Book of the Week author, Niki Tschirgi, agreed to share her experiences at a recent writers conference she attended. With so many writers conferences available to indie authors, we wanted to get her first-hand account of one. Here is her report...
A friend of mine getting her master's in screenwriting posted about the Connecting Writers With Hollywood writers conference (May 25-27, 2017 in Spokane, WA) on Facebook. From the beginning of my publishing journey, I envisioned Growing up Alaska as a movie or television production. After reviewing what the conference had to offer (pitch sessions to literary and film agents, etc.) I knew it was right for me.
It was a bit of an investment at $195.00 for the conference and $15.00 for each pitch session which did not include lodging, food, travel, etc. In the end, though, it was worth it.
An Intimate Writers Conference
This was a very intimate writers conference. There were only two occasions where you had to choose between sessions. Pitch sessions were at 15-minute increments so you could sneak in and out easily. Thursday afternoon was Channeling Your Inner Rock Star by Kim Hornsby (national bestselling author) followed by Practice Your Pitch where we broke up into groups by genre and gave our pitches to each other. After the dinner break, Chuck Palahniuk (bestselling author of Fight Club & Choke, both adapted for film) spoke (excellent) and did a book signing.
Friday kicked off with the Women in Film panel. Mischa Jakupcak, Mel Eslyn, Megan Griffiths, and Daryle Connors answered numerous questions from the audience. Next was “Adapting Books for Film” by Daryle Connors, a great session for an author not familiar with Hollywood and screenwriting. Some of the highlights:
- You want to be bound to the book's essence, not the details.
- Understand budget, platform, genre.
- Your book is a blueprint for the film.
- Follow the 3-act rule: Setup, the Confrontation, and the Resolution.
- 1 page equals 1 minute so 90-110 pages for screenplays
- Loglines - Describe/Summarize the book in one sentence (mine reads, "A plucky girl experiences an eccentric life in her isolated community while loving, living, and eventually leaving Alaska.")
- Read good scripts to prepare yourself.
- If you are a control freak stick to writing books. Screenplays are not literature—they are visual.
Another presentation I attended, Film as Inspiration by author Jan Cline offered some great writing exercises.
Second Day's Program
Saturday began with What’s Trending in Hollywood by Shawn West (celebrity manager/agent) who spoke about “How do you appeal to Hollywood? What does Hollywood want? Who are you writing your script for?”
Pitch sessions (10am – 5pm) were also on Saturday. Because of the demand, the conference expanded these and added more people to pitch to! I was able to participate in 2 pitch sessions as well as attend the Ask an Expert Panel with Mark Steilen (professional screenwriter and filmmaker), Robin McLain (5x5 media, reality shows), Brian Bird (Screenwriter/Producer), Megan Griffiths (Director), Mike Dill (Producer/Literary Manager), Shawn West (Film Agent).
The conference closed with Brian Bird's 10 Thou Shalts of Being a Better Writer, (which I also posted to the BW Discussion forum so you can check it out there).
What I Learned
After attending Connecting Writers With Hollywood, I realized how much I had to learn. From finding the rock star status inside of you to how to pitch your book, every single session had something for me. Some little nuggets were, "Do not take your confidence from your audience, just assume they are loving it." Learning how Hollywood worked was eye-opening. Writing a book and writing a screenplay are two completely different processes. Film is a visual medium—you need to be able to "show" your book. I was inspired by Jess Walter (author of Beautiful Ruins) who encouraged us to trust our voice—that we have good ideas, and our ideas sing. That the hardest things are hard for a reason.
How to Get the Most Out of a Writers Conference
If you are going to invest your time and money in a writers conference, go all in. I went to every session and every session taught me something. I committed to meeting people, which meant after the conference, instead of going home to bed, I stuck around and made valuable connections. Live tweeting connected me to more people through RT's. Don't make it just about furthering yourself. Do it to build relationships and add value and encouragement to their life too. Several of us local authors formed a writing group afterward.
Best of all, one agent I pitched to asked for my book and to email her. I followed up with my press kit, book trailer, links to my literary awards, and bio. After viewing my book trailer she plans to pitch my book to Nickelodeon and/or PBS kids.
If my schedule allows, I will be returning for sure next year.
Niki Breeser Tschirgi, author and stay-at-home mom, resides in Spokane, Washington, with her husband and six adopted kids (five still at home, ages eight through eighteen, all boys). While waiting for her call from Hollywood, Niki is not resting on her laurels. She continues her on-the-ground efforts to build her platform for Growing Up Alaska while readying her second book, Stretchmark My Heart: Building Our Family Through Adoption, One Child (or Two) at a Time, for publication. To connect with Niki and learn more about life in Alaska, follow her on Facebook: www.facebook.com/growingupalaska or Twitter @nikitschirgi and visit her website: http://www.growingupalaska.net/.
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