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L.T. Suzuki

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Kathy Chung & the Surrey International Writers Conference Part One
7/13/2010 7:38:46 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

A comprehensive interview with SiWC Conference Coordinator, Kathy Chung.

LTS: For those of you looking for an exceptional writers conference that provides great value for the price of registration, this blog is for you! The Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SIWC) has the wonderful distinction of being rated by Writers Digest as one of the best writers conferences in North America.
Today, conference coordinator, Kathy Chung is here to tell you everything you’ll want to know about this fabulous conference as well as things you might not even think about asking!
First of all, Kathy, let’s talk about you. You’ve been involved with this conference for a number of years, but this is your first year at the helm. Can you tell our readers a little about yourself and how the responsibilities as the coordinator shifted onto your shoulders?

KC: I’ve been attending SiWC since 2001, and got involved in 2007 working on the SiWC writing contest. Every year, I’d wait eagerly for conference time to roll around, because I’d always come away from the weekend inspired for months afterwards, and, somehow, coming to SiWC always felt like coming home. When I found out that former conference coordinator kc dyer was stepping aside to join the SiWC Board, I had several long conversations with her about the position and all it entails, and ultimately decided to apply. We joke that kc knows my secrets and blackmailed me into throwing my hat in the ring,, but really, I was excited by the prospect of being a part of such an amazing group of people and helping to carry on the SiWC tradition of offering incredible professional development in a warm, friendly atmosphere. When I’m not coordinating SiWC, I’m a writer, too, with one completed MS, several under-the-bed books that will never see the light of day, and a current WIP that’s about halfway done. Writing time is scarce these days, as you can imagine!

LTS: Can you share some history about the SIWC for those who are only learning about this conference now?

KC: This year will mark the 18th SiWC. It began in 1993 as the brainchild of Ed Griffin, Ursula Maxwell-Lewis, Carol Monaghan and Surrey Continuing Education Principal Elisa Carlson, and was held that year for a small group of attendees at Johnston Heights Secondary School. From there, it moved to its current location at the Sheraton Guildford Hotel, and expanded to its current three-day format, and in 2001, Thursday master classes were added, too. Now, we host hundreds of attendees and dozens of presenters each year and have earned a reputation for being one of the best writers’ conferences in North America.

LTS: This is a major event that requires a great deal of thought and planning to make it the great success that it is each year. When do you begin work to plan the next event?

KC: We begin planning the next event even before the current one ends, but we truly shift our focus to the next event after the final conference lunch on the Sunday afternoon.

LTS: When you call this conference ‘international’ can you tell the readers how international it really is in terms of attendees converging on Surrey from destinations beyond Canada as well as some of the authors participating in panel discussions and workshops?

KC: Even at this early stage in registration this year, we currently have attendees coming from thirteen states, five provinces, and two European countries. In past years, we’ve had attendees from Canada, the US, the UK, South America, several countries in Europe, and Japan. Presenters have joined us from all over North America and the UK. This year, our presenters are Canadian, American, and British.

LTS: Each year, the SIWC manages to bring in some of the biggest names in the publishing world such as New York agent Donald Maass and bestselling authors like Diana Gabaldon, author of ‘The Outlander’ series. With so much talent to choose from, how do you go about selecting the authors, agents, editors, etc. to participate in this conference?

KC: Good question, and one of our toughest ones to deal with each year. We are incredibly lucky to have both a dedicated core of presenters who have been with us for many years, including Diana Gabaldon, Donald Maass, and Jack Whyte, and a long list of presenters who have expressed interest in joining us. Our first goal is always to find terrific teachers. Because we’re a professional development conference for writers and not a festival, bringing in presenters with the ability to teach is hugely important to us, so we do the research to find great teachers. Beyond that, we always work to ensure we invite a good cross section of authors, editors, and agents so that we’re able to offer topics to appeal to writers in every genre.

LTS: Please entice our readers with a little name-dropping! Can you tell us who some of the authors, agents and editors are taking part this October?

