2015 Writer’s Digest Conference Recap: DIY MFA love!

“I love this so much, I want to cry.” Those were the words running through my head all weekend, as I traversed the halls of the Roosevelt Hotel from conference session to keynote speech to networking event. Not the most poetic thought, maybe, but it echoed what was in my heart. I love writing, talking about writing and meeting other people who write. The Writer’s Digest conference contained all of those things.

I collected a few favorite quotes and pieces of advice throughout the weekend. It began with the opening keynote by Jonathan Maberry, who told his story of growing up poor and book-less, then meeting Ray Bradbury at his school librarian’s writing group. My favorite of his points was: “Writers see 100 things wrong in a first draft and make a to-do list.” That quote brought writing from the realm of creativity securely into the domain of organized control-freaks like me.

I thought I’d heard every piece of advice out there about query letters, but the conference session with agent Janet Reid proved me wrong. My biggest takeaway was small but important: never put web links in your query emails. Why? Links can send your query straight into an agent’s spam filter, which are usually set high based on their volume of email. For someone who includes her web address with almost every piece of mail I send, this was a big eye-opener.

The best of my Saturday workshops was Gabriela Periera’s talk on DIY MFA. She magically distilled the concepts behind DIY MFA’s three basic tenets (read with purpose; write with focus; build community) and the highlights of the DIY MFA 101 writing course into an hour-long session. Gabriela always digs deep and taps into the roots of craft and the writing life. I have five pages of notes about failing better, recognizing resistance, pain vs. suffering, and what to do with panic. (I also need to create an angst jar for my office desk.)

As I sat listening to her talk, and the following day at her excellent presentation with Bess Cozby (DIY MFA’s web editor) on plot methods, I felt very proud to be a small part of the team with my new column Be Well, Write Well.

I got some great ideas for that same column from Nathan Brasford, an ex-agent and middle-grade fiction author, who presented “Ten Commandments for the Happy Writer.” They included the obvious (be grateful), the thought-provoking (maintain integrity) and the humorous (“don’t quit your day job”).

At the end of the Sunday keynote, I had pages full of notes, a stack of business cards, and fond memories of drinks, meals and conversations with new friends. (It was especially fantastic to meet my fellow DIY MFA columnist in person- hi, Sara!)

Thanks to Writer’s Digest and the DIY MFA team for making my conference weekend so rewarding!

Have you been to any fantastic conferences, writing or otherwise? What made them so great?

5 Responses to “2015 Writer’s Digest Conference Recap: DIY MFA love!”

  1. It was so good to meet you too, Leanne! Meeting you, Gabriela, and Bess was one of my highlights of WDC. 😀 It’s incredibly rewarding to meet the people you’ve “met” online in person and get to know them better.

    Interesting. I didn’t know that including weblinks in a email made the email more susceptible to being labeled as spam. I’ll have to remember that as well. And I love the Jonatham Maberry quote! That was one of the bits that resonated with me about his keynote, too. It reminded me of how I taught myself to stop self-editing during my first draft, and start making a list of changes to make in Draft #2. Ironically, said list included 100+ items at the end. :0

    And I have to be honest: I’m already considering going back again next year – and pitching. *yikes*

  2. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the wrap-up, Leanne. I would love to attend one day, but feel intimidated by the whole idea! Your report made it seem less scary. I hope you enjoyed every minute and came back refreshed and energized.

    Questions: Is the no-links-in-an-email rule just for agents? If you have your own writer’s website, would you include something like name[at] How would you share your past work with the recipient of the email?

  3. Leanne Sowul says:

    Hi Kathy, I’m glad the post helped you feel a little more comfortable about attending! I was really nervous for my first year last year, which I guess is understandable. But I felt good about it as soon as I got there. The thing to remember is that we’re all writers, so we meet and network in a writerly way- that is to say, small conversations one-on-one that grow into relationships. And the workshops themselves are so interesting. There’s something for everyone and it’s often hard to choose within each time block.

    I’ve been thinking about the “no links” rule and my conclusion is that it’s probably fine to have one or maybe two links in an email. I’m sure agents get a link or two emailed to them all the time from their authors or friends. I think it’s just excessive links that might get snagged in the filter. I did have one agent’s assistant email me MONTHS after because my email got spammed, and now I realize that I had linked to 3-4 places where I’d guest posted or blogged or whatever, so I think that might have been why. But I can’t imagine that any agents have a filter so high that NO links could pass through. It’s probably better to take a small risk and link to your website at least, as opposed to writing it out and hoping that the agent would take the time to re-type it into a search engine. Click-ability is important too.


  1. Conference Recap, Big Questions | Words From The Sowul by Leanne Sowul - […] a conference for creative nonfiction writing, in Lancaster, PA. It was a hard decision to forgo the Writer’s Digest…

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