Episode Summary

An author is not an island. Events like The San Francisco Writers Conference give authors the chance to connect and learn from one another. Laurie McLean joins us to talk about what goes into planning an author conference and what they offer to the author community.

Episode Notes

Matty Dalrymple podcasts, writes, speaks, and consults on the writing craft and the publishing voyage as The Indy Author. She is the author of The Indy Author’s Guide to Podcasting for Authors. If you’re interested in building community with readers through podcasting, this is the episode for you.

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Jim Azevedo, Laurie McLean

Jim Azevedo 00:03

All right, we are live. Hi, everybody. You may have noticed that this is not Kevin Tumlinson. This is Jim Azevedo. Kevin was having a little bit of a technical difficulties signing in. So I’m going to join until Kevin is able to join here. I’m going to click off my window here for just a second, let’s see, get rid of that, because I’ve got this huge echo going. Okay, so welcome to Self-Publishing Insiders. I appreciate all of you joining. Joining me today, or joining us today, I’m thrilled to welcome Laurie McLean from the San Francisco Writers Conference. Laurie, thanks so much for being here.

Laurie McLean 00:54

I am thrilled to be here. This is my first live stream of the year. So let’s kick it off and make it really great. Jim, what do you think?

Jim Azevedo 01:02

I think yes, let’s do that. Now, originally, when we talked about this, we talked about talking about the San Francisco Writers Conference, but your history is also pretty interesting. So if you wouldn’t mind. Laurie, could you kind of take us back a little bit. And tell us about your history, not just in the publishing industry. But even before that, because you knew Mark Coker from Smashwords back from the Silicon Valley public relations world going back, dare I say, decades?

Laurie McLean 01:36

Oh, my God. Yes. Well, the first time I met Mark in the publishing industry, he said, wait a minute, Laurie McLean. Are you the Laurie McLean behind McLean public relations? And I said yes, and he said, I hate you, and walked away. I’m like, oh, my God, my first big introduction to somebody in the world of publishing. So I was an agent at the time, a young agent, and then he came back and goes, no I’m just kidding. He goes, I lost so much business to you, you were always beating us out on clients. I’m like, I’m sorry? But yeah, I’m a lot older than I look. I was around during the early days of the microcomputer and the Homebrew computing club, if you can imagine that, back in the 80s. And so for 20 years I did, I had my own public relations and marketing firm. And we just dealt with all the biggies in the industry, because we were one of the few organizations who actually loved microcomputers, there were a lot of older guys who had come from the electronic side of things. But we had Apple, Adobe, Hotmail, you know, lots of great clients. So that was really fun. That was like part one of Laurie McLean’s background, part one. Part two is publishing. So in 2005, I became an agent with Larsen Pomada. That’s when I met Mark at Smashwords. And, you know, it’s funny, because when I got into publishing, I thought, well, I could be a dilettante. This is a very slow industry, everything moves really slowly. And then in 2008, everything blew up, because social media and self-publishing. Yeah. So when that happened, I thought, wow, I thought I left all my tech background behind. But, you know, now I had a huge advantage, because I already knew how disruptive technology can be in an industry that hasn’t changed much in a long time. And publishing honestly hadn’t changed in 200 years. So it was ripe for technology. Smashwords came along. And you guys were just amazing, not only in how you, you know, the distribution and the ease of use that you guys offered, but also in just the friendliness, you know, publishing is a very arcane, and non-transparent industry. It’s hard to break in. Authors spend all this time on their own, writing their books, and then they come to a conference or they go online, and they start learning things about the business of publishing, and it’s like slamming into a brick wall. And you can’t see on the other side of the brick wall. So it’s very intimidating. And Smashwords always, you know, you and Mark always made it so friendly. And it’s like, oh, do you have a question? Maybe I have an answer. So it was great.

Jim Azevedo 04:31

Oh, thanks for that. And that’s one of the best things about the San Francisco Writers Conference, we’ll get to, it’s that welcoming environment. But I want to back up for a second if you don’t mind. I’m always interested in learning how people went from one industry to a completely different industry, because my background is a little similar to yours. What a lot of folks don’t know is that I knew Mark Coker way before Smashwords because I worked at the same public relations firm that Mark owned and operated. So I met Mark Coker back in 1994. For those of you who are listening or watching and don’t know who Mark Coker is, so Mark was the founder and CEO of Smashwords, who founded the company back in 2008. Way before the acquisition, way before Draft2Digital acquired Smashwords in March of last year. So, Laurie also, so I’ll get to why I got into the publishing industry, it’s probably pretty obvious by now. But what made you switch from high tech PR and the Silicon Valley over to the book publishing industry?

