writers / writers resources / writers tips

44 Takeaways from the San Diego Writers Conference

#sdwcA few weeks ago, I attended the San Diego Writers Conference, sponsored annually by San Diego State University. It was my second time at this event (here are my takeaways from last year’s event) so I knew it would be cerebral, well-worth the time and money, leave me motivated to get back into the trenches with my keyboard and red pencil, and introduce me to lots of like-minded writerly folks. Keynote speakers included Jonathan Maberry, R.L. Stine, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and J.A. Jance. I can’t believe how entertaining these folks were while imparting some amazing nuggets that I will likely never forget.

Here are my top 44 takeaways:

  • Jonathan Maberry writes 4000 words a day, five days a week.  Here are a few tips from him:
    • He doesn’t believe in writer’s block. It usually means you’re facing a challenge.
    • He writes in a bunch of genres. Doesn’t see any problem with that and wants to try them all.
  • Audio books in 2015 were worth $1.7 billion.
  • Use social media to encourage efriends.
  • Focus on just a few social media platforms. Pick the ones that work best for you (I heard this from multiple people).
  • Champion and promote other people’s stuff.
  • Bob Mayer says end matter (the stuff you put after the end of your story) can only be 5% of the book. More from Bob Mayer:
    • Half million titles were uploaded to Kindle in 2016.
    • Self-pub authors make more than traditionally pubbed authors.
    • Don’t be an a**hole! Be polite, helpful, and convivial to online friends and acquaintances (I heard this from at least three presenters).
    • Have a good reason to break a rule.
  • Tips from JLStine (the author of the Goosebumps series):writing
    • There’s no good answer to the question ‘where do you get your ideas’. Start with a title and let it lead you to an idea.
    • If you get bogged down in the story and can’t get to the ending, start with the ending.
    • Always say yes to every opportunity (having to do with marketing your books).
    • He outlines his books first. He thinks that allows him to write more books.
    • He does no research for his books. He makes everything up.
    • Twitter is a great way to stay in touch with readers.
    • Social media provides good marketing tools.
  • Justin Sloan’s tips (this guy writes multiple books a year–he was amazing):
    • It takes a really long time to get traditionally published.
    • Your goals will help you decide which way to go. Traditional is better for winning awards. Self-pub better for quick publishing.
    • Bookbub is the gold standard for promoting your book.
    • What you get out of traditional publisher is heavily dependent upon the agent you have.
    • The average self-pubbed author sells six books a year.
    • What are called ‘Whale readers’ read several books a day.
    • Offer your first book free to get readers to buy the next.
    • Use Instafreebie to promote your book. You’ll get everyone’s email address when they sign up for your free book.
    • Add an offer at the end of your book, such as a free story if they subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Have a thirty-second elevator pitch. That’s five to eight sentences. Include who you are, what your book is about, what you want people to do about your book.
  • Have ten questions about your book that you are prepared to answer.
  • Have a short and long bio.
  • Develop three to five pitches.writer
  • Be quotable. Have quick blurbs that listeners find quotable.
  • Give your media appearance a second life on social media.
  • You must become a performer once your book is written.
  • A book trailer is 90 seconds and could be as simple as you answering the ten questions.
  • Tips from Penny Sansevieri:
    • 95% of book sales are from personal recommendation.
    • Number one thing readers want to do when they finish a book is to engage with the audience.
    • Photofunia.com–add effects to pictures to make your marketing pop
    • Befunky.com–more photo editing tools for your marketing efforts.
    • You need seven touches to sell a customer.
    • You can sell on Pinterest now.

  • The key to writing a non-fiction book is to make it entertaining.
  • Narrative nonfiction probably succeeds or fails based on writer skills.

Overall, this conference gets an A. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like and will probably attend next year. Who’s with me?

More on writing advice:

How to Write Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner

15 Traits Critical to a Successful Writer

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, and the thriller, To Hunt a Sub. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. The sequel to To Hunt a Sub, Twenty-four Days, is scheduled for Summer, 2017. Click to follow its progress.


81 thoughts on “44 Takeaways from the San Diego Writers Conference

  1. Found it! Happy to reread it. I have a question for you: I paid for two “advanced reader” sessions with agents for this conf. I presend the first 10 pages and they sit and talk to me about it. Based on your experience, or your best guess, would it be weird for me to have a hand-held recorder during these sessions so I don’t forget anything the agent says? Good idea or totally lame/amateur? What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great idea! I doubt that they’d object. You might want to clarify that it’s for your use, not publication, to put them at ease. I paid for two of these but on a consulting basis (not as an advance reader). They were useful. I also paid a dedicated professional about $300 for a one-hour session that was phenomenal. Well worth the money. I think in your genre, you’ll have an easier time of finding professionals knowledgeable in your field.

