Schedule: 2020 Workshop

(APRIL 2020 UPDATE: The 2020 San Diego Writing Workshop is postponed until 2021 for safety reasons. If you are signed up for the 2020 event as a paid attendee, or you would like to know more about WDW’s new 2020 online conferences — which include many recorded sessions, one-on-one pitching to agents by phone or Skype, and more — please see all info here, and be in contact with us anytime you want —


8:30 – 9:30: Check-in and registration at the event location. Check in and get comfortable.

There will be 3 classes/workshops going at all times during the day. Agent pitches and critique consultations overlap with the sessions below. The schedule of presentation topics below is subject to change, but here is the current layout:

BLOCK ONE: 9:30 – 10:30

1. Make Your First Five Pages Agent Ready, taught by Tara Gilbert. You have five pages to impress an agent–make them count. It takes a few paragraphs for an agent to know if they connect with the writing of a manuscript, and you have five pages to convince them they want to see more. We will take a look at what makes a great opening, what you need to successfully grab a reader’s attention, and leave them wanting more after five pages.

2. Middle Grade and Young Adult: Writing the Book of Your Heart, taught by Shelley Moore Thomas. Are you struggling to write the book that you really want to write, but worry that it won’t sell? Award-winning children’s author Shelley Thomas will give tips and encouragement to help you create the book that only you can, in addition to showing you how writing the book of your heart will improve your life.

3. Beyond the Book Deal: How to Navigate Social Media and Build an Effective Brand, taught by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. This workshop will discuss the importance of an author’s platform. We’ll discuss why publishers wish to see a growing one (even small) for a novelist, how you can potentially build one if you don’t have one yet, and why being an “expert” is so important. Are they selling you or selling the book? Surprise, it’s both. This class will help you understand the very basics of marketing yourself and your book(s) online, whether you’re traditionally published or self-published.

BLOCK TWO: 10:45 – 11:50

1. How to Generate Suspense Workshop, taught by Jill Marr. Pacing is a crucial component to all fiction writing. And it’s important to keep your readers “hooked” throughout your story. No matter what genre you write, there needs to be conflict, peril and suspense in some form. Learn the seven steps to creating suspense and keeping the pace moving. This class will appeal to all writers who seek to add tension and suspense to their tales, but especially writers of mystery, thriller, crime, and suspense novels.

2. Balancing Writing and Working and Life, taught by Shelley Moore Thomas. Working a full time job and living the writing life can be challenging, but it is still possible. This class will explain strategies and tricks for squeezing the most out of your time, prioritizing your projects, and setting manageable goals.

3. Pitch, Please! How to Strike the Right Tone (and Other Helpful Tips) in Your Query Letter, taught by Courtney Miller-Callihan and Ben Callihan. In this lively workshop, literary agents Courtney and Ben Miller-Callihan will guide you through some of the key dos and don’ts of putting your best self forward in your query letter. Can you be funny? Is there such a thing as being too clever? How much do rhetorical questions suck? [A: yes, yes, and a lot.] We’ll cover these questions and more and offer tons of insight from the agent’s side of the desk, so you can ensure that your query stands out (in a good way.)

LUNCH ON YOUR OWN: 11:50 – 1:15

Lunch is on your own during these 85 minutes. There are lots of options, including onsite restaurants, and nearby places to eat.

BLOCK THREE: 1:15 – 2:30

1. “Writers Got Talent”—a Page 1 Critique Fest (Peacock 1 room) with participating literary agents and editors. In the vein of “American Idol” or “America’s Got Talent,” this is a chance to get your first page read (anonymously — no bylines given) with attending agents commenting on what was liked or not liked about the submission. Get expert feedback on your incredibly important first page, and know if your writing has what it needs to keep readers’ attention. (All attendees are welcome to bring pages to the event for this session, and we will choose pages at random for the workshop for as long as time lasts. All submissions should be novels or memoir—no prescriptive nonfiction or picture books, please. Do not send your pages in advance. You will bring printed copies with you, and instructions will be sent out approximately one week before the event.)

2. Perfecting Your Nonfiction Book Proposal, taught by Elise Capron. This session is completely devoted to all nonfiction that is not memoir. If you are trying to create an awesome nonfiction book proposal that will catch an agent’s eye, this presentation is for you. Elise will walk you through each section of a book proposal, providing tips on how to think about the best way to frame and pitch your book concept, identify your book’s place in the market, pick comp titles, present your unique platform effectively, and to ultimately create a business plan for your book that will be seen as professional and appealing to agents and publishers.

3. Picture Book Potluck, taught by Dee Leone. Creating an enticing picture book requires quality ingredients. Learn how to stir up savory story ideas, invent tantalizing titles, and concoct captivating characters. Discover ways to add spice to your writing and gain tips to avoid spoiling a good recipe. Acquire the skills needed to cook up a work of art your audience will crave. Finally, receive seasoned query advice designed to whet the appetite of editors and agents.

BLOCK FOUR: 2:45 – 3:45

1. Conquering the Novel, taught by Stephanie Storey. Many writers want to write a novel, but are daunted by how to conquer something so long and unwieldy. This workshop helps writers develop a plan for organizing, writing, re-writing, and finishing their novel.

2. You Have an Agent Offer or Book Contract — Now What?, taught by agent Carlie Webber. Many writers seek to get an agent and book deal. But what happens after these steps? Hear from literary agent Carlie Webber on how to effectively work with a literary agent, what to expect in the submission process, what it’s like to work with a publishing house editor, how to sell multiple books in your career, and much more.

3. When Nice Characters Do Bad Things: How to Make Your Protagonist Empathetic, taught by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. Are you getting feedback that your main character is unlikable? Writing complicated protagonists can be tricky! This session will delve into ways to help the reader identify with your toughest characters without watering them down, as well as discuss the nuances of likability versus empathy.

BLOCK FIVE: 4:00 – 5:00

1. 10 Things Every Writer Should Be Doing, taught by Rachel Beck. At a minimum, there are 10 basic things for every writer out there to be doing in hopes of publication, from knowing your genre and appropriate comp titles to following healthy social media habits. In this session, a literary agent will explain and delve into all 10 points.

2. Story Lessons from Hollywood, taught by Stephanie Storey. How lessons from screenwriting, acting, directing, producing, and video editing can help prose writers craft more compelling stories and keep readers turning those pages.

3. How to Start Your Own Publishing Company, taught by Kerrie Flanagan. Self-publishing is a viable option for authors who have the drive and commitment to take charge of the destiny of their books and who understand it is a business. Whether you are taking the simple route of using a print on demand company like CreateSpace or IngramSpark as your publisher or you want to create your own company LLC, you are setting up your own business. Led by Kerrie Flanagan, founder of Hot Chocolate Press, LLC, this session will cover the best publishing platform options (digital and print), creating a company name, starting an LLC, where to focus marketing efforts (online or in bookstores), basic accounting options and social media and how it fits into your new business.


At 5 p.m., the day is done. Speakers will make themselves available by the workshop’s bookstore station for a short while to sign any books for attendees.