In mid-November, Mount Mary University hosted it’s first ever Publishing Institute, a new annual event dedicated to the business of writing and publishing, specifically for part time, first time, and amateur authors.
The all day event was a great success, bringing together writers of all ages and experiences, male and female, traditional and modern. After a cup of black coffee and an introduction by Ann Angel, English Graduate program director at MMU, the day began with an author’s panel Q & A session. Local authors Julia Pandl (Memoir of the Sunday Brunch), Jenny Benjamin (This Most Amazing) and Dan Schultz (Dead Run, The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West) shared their experiences writing, publishing and promoting their novels. The lighthearted panel shared anecdotes honestly and offered plenty of realistic suggestions. Following the discussion, I joined a breakout session on writing query letters. The session was led by Elizabeth Evans and Jessica Regel, agents at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, who recommended the short and sweet approach.
I was especially excited to have been selected to interview the keynote speaker Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This and director of the Creative Writing program at Harvard University. Johnston read allowed from his novel and shared some advice that was particularly appropriate for the novice audience. For those who know writers, or live with writers, or are related to writers, they may find the act of writing to be a selfish pursuit–indulgence was the word Johnston used. In reality, though, it’s quite the contrary, as most writers wouldn’t consider their scheduled writing time to be 100% pleasurable. In some cases, it’s barely tolerable! No, most of the time the writer would likely rather sleep, or watch TV, or put in extra hours at work, or play with their kids, or go for a jog, or whatever people do. Writers don’t write because they always want to, it’s because they have to. It’s because the story will fade and be lost if it isn’t told. It’s because the right story deserves the time and energy it takes to be told. Johnston is an excellent speaker, and his words, though brief, were very inspiring. Johnston’s interview was also enjoyable, as he shared the ups and downs in the process of producing his debut novel.
The afternoon included an American Idol style query letter reading (letters were submitted beforehand and read anonymously) and breakout sessions on post-publication. There was also an excellent opportunity to meet with literary agents for a 10-minute pitch and critique. I didn’t participate for lack of a novel to pitch, however I heard later that a handful of writers made successful contacts. The event concluded with author readings and wine, which was a fantastic way to wind down a productive day.