Georgia is home to one of the largest broadleaf forests in the nation, rich with maple, oak, and hickory trees. It’s also home to the Broadleaf Writers Conference. Now in its fifth year, the autumn weekend in Atlanta offers a lively and intimate gathering of editors and literary agents along with professional and emerging authors.
Author and executive director Zachary Steele has attended numerous writing conferences, observing how people form relationships that last beyond the event itself. “Our board of directors works very hard to foster that sense of community at our own conference,” he explains. “We want to give attendees the inspiration and knowledge to become better writers, along with fun and effective ways to become part of a community.”
This year, along with traditional pitch sessions, the Broadleaf Writers Conference includes a variety show with games of truth and dare and karaoke. “We’ll have all kinds of fun stuff,” Steels says. “Participants will have an opportunity to pitch their work to agents through a series of fun and entertaining exercises that allow them to talk about their writing in a new and unusual way.”
What you’ll learn at Broadleaf Writers Conference
This year, presenters at the conference will focus on elements of story and the process of storytelling. “We’re talking about everything from traditional world-building to building iconic images into your story that people will identify with and remember,” Steele explains.
An anonymous first-page critique session allows writers to get candid feedback from agents including LCS Literary Services’ Latoya C. Smith; Cyle Young Literary’s Kenzi Nevins; and Katharine Sands, author of Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent’s Eye.
In 2019, writer Kristine Rudolph attended the Broadleaf Writers Conference and participated in the first-page critique session. Agent Moe Ferrara read Rudolph’s work and asked Steele to put her in touch with the author as someone she might like to represent. “Two days after the conference, Kristine signed with her,” Steele says. “It’s a wonderful story.”
One-on-one sessions with literary agents are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. The first meeting is free for participants, and each additional meeting is $25. Those interested should sign up for sessions while registering for the conference, with the understanding that slots fill up quickly.
Humorous women’s fiction author Ricki Cardenas will speak at the conference; she was a Georgia Author of the Year finalist for her novel Switch and Bait, published under the name Ricki Schultz. Kimberly Jones, who hosts the Atlanta chapter of the Well Read Black Girl book club, will also present. Jones co-authored the YA novel I’m Not Dying with You Tonight with Gilly Segal.
New York Times bestselling authors Karen Abbott (Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy) and novelist/screenwriter David L. Robbins will attend. Author Rona Simmons (The Other Veterans of World War II) will present, as will author Clay McLeod Chapman, who writes the ongoing Marvel series Scream: Curse of Carnage.
Attendees can meet children’s authors Chris Negron, whose debut middle-grade novel Dan Unmasked comes out this year, and Shelli R. Johannes, who co-wrote the children’s picture book series LOVES SCIENCE.
Presenter Paul Jenkins writes graphic novels, video games, and comic books; a few of his writing credits include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man, and The Incredible Hulk. Kris Spisak, host of the Words You Should Know podcast and author of books on grammar and revision, will attend, as will Roger Johns, who pens the Wallace Hartman Mysteries.
Advice for first-time attendees
Visitors to Atlanta might want to add a day or two at the end of the Broadleaf Writers Conference to take advantage of numerous museums, including the Margaret Mitchell House – a landmark devoted to the author who wrote Gone with the Wind. “If you’re into baseball,” Steele says, “it might also be playoff time for the Braves.”
Entertainment options aside, he suggests that first-time attendees to the conference take the time to meet people and build community. “Writing is lonely,” he notes. “It feels like every rejection and every defeat is earth-shattering, and there’s nothing like being immersed in a world with other writers and moving from panel to workshop to pitch session in a place where you see that you’re not alone. There are others just like you, thinking the same thing.”
He makes sure to meet as many attendees as possible; he asks about their projects and offers help in connecting them with other writers. “When you come to Broadleaf,” he says, “you leave feeling better about yourself and about your writing community. When attendees come up to me and say, ‘I found my people,’ I’m happy. That’s exactly what I want them to do.”
—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
Broadleaf Writers Conference
Conference: Broadleaf Writers
Conference Dates: Oct. 17-18, 2020
Cost: From $150, student discount available
Location: Atlanta, Georgia