Greetings, all! As many of you probably know, Ooligan Press recently attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference & Bookfair in Seattle, and there’s a lot to report. It was a great experience for everyone involved: Ooligan Press, Portland State’s book publishing program, and all of us hooligans who trekked up north for the occasion. What was it like? Let me fill you in.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the AWP conference, here’s the basic rundown: it’s a North American event held annually in different cities around the country. For writers and publishers alike, the conference is above and beyond the biggest literary conference America has to offer. This year, upwards of twelve thousand people attended the event–—writers, publishers, teachers, translators, readers, and everybody in between. So, what do you do at AWP? You listen, learn, read, and talk to other professionals in the publishing business. As I flipped through the veritable tome of a program outlining the many panels and readings I could attend over the three-day conference, the only problem I saw was that there was just too much of it. During each of the time slots, there were at least three panels I longed to see. While this was a problem, it was a good problem; at least I knew that my time would be well spent, no matter which conference room I ended up in.
While most of the panel discussions were geared towards writers, there were also plenty of talks dealing with the publishing world. My favorite, if I had to pick one, was probably “Transmedia: The Future of Storytelling?” The panel featured Charlotte Austin, Mark Long, Allison Williams, Tony Fasciano, editor-in-chief of Digital Americana, and Jack Cummins, and it took on the topic of transmedia storytelling. While I was aware of the concept from my classes, I always heard it referred to as a marketing tool—for instance, using things like video to make book trailers or embedding audio into e-books to increase sales. This panel, however, discussed the possibilities of new media to actually extend a narrative and enhance a creative world. For example, say fans love a particular character, but he or she doesn’t get a lot of face time in a novel. Why not create a blog in the voice of that character? Rather than trying to sell the original book, transmedia storytelling gives fans a deeper and more enriching look at a writer’s work. This is an exciting notion, and one that Ooligan Press writer Ruth Tenzer Feldman has already dabbled in.
Speaking of Ooligan Press, we also had a lot of success with our table. Throughout our three days at the conference, we sold books and talked to hundreds of people about our program and our press. Our program director, Per Henningsgaard, even participated in a panel discussing the recent surge of graduate programs in publishing across the country. Judging by the amount of enthusiastic interest we received from potential students, authors, and collaborators, I think it’s safe to say our program is getting a reputation. Attending conferences like AWP is definitely an integral part of making our books known to readers, authors, and publishers alike.
As someone new to the publishing game, it was great to get a glimpse into what I have to look forward to as a professional in the writing world. While it was fun to attend panels and buy books, the best part of AWP was undoubtedly talking to the writers and publishers in attendance. The AWP conference was an invaluable way to make connections with people and presses I’ve been a fan of during most of my literary life (our table was directly across from the McSweeney’s table, for example). Did I do everything I wanted to do at AWP? Of course not—that would’ve been impossible. I guess I’ll just have to go to next year’s conference in Minneapolis!