Writerly Wisdom from the Newburyport Literary Festival

I wrote about the festival and featured some local authors in the recent issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine. This great photo by Kevin Harkins is of last year's closing panel.
This year's Newburyport Literary Festival was packed as always with more speakers and panels than we were able to attend. It's a great problem to have, and I'm grateful for all the hard work that goes in to making the event so useful, entertaining, varied, and generally wonderful by the festival's team of organizers and volunteers.

I primarily attend talks that focus on the craft of writing, and inevitably capture useful or powerful insights. Here are a few gems from some of these presentations.

Holly Robinson talked about making your readers, laugh, cry, and be amazed. This will now be a goal for every novel I work on. (Which implies I'll survive the one I'm currently slogging through.) I'm currently reading Holly's latest novel, Haven Lake, and am already anticipating tears.

Lorrie Thomson discussed pushing your self-consciousness out of the way so that the truths that lie beneath can come out. I'm reviewing Lorrie's upcoming book, A Measure of Happiness, for Merrimack Valley Magazine's July issue.

In conversation about being a debut author, Katie Shickel informed us that the big 5 publishers produce 95% of traditionally published books.

That shocked me.

She also passed on her agent's wisdom about promotion, saying that authors should spend 80% of their time writing, and 20% promoting. This woman's email signature reads "What are you doing with your 15 minutes today?", which refers to time spent on social media. (The May issue of Merrimack Valley Magazine features my review of Katie's debut novel, Housewitch. Copies should be on newsstands mid-May.)

Iconic children's author Avi reminded us that hard writing makes easy reading. He also stressed the importance of the first line, the first paragraph, and the first page. That's a powerful concept, whether you are trying to catch the attention of agents, editors, or readers.

This is just a tiny taste of the richness offered at the festival. 2015 marked its tenth year. May it see another 100.