Monday, February 16, 2009

San Francisco Writers Conference

I spent the weekend out west at the San Francisco Writers Conference. The conference, in its 5th year, is put on by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen, two of the best agents in the business. When I received the invitation to give a presentation on the changing face of book publicity at the event, it didn't take me long to confirm.

I flew in Friday afternoon, expecting to arrive at the event in time to attend a couple of the afternoon sessions. After an hour delay in Vegas, my flight arrived in SF. Upon learning that my hotel was a $50 cab ride from the airport, I made a very poor decision to save $30 and jump into a "door-to-door" airport van along with eight other unlucky passengers.

The experience started off normal enough, with the driver passing around a clipboard and asking us to write our destination and address on the sheet.

The list of destinations within the van were not off the beaten path--Hilton, Hyatt, Intercontinental--places you would think most airport drivers have been to hundreds of times. Not our guy, who thankfully spoke very little english. He was downright puzzled by the task before him.

What is this Hilton of yours?

So puzzled was he with our list of unknown hotels that he pulled out the trusty GPS. The GPS accepted the address for the first hotel and we were off. Whispers and concerns among the passengers as we pulled away from the airport were quickly halted by the Russian national anthem rattling through the speakers of the driver's cell phone. We hit the freeway knowing that we had a long ride ahead of us.

To get an accurate picture of the situation, imagine if you were asked to fly to Moscow this afternoon--sight of the city unseen--and navigate a shuttle service for Russian tourists. We were those tourists.

He proceeded to pull out his GPS after dropping off each passenger. No one knew who would be next and we couldn't question his plan because we didn't have one Russian major on board. We sat back and waited as the passenger van powerball continued. Fittingly, my hotel hit the GPS tracker 9th and I found my way to the Intercontential on Nob Hill two long hours later.

Speaking of pictures, here is the view from the front of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel where the conference was held. Just gorgeous.

I attended several presentations on Saturday, the first of which was a very good talk from Eric Liebetrau, Managing Editor of always honest Kirkus Reviews. About Kirkus Reviews:

- Kirkus Reviews is a pre-publication book review journal that is widely respected
- Eric reported that Kirkus receives 3-400 books a day (of those at least 50% are books they don't review--cookbooks, self-pubbed, self-help, etc.--read their submission guidelines)
- Kirkus is known to be tough on books, so a starred or even positive review carries significant weight
- Kirkus does not accept electronic copies of books for review
- Kirkus does not review self-pubbed books but does offer reviews for such books at a fee through their Kirkus Discoveries program.

Responding to a question about tips for book reviewers, Eric said that reviewers "should never sugarcoat" and reminded the audience member that authors benefit most from honesty in reviews.

The highlight of the presentation served as a reminder about the realities of being a book reviewer. It occurred when a woman wearing a bright print sweater seated near the front raised her hand about halfway into Liebetrau's presentation and offered this treat:

Pink Sweater: "Is it ethical to take a word out of a Kirkus Review and print it on your website? One of your reviewers used the word "splintered" when talking about my book and I just won't stand for it."

Liebetrau: "Did you use an ellipses?"

Pink Sweater: "A what?"

Liebetrau: "An ellipses--to evidence the fact that a word is missing"

Pink Sweater: "I don't like it (perhaps again referencing the word "splintered") and I'm not putting it up there."

(audience shifting uncomfortably)

Liebetrau: "Ok."

That was the first of 3-5 fairly charged questions from the snarky author in the second row, including one in which she asked if she could buy two Kirkus Discoveries reviews and pick the one that was the best (the answer's no). Liebetrau handled her very well but it was a reminder that good, honest reviewing can lead to uncomfortable moments with authors at conferences and other gatherings.

Those quality, honest reviews are the reason Kirkus is so widely respected. With stand alone book review sections disappearing from newspapers around the country, reviews in trade publications are becoming more and more valuable to authors and publishers and it was great to get additional insight into what Kirkus is up to.

I was paired with Jill Lublin, author of Guerilla Publicity, Networking Magic and Get Noticed...Get Referrals, for my presentation on book publicity. Jill and I each talked for 10-15 minutes before taking questions. The aforementioned Michael Larsen did a great job serving as our moderator once the questions began. I focused much of my presentation on the changing face of book publicity and how authors have to be prepared to work closely with their publicist to get the most promotional mileage for their book.

After the presentation Saturday I headed to the Golden Gate Bridge and caught a view of Alcatraz. Alcatraz is actually closer to the shore than I imagined it might be. I can see those prisoners making that swim.

Did I mentioned it's hilly in San Francisco?

This limo driver high-centered his limo on on the way to pick up some couple celebrating Valentine's Day. It looked like a see-saw. Poor guy.

The final event of the weekend was the presenters-only party on Saturday night. I met Jerry Cimino, who runs "The Beat Museum" on Broadway in San Francisco ( and hosts book signings for beat writers from time to time. Publicists--if you have a beat writer heading through San Francisco, give Jerry a call.

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Anonymous Roger C. Parker said...

Great post. Brought back many memories of why I don't enjoy travel like I used to...even to places like SF which are so beautiful.

Thank heavens for

I love the way, when you get in a cab and tell the cab driver to "drop me off at the other end of the Golden Gate bridge," they don't even blink an eye.

Very useful update. I've interviewed Jill several times and she's a fountain of info.

February 18, 2009 at 4:07 PM  
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I love the way, when you get in a cab and tell the cab driver to "drop me off at the other end of the Golden Gate bridge," they don't even blink an eye.

Very useful update. I've interviewed Jill several times and she's a fountain of info.

February 18,

May 16, 2012 at 11:48 AM  

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