WORDSTOCK is so much more than just an opportunity to see authors: It's also a gigantic resource for aspiring writers. In addition to panels and signings, the fest has workshops for would-be wordsmiths, and the exhibition hall's myriad tables offer publishing opportunities of varying sorts.
Do any of Wordstock's resources for writers actually aid and abet the careers of potential writers? In my own limited case: absolutely.
In 2009, my writing "career" consisted of naught but a blog and a single item on the McSweeney's website. I had unformed aspirations about getting into nonfiction, but no real idea how I could get my work in front of an editor's eyeballs. So I thumbed through Wordstock's list of workshops, and found one that looked useful to an entry-level writer.
The particular panel I attended was called "The Business of Freelancing," by former freelancer and editor Laurie Sandell. I chose Sandell's workshop not because she'd done things that I liked (she'd worked for Us magazine, of all things), but because she very obviously had her shit together. For the better part of an hour Sandell taught me and a roomful of eager proto-writers how to craft a pitch letter, what editors look for, how to list our writing credits, and (very importantly) the fine art of stalking editors. What had been mysterious she elucidated, and I left knowing that I could actually make a go of it as a freelancer.
A week later, I had my first paid writing gig, which I found at Wordstock. I worked for several websites after that, and did a stint as a blogger for the Daily Journal of Commerce. I've attended other Wordstock workshops since and, while Sandell's was the most useful, I can safely say that they are not in fact a waste of time or money.
Thanks to Wordstock, I am a shining paragon of freelance-y success. I make not merely tens, but in fact hundreds of dollars a year as a Professional Writer. My highly correct opinions about things like TV and books grace the pages of the fine publication before you, and each day I bask in the warm glow of being published in the finest birdcage liner in all of Portland. I owe it all to Wordstock. Well, Wordstock and McSweeney's. But mainly Wordstock.
So what workshops are right for you, Aspiring Writer? I've preferred ones that veer toward the business and publishing side of things. There are lots of wonderful books about becoming a better writer, and writers' groups and classes can be found relatively easily. However, slipping into the domain of the published is about more than just writing well. Two panels, "Your Foot in the Door" (Sunday, 9 am) and "Crafting a Killer First Page" (Saturday, noon), are explicitly about making good initial impressions on editors. Another, called "Triage: A Better Way to Revise" (Saturday, 1:30 pm) focuses on the most annoying but essential part of writing. Also of note this year is a workshop called "Tell It Out Loud: Performance for Writers" (Sunday, 10:30 am). Given the popularity of live readings and the ascendance of digital audio books, writers are often performers as well, and public speaking is a highly feared, and little talked about, element of an author's career.