As director of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference over the past 30 years, Tim Sandlin has talked with numerous people who wanted to attend the event but couldn’t afford the housing and transportation costs to get to the city, a renowned Wyoming vacation destination. This year is different, Sandlin says. Staff will put on a five-day remote conference in June with a full roster of bestselling authors in multiple genres, as well as top agents and editors. “This year, everybody who wants to can come,” he says. “I’m pretty excited. I think it’s going to be really different and interesting.”
Sandlin expects attendees from around the world, writers with varying levels of experience. “We’ve historically gotten a lot of people close to publishing, as well as our fair share of beginners,” he says. “People get really jazzed up about writing at our conference and then go home and write.” Staff will record each remote session so attendees can re-watch the workshops and panels for a month following the event.
What you’ll learn at Jackson Hole Writers Conference
Participants can register for workshops and panel discussions on fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, and writing for children and young adults. “We don’t do things like going off and beating on drums and getting in touch with our inner creative self,” Sandlin says. “There are some good conferences that do that, but ours is split between how to write and how to publish.”
Fiction presentations will address character development, how to create dialogue, and how to craft a compelling plot. Creative nonfiction writers will learn how to blend research and their own original voice in both memoir and essay. Those writing for children and young adults will learn about publishing trends as well as specific techniques for writing fiction and nonfiction that appeals to younger readers. Poets can expect a focus on form and meter, along with presentations on imagery to convey emotion and revision strategies specific to poetry.
Up for even more learning? Crime-fiction novelist Deborah Turrell Atkinson and mystery writer Naomi Hirahara invite attendees to bring a work in progress to a pre-conference workshop on June 21 and 22. Over several hours, participants will write and share their work and learn specific elements of craft.
Keynote presenters include bestselling novelist Téa Obreht, memoirist Megan Griswold, fiction writer and editor Dan Sheehan, biographer Andrea Barnet, and children’s and young adult author Kathi Appelt. Other children’s and YA authors include Sheryl Haft, Scott Schumaker, Nanci Turner Steveson, and Amy Kathleen Ryan.
Poets Juan Morales and Jonathan Fink will present, as will former Disney screenwriter Tab Murphy. Creative nonfiction writers Broughton Coburn, Jeremy Schmidt, Molly Loomis, and Kevin Grange will present, along with graphic novelist Tiffanie DeBartolo.
Sandlin’s favorite part of the conference is meeting people and watching friendships develop over the years. “We choose our presenters for their kindness and their willingness to talk to anybody,” he explains. “People are really open, and there’s not a gap between faculty and attendees. Things are pretty loose around here – we’re not formal.”
He notes that attendees have made deals with agents over dinner and even in line for the restroom. During one conference, he recalls, an author showed his self-published nonfiction book to the boyfriend of an agent, and the agent got him a book deal within two weeks. “Between two and four authors each year get a publishing contract here,” Sandlin says. “Many more than that find an agent.”
Agents attending the 2021 remote event include Allison Hunter of Janklow & Nesbit, Jennifer Herrera of David Black Agency, and Kimberley Cameron of Kimberly Cameron & Associates, and Malaga Baldi of Malaga Baldi Literary Agency. Editors include Maddie Caldwell of Grand Central Publishing, bioStories founder Mark Hummel, and Tiffany Shelton from St. Martin’s Press.
Advice for first-time attendees
Staff invite parents to attend the conference with their teen writers at a discounted rate. Scholarships are available for Jackson Hole students, and MFA students can attend for half-price, regardless of where they’re studying.
Participants may sign up for three 15-minute manuscript critiques with professional writers, editors, and agents while at the conference. Early registrants can nab an hour-long critique of up to 40 pages for poetry and prose or 60 screenplay pages.
Attendees worried that they won’t meet anyone at the online conference can rest assured that Sandlin and his staff have informal activities in place. Friday and Saturday morning, participants can take a remote yoga class together. And during an icebreaker on the first night, conference attendees can get online and introduce their dogs and cats. “Chickens would be great, too,” Sandlin says. “They love Zoom.”
Jackson Hole Writers Conference at a glance
Conference Dates: June 23-27, 2021
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