Interview with WriteOnCon founder Elana Johnson
My fellow agency sister Elana Johnson is a busy gal. Her dystopian novel, POSSESSION, just sold to Simon & Schuster, to be published in summer 2011. And oh yeah, she and her six fellow founders launched WriteOnCon, an entirely online writing conference for kidlit writers (covering the genres of picture books, middle grade, young adult). I joined in for all three days of the conference, which included live chats with editors and agents, vlog entries from authors with amazing tips (hello, a character collage!), and query clinics. Besides being a genius idea, this 3-day extravaganza gathered together up-and-coming writers, novices, and published authors in one online community. What I loved about the conference was that it was a) FREE; b) entirely online — you can participate in your pajamas; c) you can hop in when you can and leave when you want without the awkward, stumbling-over-chairs-to-get-out-of-the-room moment; d) no travel required. Most writing conferences are quite pricey, involve at least 3 days in a city that you have to fly to, and once a class is over, the lecture is over. Not so with WriteOnCon. If you missed a session, chances are you could read the aftermath or watch the video.
I could gush on forever about this, but instead, I’ll let Elana share what putting together this event involved and what is on tap for WriteOnCon 2011!
Special thanks to Elana for taking the time to answers my questions. Also, a special shout out to the fellow WriteOnCon founders: Jamie Harrington, Casey McCormick, Shannon Messenger, Lisa and Laura Roecker, and Jennifer Stayrook. Learn more about these amazing women here.
1. What inspired you and your fellow founders to put this 3-day entirely online writing conference together for kidlit writers? What were some of the goals for the event?
Well, I’ve been doing “pay it forward” events all year. And I was trying to think of something to do next. Of course, I couldn’t. But luckily, Casey McCormick did. We emailed a bit, and realized the potential of the idea. That’s when we brought in the others, and watched it take off.
The main goal for the event was to bring a traditional, in-person conference to everyone, everywhere. No matter where they lived or how much money they made.
That’s where we started. Then as we branched off into forums and such, we realized this could be a great place to have authors meet. We’ve heard some stories of people finding critique partners from the forums, which is heartening.
2. How did you ladies amass such a great wealth of talented editors, writers, and agents to live chat, blog, or vlog at WriteOnCon?
Simple: We asked them. It’s amazing what the talent response was. Of course, we got people who told us no for various reasons, but in the end, all we did was ask.
3. What were some surprises that you encountered when putting this event together? Some really great moments? Some technological snafus?
Surprises: the number of people we roped into participating. If you guys could see our first chat… oh my heck. We were talking about contacting 9 people – 3 posts for each day. I’m not even kidding. We ended up with about 60 authors, agents, editors, or other publishing personnel. That was a HUGE surprise to me.
Really great moments: When Mark McVeigh asked me to cold call him. Yeah, fun times. I mean, who doesn’t dream of cold calling an agent to talk about a free writer’s conference? I about died. But I didn’t, and it turned out to be a great thing. Mark was one of our biggest supporters right from the start.
Technological snafus: Forbidden 403. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I just want to say that we were well within guidelines for the server the site was on. And yet they still shut us down. So we had to scramble to relocate to another server. We’re already planning for next year and getting a more reliable host, so no worries!
4. I was inspired to see how many kidlit writers were so eager to learn, so supportive of their community, and also up on their technology. What did you learn about the kidlit community after putting together WriteOnCon 2010?
There are no words for the love I feel for the kidlit community. I simply cannot express how kind they were to us before, during, and after the con. I knew there were some amazing people out there. I just didn’t know the depth of their awesomeness. But I do now.
5. What are plans for WriteOnCon 2011? Any speakers lined up already?
We plan on organizing WriteOnCon 2011 to be as amazing as our inaugural run. Uh, yeah. I think that’s all I can say about that. Ha ha!