Laurie McLean 05:36

Good question. And I did ask myself that a lot for a period of two years. The high-tech industry is all about change. And it might be incremental change, like you’ve got a new widget, or you’ve got a faster piece of hardware, or you’ve got an extra bit on your software, a new a new thing that people can try. So it’s really, really fast moving, and people don’t see what goes on in the background, they just see the end result. And I was just, my body was killing me. And my mind was killing me. I mean, running at that fast pace for 20 years, and running a business and dealing with huge CEOs of big companies, you know, and Apple would say, well we’re gonna get into video now. So we want you to do the PR for this division. And I’m like, I have to hire three more people.

Jim Azevedo 06:28

And Apple could be so secretive about their product launches.

Laurie McLean 06:33

Yes. So after 20 years, I just really felt burnt out, to be honest. And I said, well, if I could do anything, because the other thing is, the tech industry back then, they would just throw money at you. Throw, throw, throw, and I had already bought a house, I was married, I was not gonna have kids, I was happy. And so I’m like, what more do I really need? And I thought, look, what do I want to do? You know, if I could do anything in the world, what did I want to do? And it was write a book or write a lot of books. And just like, that’s why I have such a soft spot in my heart for self-publishing. Because it’s like, I just want to publish something, I want to write it. I love characters. I love plots. I love you know, doing all this stuff. I want to put it together in a book. I wrote a book. I gave it to my mom for her 80th birthday. And she said, oh, you should get this published. And I looked up on the internet, how do you get published? And there was the San Francisco Writers Conference is happening in two weeks.

Jim Azevedo 07:32

So that was 2005 ish?

Laurie McLean 07:35

Yeah, 2005. Exactly. So I just decided, I’ll go there. I knew nothing. I had like little bits of information, like the seven people touching the elephant. You know, I’m like, oh, somebody said you should make a postcard of your cover. So I hacked together this really ugly cover with two of my friends acting as the people on the cover. And then I had on the back of the postcard is like, would you like to see my manuscript? Shall I send it to you? Or no? And of course, all the agents said no, and sent it back to me. But it was still a great experience. Because you go in there, this is the trick of a Writers Conference. You go there, because so many friends, family, coworkers, whatever are so amazed that you wrote a novel, because it is a huge undertaking. And so they go, oh, you should get this published. So you go to the conference the first day and you’re like, I got a best seller, all I need to do is get an agent, meet a couple of these editors here. And I’ll be done. And you’ve learned so much that you don’t know, questions you didn’t even know needed to be answered. And so you get depressed. So the second day of the conference, it’s everybody’s sitting there going like, I’m a failure already. I mean, why did I think I was going to get this book published? And then after you get beaten down like that, then you realize, oh, wait a minute. I just have to edit it. And oh, wait, I’ve met all these people that can help me on my journey. And wait, I’ve got cards from agents who say when you’re ready, send me something. Wait, this is not a total loss. By the third day, everybody’s feeling hopeful. They’re starting to get their plan together. And by the fourth day, well, they’re exhausted mentally and physically. So they just sit there and let the information stream into their brain for later access. So that’s what I did. And I decided, you know what, I really miss using the sharp part of my brain. I want to be an agent. So I wrote two more books, but none of them have seen the light of day. And I’m glad, because they’re really bad. 10 years later, I looked at them and I’m like, oh, my God, this is so horrible. And I should tell your audience too that I’m also a literary agent. My partner, Gordon Warnock and I formed Fuse Literary back in 2013. So, you know, looking at the stuff I wrote into in 2003 10 years later, I’m like, ooh, yeah, I was really green back then. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And these will never see the light of day, unless they have a major rewrite.

Jim Azevedo 10:12

Okay, I want to touch on something that you said. I’m sorry to interrupt you.

Laurie McLean 10:16

No, hey, I can go on for 45 minutes about my background. So please interrupt me.

Jim Azevedo 10:22

When you and I get talking, that’s one of the dangers. But one thing I wanted to underscore something that you said a little bit earlier was that, I went to my first Writers Conference, the San Francisco Writers Conference, not knowing a thing, like totally clueless. And I think that sometimes when writers go to writers conferences for the first time, they’re kind of nervous. They’re like, super intimidated, because there are all these traditional publishers there. There are all of these editors there and agents, and I don’t know what to do. And I’m afraid to talk to anybody. But conferences like the San Francisco Writers Conference offer such a welcoming environment, like we know this, the large traditional publishers, the agents, the editors, even the big self-publishing platforms like Draft2Digital, we know this, and we are thrilled that you are there. Because for the most part, it’s not necessarily about people who have already made it. We’re trying to bring up the next generation of aspiring authors to help you figure out how to get published, like what are the best practices, because we’re not there just to talk about the things that we do, we want you to go along the path the right way to make you as successful as you can possibly be. And another thing about some of these conferences is like, you’ll see, you can back me up on this, I’m sure, Laurie, you’ll see New York Times bestselling authors sitting on the floor with a bunch of writers, aspiring authors who haven’t yet published their first book, talking to them about the things that they did to get to where they are today. So please don’t be intimidated by going to a conference. That’s one of the best possible things that you can do for your career.

