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Conference Insider: Women Writing the West Conference

This three-day virtual event welcomes both emerging and established voices interested in writing about the American West.

A group of WILLA Literary Award-winning authors gather at a past Women Writing the West Conference.
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Since 1995, writers have gathered online and in person around literature that recognizes the role of women in the history of the American West, specifically their influences on the culture and growth of the region. Each year, members of Women Writing the West come together with other writers, agents, publishers, and book professionals in cities including Seattle, Denver, Tucson, and Albuquerque.

As in 2020, the 2021 Women Writing the West Conference will take place remotely. “That’s the best way we can keep everyone safe yet still be together,” says the organization’s president, Barbara K. Froman. Organizers have put together a three-day event that blends informational workshops and presentations with fun networking activities online.

What you’ll learn

Prior to the conference, writers can sign up to participate in a roundtable with agents and editors to receive feedback on specific manuscript pages. Staff organize each virtual table by genres, such as romance, historical, and nonfiction works.

The conference includes two tracks – one for emerging writers and one for professionals – with workshops providing interactive instruction on success strategies for today’s market. Attendees will learn how to develop unforgettable characters, revise a manuscript, choose the perfect publishing path, and ramp up book sales. “There’s a balance of education for everyone, whether you’re just beginning or you’re a tenured writer,” Froman says.

Writers can learn how to write flawed characters readers will love, deepen point of view in a story, and set a scene with a sense of place. Some presentations focus on writing a first chapter that hooks the reader as well as how to craft satisfying final chapters.

Froman describes one workshop that will walk writers through the steps to take after they’ve completed a manuscript. “Do you pitch it? Try to find an agent? Self-publish? This workshop helps attendees to figure this all out,” she says. “Are you the type of person who can do all that’s necessary to successfully self-publish? These are questions we, as authors, have to ask ourselves.”

Another popular presentation teaches writers about historical research and, specifically, the importance of considering contemporary social and political issues in settings from the past. “It’s really interesting because you can find the base of today’s issues in previous historical conflicts,” she explains.

Featured presenters

Portland author Molly Gloss is the keynote speaker in 2021. The award-winning author of several novels, she represents the conference theme of “Bridging the Past and the Future.” “She began writing when sometimes you had to use only the initials of your name because women didn’t write science fiction,” Froman explains. “She’s seen so many changes, and she can tell us what it took to walk the path and get to where we are today. We’re in a whole new era, and we need to focus on diversity and collaboration and how we communicate via social media.”

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Developmental editor Tiffany Yates Martin will present a pre-conference workshop titled “Shoring Up the Middle of the Book Sag.” Other presenters include developmental coach Sheila Athens, author Penny Sansevieri (How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon), and contemporary romance author Laura Drake.

Advice for first-time attendees 

First-timers can get to know other women writers of the Western U.S. during after-hours readings and on Saturday, when presenters announce the WILLA Literary Award for a recently published novel, the LAURA Short Fiction Award, and the DOWNING Journalism Award. “You can have so many interactions with people at a virtual conference,” Froman says. “For introverts who love to listen to other people, it’s a freeing experience. You can put something in the chat and not feel uncomfortable. You can ask questions or not ask questions. You can meet people during breaks, or you don’t have to. You’ll get from it as much as you put into it. That’s probably true of any conference, but virtual events can be easier for introverts.”

She suggests that participants get to know fellow attendees in topic-specific breakout rooms throughout the three-day event. They’ll meet other writers in groups discussing topics such as western mysteries, research-specific challenges, and that day’s presenters and workshops.

Froman joined Women Writing the West five years ago and found the group to be friendly and welcoming. “I was just barely starting; I’d only sold one book,” she says. “But no one cared if I was a beginner or if I’d published 10 books. We’re all in this together, and we’re all going to lift each other up on the journey. We work very hard to maintain that.”

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Women Writing the West Conference at a glance

Dates: Oct. 7-9, 2021

Cost: $159-225

Location: Online

Contact: Conference Chair Kathy Sechrist, [email protected] 
womenwritingthewest.org/conference

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.

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