Woodstock Writers Festival’s Sixth Anniversary

The Woodstock Writers Festival celebrated its sixth anniversary this past weekend, March 19 – 22, with a variety of workshops, panel discussions, a story slam competition, as well as a couple of parties, after dinner conversations, and a Sunday morning literary brunch.

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I attended the publishing panel on Saturday morning. Panelists included: Gail Godwin, a three-time National Book Award finalist, and the bestselling author of twelve novels, including Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir, published by Bloomsbury Publishing; Jenny Milchman, author of three acclaimed novels published by Ballantine, an imprint of Penguin Random House; Sara Carder, editorial director of Jeremy P. Tarcher, an imprint of Penguin Random House; Mary Cummings, vice president and editorial director of Diversion Books, a digitally focused publisher in New York City; and Ned Leavitt, a literary agent. The panel was moderated by Nan Gatewood Satter, a fiction and non-fiction editor with close to thirty years of experience.

What I took out:

  • Gail Godwin emphasized the importance of having a good editorial team, and an established long-term commitment among publishing partners. She also talked about the authors’ ability to negotiate their rights, and secure some benefits even when they don’t quite get the exact terms they were looking for. She warned authors of doing too much pro-bono writing.
  • By contrast, Mary Cummings talked about pro-bono writing such as submitting articles to newspapers and magazines as an investment in the author’s brand and long-term sales. Cummings talked about the importance of crunching data and fine-tuning the marketing strategy for each title on a monthly basis. No title is ever abandoned. In addition, she emphasized the role of social media in connecting authors with readers, and also the role social media plays in enhancing an author’s brand. Cummings was fond of search engine optimization techniques; she said she puts a lot of effort into creating “foundable books.”
  • Sara Carder confessed that this was a “frightening” time for the publishing industry. She talked about the creative process, and the effort each editor puts into each new book project. She said she relied on her intuition when deciding whether to move forward with a book project or not. Carder also feared that search engine optimization techniques would hurt “poetic titles” and other creative ways of differentiating a book. She did however agree that newspaper and magazine articles can help a writer’s brand, and wasn’t too worried about pro-bono writing.
  • Ned Leavitt talked about the excitement of good writing. He was worried about Amazon’s publishing model. He also confessed that intuition plays quite a role in his work.
  • Jenny Milchman talked about her journey to publishing; it took her eleven years to get published, but in the end she got the deal that she wanted to get. Since 2013 she’s been publishing a new novel each year. Milchman was keen of social media, and enjoyed connecting with readers. Each year she does a long book tour, visiting hundreds of bookstores all over the country.

Jenny Milchman will be at the Writers in the Mountains’ book festival on April 12; she’ll be talking about publishing. She’ll also be delivering the keynote address.

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