In 2017, author and relationship expert Joey Garcia attended a book festival in Brooklyn and noticed that while writers from Jamaica and Trinidad appeared as presenters and panelists, authors from Belize did not. She mentioned this to another participant, who looked at her blankly. “Belize?” he said. “Do they write?”
Born in that coastal country on the Caribbean, Garcia was horrified. “We have to start getting our writers to polish their work and get agents to see them,” she says. “What better way than to bring the agents to Belize?”
Now, literary agents and writers come from around the world to attend the Belize Writers’ Conference, an event that caps at 30 registered participants. “This allows for intimacy and authentic connection,” Garcia says, explaining that most conferences allow participants to pay for one-on-one discussion with an agent for 10 minutes at most.
“Instead, we’re with agents all day in a beautiful resort with white sands and warm water,” she says. “We get to know each other.”
Less conference and more retreat, the agenda allows writers to meet for a critique in the morning and take afternoon workshops on the business of being an author, with a three-hour lunch during which they can nap or canoe or ride a bicycle into the small town of Hopkins…or work on a manuscript. “We have people who want to self-publish, and people who want to publish with a small press, and people who want to find an agent,” Garcia says.
What you’ll learn
At the 2020 conference, writers will explore the use of imagery, imagination, and metaphor in a workshop titled “Freeing Your Life with Words” and gain insights from a panel titled “An Insider Look at the Agent-Author Relationship.” They’ll also learn about different publishing options for a manuscript as well as how to create a powerful website to showcase their work and build an audience.
One workshop will offer advice on how to manage manuscript feedback and approach the revision process in manageable steps. For those interested in taking control of their book’s publicity, Garcia will teach a workshop titled “What Happens When Your Book Arrives Inside a Newsroom,” giving participants information on how to locate and approach the ideal newsroom producer with a stand-out press release.
“Authors think that they’re the star because they’re going to be on TV for two minutes, and their ego gets in the way,” she says. “Once you realize your book is the star, you can market it more successfully.”
Plenty of success stories emerge from the Belize Writers’ Conference. One writer, highly accomplished in academia, learned how to craft her story of growing up in a Belizean village in a more approachable way. She ended up with a book deal. Other writers have forged such deep connections with agents that they become friends…friends, albeit, who may end up working together on a book for publication.
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Belizean writer Ix-Chel Poot will deliver the keynote at the 2020 conference. “She’s a Mayan woman, executive director of Belize’s National Council on Ageing, and a wonderful writer,” Garcia says.
Other presenters include writer and former magazine editor Margaret Lee and authors Lucinda Jackson and Susan Wooldridge. Dorothy Rice, author of Gray is the New Black: A Memoir of Self-Acceptance, will teach a workshop titled “Mastering the Submissions Game,” which teaches writers how to research and evaluate markets for work and how to interpret an editor’s rejection to strengthen submissions.
Literary agent Liz Parker of Verve Talent and Literary Agency will teach a workshop on the book-to film-process. Agent Michelle Tessler from the Tessler Literary Agency will also attend as a panelist and a resource for participants.
“I really love seeing writers relax around agents, and [to] see agents getting to know writers who are at all levels of their craft,” Garcia says. “We talk about literature, and, certainly, we get a lot of great inside information about the publishing industry, but we also have conversations about things we would talk about with our closest friends.”
Advice for first-time attendees
Garcia asks conference participants to submit up to 1,800 words from a memoir, fiction, or nonfiction work ahead of time with the understanding that they cannot later submit a revision or a different manuscript. Writers can bring a different, polished piece up to six minutes to read aloud at a public presentation during the conference.
She emphasizes how easy it is to navigate Belize, as the official language is English. “However, it’s very important to remember that you’re in another country that has its own way of doing things,” she cautions. “It’s a developing country, and there’s a laid-back vibe, so you’ve just got to go with the flow and fully embrace the Belizean way of doing things. Maybe there’s a brown-out, and we don’t have electricity,” she says. “Just unplug and start writing by hand.”
2020 Conference: April 25-30
Learn more and register here.
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram @WildMelissaHart.