Monday, March 11, 2013

Industry Month In Review: Conference Call

Niagara Writers/Illustrator's Retreat
Mount Carmel: Niagara Writers/Illustrator's Retreat

This month's Industry Month In Review is more like Industry Month Fast Forward.  Reading articles about tips and tools for the trade is great, but if you're like me, most things go in one eye and out the other (apologies for the somewhat disturbing visual).  I find I learn the most in an interactive environment where I'm not just spoken to, but engaged in activities and diving into my own creative work.  

So it's with great pleasure that I had the opportunity to interview Jackie Garlic-Pynaert, who's YA & Children's Writers and Illustrators workshops include the Niagara Writers/Illustrators Retreat, B&B Garden Party Writer's Workshop, and most recently Novel Gurus held earlier this month in Delray Beach, Florida. 

These workshops are smaller, intimate affairs that allow writers of all levels to learn from one another as well as top-tier faculty including agents, editors and authors. Here Jackie talks about what started it all and her upcoming Niagara conference.

JP:    Tell us a little about yourself

JGP: I’m a writer and a pillow maker (that’s right, I make pillows, fancy ones, and I just opened my own little shop on etsy featuring my creations. Shameless plug, sorry, I’m just so excited!). I am also a teacher (in the regular system for 16 years, but now I mainly teach writers about writing) and a public speaker and conference co-coordinator. Wow…that’s seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Basically, my work centers on the things I love the most; writing, teaching and being creative. 

JP:    How did you get into conference/workshop organization?

Jackie Garlic Pynaert, Delray Beach, Florida
Jackie (center) with fellow attendees at Novel Gurus
JGP: I guess it all started because I’d been travelling State side for about three years attending writing conferences and wondered why we don’t have something just as wonderful going on here at home? As well, I’d gotten to the point in my career (as a writer) that what the larger conferences were offering, was no longer meeting the needs of me, or my friends, at the stage we were at in our writing journeys. We were in that precarious place where you are no longer a beginner, but you have by no means risen to the top. Some of us were agented and others were querying favorably but still not being picked. We all knew we needed to work on craft and to be challenged through more serious critique sessions, but nothing like that was being offered. I think it was when I attended Big Sur hosted by Andrea Brown Agency that the lights really came on in my head. That was the first conference I’d ever been to where multiple critique sessions were offered and rewrite critique sessions were mandatory. Taking that model and the wonderful critique circle model I’d participated in for several years out in Nevada at their retreats, I decided to combine what I found useful at both events and create a new event that would address the needs of me as well as my friends, those ‘in-between writers’, as well as the seasoned veteran and the newbie. From there, I literally stumbled on the venue (I was lost, looking for another venue, pulled into Mount Carmel’s driveway to ask directions, and fell in love) and the rest is history.

JP:    Big conferences versus little workshops?

Debbie Ohi
Author/Illustrator Debbie Ohi
2013 Niagara Faculty
JGP: Although Niagara is technically billed as a Conference and Retreat, it is small enough to still have that small workshop feel. I think the major difference between a smaller event like Niagara and a larger conference is the amount of ‘Faculty Face Time’ the attendees get. People complain all the time at the larger conferences about feeling invisible and not being able to get any time with the faculty. They complain the size of the event makes it hard to connect with people, especially industry professionals, who’d rather run from the attendees it seems, than take a moment to chat. Attendees are often kept at a distance from the faculty at larger events, in an effort to keep them from inundating them with questions, because after all, we do want them to come back, don’t we? But at smaller events like Niagara, there are less people, so right away the faculty feels relaxed. Also, Niagara by design is a retreat, meaning everyone eats, sleeps and hangs out with one another all weekend long, faculty and attendees alike -- like great big kids at a summer camp. This gives attendees plenty of time to chat with faculty and vise versa, so that urgent feeling that you have only a small window of time to pitch your book before the faculty disappears, completely goes away. I also think smaller conferences lead to more natural discussion between faculty members and participants, which leads to more invited and organic pitching. At Niagara there is also the added bonus of being able to purchase twenty minute private one-on-one critique sessions with a faculty member, for an additional $45, where an open discussion of your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the scope of your overall synopsis, occurs. Lastly, I’d say the benefit of smaller conferences is the host’s ability to make attendees feel welcome. With fewer people to worry about, a real atmosphere of friendliness and inclusion has a better chance of being established.

JP:    Who do you think would best benefit from Niagara?

JGP: Hmmmmm (taps chin)….I’d say, everyone. Everyone who really loves writing, who strives to improve their writing, who’s goal it is to produce quality writing, writing that rises to the top, whether it be through the traditional publishing model, or the newer self publishing avenues. After all, everyone wants to put out the best possible product they can, regardless of their venue, and that takes a lot of work, immense study of craft, exposure to quality critique, and constructive informed criticism, and Niagara offers all of that (along with some invaluable information about marketing and the industry). I also think anyone yearning to know more about the American Publishing Market should attend Niagara. With so many top-notch members of the faculty hailing from the States all under one roof, you can’t go wrong.
Niagara Falls

JP:    What makes Niagara special?

JGP: I think I might have addressed that somewhat in answering number three, but I’ll add this, I think it’s the people. The quality of staff that agrees to attend Niagara are some of the biggest names in the industry. And the attendees are top-notch dedicated writers and illustrators, who really challenge themselves and strive to create quality work year-after-year. Establishing such a dynamic is invaluable at a conference, and I’m so very lucky to have such people attend, I really am. I also think it’s a great place to get face time and lots of it, with an acquiring editor and agent(s) in the industry (two agents this year!) that you can’t get anywhere else.

JP:    When should our readers be marking their calendars?

JGP: May 3-5.  It’s a great place and a great time, with great food…did I mention the food? Shout out to Steve here, the venue’s caterer…omg…there are no words…anyway, do join us! I’d love to see you there!


  1. I've been to the Niagara event twice, and it really is as Jackie says. You are able to sit and share meals and stories with writers, editors, agents, illustrators and art directors, and so on. The value of building relationships in this way is really immeasurable. I highly recommend it. :)

  2. Great interview Jenn! Jackie's a wonderful person and an inspiring teacher. She runs an inclusive, inspiring event that will bump your writing up several notches higher.