ASJA 2020: The Independent Writer’s Tool Kit

The organizers of the ASJA’s 2020 Annual National Writers Conference – the 49th in a row – are putting the finishing touches on an extraordinary schedule of panels, workshops, networking opportunities, one-on-one meetings with people who buy our work, and much more.

We asked former ASJA president Randy Dotinga, the chair of the conference, to talk about what will make this year’s April 19-20 event special.

Q: What’s the theme this year?

A: Our national conference is the independent writer’s tool kit, and we want to give you everything you need to succeed.

Conference associate chair Kristine Hansen and I have two main goals:

  • Introduce writers to editors and publishers who want to buy their work.
  • Provide training that will help writers improve their skills so they can survive and thrive.

Q: What’s new on the crucial first front – helping us get work?

A: As always, we will offer Client Connections, where dozens of editors, agents, and publishers will be on hand to meet on-on-one with ASJA members. We’ll also have not one, not two, but THREE Pitch Slams – where attendees get a chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of editors all at once, and hear feedback (or better yet, an acceptance).

We’re especially thrilled about our first-ever Pitch Slam with New York Times editors. Attendees will get an unprecedented opportunity to pitch stories directly to a panel of editors from the nation’s most respected and powerful newspaper.

We will also offer Pitch Slams with editors from women’s markets and book editors/literary agents.

The conference will feature many other opportunities to interact with editors who buy content, including sessions devoted to biography, content marketing, SEO, prestigious publications, and non-mainstream outlets.

Q: What sorts of training opportunities will the conference offer?

A: For the first time, we will provide advanced training in how to harness the powers of Google and Facebook in our work as journalists. Our Google and Facebook sessions, both offered in conjunction with the Society of Professional Journalists, will offer insight into how to use these services to locate experts, check the backgrounds of sources and find story ideas.

We will also offer sessions that will teach attendees how to master the art of the interview, search databases for historical articles like a pro, sell books “by the truckload” on Amazon, and write and sell books about parenthood. We’ll also teach you how to protect yourself, your work, and your sources from security risks online.

And we’re thrilled to welcome back Sree Sreenivasan, visiting professor at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, to provide his wildly popular tech tips and tricks for writers.

Q: Sree’s on the schedule more than once. What else is he doing?

A: Sree is also our keynote speaker. He has a vital topic to discuss this year.

As every ASJA members knows, this is a tough time for journalism and for the truth. There may never have been a time in our nation’s history when the press has been more vilified (“enemy of the people”), more threatened by the law, or more important.

Independent writers continue to tell stories that make a difference. Our colleagues are still righting wrongs, shining lights into the darkness, and offering insight into the world around us.

At our conference, we will honor dozens of winners of the ASJA Annual Writing Awards. Our top awards are the Arlene Award for Articles That Make a Difference, the Donald Robinson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism, and the June Roth Memorial Award for Outstanding Medical Article.

During his keynote, Sree will explore the lessons we can learn from these winning works about the power of storytelling and the power of truth. You will leave inspired about the future of our field.

Q: Freelance journalism is under fire from coast to coast. Will the conference address the threats we’re facing?

A: Yes! As you know, ASJA is leading the fight against laws that threaten to kill freelance journalism.

Late in 2019, ASJA combined forces with our photojournalist colleagues at the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) to sue the state of California in federal court over Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), which is killing our careers in the Golden State. The law violates the First Amendment, and we must stand up. If we don’t, who will?

We await a court hearing. Meanwhile, we are on the front lines fighting against similar legislation in New Jersey and New York and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 2020 ASJA conference will feature a special plenary session devoted to the threats we face. An expert panel will update everyone on where we stand, and we’ll teach our members how to fight back. Whether you’re in a blue, red, or purple state, your livelihood as an independent writer is in danger. We’ve got your back, but we need your help.

Q: What are the “Ask the Expert” lunch-n-learn sessions about?

A: They’re another new feature at ASJA 2020! These lunchtime sessions will be held from 1-2 p.m. on Monday, April 20. Attendees will get lunch on their own, bring it back to the hotel conference area, and chow down with the hosts of “Ask the Expert: Find a Home for Your Op-Ed/Essay” and “Ask the Expert: Find Your Story with the Narrative Whisperer.”

These are designed to be comfortable and cozy sessions with plenty of one-on-one attention. 

Q: Is there anything else about the conference that you’d like to highlight?

A: Yes! From 9:45-10:50 a.m. on Sunday, April 19, we’re offering a unique double-session for the first time. The time slot will be divided into two 30-minute sessions separated by a five-minute break.

During the first half-hour, you can go to sessions on topics such as How to Pitch: Client Connections and Quick Tips: Finding Content-Marketing Sources. Or join us for the first half of Meet the Masters: One-on-One Interviews with Extraordinary Authors.

Then you can stay in the same room for a related 30-minute session (such as How to Pitch: Pitch Slam) or head to another room to hear about a different topic. The sessions are designed to offer quick lessons with maximum flexibility for attendees.

Join us at ASJA 2020! We’ll help you improve your craft, get inspired, land the perfect book deal, and make it big.  

Get more information about the 2020 ASJA Writers Conference – including the full agenda and registration and hotel options – at the Conference website.