Tag Archives: San Francisco Writers Conference

San Francisco Writers For Change puts mission first

“It’s the only conference like it,” San Francisco Writers For Change Conference organizer Michael Larsen said recently.

This was his response to whether the conference should be held every year or every other year. Larsen is relentless in his conviction. Every year. It’s too important not to do every year.

“This is a huge public service,” he continued. “Nobody else in the world is doing this. Nobody.”

The nonprofit organization that puts on the four-day San Francisco Writers Conference, which includes more than 100 presenters and is known as one of the top writing conferences in the country, started this one-day event for no other reason than a sense of mission.

The critical details:

  • Saturday, September 12th, 2015
  • 8:30 am – 5:30 pm
  • First Unitarian Universalist Center of San Francisco

Writers for change. It’s a unique concept and a focus that is different from other conferences because the mission comes first. The book deals, the profits, the egos of the publishing business come second.

Here is information about the conference:

The Writing for Change Conference is devoted to bringing together agents, editors, authors, and publishing professionals in order to enable writers to learn about writing, publishing, marketing, and technology. You’ll come away knowing how to get your work published successfully, online and off.

You will have the chance to learn from and pitch your book to the presenters, and to get feedback on your work from freelance editors.

Last year I was honored to be given a scholarship to attend this conference. It became my introduction to the deep literary community of San Francisco, and the most important day I spent on my career in the entire year. This conference with its affordable price (just $79 if you register before the end of the month) and packed one-day schedule is a bridge into publishing for emerging writers who are concerned about change issues.

The conference has agents, editors, self-publishing experts along with a host of information for writers wanting to turn their passions and causes into books. Journalists, activists, academics and budding writers should come to this conference.

How many times have you been told, “you should write a book?”

This conference puts that dream into action in a way nobody else will. Nobody.

#SFWC2015 lives on in writing group

During the first seminars of the four-day 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference, conference organizer and literary agent Michael Larsen challenged those in attendance to form writing groups. He pressed for volunteers to start a fiction group, a young adult group, and a non-fiction group. He encouraged people to meet up afterward to discuss the potential.

I raised my hand to lead the non-fiction effort. Immediately after the seminar four people pressed business cards in my hand, eager to get started.

During the conference I scouted for others who I knew would add to the robust and expert feedback that makes a group thrive. By conference’s end I had seven other writers in mind for the group. A month later seven of those eight gathered to launch our writing group. Two were in attendance by Skype, one from Seattle, one from Mexico, while the rest of us gathered in downtown San Francisco.

With some tweaks from the members, we agreed on a format a bit more intensive than other groups I had joined. For two hours once a month, we’d meet leading up to next year’s SFWC with the purpose of writing something ready to pitch.

We’d dedicate one hour to two writers at each we meeting, allowing us all to have an hour of feedback every quarter.

Those presenting their work send it out to the group at least a week before the meeting. The rest of the group reads it and marks it up in track changes. We then synthesize our comments for an overview discussion during the group. We then follow-up after the meeting by emailing our detailed edits.

This format allows us to vet more pages than a group with limited time given to every writer. We decided we can send up to 25 pages. This intensive, detailed and thorough review from six other writers with different skills, experiences and expertise is the foundation of the group. We’ve only met once, but the feedback was exceptional. The quality and care of each writer’s feedback was evident. We all learned thanks to one brave writer who went first. Even in the comments I wrote for her, I caught flawed patterns in my own work. In helping her, I was encouraged to get back to the drawing board myself.

None of us knew each other when the conference started, but the common goal and dedication to craft has stitched us together for the next year. We have different projects and different goals but a common respect for the process and ardor for the art, and the results it may bring.

And who joined us for the first meeting? Mike Larsen himself.

“This is what the conference is all about,” he told me.

This is also how it lives on.


Emotional hangover of SFWC2015 gives way to resolve.