Laurie McLean 12:04

In fact, I would say that, well, the conference started, the first year was 2004. And so it’s 20 years old, give or take, we missed one conference because of the pandemic, but the 2021 we did and then 2022 we had it in July, so we’re kind of skirting the edges of it there. But we made a concerted effort since we moved from the Mark Hopkins Hotel, which was a gorgeous historical hotel. But we just outgrew it and it was away from everything. So we moved it down to the Hyatt Regency which is right by the Embarcadero, the Ferry Building, you know, the business district, tons of restaurants, everything from you know, McDonald’s up to a Michelin starred restaurant within walking distance. And my co-director, Alyssa Provost and I decided, let’s rethink everything, how can we make it even friendlier? And so we used to have this one thing called speed dating with agents, it was just a legacy. You know, everybody liked it. But it was terrifying. It happened on Sunday morning. So you had Thursday, Friday, Saturday to just get so nervous, you were gonna throw up on the agent. And we had all the agents sitting in a room and you get in a line, you get more and more nervous as you approach the agent, and you sit down and you have three minutes to describe your life, your career, your book, everything else. And we said, is that really the best way to do it? So this year, what we’ve done is with the price of the conference, you get four eight minute chats, for lack of a better word. One with an agent, one with an acquiring editor. I mean, I invited all the agents and editors this year. And I picked the editors as younger ones who actually are open to acquiring stuff. So acquiring editor, which is different from an indie editor, which an indie editor you hire to help edit your work, which I’m sure a lot of self-publishers do. Because, look, you can’t even find your own typos, let alone know what needs to be changed in the middle of the book, if it’s a little soft, or a character that’s not acting true to form. So it’s a literary agent, you get an appointment with a an acquiring editor, an indie editor, and a PR pro or book coach. We don’t have a lot of those, so we kind of put them together. But all those are included. So you just have to go look at all the resumes or the bios and the manuscript wish list of the agents and acquiring editors and say, I want Laurie McLean and I’ve got four hours of consultations I’m taking.

Jim Azevedo 14:44

So that’s really cool. That’s new for this year for 2023, is that correct?

Laurie McLean 14:48

It’s brand new for this year because we wanted it to be less stress inducing. And Lissa has come up with other things too, to make it even more friendly. And everybody I invited. all the agents and editors are, you know, the question I asked them is, are you going to hang out at the conference and talk to people in an impromptu manner? And it’s not necessarily like, I’m an agent? Well, maybe I do. I represent all genre fiction. So maybe you’ve got a memoir, guess what? I know a lot about memoir. And I know a lot about publishing. So you don’t have to come up to me and say, I want to pitch you on my memoir, which will get you nowhere. You come up to me and you say, I don’t know what to do next. Here’s where I am. And I give you advice,

Jim Azevedo 15:31

Okay, did you hear that authors? Like it’s okay. You don’t have to be perfect. You can approach these people who love helping you get started.

Laurie McLean 15:40

Exactly. And I was really shocked. Because I’d say five or six years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to get one acquiring editor from a big five publisher in New York to actually do Ask a Pro, which we’re doing at breakfast this year, instead of in the afternoon on Saturday, Saturday morning and Sunday morning, Jim, you’re going to be there.

Jim Azevedo 16:00

I’ve got to set my alarm.

Laurie McLean 16:03

I know. It’s like, I’ll be knocking on your door at 7:45 for coffee.

Jim Azevedo 16:08

Pillow wrinkles on my face.

Laurie McLean 16:11

But you sit at the table, you got your little Draft2Digital sign there. And then attendees bring their breakfasts over, sit down and they eat, and ask you a question like, what do you guys do? And how do you do it? And so there’ll be acquiring editors there and agents there too. I’m shocked, but they all said yes. You know, part of it is we’re all craving human contact so much after this pandemic. Like, this is a really good example of that. But if you saw me in person, it would be a better conversation, you know, because you might think of something or somebody else might come in and ask a question that, you know, that you didn’t even know you wanted to ask, but you really are craving the answer. So anyway, it’s cool.

Jim Azevedo 16:58

Yeah, you just made me think of something. So several years ago, when Mark Coker first asked me to split some of the public speaking duties with him, you know, every cell in my body was screaming no, like, oh my God, public speaking.

Laurie McLean 17:15

Coming from a former or present musician,

Jim Azevedo 17:19

Well, I was the drummer, so I got to sit back and watch everybody else do their thing. That’s a whole other podcast, Laurie.

Laurie McLean 17:27

I’m a drummer too. That was my gig in the band I played with, I was percussion.

