July 19, 2008, Category: Writers

PNWA Writer’s Conference, 2008

penpaper I’ve finished  a novel, am working on my second, update this blog regularly, and write short stories yet hesitate to call myself a writer because I’m not published. I thought I might feel out of place at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Summer Conference, but I didn’t. I met some really cool people and picked up some new ideas for my toolbox.

I was sitting this afternoon in a workshop on characterization and looked over to see Robert Dugoni sitting several people away, listening and taking notes. He’s a New York Times best selling author and still attends and participates in these conferences. Pretty damn cool! He was also one of the keynote speakers and gave a touching, inspiring presentation. He seems like Mr. Perfect: great speaker, high-achiever, hard worker, wonderful family, best selling author, and comes across to me as one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. I especially liked his dedication to family values, genuine compassion for the people around him, and his obvious high work ethic. Somehow I gotta get me a work ethic like that.

Mary Schneider, an editor at Writers Digest, was at my dinner table and we all talked a lot about blogging. I’ll have to start watching her blog.  Gayle Lunds, the author who broke the barriers for women thriller authors signed a book to my daughters (her book “Masquerade” is considered by Publishers Weekly as one of the top ten spy novels of all time). What really touched me was how genuinely interested all of these celebrity authors were in us “non-published” authors. They asked about my life, what I’ve written, what I’m working on, and encouraged me in my writing passion. In fact, Gayle assured me that I was indeed a writer, but I still can’t quite accept that label. I need to get something published before I accept it.

Robert Liparulo seems like a fun guy. Easy going, sincere, down to earth…the kind of person that reminds me of a good friend. I felt real comfortable and at ease talking to him. I haven’t read any of his books but I have “Comes a Horseman” right next to me and plan to start it tonight.

Fleetwood Robbins, an editor from Wizards of the Coast, was another real sincere, easy person to talk to. I know these editors are busy and get tons of submissions yet he spent a half hour talking to me about Mandala’s Catalyst. He welcomed me to send it to him, but sending a submission is like buying a lottery ticket. I pretty much know I won’t win, but there is still that outside chance it could happen. I’ve often wondered if the money I spent on stamps for my submissions would have a better chance giving me a return on a lottery ticket. But I keep trying, and I don’t buy lottery tickets. At least I’m not alone. All of these authors had a long hard road to where they are today. It was encouraging in one sense yet discouraging to be reminded that rejection really is the life of a writer. I don’t know any lottery winners, but at least I know a few best selling authors now.

I could go on. It was a great conference filled with a variety of authors (from best selling to unpublished) and it was a pleasure to meet and visit with everyone I met.  I’ll stay in touch with a several, like Tobin (an author I met from Oregon) and Karen Morison-Knox (an award winning author from San Francisco who helped me work on my pitch).

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’ll for sure go back again next year. And I’ll try and talk my mom and Tracy into going too.

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7 thoughts on “PNWA Writer’s Conference, 2008

  • By Mikayla - Reply

    I am glad you went! You should be a writer. You have writers blood in you. Hehe

  • By Mike N. O'Clast - Reply

    The PNWA is not as good as you think. Unless you enjoy spending lots of money and being exploited. Dugoni was a finalist in the screenwriting contest. The contest, supposedly, is a means to help up and coming writers. Not only that, but the judging is suspect. A few judges have said that they gave low scores to entries that somehow became finalists.

    Now, on the PNWA page, there is a pitch by Meg Jensen about her success at the PNWA. She claims to have sold books to major publishers, but her name does not come up on Amazon.

    Aside from Bob Dugoni, no other writer can claim the PNWA has helped their career. Agents and editors come for the boondoggle. The PNWA is losing respect with agents and editors, partly because some of their finalists are poor writers. Judges have complained that they give a low score to papers that turn up as finalists.

    More than one conference has been caught helping people who happen to be ‘benefactors’ of the conference. The idea is non-profit, but the salaries paid are dependent on the dues and fees and contest entries. But how many PNWA writers are actually successful. Compare this to the bigger contests.

    Another thing is, look at the presenters at the conference, some are even self-published.

    The PNWA can help you meet agents and editors and other writers, but don’t go thinking it’s going to help your career. The PNWA has to pay agents travel and lodging expenses to get them to come (don’t let them tell you otherwise).

    (PS – I’m writing under an alias, but I’m agented and published. However, I remember the days before, and am an advocate of the little guy. The PNWA is what it is, formerly it used to be a pure organization, now it’s not.)

  • By Warren - Reply

    Interesting comment and perspective, Mike. All I can say is that I enjoyed the conference and made some good connections. I think anyone thinking this or any organization can make them a successful author is way off base, not that you are assuming that. But those who do will be disappointed. And yes, the fee to attend is high. But it is similar the many business conferences I have attended. It’s really about the education and networking, and I felt good about that. The majority of the workshops were informative and constructive. I didn’t go assuming it was going to get me published…two years ago I would have had higher expectations. But I’ve submitted enough since and met several agents and editors enough to know that those face to face meetings scheduled at the conference probably won’t amount to a whole lot. We are better off querying them with top notch writing than pitching them face to face. Something like this conference will not have an immediate direct impact on a career. But, for those who it works for, it can be a part of the process, a means to an end. And, as in your case, it’s not for everyone. In the end a successful writing career is a long, lonely, discouraging process we all must face alone. And most of us never achieve.

    I’ve seen stories I liked ripped apart by critics. I’ve read best sellers I thought were very poorly written. What one publisher accepts as golden, another rejects as trash. It’s all subjective, even judging contests. And a name can make a difference, like it or not. And luck does play a part. I don’t believe in complete fairness in any environment, but it is what it is. I play the game the best I can.

    I appreciate your comments. I’ve seen writer retreats and programs that are expensive and staffed with top notch authors and editors. The bottom line is that they are a business. They are organized to make money for somebody. Sometimes an implied suggestion of success for attending misleads. Honestly, the best thing any writer can do for themselves is read read read and write write write. But there are still many who want to participate and benefits from retreats and conferences like this. But I strongly agree that a course, class, or conference can’t guarantees anything.

  • By Mike N. O'Clast - Reply

    Good points. The PNWA has a function, and a lot of the editors and agents that attend make a living in the book industry. You seem to go in with a realistic perspective, all the best in your writing career.

  • By Warren - Reply

    I bought several books the authors signed while I was there and I had the thought while waiting in line to get a book signed that part of their reason for attending was marketing. They are paid to be there and benefit by promoting their books. But, I did feel that several of them were genuinely interested in helping other authors succeed. I can respect that both factors exist to some degree in all the presenters. Some I felt were more to one side than the other, not so genuine, and I didn’t spend much time with them or buy their books. It’s all a judgment call and I’ve been wrong before. But the ones I mentioned sure seemed like good people. Your point is well taken and I appreciate you helping me to flush out the additional perspective.

  • By Tracy - Reply

    That Tracy person should do probably.

  • By Mike N. O'Clast - Reply


    The presenters, Robert Dugoni, et al, probably do get paid. I was a finalist back in the early 90’s, and PD James spoke, and she probably got paid. As for the editors and the agents, they often get comped for going, but do not actually get paid, as it is part of their job. They all can use the PNWA to market their product. Most of the authors, though, do not get paid, especially if they are not big names.

    An acquaintance of mine presented on Saturday at this year’s PNWA, and he has four non-fiction books out, teaches writing, but he does it to promote his own career, and meet agents and editors. He does not get paid.

    Some of the writers, Terry Person, for example, a good writer and a local, simply get to attend for free and market themselves. That’s the benefit of attending or being a member.

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