DC Author Fest recap

Sooo, I’d intended to blog last week, but errands very quickly got out of hand, and the rest of the week was insanely busy, too, as was the weekend. But such is life!

One of the things that kept me busy this weekend was DC Author Festival, which was this past Saturday at the Library of Congress.

One complaint I’ve heard from more than one DC writer is that our literary community isn’t super robust. On the one hand, that’s definitely true: I’d argue that there’s far fewer creative writers in DC than in New York or even more offbeat places, like Minneapolis. On the other hand, there’s definitely a critical mass of us—we’re just rarely in the same room.

DC Author Festival was a chance to rectify that. Sponsored by the DC Public Library, there were panel discussions that covered a good range of topics relevant to writers, and a keynote address that basically blew me away.

The first panel I went to was the Author to Publisher Relationship, which I found to be the most helpful of all of the ones I attended. There’s a gazillion resources for writers about what their relationship with their agent should look like, but there’s not as much emphasis on the relationship with the publisher. For example, I learned that publishers have waaaaay more say in your cover than I thought (which was kind of disconcerting, so I had to start praying about mine, right then and there. Not out loud, of course, though.). The publisher should also have a conversation with you about what marketing efforts they’re going to put into your book, but you should expect to do a lot of promotion yourself. Note that your book’s title can change, too—UGH!

The second I went to was a query letter workshop, led by genre fiction writer Alan Orloff. He was hilarious—“Think of querying like dating; you want the agent to think they’re special, that they’re the only one you’re seeing”—and gave great tips on how to make the letter pop. I was most interested to learn that the point of a query letter is not to get an agent, but to get an agent to request pages. Key difference!

There was a really innovative social media panel, as well. Mystery author Shawn Reilly Simmons took us through her social media profiles and gave some handy tips, but I thought Ingrid Anders’ presentation, which she did from her Twitter, was super cool. Though, it did confuse some of our elderly guests, who weren’t familiar with Twitter in the first place.

Finally, Tracy Chiles McGhee, a fellow Georgetown alum, took us through some strategies on how to build an author platform without stress. The best thing I took away was her definition of the platform: “Imagine you’re in a crowded outdoor café in Paris, and someone stands up to start speaking—whoever looks up from their meal is the platform.” Makes so much sense, and is so much less stressful to think about than trying to garner as many readers as possible.

The keynote was George Derek Musgrove, who talked about his book, Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital, and hit my heart discussing all the changes that have gone on in DC in the last several years. But, of course, there’s a long, long history of gentrification in our nation’s capital, and the book goes into great detail about it. It’s quite a tome, but I can’t wait to read it!

I detailed all of that to say that there’s some really amazing writers in the DC area, and they’re doing super cool things, and seem supportive of each other. I do wonder if we can have more of these opportunities for a bunch of us to be in the same room, encouraging each other to continue making great art. I hope so!

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