When he is not writing poetry, DAVID GROFF is an independent book editor who has spent a lot of time helping authors hone their pitches. Over the last 14 years, he’s organized and participated in a number of accepted AWP events (as well as a number that were “tragically turned down!”).
We caught up with David and asked him for advice. He offered up ten kernels of wisdom that are sure to get your panel accepted…or at least give it one helluva go.
Here’s David with 10 ideas on how to get your AWP panel accepted:
1. Keep your event tightly focused.
Seek to present an event that succinctly offers a focused topic that five very different panelists or readers can expand upon in different ways. Of course, you don’t want to be so narrow in your focus that only extinct species of pigeons will fly in to attend. It’s a balancing act. A good measure of the range is to imagine how many writers will realistically want to attend it and will get some specific value from it. But you have only 500 characters to use for your pitch, so make sure every one counts—including commas, dashes, and periods.
2. Remember that the conference is AWP, not the MLA or Creating Change.
While you may want to address an academic or theoretical topic, you have to do it in a way that is geared toward writers. Similarly, if you’re doing an event with a focus on political and social change, make sure it’s something that writers can directly learn from so as to empower themselves and their work.
3. Be diverse in your selection of panelists or readers.
Besides the fact that the AWP committee says it looks for diversity among an event’s participants, it’s vital that LGBTQ event proposals represent the range of our community. So go out of your way to include trans and gender variant writers, writers who are differently abled, who are people of color, who are of different ages and accomplishments, who are from different regions or nations, who are not just gay and lesbian but bi and asexual or even straight.
4. Ask yourself what benefit your event will provide to people who attend it.
Make sure that you are not putting together an event for the pleasure of its participants but for the value to its attendees. This is essentially important to make clear in your proposal’s Statement of Merit, which not be a reiteration of your Event Description but a further opportunity to show the worth and importance of your event to conference goers.
5. Be funny and punchy.
The AWP selection committee will be reading literally thousands of proposals, and AWP conference goers will have some 600 events to choose from. So do all you can to command their attention. Don’t be dreary, jargonistic, generalizing, hermetic. Be witty, pithy, provocative, racy, controversial. As Ezra Pound didn’t say, “AWP proposals should be at least as well-written as poetry.” An event description is a 500-character sales pitch.
6. Be aware of what events have already been covered in AWP conferences in recent years.
Search the schedules for the last three or four conferences to see what other LGBTQ topics have already been explored. Don’t propose what’s been done before. The AWP selection committee (which is a new group every year) will have some awareness of events from previous conferences. In fact, going through previous LGBTQ AWP events listings might be a way to further identity what the conference hasn’t covered, and what could be arresting and new. But there are also topics that are perennial, so ask yourself: How can I make this classic topic new? Given where we are as writers, what will we be asking from a 2018 conference?
7. Be careful in choosing your event category.
Make sure it’s accurate to what your proposal actually proposes. Compare the category you choose to categories of similar events from previous years. If you sense that your proposal might fall into a category where there have been fewer entries in recent years (screenwriting, for example, or certain cross-genre categories, or maybe LGBTQ pedagogy), that might serve you well.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask writers you don’t know to participant in your event.
In fact, getting away from your own circle of writers might give your event more range and vitality. And writers, even famous ones, are surprisingly willing to join proposals that interest them. Remember, writers don’t have to commit absolutely to attending AWP at this point; they just have to have a strong, good faith interest in going to the conference.
9. Don’t start writing your proposal at 11:59 on April 30.
Start this minute. Allow yourself time to put together a dream team of potential panelists and work down the list, keeping in mind the balance and range you’re seeing on the panel. Share your event description and statement of merit drafts with your fellow participants and writers. Make it a communal effort to make the event even more fun and compelling.
10. Work from your heart.
Don’t overthink your proposal. Make sure you’re proposing an event that you actually would want to go to. Let your enthusiasm and commitment will animate your proposal, so that all 500 characters dance.