Conference Insider: Pacific Northwest Writers Association

This Seattle-based conference effectively balances art with business – and has a long list of alumni success stories to prove it.

Pacific Northwest Writers Association
Pacific Northwest Writers Association participants gather in a genre about craft and marketing. Photo by Brian Mercer

Ever since the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s 2018 conference in Seattle, President Pam Binder has been fielding phone calls from attendees who’ve signed contracts with agents and editors they met at the event. Often, publishers contact her for information on the winners of PNWA’s annual writing contest; one presented a winning author with a contract right there at the conference.

Binder is delighted. “We’ve been around since 1955,” she says. “We want to help authors achieve their dreams and become successful.”

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Though the PNWA conference attracts between 500-600 people, it feels more like a close-knit group, she says. This is, in part, thanks to conference rooms assigned by genre where writers can go to find “their people.”

“If you write mysteries, there’s a room for the duration of the conference related to cozy mysteries, thrillers, detective stories, legal mysteries,” Binder explains. “You can go and listen to agents and editors and professional authors talk about research, writing, and marketing – soup to nuts. We do that for almost every genre, including romance, literary fiction, memoir, children’s and young adult, and screenwriting.”

What you’ll learn

“Our goal is to make sure authors are well-informed so that they realize writing is a business,” Binder explains. “This can be hard for authors because the work is so creative and personal. It’s difficult to take off your creative hat and put on your business hat.”

With that in mind, the conference offers classes on marketing, promotion, and learning the difference between traditional and non-traditional publishing, along with workshops on craft. “The whole idea is that you’re not going into this yourself – we’re here to help you with the knowledge that takes the stress out of writing so that you can succeed,” Binder said.

In 2018, three-hour master classes featured a hands-on workshop on how to create emotionally powerful scenes, how to research and write a marketable book, how to plot a novel, and how to create a press kit. A class for authors interested in indie publishing provided information on nontraditional publishing methods along with insight into how to format and market books to readers.

Shorter sessions in 2018 included “Writing Characters with Disabilities,” led by authors with disabilities who addressed the specific challenges writers need to consider to avoid stereotypes and misinformation. Another session titled “Build a Writer Platform in 12 Months” gave participants a month-by-month guide to increasing visibility through social media and literary citizenship in their community.

Young Author’s Day, during one day of the conference, is a free event with multiple sessions for writers ages 8-16. Author and illustrator Dana Sullivan teaches a workshop on how to draw your fictional characters, while other children’s and YA authors lead workshops on characterization, setting, and plot.

“They aren’t talking down to kids,” Binder says. “And these kids are serious about writing. It’s phenomenal to watch a 10-year-old show up with a notebook and pen or a laptop, raring to go.”

Pacific Northwest Writers Association
Attendees at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference mingle with authors. Photo by Brian Mercer

Featured presenters

In 2019, literary agent and craft teacher Donald Maass will teach a master class. For last year’s conference, he addressed the techniques of timeless storytelling to create resonance and relevancy for readers. Best-selling historical romance novelist Julia Quinn will teach a master class, as will best-selling mystery novelist Robert Dugoni.

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JD DeWitt, head of acquisitions at a literary management and production company, will teach a one-day intensive workshop on Sunday to give writers information on how to connect with Hollywood television and film producers.

Binder notes that 30 agents and editors will also attend the conference, and attendees can sign up to pitch a book-length project to them during 90-minute Powerpitch sessions. Interested writers should check the conference website to see which agents and editors will attend each of the five sessions and choose accordingly.

 Advice for first-time attendees

Anyone can become a member of PNWA, which entitles you to monthly meetings in the form of webinars accessible nationwide. Authors in and around Seattle can also enroll in weekly craft workshops with Binder and other area writers. “This way, when you come to the conference, you’re ready to go,” she says.

Potential attendees are welcome to call the PNWA office with any questions at all regarding the conference. Staff also hold a meeting for first-timers on the first day to let them know what to expect. “We’re glad to help you decide on which workshops to attend, depending on what you write. We’re here to make sure your experience is a good one,” Binder says.

The conference offers various price points and opportunities so that attendees can register for just one day or for the entire conference. “If you’ve never been before, and you just want to see what it’s like, you can sign up for one or two of our master classes,” Binder explains.

She encourages attendees to volunteer at the conference, as a way of getting to know people – including featured presenters. “If you’re planning on going to a particular workshop anyway, you can stand at the door and take tickets and introduce the speaker,” she says. “It’s a positive experience to meet other writers who may potentially become your critique partners.”

 

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Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016) and Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). melissahart.com.