By Doug Piotter: Starving Artist given new life at SFWC2015

Starving artist given new life @SFWC

Eds. Note: I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Doug Piotter at the San Francisco Writers Conference. As he humourously explains below, this writing stuff was a new experience for him. But he is well on his way with his darkly comedic memoir Monumental Meltdown: Chronicles of a Miscreant, which is in the final stages of development. He was kind enough to share his experiences and his unique perspective on one of the best writing conferences in America. Enjoy. (Doug is pictured above “blending in” while touring the Louvre in Paris).  

By Doug Piotter

I recently attended the San Francisco writer’s conference, a stretch for someone who only just learned the difference between a noun and a verb. At $369 a night the fancy host hotel atop of Nob Hill was miles north of my price range, so I booked a modestly priced apartment at the bottom of the city just a brisk thirty-minute walk away. On my first day I stepped over a pile of human feces and around the camper I suspected was responsible for the installation, then through the entrance of the building.

I had “arrived.”

I’m used to doing laps from my refrigerator to the couch and back with plenty of sustenance along the way, so this was definitely an advanced walking regimen. San Francisco is a great walking city with plenty of beautiful architecture to admire. But it’s also the land of no grocery stores. I Imagined one over the horizon, a mirage. I was hungry all the time.

It was mid-February and a balmy 75 degrees. The humming birds were a little disoriented and looked as though they had just been kicked out of a bar, not realizing it was already time to go to work.

Day One: Eating my fingernails and looking lost, with my i-phone in my pocket I studied my old school paper map, then scaled the city’s vertical face to reach the pinnacle at the Mark Hopkins hotel.

Soaked in sweat, I tucked in to the complementary breakfast that was included in the $745 conference price tag.

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There were no steaming piles of biscuits and gravy. This was an arty crowd. The theme for this meal was miniature: miniature pastries, miniature yogurts and miniature coffee. Confused, I looked around and saw only full-sized people everywhere. I launched myself into trendsetter mode and took five of everything, which saved me from engaging in the oh-so-painful “what are you writing” conversation that was sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Plus, I was taught it’s not polite to talk with my mouth full.

I brought extra pens because I knew as a writer I would have no excuses and have to write. I suspected the information would come fast and furious.

Off to the day’s activities I drank in the information with my insatiable thirst, one presentation after another as I drifted farther and farther away from that slam-dunk book deal and my interview with Terry Gross.

How can one cozy up to these literary gods?

I decided to read late night in front of a panel of agents. The agent ringleader was a female Simon Cowell clone who knee-capped all who dared step forward and bare their naked souls. I got less than two sentences out before she right-sized me for all to see. I thanked her for her service and slunk off in the wrong direction into the night. My public shaming caused me to work up a mighty appetite. My blood sugar was low, so I went to the hotel bar and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, a gilded hamburger on an artisan bun and a glass of cranberry juice. With tax and tip: $50.

“How’s that hamburger tasting?” the bartender asked.

“It taste’s like $50,” I replied.

I calculated that my three $17 bites would provide just enough calories to hoof it back to my temporary digs.

The next day while retracing my steps from the night before, I was surprised not to find the streets littered with the corpses of hungry tourists who had lost the fight.

Back at the event I listened to the keynote speaker drone on about her personal accomplishments in publishing while poking a stick at her pie chart. Man, could I have gone for a piece of pie right about then. Apparently one has to have ink running through their veins and shit whole sentence structures in order to be published. A ride in a SpaceX rocket to the moon would be a more viable alternative. Two more presentations before lunch had used up my $745 upon which the conference was over and my hotel entry badge was no longer valid.

I had become an ordinary loiterer.

The multiple thimbles full of coffee I drank at the keynote breakfast were talking to me, plus the older I get, the more like a leaky faucet I become, so it was off to Grace Cathedral for some inspiration and a toilet.

