Now, some of you may already know that Ploughshares is based in Boston, the very city that will be teeming with hordes of AWP attendees in a matter of days. Much like zombies (who also come in hordes), AWP attendees want your brains…or at least what’s in them. To prevent a bloodbath, I’ve taken the liberty of picking the brains of AWP veterans to help you get the most out of AWP13.
But before we get to that, here are some other posts on the web you might want to check out to amp you up for the conference.
- The newly-formed Boston Book Blog has an AWP primer on their blog, including ways to stay up-to-the-minute on what’s happening at the conference.
- Linda K. Wertheimer, a veteran journalist in Boston, has some schmoozing advice up on Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour.
- Here’s an oldie but a goodie, courtesy of Tin House:Courtney Maum provides a tongue-in-cheek field guide to AWP. Another oldie, if you’re into jokey AWP posts: our blog editor Andrew Ladd, on his imaginary Top Ten Panels at AWP in DC, 2011.
- On Tuesday and Thursday this week, we’ll be publishing Lit Boroughs posts on Boston, with a walking tour on Wednesday — check back to learn about all the cool literary stuff in our noble city!
Onward to the advice!
From Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, and Editor of The Collagist:
A lot of first-time AWP participants see it as an opportunity for networking, so let me offer this advice: Good networking probably isn’t what you’ve been told it is. It’s not business cards or sample chapters of your memoir, it’s not about platforms or Twitter followers or Klout scores. It’s certainly not hunting editors and publishers and MFA application readers like book fair big game. Good networking is genuine enthusiasm for others and for what those others care about or make.
In other words, don’t approach a literary magazine’s table at the book fair as a submitter—approach it as a fan. Don’t try to shake hands with an editor just so you can send them a story next week and say “remember we met at AWP”—shake hands with an editor to tell them how much you liked their last issue, to honestly tell them about a story or a poem or an essay you loved. This isn’t a one-way street: Find the people who make the things you love and thank them, and more often than not they will respond with interest in what you make too.
One of the most encouraging parts about finally meeting all the writers and editors you’ve admired from afar is that you will discover that they are, with only a few exceptions, fairly normal people: They don’t need to be fawned over. They appreciate being thanked. If you are genuine and friendly, they will probably remember you fondly. But even if they don’t remember you later—you can’t imagine how many people there are to remember, or how exhausted that part of the brain gets after a few days in a packed conference center—you will still have helped encourage the kind of literature you want to exist, by supporting the people who make it. And one day with luck, you too will be the beneficiary of that generous, friendly support, which will then be an even greater force than it is today, all because you took the time to help increase its presence in the world.
From Tyler Meier, Managing Editor of the Kenyon Review:
- My favorite thing to do at the book fair is to pick someone (someone who is also at AWP) to buy a book/journal for, and to spend some time wandering, looking at books and journals that I’ve loved from the recent past, from presses and publishers that I love, and at new books and journals that I don’t know, trying to discover something to buy for the other person. It’s a great way to have a purpose in the bookfair when the manyness and size of it can get overwhelming, and there’s something liberating about spending time among the tables in the gift-giving mode. The poet Dan Poppick and I have a standing date to treat each other in this way the past few years and its one of the things I most look forward to.
- When I’m tired, to try to remind myself that for three days every year, the AWP bookfair is the greatest bookstore on earth.
- Go as big as you can at breakfast.
We’ll be at booth 1105 and doing the following book signings/issue launch:
- Thursday, March 7th, 4pm: KR Fellows Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers and Natalie Shapero
- Friday, March 8th, 11am: KR Editor at Large Lewis Hyde
- Friday, March 8th, 4pm: Spring 2013 Issue signing and launch with Linda Bamber, Nona Caspers, Carol Frost, Amina Gautier, Aisha Gawad, William Giraldi, Chinelo Okparanta, Solmaz Sharif, and more!
- Saturday, March 9th, 10am: KR Writers Workshop instructors: David Baker, Gretchen E. Henderson, Rebecca McClanahan, Dinty W. Moore, and Nancy Zafris.
From Carolyn Kuebler, Managing Editor of the New England Review:
This year the New England Review is taking advantage of the hometown court by presenting a reading made up entirely of Vermont authors. Start the day 0ff right with this reading: Friday, March 8, 9 a.m., Rm. 303. Hynes Convention Center. Did you know Vermont has more writers per capita than any other state? This isn’t something cooked up by our chamber of commerce but comes from an NEA analysis of census data. The writers who will read include relative newcomers as well as longtime NER contributors: two poets—Cleopatra Mathis and Kellam Ayres—and two fiction writers—Robert Cohen and Castle Freeman Jr.—plus NER’s founder, the poet and essayist Sydney Lea.
My favorite part of AWP is standing at our book fair table and reading nametags, recognizing our authors, most of whom I’ve never met before, and also talking to people we haven’t published but have corresponded with, and to editors and writers from all over the country. It wears me out entirely, but it also provides enough fuel to keep me going for another year — plus some useful new idea always comes out of it, generally where least expected.
