San Francisco Write to Market Conference - Realizations and Discoveries

by Writer's Edge Staff

If a writer conference can be considered a success based on the amount of polished manuscripts attendees took home, as well as the high number of pitched novels requested by agents, then the San Francisco Write to Market was a raving success. In truth, there are no better indicators. Writers in attendance were a new generation of up and comers, many of whom, based on the quality of their writing, can be relied on to make a dent in book circles before too long.

All the above aside, and following an extensive pre-conference review of every writer's novel, or work-in-progress, important commonalities emerged--none of which were a surprise given the purpose of the writer conference. First of all, many projects were missing a vital antagonist, or any kind of antagonistic force. Second, titles and opening hooks were in need of a boost. Third, in many cases, the set-up and back story were present, but the core of the story appeared vague or nonexistent. Fourth, a considerable number of genre projects were insufficiently high concept to be competitive in this current marketplace. Finally, a good portion of the writers, regardless of overall experience, lacked the knowledge necessary to properly pitch the project to agents.

The point of the San Francisco Write to Market conference is to serve writers in all stages of becoming, whatever their needs may be, and one expects attendees at such an event to need some guidance, but what became apparent was that most of the attendees, through no fault of their own (95% of these writers were bright, energetic, and very serious), and despite being at the game for many months or even years, were in need of more fundamentals. But why? Given the plethora of writing magazines, blogs, workshops, etc., it was somewhat of a revelation.

Could it be that writer magazines and writer groups (and perhaps even MFA programs) are actually failing as a whole to provide aspiring authors with the most critical and basic facts they need to approach the creation of the novel?

It appears that way ... It's impossible to believe that so many intelligent and tenacious individuals at the Write to Market were generally unable or unwilling to seek out the knowledge necessary to make their considerable labors more fruitful. They were eager for knowledge and more than willing to learn what they needed to be successful. As a matter of fact, at the conclusion of the event, the ten or so agents present sincerely asked to see dozens of projects.



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  3. Very interesting post. Looking forward to more "realizations and discoveries."

  4. I would tend to agree that MFA programs are not doing enough. Having been through both a MA and a MFA program, I can say that the best and most useful parts were my thesis hours with my advisor/committee and the 'form and theory' classes that were, thank goodness, heavier on form than theory. Theory seemed to be the issue. Not enough down in the trenches experimenting/exploring/testing/challenging - the practical, perspiration part of writing. There should be one or two classes called 'making mistakes,' or whatever, where students are tasked with trying as many different approaches towards one or two stories - really putting them through the wringer, in order to learn/stretch, not in order to have finished pieces. Students who can't make and see their mistakes, and then learn best practices for correcting them (or techniques to apply) will not walk out good writers who continue to grow. There should be a class solely on revision, and a class on pitches, query letters, etc. - the practical side of the biz. The degree requirements should be reevaluated. Or maybe new programs should spring up that do these things. Perhaps they exist; I just don't know of them.

  5. Not to mention the fact that MFA programs do not, under penalty of death, dare equate fiction writing with an understanding of the fiction market.

    Here is a note I just received from an attendee at the conference. Would an MFA program have given him this expertise?


    Thanks so much for the great Corte Madera conference!

    I came home with these valuable realizations:

    - The necessity of a crisp pitch,
    - The need to really understand the differences among various genre,
    - The need to be well-informed of competitive / related product, and
    - A better perspective of the publishing business.


    All the best,