      Good luck! I wish I was going this year. I’m going to Okinawa in May and Austin in July and figured those two blew up my travel budget.


  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Jacqui. Some of the tips are not new but good reminders. Some of the information is mind-boggling. The average self published author only sells six books?! Those of us, like you, who spend a lot of time with their marketing also do a lot better than that. But, and here’s the big but – we spend a lot of time getting to know other writers and their work and sharing our love of writing and our passion for getting our work published.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great tips. I’ve bookmarked this page to return when I’ve more time, and I may consider attending the conference next year–I think I’ll have a son in school at UCSD, so it’d be an excuse 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I have just started blogging, so I hope this isn’t inappropriate, but I notice you have lovely images in your blog and I wonder how you did this? I can’t find any info in the help section. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is great information, I just came back from a writer’s conference at the end of January. I almost went to this conference and decided not to, but I wished I had. The conference I attended frowned heavily upon self-publishing. Most, if not, all the agents there were against it. They said once you self-publish, it’s almost impossible to get an agent because most self-published authors don’t sell that much or make much. But, your review is thorough and you shed light on a more positive perspective to self-publishing. Thanks for this post. Some great information!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that at a writer conference. Self-pubbing works for me for a number of reasons. I sell enough to cover costs, would be hard-pressed to make more traditionally, and have no interest in fame. I think it’s different for everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Okay, so I’m intrigued by a couple of things here. This one: Self-pub authors make more than traditionally pubbed authors. And then this: self-pubbed authors typically sell 6 books a year. Surely those two things must contradict each other, or no?
    Also: You must become a performer once your book is written. Could you expand on that? Thanks for this great information! I’m going to hang onto this post for future reference, for sure. Are you in the SD area? There’s a Writer’s Workshop on May 20th. I may go to that one. Perhaps we’d see each other! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good catch. There were a few sentences in between that which I didn’t recount: Most self-pubbed authors sell only 6 books a year. I have no data whether that’s true with traditionally-published authors. Maybe? Who knows. But, self-pubbed authors who do sell comparable amounts to traditional pubbed authors make a bunch more money.

      To me, it’s because agents want the best-seller while we authors simply want to make a living. Our bar is lower so we’ll publish even if we don’t think we’ll have a best-seller. Agents won’t take us on as the latter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Plus, you make more per book when you self-pub. You get to keep all the extra, not take 10% of net. That makes a big difference. Still, you have to be a marketing genius to sell as much as trad-pubbed books with the marketing backing of a big publishing house.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I don’t know if that’s true. When I compare my Kindle standings to other traditionally-pubbed writers that are no-names like me, I’m comparable or better. And I don’t have a clue how to market my book. And doing the math on self-pubbed, I get $2 per Kindle book (I don’t publish print), which equates to two $10 Kindle books traditionally published.

          I do think I’d have more bragging rights if I had a traditional publisher, though, so I’m not giving up on that route.


  7. Hi Jacqui – great thoughts here … definitely new ones came to light … I’ll be back to look at the links – thanks so much … audio books = yes! Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I love these tips. And R.L. Stine? How cool!!! True story–my mom and Sherrilyn Kenyon worked together at Ingram Entertainment here in Nashville right before Sherrilyn had her big break. I think she was already published but not a bestselling author at that time. She gives AMAZING workshops. She’s a member of my local RWA chapter and still does workshops sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is a fantastic list, Jacqui. I like the way Jonathan Maberry is keen on writing in as many genres as he can (that’s my kind of writing), And Justin Sloan’s tips are great as well. This page is bookmarked! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Jacqui, wow, thank you for sharing this with us – I bet it was tricky to condense your notes to this selection. I’ve found these very interesting and bookmarked for future reference. Some positive comments regarding self-publishing and hadn’t realised Bookbub is such a great promotional tool – there isn’t a lot about that on WP. Disheartening to read this, though: ‘The average self-pubbed author sells six books a year.’ It an average I guess.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Great stuff. Thanks for sharing. The following line stokes fear in an introvert: “You must become a performer once your book is written.” 😄

    I’ll be headed to the San Francisco Writers Conference next week. First time. Looking forward to it!

    Liked by 3 people

      • I’m going to try to shake the introvert thing and do better at networking. I was finally starting to do that at ThrillerFest last summer, but I can’t attend it this summer due to a schedule conflict. Am excited to experience a new conference though.

        Liked by 3 people

    • The only thing I can say about personal recommendations is, in my microcosm, it might be true. I have no idea how to market my latest fiction, nor what works, and yet, it keeps chugging along, selling book after book. I don’t know why–except for that factor of ‘personal recommendation’.


      Liked by 2 people

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