Get Out to Lean In: Takeaways from CWC2016

Ellen T. McKnightThis week we turned our blog over to CWC2016 attendee Ellen T. McKnight, a fiction writer published in literary journals and currently at work on a novel. She teaches writing workshops and hosts a blog about writing called Connecting through Story. Follow her on Twitter @EllenTMcKnight.


By Ellen T. McKnight

Like many of you, I’d rather be closeted away with my writing than do just about anything else. But the kind of inner life that drives good writing isn’t always compatible with the extroversion required of writers these days. The idea of self-promotion makes us wince. We need help to understand how the inner and outer aspects of writing fit together. This year’s Chicago Writers Conference was a great reminder of the importance of putting ourselves out there.

  1. To find readers
    Laurie Scheer explained that how we choose to present ourselves in the marketplace is part of our art. The persona of an author should come from inside. Branding is about finding readers. A niche market can make all the difference in selling books and being read. To identify our brand, Julia Borcherts of Kaye Publicity suggested that we make a list of our interests, challenges, and background, then look for where those personal details mesh with the themes and conflicts of our novels. That list can lay the groundwork for our digital presence.
  2. To forge alliances
    Michelle Grajkowski of 3 Seas Literary Agency counseled that an agent is the writer’s advocate in a tough industry. A pitch can initiate that alliance. Danielle Egan-Miller of Browne & Miller Literary Associates spoke from personal experience: pitch conversations can create bonds. Laurie Scheer discussed how to pitch by being able to answer three questions: Why make this? Why now? Who cares? A sense of urgency is key. She also talked about the importance of wonderment – our projects should offer readers something they can’t get from real life. Will readers’ lives be changed by reading them?
  3. To cultivate relationships
    Social media is huge in the book world, but that doesn’t mean we need to do everything. Julia Borcherts advised choosing things we can do well. Our goal should be to provide fresh and interesting content, approximating the rule of thirds: 1/3 information related to your book; 1/3 interactions with readers; and no more than 1/3 promotional material. She also recommended following the posts of agents, editors, and other writers. Social media is a way to make connections, as are conferences like CWC. We get the chance to cultivate new relationships with agents, editors, and fellow writers at the same time as learning more about the industry.

Putting ourselves out there can be a challenge, but the Chicago Writers Conference proved itself to be an excellent place to start.


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