Jim Azevedo 17:35

Okay, we’re gonna have to talk about that a little bit more during the conference. But one thing that was recommended to me that I would give advice to authors who may be you know, having a little bit of jitters going to their first conference is, if you can show up to your speaking gig or show up prior to your first appointment with an agent or editor, like show up at one of these breakfasts, what you’ll learn is that when you start to get to know these faces, and these people, and you’re having these informal conversations, almost right away, your mind is just sat at ease, because you’re going to realize that these are all just people just like me. And not only that, they’re friendly people, they love doing what they’re doing, they love the same things that I do. And this is going to be great. And I can almost guarantee you that your excitement level is going to rise so much.

Laurie McLean 18:28

I do a bit at the end of the show with Alyssa Provost called taking the conference home with you. And because you learn so much there and we want to give people a path to actually apply that when they get home and start utilizing some of the information and the techniques that they learned. And people are just buzzing with excitement, you know, like they almost can’t sit in their chairs, they’re so excited about everything that they learned. And so it’s a really wonderful, you know, you were a musician or are a musician, I was a musician. I guess I still am but I don’t perform anymore.

Jim Azevedo 19:06

Once a musician, always a musician.

Laurie McLean 19:07

Yeah, there you go. But you know that feedback you get from the audience, when you’re playing and they’re clapping, dancing and everything, it really energizes you. So here I am after six months of planning the conference, four full days of doing the conference, you would think I would be a puddle of goo on the floor. But instead those people just energize me and I come up with even more ideas on how we can be helpful. So um, yeah, I mean, I really think that the current management group, I mean, there are six of us. So let me not be so hoity toity here, but all six of us are so into helping people. And you know, we were the first, I will say that with confidence. We were the first conference who said, we need to embrace self-publishing. So people who are self-publishing need this information almost more than the people that are traditional publishing. And you know, now we’ve got hybrid publishing, partner publishing, it just keeps evolving. And it’s going so fast. It’s wonderful to see.

Jim Azevedo 20:13

And that’s how … I’m sorry, go ahead.

Laurie McLean 20:15

I was just gonna say, we have a session on AI in publishing about ChatGPT. You know, I mean, this is brand new. AI is, you know, I don’t know, I do this thing, in fact, if anybody wants to go to Fuse Literary, go to our news page, it’s fuseliterary.com. And go to our news page. And I published this, publishing predictions for 2023, which I do every January. And one of the people commented, well, hey, you don’t have anything about AI publishing. That’s because I don’t think AI publishing is going to be real enough in 2023 to really mean anything. However, what’s happening is what you see in the beginning of a disruption, which is that kids are using it in high school and college to write papers. So they don’t have to write them, they’ll say, AI write me a paper on such and such and such and such, and then they just edit it. So teachers are freaking out, because they’ve got to stop this before it can get anywhere. But if you read some of the AI books that have been published, they’re horrible, you know, but they’re gonna get better. So it’s something we have to look at. But we have a session on that with people who teach about it at the conference on Saturday, I think, so I’m excited about that.

Jim Azevedo 21:40

Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed how the San Francisco Writers Conference organizes itself, because on the very first day of the conference, you have three sessions that are kind of like, welcome to the conference. And then here’s what to expect at the conference. Then you’ve got the plenary session later in the afternoon that discusses publishing options. And they’ve got folks on there who talk about self-publishing, traditional publishing and hybrid publishing. Is that right?

Laurie McLean 22:08

Yeah. Well, it’s funny because we started thinking about, what do people need? The people who come on Thursday, which is like 80% of the audience, some of them have to work. So they don’t come on Thursday, but they take Friday off. So Thursday afternoon, it’s like, here are all the people you’re gonna meet. Here’s what the thing looks like. Here’s other things you can sign up for, if you’re interested. Like, we have master classes that are three-hour intensives on one particular thing, Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. So people might say, wow, I know a lot of this introductory stuff already. But I need to do that master class on pacing or on character development, or on, we have one on writing for Hollywood, you know, it’s like what goes into a script or a screenplay? How do you sell a treatment, you know, words that people aren’t even really used to hearing. So on Thursday, we really wanted it to be this 10,000-foot view. And the publishing options plenary, meaning there’s nothing else going on, except this panel for an hour and a half. And it’s got people from different segments of the industry. So it’s seven people touching the parts of the elephant, you get the whole elephant. And Jim, you’re on it. So you can talk about self-publishing and what people need to know, you know, nuts and bolts to get into it. Because a lot of people who are coming to the conference are like, self publishing, I don’t want to do that, I want to be with Random House. And I’m like, well, first of all, Random House got acquired by Penguin many years ago. So it’s Penguin Random House. And if you don’t even know that, then you have a lot to learn, which is good, because you would never go into a career and assume you know everything day one, right? It’s a journey, like Steve Jobs said, you need to be learning all throughout it. And you know, that makes it fun. But back to this publishing panel, it’s got people who are traditional publishers, and it’s got people who are self-publishers and everything in between. There’s hybrids now with all kinds of different pay as you go model or don’t pay and get royalties, you know, all kinds of weird things that people need to know is out there. So they can make an informed decision on how they want their career to grow.

