It all started in spring 2010: a dream that would help YA writers all over the country shop their books, make new friends and catch the attention they needed from professionals in the business… for free. Casey McCormick, the head behind publishing research blog Literary Rambles, e-mailed author Elana Johnson with a new idea she’d been tweaking with.
“We e-mailed back and forth a few times, and it finally came out that her idea was an online writer’s conference,” Johnson reminisced. “Well, that was all the prodding I needed.”
And so the dream became WriteOnCon, a free online convention that ran this year from August 13th to 14th, with hundreds of authors from all over the globe participating.
Even in those sapling days, though, Johnson and McCormick knew they couldn’t do it alone. The original WriteOnCon team – Johnson, McCormick, Jamie Harrington, sisters Lisa and Laura Roecker, and Shannon Messenger – had their first WriteOnCon, and the rest was history.
That isn’t to say WriteOnCon hasn’t evolved past that first convention.
“We barely knew what we were doing,” recalled Johnson. “The first year, we ran the con for three days. Now, we’re down to two. The first year, we didn’t have anything live but a chat… it was really just a series of blog posts and a couple of live chats at night with editors and agents.”
In spite of the differences between that first year, and this year’s professionally laid out schedule, Carolin Seidenkranz (the woman Johnson affectionately calls a “forum goddess”) still looks back fondly, amazed at how fate led her from being a participant to staff.
“The WriteOnCon organizers put out a call [for help in the forums]in January 2011. I’d attended the first WriteOnCon half a year before that as an attendee, and it was amazing! I admired everyone from afar and I just thought, ‘I have to be a part of this!’ I thought I’d take a chance and they took me on. It has been one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my life,” said Seidenkranz.
When asked about how WriteOnCon has benefited writers, Johnson laughed. “Benefits for me? Or participants? Does loss of sleep count as a benefit? Eating candy all day? Maybe that counts.
“But for attendees, I think the benefits are many and varied. Our critique forums provide invaluable critiques from other authors. We have a critique partner match-up board. Our attendees have the chance to have their work in front of dozens of literary agents in a short amount of time – agents they may not have thought about querying before,” said Johnson.
Seidenkranz knew that there would be an even bigger benefit for some of the participants. “There are a lot of people out there that don’t have the time or the money to travel to real life conferences – and WriteOnCon is free and online. I feel like WriteOnCon is a pretty encouraging and fun place to be for any writer.”
Participant Natasha M. Heck says that WriteOnCon offers her a sense of community she hasn’t found anywhere else.
“WriteOnCon’s online presence works for me since I can find the time when I need it. I never seemed to find the right timing with other conferences,” said Heck.
One program that Johnson feels particularly heightens the forum experience, which many consider the best part of WriteOnCon, are the Ninja Agents.
“We introduced Ninja Agents in 2011, and that program is incredible. Agents go into our forums undercover, and read and comment on participants’ queries. They make requests. They sign clients. This year, we had more ninjas than before, with almost twenty going into the forums throughout the con,” said Johnson.
Even without the added mystique of a pseudonym and ninja garb, agents can appreciate the spirit behind WriteOnCon.
“I think WriteOnCon is a very valuable resource for writers, because it gives a privileged look into the reasoning behind the decisions that publishing professionals make,” said Brooks Sherman, an agent at FinePrint Literary Management.
Danielle Smith, an associate agent at Foreword Literary, was also enthusiastic about the convention.
“As an agent, I’m always trying to find great new ways of meeting writers and potential clients. WriteOnCon is the perfect solution. It’s filled with fantastic authors, agents and editors who provide everything at no cost to attendees. Not to mention the caliber of the attendees is phenomenal,” said Smith.
Author presenters also had good things to offer in terms of WriteOnCon’s valuable offerings to the YA community. Elsie Chapman, author of Dualed, returned for a second year to teach a class on endings.
“Being a part of the conference for my debut year made it extra special. Now that Dualed‘s out, not only am I on a steep learning curve when it comes to all things post-pub, but I’m still continuing to learn so much about the art of writing itself. I don’t think that ever stops for a writer, or ever should stop,” said Chapman with a smile.
For those who still remain skeptical of WriteOnCon – and the success of networking through a purely online conference- there is no denying the amount of success stories that crop up after the conference is completed.
Gennifer Albin, author of YA debut and a 2012 Book Expo America Buzz title Crewel, freely attributes her signing with agent Mollie Glick to WriteOnCon.
“I’m a stay at home mom in the Midwest. These things don’t usually happen to me! The Monday night of the event, I wanted to puke,” laughed Albin in a blog post about her experience with one of the conference’s live query events.
Emery Lord, whose YA contemporary Open Road Summer will be hitting shelves next year, found her agent at WriteOnCon as well – and loves the entire convention. “WriteOnCon is a place where honing your craft means connecting with your tribe,” said Lord.
In addition to the forum, Johnson was particularly excited for one of the new features WriteOnCon implemented this year.
“This year, we used Google Hangouts for live pitching. We know our participants were looking for agents, and wanted to pitch work to agents, and get their queries in front of agents. So we did five hours of live pitching – with agents,” beamed Johnson.
This year’s WriteOnCon has definitely made a leap forward from that first conference. However, Johnson has never forgotten or set aside the main mission behind WriteOnCon.
“WriteOnCon started as a way that authors could help other authors – a ‘pay it forward’ event. It continues to be exactly that. We’re looking to bring the best in writing instruction to everyone, everywhere. We’re looking to make a connection between authors and agents for authors who might not be able to afford to travel. Now that we’ve done it for four years, we see bigger and better things ahead,” said Johnson.
Nervous about participating next year? Johnson says not to worry.
“Don’t be afraid! Jump in with both feet, and tread water until you figure out how to navigate the forums. Meet new people. Put up your work. No reservation! It’s free, and while we focus on picture books to New Adult, we believe every writer can benefit from our posts and events. WriteOnCon: Exclusively for Everyone!”