Editor’s Note: Jen Wolf was one of several recipients who received scholarships to attend the Pikes Peak Writer’s 2022 conference. She shares many of the lessons she learned over the course of just a few days that all of our readers can gain insights into. If you missed PPWC2022, you need to attend PPWC2023 in April. Thank you Jen for this great article!
By: Jen Wolf
My journey to the 2022 Pike’s Peak Writers Conference began in my recliner, where I was living (for several weeks) after I sprained my psoas muscle during a Nerf gun battle at my step-son’s birthday party. I had already received information about the conference in the PPWA newsletter, but I couldn’t afford to attend – I lost my job due to Covid last June. Then, in early February, I got the announcement that scholarships were available. So, I opened my laptop for the first time since my injury and made myself as comfortable as possible, and I began to write my application. I explained how I was getting back into writing after many years. I had just completed a short humor book that I was in the process of publishing, and I wrote how overwhelmed I was feeling because my next challenge is to plot the science fiction series that I have been researching for the past six years. I told the committee that “if I am able to attend, I believe I will gain tons of valuable information which will help me turn my writing dreams into a realistic plan for the future.” I was thrilled when I found out that I had won a scholarship to the conference. Spoiler alert: I learned everything I was hoping to learn, and more!
From my perspective, the conference couldn’t have started out any better. I attended Becca Syme’s presentation, “Why Can’t I Execute My Plans?” and by the end of her talk, I forgave myself for any of my past failures to launch or finish a project. I tend to beat myself up a lot, so Becca deserves all the credit for that – her knowledge of human behavior systems gives her the absolute authority to gently help us get over ourselves. I walked out of her presentation as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was an awesome way to begin, and I felt (and still feel) hopeful that I can improve my writing life by working with my own individual parameters for getting stuff done.
Then I got a panoramic snapshot of the current publishing industry at Jane Friedman’s workshop, “Today’s Key Book Publishing Paths: What’s New, What’s Old, What’s Right For You?” I was particularly interested in learning more about the business of writing since I was in the process of publishing my humor book and I had a steep learning curve in front of me. A month before the conference, I had submitted my manuscript and was accepted for publication by a small vanity press. I didn’t want the publishing phase of the book to take as long as the writing phase, and I felt I needed some help to get me over the self-publishing hurdles that I thought I didn’t have time to learn how to jump (covers, formats, and ISBNs! Oh my!). Luckily, I was only charged a minimal fee, but Jane’s presentation was the first of many times during the conference when I wished I had waited to start the publishing process until afterward. Oh well, you know about hindsight. And you also know how, as soon as you finish the final, painful edit of your manuscript – you want to get it out there!
After lunch on Friday, I attended the workshop that had first attracted my attention when I saw the conference listing: “How I Failed My Way To Six Figures,” with Ines Johnson. She shared the ups and downs of her writing and publishing career, making us laugh the whole time. I learned how important it is to establish consistency for your readers by staying true to your genre and providing them with fresh books on a regular schedule. I learned about productivity, marketing, and sales tools that might have taken me years to stumble upon. Thank you, Ines, for being so open and generous with your knowledge and experiences! That inspiring presentation was a crash course on how to become a publishing goddess.
At lunch on Friday, I sat at Steve Saffel’s table and enjoyed a great discussion that led to the topic of query letters. I will never forget what Steve said: “Explain why your manuscript has to get written, and why you are the only writer who can write it.” I also attended Steve’s workshop “The Novelist’s Career Path,” and he elaborated on this basic idea, giving many examples of authors who were in the unique position to write the books they did, and showing how their perspectives sold Steve on their ideas. I think this advice is golden and I loved the opportunity to sit and talk casually with the PPWC’s expert presenters on a more personal level.
Saturday morning I attended Jennifer Wilson’s workshop, “An Introvert’s Guide to Creating an Author Platform.” I desperately needed this information, and Jennifer summed it all up perfectly. After the conference, I used my notes to claim my author’s pages on Amazon and Goodreads, create a website on Squarespace, and establish a social media presence. And the really amazing thing is that I felt confident in what I was doing and energized because I knew I was putting my time into the most effective things I could do to launch my book by myself.
I sat at Ines Johnson’s table at lunch on Saturday and she answered a couple of questions that I had come up with since I attended her workshop. From my conversation with Ines, I took her to be a dedicated do-it-yourself-er, so I asked her about creating e-book files and about the process for self-publishing an audiobook. Ines is an awesome person, and when she realized the entirety of my lack of knowledge when it comes to indie publishing (I am laughing at myself here,) she told me that she was attending Mark Lefebvre’s workshop on Draft2Digital after lunch and she encouraged me to go.
So, I did. And Mark’s presentation was amazing! I found out that Draft2Digital is poised to be the Tesla of self-publishing vehicles, especially after its recent merger with Smashwords. Mark described the features of D2D in a down-to-earth, user-friendly way so that even a novice like me could understand and appreciate the tools available on the platform. Immediately after Mark’s presentation I went to his book signing and got “Wide For The Win,” which has become a valuable reference in the weeks since the conference. I am super grateful that I got to chat with Mark for a few minutes about my publishing situation, too. After my conversation with Mark, I decided to keep working with the vanity press to get the paperback out there and the Kindle version out on Amazon because those were nearly complete at the time, but I have since created an e-book on Draft2Digital (the process was super easy and, dare I say, fun!) and I distribute my e-book everywhere else through Draft2Digital. How lucky am I that this was Mark’s year to pinch-hit for the keynote speaker who was originally scheduled? Very lucky!
Anyhoo, then there was the banquet, where it was once again a pleasure to sit back and relax while Aaron Michael Ritchey info-tained us with his original comic stylings before introducing his good friend Mark Lefebvre to the crowd for the keynote address. Mark’s speech was an enthralling reminder that as writers, we are the magic-makers. We are the spellbinders. We create the mind-symphony between a reader and a book when that reader is truly connected.
Thank you, Mark. And thank you, Jenny Kate! And many, many thanks to all the volunteers and coordinators of the PPWC. I didn’t get a chance to meet all of you, but I remember your smiling faces (and your dogs’ smiling faces 🙂 and I hope we will meet again. Pike’s Peak Writers Conference is truly the “friendliest writing conference in the country.” Just a thought – a superhero theme might be in order one of these years. I met some real-life superheroes at the 2022 PPWC and they changed my life!
Jen Wolf is from Wisconsin but Colorado is her adopted home. She grew up wanting to be a writer but kept putting her writing goals on the back burner as she moved from state to state – living in Maine, Tennessee, Washington, Florida, and finally settling in Colorado where she met her husband, Chris McMichael. Along the way she started a soap company, worked as a karaoke host, and briefly owned a food truck. Recently she ghost-wrote a book of humor for men and currently she is working on a series of sci-fi / alternate history books based on the Ancient Aliens theory. This is Jen’s first article for Writing from the Peak.