Thursday, 13 March 2014

San Miguel’s Writers’ Conference and Literary Festival

 A celebration that exceeds all words!

by Nancy Snipper

Imagine meeting some of the world’s most renowned writers, eating with them, smoozing with them, hearing them read from their work, and buying their books – then coming home with these books that have been personally author-autographed.  This and more is in store for you at San Miguel’s Writer’s Conference. You’ll meet a plethora of illuminating keynote speakers – along with a rostrum of remarkably stimulating workshop leaders - literary mentors who come in the form of print authors, digital marketing experts and word-smith multi-media publishing wizards.
This year’s titans led sixty-four 90-minute sessions along with 19 intensive half-day practicums. These writing veterans were also verbal masters of great élan; they enthusiastically shared their ideas, offered successful strategies and insightful revelations about crafting novels, poetry and plays.
The sedentary side of writing was complimented the festival’s fabulous excursions in and outside the city. Cuisine, cantina crawls, photography, hot springs bathing and lavish home tours were just some of the pay-extra perks slated for further mind/body stimulation.
Such was my experience at San Miguel’s Writers’ Conference as it ushered in its 9th year of success. This literary liveliness – enhanced by the city in which it is held, spilled over onto the lush grounds of the Real Minas Hotel.   Inside and outside, the pristine premises were buzzing with writers, readers and agents – all here to help enrich our uniquely personal relationship with the printed word.  
Festival Director, Susan Page (don’t you just love her last name last name!) together with her 23 volunteers were outnumbered by us all: approximately 1300 participants gathered into the various indoor rooms, and expansive white tents during the five-day festival to hear experienced writers share their writing journeys and offer brilliant much-needed techniques including selling strategies on and off the Internet. They gave hands-on help, encouraging us to take our story ideas out of our heads and write them down, develop them and hone them into book form.   
One of the most engaging workshops covering the bare bones of story building was given by Mary Morris. Having written fourteen books, she gave us great tools for creating stories. She stressed the importance of finding ways to utilize our own life experience to create a full novel by highlighting the value of keeping lists, journaling, eavesdropping, witnessing events and talking to strangers and writing down ideas. She was very funny and a great teacher.

Nine-hundred folks flocked to hear the seven acclaimed keynote speakers read from their work and answered questions. They included: Ellen Bass and David White. Kafka-loving novelist, Kathy Diamant and Laura Esquivel, recipient of Chile’s Pablo Neruda Order of Artistic Merit and Culture (2010) exemplified the caliber of brilliant writers at this festival. Mexican writers Alberto Ruy Sanchez, Rosa Beltran, and Ignacio Padilla lent prestigious presence while representing writers working in the Spanish language. Their fascinating topics had English language participants wanting to learn Spanish as fast as they could.       

Laura Esquivel

Benjamin Alire Saenz

Calvin Trillin

These literary luminaries inspired us, and as I listened to the great writer, Yann Martel speak about how vitally relevant the arts are to the human condition, and answer questions about his most famous work, Life of Pi, it became clear that this festival responded to the needs of all writers – whether you had finished your novel’s umpteenth draft, or blank pages have been staring back at you for the past years. Memoirs, romance, historical fiction, horror and more; words such as platforms, hooks, synopsis, submission and query letters – these all became signature iconic terms used in the publishing business in many of the workshops I attended.

Yann Martel

Since my novel is a work of literary fiction and it had not yet been submitted to any literary agent, I made a bee-line to the panel event that featured four literary agents. It was most interesting to hear these experienced agents confess that 99% of submissions never make it past the query letter. They warned us against bragging about our novel or comparing our story to that of a favorite author in order to get “signed on”. They told us what not to write when trying to snag an agent. Andy Ross felt regional novels could be taken to market, while Jeff Kleinman gave a thumbs down to such stories for their lack of broad-base reader appeal. Irene Goodman who was the former assistant to the agent who represented Stephen King has been a member of the publishing community for over 25 years, and so when I casually met her by chance – I saw her sitting alone at an outdoor table – I dared to approach her.  Although I had not signed up for an appointment to pitch my story – as others had, Irene still welcomed me and asked me pertinent questions about my novel. She did not brush me off, and in fact, began to speak perfect French when she learned I spoke French (I live Montreal, Quebec). We had a fascinating discussion about Quebec and how my novel related to the frustrations incumbent with being an anglophone trying to write in a francophone province. Did my novel express rage? Yes, but not for this reason.

Irene Goodman  

Either out of politeness or curiosity, Irene invited me to send 60 pages to her, which then became ten in a subsequent email she kindly sent to me. No matter. Like so many others at this conference, I felt a tinge of excitement just to have the chance to talk to an agent whether it was during question period or in a pitch session. This kind of networking was happening 24/7, and as such, offered immeasurable opportunities for writers seeking publishers through agents.

Meandering into the digital maze
Bucking the traditional publishing route was a hot topic at the festival. A host of workshops detailed a myriad of ways to digitalize your writing, thereby enabling you to bypass any “middleman”, and gain total control over your book as it enters the market.
I learned this when I attended the workshop, How to sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon. Cracker-jack Internet wiz, Penny Sanseveri has taken by storm, accessing internal algorithm triggers that put your book out to the world. She talked about Author Central pages and eBook strategies that optimize marketing while putting you in direct control of selling your book. As she quickly let us into a labyrinth of ways to make your book stand out each week on various sites, I was beginning to appreciate my talk more and more with Ms. Goodman. I was in the midst of a maelstrom; this whirlwind workshop plunged us deeper and deeper into a cyberspace world that I felt ill-equipped to enter. However, many self-published authors attending this workshop were thrilled to get these tangible strategies. I could see the dollar signs dazing their minds as Penny espoused the merits of digital marketing. If anything, I left this session feeling in awe of her and in a slump about myself. Not being an gal could limit the sales of my novel were I to self-publish – even though one of my children’s books is on Amazon, because my publisher put it there. Still, I held the hope that my novel might one day end up in the hands of a publisher, before I hit 82.

Penny Sansevieri

Complimenting this workshop was Market your Book with Love.  Presented by San Miguel resident, Aisha Griffin, this unique session was just what the book doctor ordered. Aisha equated the creation of a book to having a beloved baby – the initial idea for the story (conception), developing the plot and characters (growth) and finally, publication and marketing (delivery into the world). Her company oversees all the editing and publishing details that many of us are in desperate need of.  It was just what the book doctor ordered Aisha used a soft manner when she illustrated her easy-to-follow digital marketing strategy – she used the book of a participant to show how to “doctor up” your digital page. Her delivery was gentle and clear. I walked away with some focus about eventually creating a page for my novel-to-be on the computer.  

Aysha Griffin
She was not a big advocate of tons of social networks or book marketing sites that place your book in a sea of other books only to be ignored if not astutely tended to by the author – a commitment that consumes one’s creative energies and time. I agreed wholeheartedly with her. Maybe, her company was the one to hand my novel over to, but what would that cost me? I did not sign up for “starving writer syndrome”.
To wrap up in words the many gifts the San Miguel Writers’ Conference gave me is akin to writing a novel in a few paragraphs; and since writing for me is a life-long “preoccupation” with no end in sight, I suspect I will be returning next year to this inspiring festival.

“Floating on Lily Pads” is the title of my novel; and I came pretty close to doing that at this miraculous event.
For more information about the Conference, visit: