An Insider’s View of the Evolution of the SDSU Writers’ Conference

Erin Quinn

Erin Quinn

By Erin Quinn

Twenty-seven years ago, I accepted a job at San Diego State University which led to working on the SDSU Writers’ Conference. In retrospect, I see a grand plan in play that led me from Denver, Colorado to San Diego, California and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to become a writer. I still remember that first day in my new position when my boss – Jan Wahl, then director of extension programs – explained that my duties would include the conference.  It seemed like divine intervention to me.

The conference had run a few years already, drawing about 20-30 participants, one to two editors and agents, and a handful of published writers who shared their knowledge of craft. It took place in a couple of classrooms on the SDSU campus. It was small, but Diane Dunaway, the conference director and also a writer, had a vision that I immediately embraced. Bring the publishing professionals to the writer and let the magic happen.

For me, that first year was about learning. The next years were all about making it better. With my own writer’s hat on, I helped scope the concept of 1:1 appointments with editors and agents. By this point, I’d finished my first novel which was a two-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Finalist and yet remained unsold with nothing but rejection letters to its credit. But I knew if I could just get my novel in front of an editor who would actually read it – everything would change. I knew other writers out there felt the same about their manuscripts. Turns out I was right on both counts. With the addition of the 1:1 appointments at the conference, our participant count tripled and we moved to a lecture hall (still on campus), selling out with over a hundred people in attendance.

That year I did, in fact, sell my first book to an editor I met in a 1:1 appointment. Better yet, I wasn’t alone. Other attendees began reporting success stories as well.

From there, we recognized that the 1:1 appointments with editors and agents should be the cornerstone of our conference. Logistically, it was a nightmare, but the relatively new concept of personal, uninterrupted face-time with an editor and/or agent grew and with it, the reputation of the SDSU Writers’ Conference as fertile ground for new talent.

The next three years saw our enrollments double and double again as we perfected a system to make the appointments run like clockwork. Sellout crowds became the rule, not the exception. No other conference of this size offers access to editors and agents of both fiction and nonfiction and conducts so many appointments over the course of a weekend (as many as 1300 in peak years), resulting in countless contracts with agents and editors.

With the growing interest from writers came an expanded list of the top publishing professionals in the industry. Our faculty routinely includes executive-level editors and agents, New York Times bestselling writers and the top writing instructors in the industry. Word about the conference spread and continues to spread. No matter what genre you write, this conference will give you the tools and contacts to see it published.

Eventually, the SDSU Writers’ Conference left the college campus for more conducive venues, but the founding vision has never changed. Bring the publishing professionals to the writer and let the magic happen. After 20 years of being published and 20-some years of managing the appointments, in 2014 I humbly accepted the director’s reins passed to me by Diane Dunaway and I am honored to carry on the vision that has served me so well over the years. I know that being a writer isn’t a vocation one chooses. Writing is a passion that chooses the writer and I’m dedicated to helping writers navigate the changing industry and the challenges that every writer must face.

Writers have more opportunities to get their work in reader’s hands today than ever before, yet there is much more to being published than writing a book (or uploading a document). I see critical —career-ending – mistakes made by new writers every day, such as self-publishing manuscripts that are not ready for public consumption, poor marketing etiquette and basic craft misses.

The 2015 conference will include writers and publishing professionals from all aspects of the industry who come prepared to light the way. From memoir to high-concept fantasy to pop culture to mainstream fiction or children’s books, the SDSU Conference brings experts to the table. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re looking for answers to your publishing questions, the SDSU Writers’ Conference is where magic happens.

New York Times best-selling author Erin Quinn writes dark paranormal romance for the thinking reader. Her books have been called “riveting,” “brilliantly plotted” and “beautifully written” and have won, placed or showed in the Booksellers Best, WILLA Award for Historical Fiction, the Orange Rose, Readers Crown, Golden Quill, Best Books, and Award of Excellence and Holt Medallion.Go to ErinQuinnBooks.com for more information or follow Erin on Facebook or Twitter @ErinQuinnAuthor.