It’s taken me several days to collect, curate, and organize my thoughts about my experience at the AWP/Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference & Bookfair, held last week at the Tampa Convention Center. I met interesting people, discovered writers I had known nothing about previously, and learned many new things about writing, editing and publishing.

Here are 9 takeaways to get you interested in AWP as an organization, and in learning more about the writers, editors and organizations that made the conference a success:

1. The Bookfair is a world unto itself. There were around 400 booths or tables in the exhibit hall. It was a great place to strike up conversations and learn about publishers, MFA programs (including the increasingly popular low-residency MFAs), and writing/editing-focused organizations like the Editorial Freelancers Association.

2. You can’t do everything. At any one time, there were 30 or more concurrent panel sessions or readings, besides the all-day Bookfair. There were many sessions I would have liked to have attended, but couldn’t. There were also lots of parties that I skipped, so I could conserve energy for the next day.

3. There were many big name authors. The Thursday night keynote was by George Saunders, who won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction last year, for Lincoln in the Bardo. I also attended a session featuring Jeffrey Eugenides, Lorrie Moore and Dana Spiotta; and a Saturday night interview with Claire Messud and Rivka Galchen.

4. You can relive (some of) the conference on video. PBS Books conducted a terrific series of author interviews, by Rich Fahle, during two days of the conference. They’re now available online, giving me the chance to see authors I missed, such as Nathan Englander; discovered for the first time (R.O. Kwon), and revisited authors I’d seen on various panels (Min Jin Lee, Ada Limón, and Chris Abani).

5. It’s like a giant discovery engine. Some of the authors I enjoyed the most were new to me (Spiotta and Abani), or were those I was only vaguely aware of previously (Galchen and Lee).

6. I managed to find Peter Drucker connections. I think Drucker would have loved the three-day immersion into all things literary. I met Paul Dry of Paul Dry Books, who was one of the exhibitors. In 2016, the company reissued, in one volume, both of Drucker’s 1980s novels, The Last of All Possible Worlds and The Temptation to Do Good. I blogged about the reissue last year, and also wrote about the books (including my interview with Drucker about them), in my 2009 book Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life. I also met people at the booths of Vermont’s Bennington College, where Drucker taught early in his career; and the Kingsley and Kate Tufts Poetry Awards, from the Claremont Graduate University, where the Drucker School of Management is based.

7. Pay attention to craft; and be skeptical about advice. One of the best panels I attended was “The Worst Writing Advice I Ever Got,” moderated by Melissa Stein, with panelists Chris Abani, Ada Limón, and the poet Mark Doty. Much of the advice, well-meaning or otherwise, that writers receive is contradictory. You have to decide who and what you are going to listen to, and take seriously, and tune out the rest.

8. People are hungry for expert knowledge. I really enjoyed the panel “Successful Author Events at Libraries, Bookstores, Schools, and Literary Centers,” and had a nice conversation the following day with panelist Racquel Henry. There was a truly all-star panel for “What Writers Need to Know About What Editors Do,” moderated by Peter Ginna, promoting the book he recently edited for University of Chicago Press, What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing. I learned a lot at “Literary Innovation: Staying Solvent and Relevant in a Changing Publishing Landscape,” and had interesting conversations later in the day with panelists Jane Friedman, who was promoting her forthcoming University of Chicago Press book The Business of Being a Writer; and Yi Shun Lai, a novelist and the nonfiction editor of the Tahoma Literary Review. (And it turns out that she lives in Claremont.)

9. Everything is #inProgress. While visiting the booth for Submittable, the company that handles the online submissions process for many literary journals, I was told I could get a tee shirt by using the above hashtag with its name in a social media post, resulting in my tweet a few moments later: @submittable Enjoying learning more about the company’s backstory #AWP2018 #inProgress.

Attending the AWP Conference & Bookfair is a terrific way to make progress as a writer or editor, and to generate momentum and energy for the coming year.

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