Food for Thought: Writer’s Digest Conference West 2013

by Bonnie McKernan
Abbott Press author – “Cliff of the Ruin”

Abbott Press author, Bonnie McKernan at the 2013 Writer's Digest Conference West.

Abbott Press author, Bonnie McKernan at the 2013 Writer’s Digest Conference West.

Fresh off the red-eye to Philly, I’m still processing all the data and advice collected over three days of the Writer’s Digest Conference held in Los Angeles. Most of it was palatable; some of it was not, but all of it was good and necessary. Though the menu was varied, it can be broken down into three groups: meat and potato facts from publishers who summarized latest industry trends; “comfort food” from best-selling authors who, by understanding “writerly” pains, suggested ways to ease suffering and improve craft; and exotic delicacies from marketing strategists who challenged authors to think in revolutionary ways, even when those new ways appear daunting.

The following is a sampling of my favorite take-away comments (paraphrased):


• Today, more books are published in one week than in the entire 1950s. —Eric DelaBarre, award-winning filmmaker & author 

• 25 out of the top 100 books on Amazon are self-published. —Jon Fine, Director of Author & Publisher Relationships, Amazon

• Hybrid authors (those who self- and traditionally publish) earn 30% more in sales than those who publish in just one arena. —Phil Sexton, Publisher, Writer’s Digest

• The queries of self-published authors are no longer shunned by agents. There’s nothing wrong with approaching an agent and saying, “I’m self-published. I’m getting sales traction. I need help.” —Susan Finesman, literary agent, Fine Literary 

• Amazon Rankings do not track cash sales; they represent the rate of change. Example: If you sold 5 books this week and 10 books next week, your ranking will jump up higher than if you sold 300 books this week and 300 books next week. —Roy Carlisle, Acquisitions Director, Independent Institute

• Up-Market Woman’s Fiction is defined as a commercial yet sophisticated work. It is character-driven and discussion-worthy (book club). —Susan Finesman, literary agent, Fine Literary

• Memoir and autobiography are two different things. A memoir highlights one issue in a slice of time. An autobiography spans a lifetime. —Roy Carlisle, Acquisitions Director, Independent Institute

• Getting an agent is like getting a spouse. It’s better to have none than to have one you don’t get along with. —Tim Powers, award-winning author 

• Despite penning eight novels, many of which were published, I had to wait 25 years to find literary success. —B.A. Shapiro, New York Times best-selling author


• “Perfectionism is the opposite of high standards.” Perfectionism paralyzes the writer; high standards get the job done. —Ivory Madison, CEO & editor, Red Room

• Story first, research later. [Insert brackets into the rough draft where future research is required.] —Ivory Madison, CEO & editor, Red Room

• The first ten pages will make or break a novel. —Paula Munier, literary agent, Talcott Notch Literary Services

• Do not use prologues. Readers skip them. —Paula Munier, literary agent, Talcott Notch Literary Services 

• The Bubble Method is a great way to compose story and characters traits quickly. —Eva Shaw, best-selling author, ghostwriter, instructor

• offers a free analysis of writing. (Submit one chapter, and the resulting feedback will address grammar, spelling, style, and word choice.) —Eva Shaw, best-selling author, ghostwriter, instructor

• Our brains are hardwired for story to help us navigate—not escape—reality. (We feel first, think second.)—Lisa Cron, author & instructor, UCLA Extension Writer’s Program

• For writers who can’t find the time to write: if you produce just 5-6 manuscript pages a week, you will have a rough draft of a novel in a year. —B.A. Shapiro, New York Times best-selling author

Bonnie McKernan's book published by Abbott Press

Bonnie McKernan’s book self-published through Abbott Press



• Metadata (any information that prompts buyers to purchase your online book) must include BISAC codes, a standardized list of categories used by the publishing industry. (Example: “FICTION/fantasy/contemporary” will have one code, and “FICTION/fantasy/historical” will have another.) These codes are found on the website. —Rebecca Albani, Publisher Relations Manager, Bowker

• Kindle owners buy almost 5X more books than non-kindle owners. —Jon Fine, Director of Author & Publisher Relationships, Amazon

• The “Skype an Author Network” online may be one way to get your children’s novel into classrooms and school libraries. —Eric DelaBarre, award-winning filmmaker & author

• A blog post should be 800-1000 words. —Brain A. Klems, blogging expert & online editor

• No less than 10,000 blog views will attract publishers and agents for a possible book deal. —Brain A. Klems, blogging expert & online editor 

• The best kind of marketing strategy examines every angle, includes emerging technologies, and blends all forms of publishing. Example: bundle your hardcover with a free e-book. —Gordon Warnock, founding partner & agent, Foreward Literary

Please note: if a Writer’s Digest Conference speaker is not mentioned in the list above, I may not have attended his or her session.

What was your favorite take-away morsel from the Writer’s Digest Conference West?