Jim Azevedo 24:16

Right? It’s very respectful too, I like how the traditional publishers, like nobody badmouths the other side. There’s never been, self-publishing versus traditional publishing, we’re the best path. No, because I think what authors find sometimes, and sometimes it’s surprising to the author themselves is that, hey, maybe self-publishing is not the best path for me, or I was all in 100% to go down the traditional route, find that agent, find that traditional publisher, and then I learned about all these different benefits of self-publishing. I think I’m going to do that. And so it’s really, really eye opening for so many folks on both sides of the aisle.

Laurie McLean 24:54

Yep. Absolutely. And, you know, again, we pick the traditional publishing people who also embrace self-publishing. As an agent, if I put that hat on right now, I have half of my clients who do self-publishing for some projects, and then I can sell as their agent, I can sell the foreign translation rights, I can try and get a movie deal. I can sell audio, you know a lot. When you sell publish, you own all your subsidiary rights. So it’s nice to have a partner, a business partner who can sell those. But those people also want a traditional deal. They want to be in bookstores, they want to be in airport bookstores, they want to be up for awards. And those are things that are really hard to do if you’re self-published. So I call these people hybrids, but that term has really changed in the past decade. So I might have to come up with a different term. I feel like publishing in the future, and it really is today too is a series of rivulets of income rather than this rushing gushing river. Which is like, if you’re Stephen King, you’re a traditional publisher. And that’s what you do. Although he’s a bad example, because he’s done some publishing that is verging on self-publishing with really tiny publishers too. But okay, say you’re just a big best seller, James Patterson, he is not going to self-publish, he’s going to just plop it on over to the traditional team that he has at Scribner, wherever he is, Little Brown. And they’re going to do everything for him because he makes them millions of dollars every year. But for the great vast majority of everybody else. If you can self-publish a book, because maybe it’s a family history that you put together, because you’re really into genealogy. Well, who would be interested in that, if you really look at it? Your family. And wouldn’t that be a great thing to have out there for your descendants? Of course, it would. That’s the history of your family. But you don’t need a traditional publisher, you’re self-publishing. And in fact, you might not even need to self-publish it by having it available for sale for anyone other than your family. You might just do a short print run yourself and hand it out to everybody for a holiday gift. Or at the family reunion, which is fine. You know, this idea that everybody has to be best seller is ridiculous. I can almost guarantee you, Jim, that is not why people got into writing books in the first place. They had a story to tell, or they had characters that were driving them nuts, and they had to get them out of their heads, you know, whatever it is. But then at some point it changes, and everybody’s like, wow, everybody I talked to about this book loves it so much, right, I’m gonna be a best seller, you know. And that’s, I mean, that’s a trap you can fall into early on, and we’ll all forgive you. But eventually, you need to look at this unemotionally and say, hey, I got a lot of books that I want to write. Some of them could be best sellers. Maybe. Some of them could be decent sellers, probably. And some of them I just want to write because I want that story to be told. And maybe it’s about a very small community. And maybe I’ll just take the money I earned from the other books, pay for short print run and give them out to people. I had a client who was a street preacher. And I said, what is your goal for your writing career? And he said, I want to get these kids in Oakland to not take up drugs or crime or whatever. I want to show them there’s a different way, right? And I said, what if you get a foundation in Oakland, or some civic organization to pay for a print run, and then just give them out to the kids you see on the street and the young adults? And that’s what he did.

Jim Azevedo 28:30

And those are the types of audiences that I love. It’s finding those authors who had no idea that there was these different paths that they could take to get their books out into the world.

Laurie McLean 28:41

Right. So I’m just saying, there’s a lot of different ways you can get your message out there. Some people write because they have a message to give to the world. They want to change the world, some people write because they just enjoy telling stories. Some people write because they’re driven to it and they can’t not write. There’s probably as many reasons why people write as there are people writing. So just get off the idea that I’m going to write and my career is going to go in the straight line. And I’m going to … Oh, I thought I missed you for a second, your eyes were closed. I’m like, oh, I’m so paranoid that my internet’s gonna go down or glitch you know, but I’m talking way too much and probably you or your people have questions.