KC: I’m happy to. I’m thrilled with our roster this year. You can see the whole list at www.siwc.ca/speakers/2010/list, but to pick just a few names off the top of my head, we’re excited to welcome new presenters Tim Wynne-Jones, one of Canada’s most celebrated writers for kids; Patrick Taylor, best known for his Irish Country Doctor series; Ivan Coyote, renowned for her spoken word performances; RITA winners Joanna Bourne and Julia Quinn; agents Joanna Stampfel-Volpe and Laurie McLean; and editor Chuck Sambuchino. Returning presenters this year include authors Elizabeth Engstrom, Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte, Michael Slade, Robert Dugoni, and agents Donald Maass and Katharine Sands, whose workshops were among our most requested last year. And, of course, many others.

LTS: A big feature of this conference has been workshops to help writers hone their skills so one day their manuscripts will be considered for a book deal with a publishing house. Is there anything new on your list to appeal to those interested in writing for the film industry?

KC: Yes! We have a fairly extensive film track this year, beginning on Thursday with a master class in professional screenwriting offered by Jeff Arch, who wrote Sleepless in Seattle. Attendee evaluation forms last year described his workshops as being worth the price of admission all by themselves, so I was delighted he agreed to offer a master class this year. During the three days of the conference, we have workshops in various aspects of screenwriting and the business of film offered by Luke Ryan, Senior VP of Production at MGM Films; Jeff Arch; and Ken Sherman, an LA agent who works in film and TV as well as books. More detail about what each of them is teaching is available on our website www.siwc.ca, both on the daily schedules and on the presenters’ biography pages. And many of our workshops aren’t genre specific, so they can apply to writers in any field.

LTS: I’ve researched a number of conferences, big and small, and what makes the SIWC stand apart from most others is that the opportunity to pitch your work to an agent, editor or publisher is included in the registration fee. A 15-minute, one-on-one editing session with an author is also included in this fee. I take it, these two features included in the price of registration have huge appeal for the writer aspiring to become a published author?

KC: Absolutely. We never charge for either kind of appointment, which is different from many conferences. Pitch appointments are a rare chance for one-on-one time with agents, editors, and publishers, an opportunity to make connections and sell yourself and your work in person. We’re very proud of our record of agents and editors finding authors they want to work with through our pitch sessions. And you might be surprised to know that some of our author presenters get just as much out of the 15-minute Blue Pencil Café appointments as the attendees do. Many have told us it’s their favourite part of the conference.

LTS: I’ve been represented by two literary agents, both of whom I’ve met at the SIWC. And both times, I wasn’t even looking for representation! For those taking advantage of the ‘pitch appointment’, what is the best advice you can give to those preparing to meet an agent or editor?

KC: First, remember that agents and editors are people. That probably sounds ridiculously obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget that when we see them as having our very futures in their hands, but they really are people first, agents second. Second, do your homework. Come prepared with a pitch, and know who your audience is. We have bios on our site, of course, but most of the agents and publishing houses the editors work for also have websites where you can learn more about the kinds of projects they like most. Choose the person you think is the best fit for what you’re writing. But remember that publishing is a very small world. I’ve heard of attendees sitting down with the person they were lucky enough to get an appointment with and saying, “I couldn’t get an appointment with x, so I settled for you.” Yes, in so many words. Remember, the agent or editor you’re sitting with today could move to your dream agency or publishing house tomorrow, or could just have had lunch with an editor who’s looking for exactly what you’ve written. You never know. Be professional and make the most of the appointment, no matter whom you meet with. And finally, relax. If you follow these guidelines, the very worst thing that can happen is that the person you pitch to won’t be interested. Sure, that’s hard to take, but summon the “are we there yet?” energy kids are blessed with. Doesn’t matter how many times you tell them no; they just keep trying.

LTS: Join us next Tuesday when Kathy returns for part two of this interview. She’ll be back to talk discuss the Master Classes, the perks of registering early, how to get the most out of your Blue Pencil session and so much more!
In the meantime, you can check out the conference website: www.siwc.ca and you can follow Kathy on Twitter at .KathyChung and catch all the latest on-line news at .SiWCTweets!


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An illustrated developmental history of the American military chemical and biological protective respirator for use against war agents, this work provides photographs of actual res..  
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