San Francisco has a lot to offer the visiting writer, from outstanding clam chowder to the renowned City Lights Bookstore. For me, one of the best reasons to visit was the 2020 San Francisco Writers Conference: A Celebration of Craft, Commerce, and Community, held over 4 days in mid-February on the Embarcadero.
Although I arrived at the Hyatt Regency Hotel a bit late on Thursday evening, I was still able to meet my pal George Stenitzer as he finished one of the Master’s Classes. We adjourned to the Lobby Bar for a late dinner, where a number of other attendees wandered in after class. Lively discussion accompanied the friendly get-together of writers from around the country.
Friday began on a positive note struck by breakfast Keynote Speaker Jonathan Maberry, who entertained the audience with the tale of his own journey from night club bouncer to writer across many genres. His message was one of encouragement to “try everything” and never say “no” to anything.
There was much to say “yes” to: The exhibit hall was staffed throughout the conference by representatives of writing and publishing organizations such as Bublish, Ingram Spark, and Smashwords, plus many non-profits. Also on site was the SFWC Bookstore, tables loaded with an assortment of books on craft, and also books by the speakers and presenters, with a schedule of signings. (Even copies of The Ghost of Jamie McVay were available.)
SFWC is one of those “full service” conferences, with presentations, workshops, and panel discussions in several threads throughout the week-end: You can skip around among sessions in marketing/promotions, publishing, and the craft of writing. My Friday choices included talks on fiction: Characterization, Crafting High Stakes, and Terrifying Your Readers, followed by marketing guru Rusty Shelton. Later in the afternoon I had brief one-on-one meetings with Shelton and with editor Mary Rakow.
George and I took advantage of the sunny weather to visit the nearby Ferry Building for lunch. We went back there for dinner, too, having missed the traditional “Dinner With Harvey” and others at a downtown restaurant.
Saturday morning’s keynote speaker was publisher and author Brooke Warner, who spoke on “Embracing Your Publishing Dream”. Warner discussed current trends in publishing and brought up some recent controversies.
Added to the other threads on Saturday was the SFWC Poetry Summit, introducing a panel of local poets and a schedule of poetry-oriented workshops and discussions I attended.
Breaking that up was an entertaining lunch with author Walter Mosley, one of my favorite novelists, honored and interviewed by a local personality. Mosley reminded us to “write every day” as he does. His no-nonsense responses seemed to clear the air about some racial issues – he refused to be baited into any kinds of divisive comments.
I wasn’t prepared to pitch my novel to agents or editors, although many participants pay extra for such meetings, which are scheduled throughout the week-end. However Saturday afternoon, the conference allows one to “Ask a Pro” in an open setting where professionals are available for brief Q & A chats on a variety of topics.
A Saturday night highlight of the event is the Gala Cocktail Networking Party, with a nice buffet and a semi-cash bar, followed by the Poetry and Jazz Party, featuring the all-poet band COPUS and readings by poetry summit presenters. George and I read at the open mic portion, with the talented band providing an awesome soundtrack.
Sunday the conference continued with more sessions on all tracks, while others made their way to a pre-paid scheduled hour of Speed Dating with Agents. This activity gives writers a 3-minute opportunity to pitch their projects with the agents at private tables set around the room. At the sound of the ending bell, writers move on to get in line at another agent’s table. It’s a hectic, crazy experience, but if you deliver a well-composed pitch, the agent may offer some good advice, or even request that you send more pages for review.
Other than the speed dating, the pace of the conference slows on Sunday as participants check out and begin their homeward journeys with much to process: supplemental material (much is available online); lectures and other sessions (which can be purchased on tape); promotional materials from the many vendors; and books from the expansive collection of the bookstore.
With much on my mind and a little extra time to kill, I headed out to the Embarcadero and walked along the bayside enjoying the cool breeze and sunshine, in search of that San Francisco clam chowder. I found a hearty bowl at The Waterfront before my ride to the airport. Likewise, the SFWC served up satisfying, nourishing, invigorating fare.