Jim Azevedo 29:31

This is good. I think you’ve kind of touched upon some parallels to the music industry again, and that you know, when you’re a creator, whether it’s music, or visual arts or writing a book some of us have to create because we have to we’re not writing a book because you feel that this audience over here is gonna love it. You’re writing because you love writing. And then once you get to that level where your book start to sell and you start approaching that best seller care, then absolutely go for it. Yep. Now One thing I want to also talk about Laurie is that you mentioned this idea of, you know, the first day of the conference, the second day of the conference, and attendees’ brains getting just filled. And that’s true. And that’s the mark of a good conference. One thing I try to advise attendees is that, don’t worry, because what you’re gonna find is that the day after the conference up to a week after the conference, all those little tidbits of information that you really, really needed to learn are going to start to kind of bubble up to the top of your brain. But if I’m an attendee at the San Francisco Writers Conference, and I’m worried about missing some of the information, or maybe there are two concurrent sessions going on at the same time, do you have the ability? Are you recording any of these sessions this year? And will they be able to get that stuff?

Laurie McLean 30:49

I’m telling you, we are in hive mind, because I was just thinking to myself, I’ve got to remember to tell people that we’re video recording every session. And we have five simultaneous tracks going. So there’s no way you can see every session when you’re at the session, but with your registration fee, you get a year of accessing all of these videos. They’re on YouTube, so they’re password protected. But yeah, so you can see everything. And in fact, there’s a few up there, I think that are public. I don’t know, I’m probably saying something that’s wrong. But if you don’t take this as gospel, go to YouTube, look at San Francisco Writers Conference, or it might be SFWC which are the initials of the first words in San Francisco Writers Conference, you might be able to see some of the ones that we have there. Because I think, I don’t know if plenary publishing is up there yet or something. But there are a few of them. And I think the keynotes that we put up there just for everybody to see. Because we thought that’s important for people to see the quality of the sessions that we offer. I’m so incredibly proud of this year. Alyssa did it all herself. I mean, I invited people, and we have five track coordinators who invite speakers, but like we have Joyce Maynard, who is amazing. She’s written 18 books and she’s written tons of articles for everything from Vanity Fair to the New York Times. And two of her latest books were made into movies. So she’s going to be speaking at a dessert keynote on, well, cookies and coffee, I guess I shouldn’t overhype it here.

Jim Azevedo 32:26

Nothing wrong with cookies and coffee.

Laurie McLean 32:29

Some of those questions are going to be good. People eat two, three cookies, those big cookies, they’re going to come up with some real good question for Joyce. But she’s speaking Friday night. And then on Saturday, at lunch during the sit down luncheon, we have the two great minds behind America’s Next Great Novelist, America’s Next Great Author. And this is a TV show, a reality TV show. I don’t think it’s started. But they might have some news for us at the conference. I don’t know. In fact, they’re on my list of people, you know, must call today. And that was from like Monday, so you can see how my life is going. But yeah, they started that show. They did the pilot. I don’t know if they’ve gotten distribution yet or not. But they’re gonna talk all about it at the keynote. And I’m trying to convince them to do a little skit or something to show us, bring video or something to show us, because one of the attendees from last year actually became a finalist and was invited to New York, I think, or New Jersey to actually do the pilot. So I can’t wait to see what they have to say. They do this thing called Pitchapalooza every year. I mean, one of them’s an agent, one of them’s an author and an actor. And so they do Pitchapalooza in New York. And it’s just this huge thing where they invite tons of agents and you go there and it’s just like a cattle call. You just start talking to agents as an author and tell them what you’re doing. And you probably end up with three or four agent cards who want you to send them things. So yeah, they do that in New York. It’s kind of like speed dating. So it is incredibly stressful. We’ll see what happens here with including the pitch sessions and everything, you know, with the registration fee, we’ll see if that works. I have this sneaking suspicion that people like the stress.

Jim Azevedo 34:27

Hey, man, if I could go my whole life without stress. Have at it.

Laurie McLean 34:32

You’re right. It’s probably just me.

Jim Azevedo 34:35

But you know, I recognize that it’s the stress, it’s those challenges that you can meet head on that’s going to help you grow. We’re here to help alleviate some of that stress for you when you come to these conferences. And speaking not necessarily of stress but alleviating stress. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about some of the best practices when you attend not just a San Francisco Writers Conference. But when you attend any conference. One thing that we mentioned earlier was arriving to a session or going to one of those ask a pro breakfasts, and doing some of the more informal things like networking. One thing I tend to do, and this is like a little rule I made for myself years ago, this is a best practice from an insider, right? So I made this little rule for myself. And it was when you go to a networking party, it just like brought back those memories of high school where you go into a party, you’re like, oh, I’m like, I don’t know anybody here and I’m gonna go stand over in the corner. So when I’ve gone to conferences, and there are these big networking events, and you can swear that everybody knows everybody, that’s what it feels like. So I thought, I’ll give it one drink. And it doesn’t matter what that drink is, it can be a coffee, a water, a glass of wine, whatever your beverage of choice, give it one drink, just go grab that water, or whatever it is. Walk around the room. And I can almost guarantee you, somebody will stop you and say, hey, what do you write? Is this your first conference? And then it’ll just it’ll go from there. So that’s one of my best practices.

