Southwest Michigan Writers’ Conference meant to embolden area writers

NILES — Brian Johnston is not only an adult services librarian for Lincoln Charter Township’s public library, he is a published author.

Through his writing experiences, he realized the need for a space that informed upcoming and current authors on the art of writing, publishing and marketing. So, his library and other librarians across southwest Michigan came together to create that space.

The result was the Southwest Michigan Writers’ Conference, hosted in October 2018 at the Niles District Library, 620 E. Main St. in Niles. The free conference and workshop will return to the library again from 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26.

“There’s a lot that goes into marketing books and building your writing skills and building the writing craft,” he said. “There just isn’t a lot around this area that’s a lot of help for authors around here.”

He said there are a lot of writers in southwest Michigan, however.

Johnston hopes these writers will come to the Southwest Michigan Writers’ Conference to hear its self-published author speak, connect with its bookselling and editor vendors and build camaraderie.

Seven authors will give presentations on the art of writing and promotion, ranging from a presentation on character development to the rules of fiction and when to break them. The keynote presentation will be given by New York Times best-selling author Kate Collins on creating dialogue.

Between sessions, attendees will be able to visit book-related vendors, mingle with each other and get lunch at the cash-only Wood, Stock & Grill food truck parked outside the Niles District Library.

While most of the conference is geared toward fiction writing, Johnston said the event has applicable programs for non-fiction writers as well, such as developing one’s voice in writing.

The event’s goal is to have writers leave the conference feeling more confident about their writing and sharing it publicly.

“Some authors like to write, and they believe their writing is good, but they’re just kind of nervous,” Johnston said. “When you publish a book, you’re putting a good part of yourself out there for the public, so that’s kind of a scary thing to do.”

Building confidence can be especially difficult for self-publishing writers, he said. A stigma exists among some groups of people that self-published authors — people that do not publish through a large book publisher — are sub-par writers.

“There’s a lot of really good self-published authors out there,” he said. “Some of them, just for whatever reason, just didn’t get the attention of the mainstream publishers. Some of them just decided to self-publish on their own.”

Cost-effectiveness, control of content, control of marketing and a quick turnover from finishing a book to publishing are all reasons some writers choose to go indie rather than mainstream.

These reasons do not make publishing a book any easier, however. Johnston said many writers may not know how to get published and then market themselves after.

That is where the conference is meant to help. While most of the discussion topics are meant to build writing skills, “Marketing Your Book: Life After Publication” by thriller, mystery and ghost story writer Carla Suson will inform authors on the post-publishing world.

Fellow conference presenter Angela Sisk will be giving her presentation on comic book writing and how to get the most out of a visual medium. The Kalamazoo writer and illustrator is the creator of fantasy online comic “Numina.”

“Showcasing writers that are local to the area can spark interest in the general population and bring about a curiosity, especially in young people, that may cause others to pursue creative ventures,” she wrote to the Niles Daily Star.

Sisk herself said she hopes some of the people she presents to will be tempted to pursue her go-to writing medium.

Those tempted to pursue a day at the Southwest Michigan Writers’ Conference can learn more by looking up the event on Facebook.

Prospective attendees can sign up by going to the websites or buildings of the conference’s hosting libraries: Berrien Springs Community Library, Dowagiac District Library, Lincoln Township Public Library, Niles District Library and Van Buren District Library.

“Libraries, I think, have a responsibility to help advance the writing profession,” Johnston said. “Libraries are about books and literacy and reading.”

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