Many years ago, I was at a small press bookfair for local journals in my city. An incredibly prestigious and important journal had a table. I knew nothing about the magazine, except that it was incredibly prestigious and important. I approached. I hovered. I smiled awkwardly. The young woman at the table asked me if I was a writer. I told her I was. She then asked if I wanted submission information. I told her I did. She handed me a neon pink piece of paper with all the journal’s info.
At this point, a simple “Thank you” would have sufficed. But instead, I picked up the magazine, flipped through its crisp white pages, then set the magazine back on the table with a shrug. “You know,” I said. “I’ve never actually read this magazine. I’m not sure I’d even like it!” She stared at me for a long minute before finally rolling her eyes and turning away. Needless to say, it was not a high point in my literary career.
Here’s a tip: If you approach the table of a lit mag you’ve never read, feel free to ask questions: “How often do you publish?” “Is there any kind of writing you’d like to see more of?” “What other literary magazines are you similar to?” “Do you have any theme issues coming up?” Then, a courteous, “Sounds interesting” or a simple “Thanks for your time” is all that is required. No matter how prestigious the magazine is or how vulnerable and squeamish you might feel, drop the armor. Acting like a cooler-than-thou know-it-all will get you nowhere. Trust me. I’ve been there. It ain’t pretty.
From Tom McAllister, nonfiction editor of Barrelhouse:
AWP can overwhelm you. There are too many presses, too many people, too many panels, too many readings with too many readers. You will spend hours wandering the bookfair in search of former classmates, and then you will spend another couple hours avoiding former classmates who you’d rather not see ever again. You will go to a few panels with impressive-sounding names and then you will leave those panels midway through because you realize you don’t actually know what heuristics means and you’re pretty sure the panelists don’t either. You will attend readings to support your friends’ chapbooks, and three hours into each reading, you will wonder if you only came here because you hate yourself. You will drink, and you will drink, and you will disappear into the night, and in the morning, you will have ten new friends and will have bought three books, and you will do it all again the next day.
The key to surviving AWP is to understand that some aspects of it are ludicrous, and it’s impossible to do everything and talk to everyone. You need to prepare to be overwhelmed and try to match its excesses, knowing that by the end of the week you will be exhausted and dehydrated and probably broke, but it will have been worth it.
While you’re doing all of that, you will hopefully stop by the Barrelhouse table, spin our famous prize wheel, talk to us about the Book Fight podcast, and buy our new nonfiction anthology (which is debuting at the conference), BRING THE NOISE. And if you find yourself looking for a brief refuge from the tyranny of endless readings, you can join us (plus PANK, Hobart, and others) on Thursday night for our Not Reading.
From a Twitter follower, G.M. Palmer, poet:
- Have fun and introduce yourself to people. A ton of folks come to AWP to network; it’s okay to say “hi!”
- Hang around the Book Fair. You’ll find amazing programs, journals, publishers, and with a little luck, new friends.
- When you go to panels, sit up front, maintain eye contact, take notes, and ask questions (at the right time). Hang out afterwards, too; sometimes the conversation keeps going.
- If you see an author you love and they have some books for sale or are doing a signing: BUY THE BOOKS, it will make everyone involved happy.
- Spend some time at the bar. Buy someone a drink. Remember tip #1.
- Go to an offsite event if you can.
- Be open to meeting new people and having a great time. Smile!
From Jamie Millard, Executive Director of Paper Darts:
Because we know you’ve been wondering, here are Paper Darts’ words of wisdom for all you kiddies headed to AWP this year.
- Make sure everyone, everywhere knows you’re there by participating in every AWP Twitter hashtag imaginable.
- Do your best to act like the party animal you were too busy reading and writing to be in high school and attend every afterparty and reading that you can possibly make yourself get to.
- Give yourself permission to not try and do everything at the actual conference, otherwise you’ll be bummed out the whole time and that’s not really in the spirit of AWP. Make a goal, do that, then just enjoy yourself (e.g. I want to go to this panel, this panel, that panel. I want to discover 3 new interesting writers. I want to discover 4 new literary journals. I want to try and meet this publishing house, this writer, these lit journals.)
- Don’t be afraid to approach your idols, but try to do so with panache…or cake.
- Don’t be sad if someone you know doesn’t know who you are. There are a lot of talented people in this world (including you, darling!) and, without the mother of all mnemonic devices, how could anyone possibly remember them all? You’re still a star.
- If you’re with a friend and see someone who remembers you, but you don’t remember them, introduce your friend to them, saying your friend’s name first. They’ll probably say their own name while introducing themselves to your friend.
- Every single writer and organization shows up to AWP with stuff to strut. Appreciate those who impress you the way that you’d like to be appreciated, and shout them out all over every social media platform and blog that you’ve got your ink-stained digits on.
That was all great advice, wasn’t it? What I thought was most interesting was that everyone had a different idea of how to make the most of the AWP experience.
AWP13 will be my fourth with Ploughshares. As someone who spends most of their time behind a table at the book fair, of course I hope you’ll come visit us at booth 213. I love talking to kind strangers.
So travel safely, and I’ll see you in about 10 days!