Laurie McLean 36:19

You’re so right. And, you know, we changed our tagline this year to learn, connect, publish, because really, people are coming, they’re spending the big bucks to go to a conference because they want to get published. But there’s so much you have to learn. And there’s so many opportunities to network when you’re at a conference, I mean, it is just ridiculous. We had people say, could you do a lunch or something that doesn’t have a keynote so we can all just talk to each other? Because we’re getting critique partners, and we’re getting beta readers. And we’re getting people who can introduce us to their agent, and we want to talk to each other as much as we want to learn from the people at the podium. So we did a thing for Friday where there is no lunch, you just go out and see San Francisco, so many of our attendees are not from here. So it’s like, go out, see the beautiful city that we offer you, and grab some of these people that you’ve just met and go have a lunch on your own.

Jim Azevedo 37:25

Grab me. I’ll be there. We’ll have a table, a big old sign. Trust me, you can find me pretty easily. I meet folks who come up to the console, you’re gonna see me.

Laurie McLean 37:34

You have a booth too. So people will find you. Right when you come out of the ballroom, there’s Draft2Digital.

Jim Azevedo 37:41

Yeah, good location. I just brought up a comment from Tom. Hi, Tom. Tom says, “Hello all. I’m still trying to finish cleaning up at 10 novel series, hoping to get noticed.” So you’re ahead of the game, Tom, having more than one book that’s ready to go.

Laurie McLean 38:01

Yeah, that’s good. And it’s funny, because if you came to the conference, you would probably learn a lot about how to edit those 10 books. As an agent, all right, now I’m gonna bum you out. But I’m not gonna bum you out. Because, well, you’ll learn something here. As an agent. If you came to me and pitched me, I would say, okay, I can only pitch one book at a time to an editor. When I’m pitching that first book in the series, I want you to be writing the first book in a new series. Because if I can’t sell that first book, I’m not going to be able to sell books two through 10 either right then, but that’s not to say I couldn’t sell them later to the person that I sold book one of the new series to. Julie Kagawa is one of my New York Times and international bestselling clients. She gave me this book 12 years ago that I thought I could sell. I’m like, this was so great, signed her up, spent a year trying to sell it, could not sell it. And it was like anime, manga, like feudal Japan and had magical realism. And it was everything editors say they want. Nobody wanted it. But in the meantime, I said, write the first book of another series. And she said, but this is a trilogy. I said, I know. Doesn’t make sense, but just do it. Again, publishing sometimes has some weirdness to it that is not evidenced. It’s not obvious. So I told her to write the first book in a new series. She’s like, well, what would that be? What’s hot right now? And I said, well you know what? Fairies are kind of hot, but not your Tinkerbell fairies. We’re talking about old school fairies who will lure you to fairy land and keep you there forever. Or they’ll do a changeling swap. And you’ll get some cruddy baby that’s horrible. And you’ll be over in fairy land, you know? And so she’s like, okay, and she realized, well, what do fairies not like? They don’t like iron. Well, what’s the equivalent of iron today? Technology. So she wrote The Iron Fay, and it became a New York Times best seller. So that was the second book I tried to pitch, I sold it within three weeks after I spent a year trying to sell this other one. 10 years later, the publisher that published all the first 10 books that she did, ended up paying six figures per book for the book that I couldn’t sell 10 years ago. So that’s why I say publishing is weird. You never count yourself out. So, Tom, with 10 books, and I see over here, I’m looking at the comments. You’re a sci fi novelist. Okay, that series, if your agent can’t sell it, be ready with at least an idea of what you want to write, maybe three ideas for three new series that you want to write. And you know what, if you end up self-publishing that book, that series of 10 books, that’s fine, because, dear God, my husband, he’s probably in the bathtub reading right now. But he reads on his Kindle, a book a day or something, and he’ll say this sci fi series is so good, Laurie, you should represent this person. And I’m like, I can only represent so many people, but it’s great.

Jim Azevedo 41:06

I’m going to bring up another comment here Naja. Hey, Naja.

Laurie McLean 41:12

Hi Naja.

Jim Azevedo 41:15

This is outstanding. She says, “Is it a good place,” meaning the conference, “is it a good place for place for publishers to go to support our authors? Do you need any speakers?”

Laurie McLean 41:24

Okay, well, we’re having the conference in three weeks. So we’re pretty full up at this point. But we have a presenter interest form, Naja. Talk to Jim after this, you have her email address. All right, send me Naja’s email address, and I will send you the link to a presenter interest form, which anybody can sign up. And it’s not a guarantee that we will select you as a speaker. But the conference is always on President’s Day weekend, which is mid February. So pretty much in March, we start looking at who we want for 2024. And if you want to come, we’ll explore it. I won’t get too deep into it. But I’ll send you an email once Jim gives me your email address. You fill out the presenter interest form. I’ll take a look at it. And then, I mean, we might be able to squeeze you in. But we already turned in the badges information to Jim, so we’re kind of too late for this year. I’m enthusiastic, but I have to hold myself back.

