Monday, April 27, 2015

In Which I Attended AWP

AWP (Association of Writer's Programs) is an annual conference that roams around the country, landing in a new city each year. And this year it was at Minneapolis, so I registered to go.
Also, since I was a student, my registration cost was vastly cheaper than if I wasn't a student, so that was awesome.

AWP was a three day event, running from nine in the morning until after midnight. I'm not even kidding. There was a party on the schedule every night at the hotel that didn't even start until 10.
I, though, am an old person and so I didn't stay out later than 9pm.

The schedule had like 15-20 panels every hour, so sometimes picking what to go see was a bit of give and take. A couple of my MFA friends were there, though, and some of my MN KidLit peeps, too, so there were times when we were sort of able to split up and then reconvene with stories of what we missed.

Going in, I knew that there would be a lot of great panels by the MN KidLit peeps and the Hamline MFAC peeps. On day one I was torn, did I want to go see the panels my friends and teachers were on? Or, because I see them at school, and locally, did I want to take the opportunity to go see panels I couldn't usually see?

Logic won out and I decided on the latter.

That only lasted for one day.

None of the other panels were as good. And I wasn't the only who thought so. Time and again I heard the same story from others, and as the days went on, the Hamline MFA booth at the book fair got busier and busier as more and more people saw the Hamline panels and then decided to check out the program. Which is awesome. The program is amazing and I would love to see more people apply.

But the other panels. I would be so excited about them. They had titles like "What I Wish I'd Known Before My First Book Came Out" (this is timely and relevant to me, since my book will be out in less than a year) or "Women Writing Darkness: Violence, Villains and Unhappy Endings" (I write a ton of violence and I was so excited to see what other women had to say)

The Women Writing Darkness panel was packed. This photo was before it even filled up.
I did come away with this gem of a quite from Kate Acculia:
"No one ever questioned if Walter White should be respected."

But I would get to the panels and they would fail to deliver on the topic at hand. Women Writing Darkness was less a conversation about the problems we face in regards to publishing (women are "supposed" to write "likeable" characters, whereas men can pretty much write whatever they want) and instead was a panel where the panelists just read parts of their books. Which, I mean, I came away wanting to buy their books (which I'm sure is a bonus for them) but with no greater knowledge or understanding of the topic.

And for the first book, panel. Two of the panelists were poets with small houses, which didn't really help me much, and the one novelist on the panel's first book came out in 1979. I wasn't even born, and to say that publishing has changed a bit since then is just a tiny understatement. Also, none of them actually addressed what they wished they'd known, other than "Have a writing group before you submit anything", which, for those of us who had already sold a book (and the panelists took a poll beforehand. There was a large chunk of us) knew, or complaints about how much social media has to do with marketing now.

Anyway, for the TL;DR crowd (and sorry, this post ran longer than I planned) my MN KidLit and Hamline MFA peeps were the highlight of the conference. By the end of the week their panels were standing room only, something I hope the conference organizers took note of.

AWP may come back in 2020, and if it does, I'm going to try to put on my big girl pants and get on a panel or two myself. Because more than once I was a spectator in the audience wishing I had been on the panel because I had things to say regarding the topic at hand.

How about you? What kind of panels do you like to attend when you hit a conference? Something unexpected? Or the tried, yet true, panels of your colleagues?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

They just read from their books? That's rather lame. Hope you got some good stuff out of the weekend anyway.

Maria Zannini said...

Panels can be so hit or miss. I've attended some unexpected ones that were beyond awesome and others I thought would be superb, only to be disappointed.

I hope you do get on some panels next year. You have a lot you can share.

Rena said...

I've been to really awesome panels, and I've been to panels that were big advertisements for not very good books (IMO).

As for actual writer's conferences... I've never been to one. I know, I'm losing street cred all over the place, but it's true. I've never even sat in on a class about writing. It's not that I don't want to learn, but I can't always sit there and listen to people talk about writing as if they really know. So much of writing early on is just trying stuff on and hoping it works out for you.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I've attended a few conferences and I tend to go to those panels that have something interesting to say about the writing process and detest those that are thinly disguised marketing ploys. Some panels are great others...let's just the the title of the panel was the best thing.

I have attended some of the after parties and they've been fun but I tend to leave early.

Like you, there have been a few panels I would have loved to be a panelist on because I had things to say or share. None of which was brought up unless I asked a question and I asked a few. :-)

Sia McKye Over Coffee

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