follow her on Instagram @k4marie.

*AWP describes themselves as “the largest literary conference in North America.”