Jim Azevedo 42:27

Yeah, you usually start, what, about nine to 12 months ahead of time? Starting lineup, speakers and keynotes?

Laurie McLean 42:33

Yeah, I had all the keynoters for this year back in, you know, March of last year. That’s it for next year, though.

Jim Azevedo 42:41

And one thing we should probably mention that we haven’t touched upon yet is that for 2024, Draft2Digital is going to give away a free San Francisco Writers Conference registration. A $900 value.

Laurie McLean 42:55

Yeah, baby. So yeah, that’s going to be great. Anybody can enter it. It’s fantastic. I’m psyched for it.

Jim Azevedo 43:03

Yeah, me too. Me too. We’re putting together the contest details about how we’ll give that away. But I am super excited about that. And I’m super excited about the conference. Three weeks away, I can’t believe it.

Laurie McLean 43:15

I know. I know. Believe me, I woke up this morning. I’m like, oh, my God, I’m starting to have dread and despair. Oh, must be three weeks before the conference.

Jim Azevedo 43:24

Dread and despair.

Laurie McLean 43:26

Thinking of things I haven’t done that I need to do.

Jim Azevedo 43:29

Yeah, that is good, like good job selling the conference, Laurie. Dread and despair.

Laurie McLean 43:35

But you know, I want to touch on that point that you just made. I mean, San Francisco is a really expensive city, and 90% of what we collect in attendance registrations goes to the hotel. So we have to charge a lot of money. And we feel bad about that. Because hey, we’re west coast, so we’re always touchy feely, trying to get everybody involved at some level. So we have scholarships, check out the SFwriters.org. That’s our website. And right now, we had eight scholarship winners already. We picked them in December. So check that out. We have a writing contest, and everybody who enters gets to be in the print anthology and you get a copy of it. And the winner of that writing contest gets a free registration to come to the conference. So scholarships for free registration, anthology for free registration. We have volunteers, we use 60 to 70 volunteers. And there’s a form on our About Us page way down at the bottom where you can sign up to be a volunteer. It’s too late for this year, but for 2024 for February. So those are all ways you can come to the conference for free. Volunteers have to work half time, and then the other half time they get to go to any sessions they want. And you get access, free access to all the recorded sessions. So you really get the whole conference for volunteering. Our volunteers are fantastic. We could not do this conference without them.

Jim Azevedo 44:59

They are some of the best in the business. I can tell you that with complete confidence because I go to a lot of conferences every year, and super pro all the way through the entire event.

Laurie McLean 45:11

Some of our volunteers are pros for, you know, they are PR pros. They are book editors. Oh, and we have a whole bunch of indie, we have 15 agents coming, 25 editors, and about 10 of those I think are what we call indie editors. There’s acquiring editors who want to buy your book and produce it for you, indie editors you hire to edit your work. And we got all of them coming and they’re all so excited that they’re all going to be offering the free consultations. But also they’re sitting at ask a pro tables, and they’re sitting at lunch, and they’re sitting at breakfast all three days, or four days at breakfast, or actually Thursday doesn’t. So Friday, Saturday, Sunday breakfast, you sit down, there’s an agent there, there’s an editor there, you talk to them, you know, that’s a whole hour. Although don’t pitch your book for an hour to me, because I will get up and leave.

Jim Azevedo 46:06

One thing I would like to mention because we’re at time, but one thing I would like to mention is that for any author that goes to a writers conference that is full of agents and editors and publishers, and you are have already decided that you’re going to go down the self-publishing path for your career, I would still highly encourage you to speak with editors and speak with agents because you are going to learn things that you didn’t know that you didn’t know. And it’s just going to fill your brain with more information and more knowledge and more best practices about the industry in which you are joining. So take in all the information.

Laurie McLean 46:43

We listed our schedule yesterday, so that’s up online, SFwriters.org. All the speakers and links to other bios are there.

Jim Azevedo 46:51

And there’s the banner.

Laurie McLean 46:54

Tons of information. And we hope you want to come and you can do the master classes if you don’t want to do the full conference, that will definitely help you out. So anyway, Jim, thank you so much for having me on here.

Jim Azevedo 47:07

Laurie, thanks a million for being here. And for those of you who are listening or watching, our apologies for the early technical issues, but we hope you’ll join us. Bookmark D2D live.com. Or just do a Google search on Self-Publishing Insiders. There’s a link, my team is awesome. They’re like, Jim’s gonna drop the ball. We’ve got his back. But we appreciate you being here. Laurie, thanks again for telling us all about the San Francisco Writers Conference. I can’t wait to see you in three weeks. For everybody else, we’ll see you next week. Thanks so much for joining. See you next time.