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Conference Insider: WriteOnCon

Events all across the world may be going virtual in 2021, but this three-day kidlit conference has been fully online for more than 10 years.

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Long before COVID-19 forced writing conference directors to move their gatherings online, there was WriteOnCon – a three-day remote conference for writers and illustrators of children’s and young adult books. The 11-year-old event takes place in 2021 from Feb. 19 to 21 and features critique forums, blogs and vlogs (short videos), Q&A and pitch sessions with agents and editors and professional authors, and the opportunity to meet potential critique partners working in your same genre.

Author and conference director Seabrooke Leckie first attended WriteOnCon as an author. “I loved all of it but loved the forums especially,” she says. “I met many of my oldest writer friends there and got great feedback on my query and pages every year.” As director, she and her staff run 115 to 120 events during the conference each year and provide access to the full archives of hundreds of events from previous years.

What you’ll learn at WriteOnCon

Leckie notes that there’s something for every writer at WriteOnCon. “Speakers cover a wide assortment of topics, from ways to improve your craft, querying tips, insights into the publication process and industry, marketing and career advice, inspirational essays – they even offer direct feedback from industry professionals on your submission materials,” she says.

Past panels include “Character and Plot in Picture Books” with Josh Funk, Lindsay Ward, Lindsay Leggett, and Mikela Prevost; and “Finding Inspiration” with panelists Hannah Carmona Dias, Monica Hay, and Alyssa Hollingsworth. Young adult author Amanda Sellet delivered a 2020 keynote titled “How to Succeed at Failure.” At the same conference, middle-grade author Janae Marks presented a keynote titled “Don’t Give Up.”

While the event focuses on children’s and young adult fiction writers, the content is applicable to authors working in fiction for any age. Six keynotes explore subjects relevant to writing; past topics include contemporary fiction author Matthew Landis on “How Not to be Miserable on Your Writing Journey” in 2018 and speculative fiction author Henry Lien’s “Diversity 2019: Diverse Forms of Story, Not Just Diverse Faces.”

Eight showcase events are recorded as public live events in the weeks prior to the conference and offered in the archives. In 2020, these included literary agent Natascha Morris on “Working with Your Agent,” author Rachel Sullivan talking about how to submit a manuscript, and editor Kara LaReau speaking on “Writing in Multiple Genres or Age Categories.”

Editors, agents, and traditionally published authors at the conference offer paid critiques of participants’ query letters, sample chapters, and full manuscripts. In addition, writers may sign up for feedback sessions. “This year, they’ll be recorded the day before the conference and scheduled,” Leckie explains. “They involve real literary agents in a video feed taking attendee queries or pitches and offering their feedback on what they feel works and what doesn’t.”

Featured presenters

Over 90 professionals participate in WriteOnCon each year. Perennial speakers include young adult novelist Gail Carson Levine, children’s fiction/nonfiction author Kristine Carlson Asselin, children’s series author Debbie Dadey, and picture book author Funk. Literary agents from Bradford Literary Agency, Liza Dawson Associates, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Writers House, PS Literary Agency, and The Bent Agency frequently attend.

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Interested in independent publishing? Indie HG Literary allows writers to interact with self-published authors in specific forums. Participating authors write a blog post about a particular aspect of publishing, and attendees can ask questions on the associated thread. Authors are either available for one hour when their post goes live, or they drop in to give an impromptu talk. An online reception area offers participants the chance to ask further questions and share tips about self-publishing.

Advice for first-time attendees

Participants who register for a WriteOnCon account can access the keynotes and showcase events and participate in critique forums and the Critique Partner Match for free. General admission ($10) offers access to the above, as well as access to blog posts and vlogs, podcasts, and feedback sessions. For five more dollars, participants receive access to live workshops and panels and Q&A sessions. The Time Traveler admission ($25) offers month-long access to all events in addition to an entire archive of conferences from previous years.

Leckie reminds first-timers that WriteOnCon offers three full days of overlapping events. “Trying to do everything live on conference weekend isn’t realistic; you’ll quickly become overwhelmed,” she says. “Check the schedule in advance and mark all the events you want to see live; prioritize those for conference weekend. Then once the weekend wraps up, go back and view the other events that you didn’t have time for.”

She suggests that writers set reminder alarms and stock up on snacks before each event so as not to miss a moment. And she tells first-timers to participate in the events. “Share your work in the forums. Ask questions in the live events. Try your hand at the exercises during the workshops. Leave comments. Make friends,” she says. “The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.”

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WriteOnCon at a glance

Conference: WriteOnCon

Dates: Feb. 19-21, 2021

Cost: Free to $25

Location: Remote

Contact: Conference director Seabrooke Leckie at
[email protected], writeoncon.org

 

—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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