I stay worried, but as a 2007 AWP attendee, I was worried, broke and had little knowledge of the writing life. With the support from an artist mini-grant awarded to me from the Mississippi Arts Commission, I stepped into AWP 2007. The Convention hotel in Atlanta was huge. I stood on the patterned carpet like a deer in headlights as people moved up and down the halls with AWP bags hanging from their shoulders. They knew where they were going. I was lost, which is nothing new for me, but on this day, I was lost and alone.
I was at the start of my writing career. I was like a freshly hatched baby chicken. The grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission was my biggest accomplishment thus far. I had no publications and I knew only a few writers. As I stood there, surrounded by snippets of conversation whizzing by me, I wondered why Diane Williams thought I was good enough to attend such a large conference of established writers.
“Need some help?” an AWP assistant said to me. I was sure I looked as lost as the town slut on the front pew of a Baptist church as I stood amidst the sea of professional writers with ten business cards in my pocket and Mississippi mud on my boots. I pointed to the session I’d circled on my schedule.
“Down the hall and to the right,” he said with a smile, then I walked with confidence, in step with the line of attendees headed in the same direction as me.
Eleven years later I am running across a busy street on a windy, sunny morning, praying my hairpins hold. The last thing I need is to have to chase my hair unit down Franklyn Street in Tampa. Not cute. I also didn’t need to be late for my panel. My red feather boa flows in the wind like a helium balloon on a feathered string.
I enter the Tampa Convention Center and race toward my first panel. This was my first time to provide coverage of the AWP Conference. I was late. I went in anyway. Dressed in red from head to toe, I stood in front of the room searching for an empty seat. There was none. I had a job to do and I was fully prepared to do it even if it had to be done standing.
“You can sit here,” a kind woman said.
“Thanks,” I said as I sat beside her. I looked a mess. I had forgotten to bring a note pad and a pen.
“You cheer me up,” the woman said with a smile as she pointed at my boa.
At my first AWP, I felt alone and scared. At AWP 2018, I feel like I belong.
This feeling of belonging comes from an understanding of how writers support writers. In “Authors Helping Authors: How Banding Together Can Help Boost Your Book’s Visibility,” panelists shared how writing communities bond together to help promote their books. Louise Miller, Emily Ross, Jennifer S. Brown, Hank Phillippi, and Ann Garvin first shared a brief introduction of their writing communities and how they work together to provide support for other writers.
Writing groups can serve multiple purposes: to share craft advice and writing experiences and to increase visibility of authors’ books. A writer can never predict how quickly her book will take off after the launch, and having a group of writers who share the book will create a better chance for ongoing visibility. Because these networks are made of writers who support each other, they create a more intimate or word-of-mouth feel to the presentation of the books they’re promoting. As writers, we tend to listen to other writers.
The panelists discussed how each member has responsibilities in the marketing and promotion process and sometimes are even assigned roles. Becoming a part of these sharing networks is easy. “Just ask” is the basic consensus.
A few authors-helping-authors networks
Katrina Byrd is a student in the Low Residency Creative Writing MFA Program at the Mississippi University for Women. Katrina is a writer and playwright who has received four Artist Minigrants from the Mississippi Arts Commission. Several of her short plays have been performed locally and several of her short stories have appeared in Inflight Literary Magazine, Black Magnolias Literary Magazine and Monkeycyle Literary Magazine.