The holy grounds of Grace Cathedral is a beautiful concrete Notre Dame rip off located high on the hill. It’s also home to the holy grounds of Peet’s coffee and one locked bathroom that said, “piss off.” I met an incontinent tourist from Milwaukie cursing God.

“I feel your pain brother but I don’t think God’s here right now or the bathroom would be unlocked,” I said. “Hope that’s helpful.”

Sure stained glass is beautiful, but the inside of a urinal would have been a sight to behold. I wondered how much time in jail “public urination while sober” carried as I desecrated a quiet corner on the church property and solidified my place in Hell.

Justice was served in the form of my return flight discount airline seat. Row 30, seat C is also known as the toilet seat.

“Would you like a savory snack?” the stewardess asked with a shit-eating grin on her face.

It’s hard to believe, but I actually didn’t. Food and toilets don’t mesh.

“Thanks, but not hungry,” I said.

I would be content listening to the rhythmic swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, from the steady stream of high flyin’ shitters.

My personal hang-ups aside, It was a magical experience, and for anyone who aspires to be in print, one not to be missed. I made many personal connections and hopefully some lasting friendships.

It was well worth the price of admission. The organizers, volunteers and presenters did a tremendous job, and I will gladly save my nickels from swinging a hammer so I can attend again next year.

For a taste of Doug’s unique talent, listen to his public reading of some of his manuscript here:

Remember friends, you read him here first.

Emotional hangover of #SFWC2015 gives way to resolve

Toward the end of a brilliant 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference conference organizer Michael Larsen asked the classroom of participants how many aspired to be published by one of the big five New York publishers. Perched in the very back I raised my hand reflexively.

“One?” Larsen asked his eyes sweeping the room. “Really? That’s it?”

Of course that wasn’t it, but no other hands shot up. Had the same question been asked at the start of the conference every hand would have shot up. But a jammed packed four days with a collection of literary talent that makes this conference unrivaled on the West Coast had so overloaded the participants with information, the reaction time just wasn’t there. I heard from several that at times all the information, some of which often conflicted, created confusion in what had surely been resolve at the conference’s outset.

Which, I suspect, is exactly the point. As Larsen said more than once, “If something can stop you from writing, let it… But if nothing can then don’t ever stop.”

Or as many agents and editors said time and again, there is no blueprint to success. Every agent and publisher has preferences and quirks and a certain level of fatigue with the sheer volume of writers desperate to get their book sold. For every serious, well-prepared, excellent proposal, another gaggle bordering on idiocy are also shoved in front of those who sell books. Having been both the prepared and the idiot, I can commiserate.

The industry is not for the faint of heart. I return as I do so often to my wise sage, Jimmy Dugan of A League of Their Own  who said, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it was easy anyone could do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”

Throughout the conference agents, editors and experts in the field told writers to harness their expectations. If your only goal is to be the next John Grisham it might make any hope of actually doing that impossible. Agents often cautioned writers to find better comparisons than every best seller in your genre. Be realistic, they said, because this is a hard, hard business to succeed in and your up against a huge pool of talent all trying to get what you want.

I was a spectator at the conference. I was there to help, not pitch my books. Michael Larsen had awarded me a scholarship to the San Francisco Writers For Change conference last fall, so I volunteered to be his aide for the entire conference as a way of saying thanks. So even though I too felt my emotions riding the highs and lows of being close to those agents who could simply slide a contract across the table and help green-light my dreams, I could temper it a bit by knowing this was not my time. Throughout the weekend I felt great empathy — and not an insignificant amount of envy — for those grabbing a bat and swinging for the fences to make their dreams come true.

At one point as I listened to a panel of 15 agents, I realized I had already been turned down by half of them. During the conference I received in my e-mail yet another turn down from an agent I pitched a few weeks ago. I took those as signposts leading me on through the fog. Somewhere through this process the fit will come. I started learning more about the other agents on the panel who hadn’t had the privilege of turning me down yet. “Your time will come soon,” I thought, taking notes about them.

With so much to learn, so much to sift through and so many obvious challenges for writers to overcome — as if sitting down and writing a book isn’t difficult enough–I came away with something a bit deeper than just knowledge.

  • I learned to embrace the now. If you spend your whole life looking ahead to the perfect agent, the perfect publisher, the big success, you miss the real reason most of us write: to hone our craft and express our art.
  • I learned to trust defend my conviction, not my book. It sounds strange but even while making my living as a professional writer, I have wanted nothing more than to write books. I will always endeavor to that end. But the vast majority of pages I’ve written will never be read and the books I write will shape-shift and evolve through edits, revisions, title changes, development and (hopefully) evolving skill. I embrace this evolution even while knowing I’ll always be the first one to shoot up my hand when asked if I want (expect is a better word) to be sold to a big five publisher in New York. That is my conviction. My work is my conviction. But the specific projects will continue to evolve and improve.
  • I learned to ignore discouragement. Life is hard. Being successful at any one thing is hard. Critics and naysayers surround writers like Gen. Santa Ana at the Alamo. I have a pile of declines from agents, publishers, editors for various projects that could drown me if tied to my ankle and dropped with me in the San Francisco Bay. It doesn’t matter. All I need is one: one agent who believes in me, one publisher who takes a chance on me, one moment that launches me. Until those parts come together in divine harmony, I will ignore the discouragement and continue to do what I love: Write.
  • Most importantly I learned that I will continue to work on all the various aspects of publishing like platform, and proposals and brand, but nothing matters more than pages of a story that excel. This is my first and foremost goal, passion and focus: a story well told.

The San Francisco Writers Conference was memorable for me because I came away something deeper than knowledge. I came away with resolve.

@SFWC launches writers for its 12th year

As the Valentine’s weekend gets its early start, the doors of the beautiful Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco open to hundreds of writers in the West Coast’s signature conference, The San Francisco Writers Conference.

Once again, this event has sold out. But, here’s the good news… it’s not too late to get a flavor of the event and to connect with the literary talent coming this weekend to San Francisco.

For those who didn’t sign up, open enrollment in a wide range of extra sessions happening today and Monday after the conference are still available. Find out more about  open enrollment today here.

Now into its second decade, this conference created by long-time literary agents Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, is a launching pad for up-and-coming writers. With more than 100 writers, agents, publishers and editors giving nearly as many workshops through five packed days of sessions and events, the San Francisco Writers Conference is a world-class event.

If you haven’t been to these types of events, you need to plan for it the coming year. Make it a late New Year’s resolution to avail yourself of the expertise brought together in these forums. The San Francisco Writers Conference delves into the rich literary expertise of the Bay Area and brings it all together in one place.

Who better but the founders of the event to tell you why its a good time now to mark your calendar for next year or take in an open enrollment class right now, today. Consider:

Top Ten Reasons for Writers to Attend the 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference

      • Launch your writing career–or take it to a more professional level–with direction from bestselling authors and publishing experts.
      • Choose from a schedule of workshops, panels and sessions that fit your specific writing needs and goals.
      • Get your questions answered at the Ask-a-Pro session featuring New York and California editors…included in your registration fee.
      • Go to Speed Dating for Agents – Pitch your book ideas one-on-one in a room full of literary agents ($60 option for registered attendees only)
      • Receive free feedback on your work from freelance book editors.
      • Kick back in Cafe Ferlinghetti with writers from all over the country…and foreign countries, too.
      • Talk with exhibitors and find out what’s new for writers.
      • Browse our onsite bookstore (produced by BookShop West Portal) and you can get the books you purchase autographed by the presenters.
      • Jump into pitch contests, “Open Mic” readings, and socialize at our Gala Welcome party. This is just a sampling of SFWC’s over-the-top networking opportunities during the event.
      • Stay awhile longer with our optional in-depth Pre Conference classes on Thursday, February 12th and Post Conference classes on Monday, February 16th to increase the value of the conference even more.