18 Feb AWP in Chicago
Iâ€™m the president of AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Every year we bring our members together for a 3-day conference. Last year we were in
The AWP represents about 30,000 writers, 80 writing centers and conferences, and 500 writing programs at colleges and universities in the
At the AWP conference, youâ€™ll find some very high-powered writersâ€”names youâ€™ve heard, like E.L. Doctorow, Joyce Carol Oates, Lucille Clifton. But mostly youâ€™ll find everyday writers like me. Still, it can be intimidating walking those crowded conference hallways where, at any moment, you might see a writer who is very successful. In some ways, the conference is an unnatural, even unsettling, experience: where else can you find yourself surrounded by 8,000 writers? But it can be comforting too, surrounded by others who are doing what youâ€™re doing, especially when your work is, in many ways, isolating.
Youâ€™ll find two kinds of events at the AWP conference: readings and panel presentations. The presentations cover all aspects of the writing world, from teaching to website building to book promotion. One of the most exciting developments in the writing world, as far as Iâ€™m concerned, is the increasing use of mixed media â€“ illustrated novels, graphic novels, e-novels. It used to be that publishers scoffed at writers who would attempt to illustrate their work, for example. It was thought that the use of illustrations in â€œseriousâ€ works was condescending to the reader, who could envision things well enough on his or her own; and so illustrations were limited to childrenâ€™s books (though youâ€™d think that children themselves could well imagine all they needed when reading).
Another development weâ€™ve seen is that the big presses â€“ the ones youâ€™ve heard of, like Simon and Schuster, Random House, Knopf â€“ have consolidated so much and limited their scope in so many ways that small presses — the ones you may not have heard of, like Sarabande, Autumn House, Dzanc — have taken on the hard work of promoting literature that does not fit easily into the mainstream marketeersâ€™ categories. If youâ€™re pitching a book to the big presses, for example, youâ€™re supposed to describe how your book is like (and better than) a similar book that has made lots of money. But what if the book youâ€™ve written isnâ€™t like any other book the big presses are publishing? What we see is the big presses increasingly playing it safe. But, really, no one can predict what will or wonâ€™t be a hit.
The most common lament we heard in the hallways of the convention is that itâ€™s harder to publish now than ever before, even though publishers are producing more books than ever (about 200,000 a year). The majority of those books are informational, like cookbooks. The small presses keep the majority of
By the way, you donâ€™t have to be a member of AWP to attend the conference. Next year we will gather in