Overheard: #ASJA 2019

With a packed house; a diverse and intriguing lineup of speakers; the cool, intimate Marriott Downtown near the new One World Trade Center building and the 9/11 Tribute Museum; and a new app that helped link it all together, #ASJA2019 was a resounding success. ASJA Confidential played fly-on-the wall and talked with three attendees practically as they were walking out the door. Here are some of their observations:

So, What Was New?

ASJA member Jennie Helderman (@jenniehelderman): This conference felt more connected, contained, and up-to-the-minute than previous conferences. The smaller hotel offered much opportunity for interaction—we met other members coming and going, we ate breakfast together, all rode same elevators and so forth. The app gets stars for connecting people while providing essential and helpful information.

ASJA Member Emily Paulsen (@eapwriter): Overall, there was a faster pace and more emphasis on sessions for more experienced members. Also, both days were open to non-members. I think switching it up a bit added new energy and excitement. I got to know more non-members because I saw them on multiple days. I hope they also got to know us and all the great resources ASJA has to offer.

ASJA Member Beverly Gray  (@Bev_Movieland): Since I’m not a technology person, I was a bit apprehensive about using the app instead of a program, but it was actually much easier. We also got handy little piece of paper with all the activities listed on it that we could use as a quick reference. The hotel was also logically laid out and much simpler to navigate than those of previous conferences.

Paulsen: The Marriott Downtown was terrific – beautiful views of the Hudson River and the Statue of Liberty. I had not been in this part of Manhattan since just after 9/11. I loved seeing the vitality of the area, the new buildings and businesses combined with the old New York buildings. Even on a gray, rainy Sunday, the area seems full of hope for the future.

How Were the Standbys: Client Connections, the Awards Ceremony, and So Forth?

Paulsen: Client Connections ran smoothly, which is quite an achievement when you think about orchestrating 700 appointments for 60+ editors and 100+ members. Wendy Helfenbaum, Jeanette Hurt, Erin O’Donnell and all the volunteers did a great job of recruiting editors and keeping the scheduling going. I had four appointments, all new markets for me. The awards ceremony seemed faster-paced than usual—just enough information about the winners to inspire!

Helderman: The awards always make me stand taller with pride and awe at the amazing stories and the often difficult or dangerous circumstances of their writing. And I met many new people at the networking receptions. One was an Associate Member who praised the welcome she felt at every level. She’d worked in content for twenty years but was surprised at how much she was learning from the sessions.

What About the Keynotes, Sessions and Specialized Programs?

Helderman: The “State of Freelancing” keynote was exactly what we need to hear. It’s essential information for us individually. The issues addressed by these speakers are central to ASJA’s purpose.

Paulsen: I also loved the “State of Freelancing” keynote presentation and hearing different perspectives on the challenges and potential for our industry. I think it’s so important for ASJA to interact with other writer’s organizations as well as others in the gig economy.

Gray: Camille Pagán was really good. She talked a lot about her background as a journalist and how it helped in her evolving career as a novelist. She provided advice and information that you can grab onto. It was also nice that our keynote was a longtime ASJA member; we can better identify with her and what she’s done.   

Helderman: Christopher Johnston’s panel “The Art of Writing and Reporting about Trauma,” offered very specific and practical information for interviewing trauma victims, such as body language and physical reactions to be aware of so as not to retraumatize. Also discussed were ethics and sensitive issues and how writing about trauma weighs on the writer. Although I didn’t get to attend it, a new panel, “Crack Visual Storytelling with the BBC” sounded particularly intriguing—I wanted to hear more about how to sell to the BBC.

Gray:  There were so many great options to choose from—Masterminds, Lunch-and-Learns, even a morning yoga session to get your creativity going. The panel I led “First Pages” had editors and agents who gave fiction writers firsthand feedback about their work, which can be priceless. There was a similar session on essay ideas as well.

Anything Else Special About the #ASJA2019 “Vibe”?

Paulsen:  ASJA is a highlight in my year, and this year was no exception. I love talking with people who understand the challenges and perks of this way of life/working/creating. I feel like I talked nonstop for three days, but there are still so many people I would have liked to spend more time with. I’m already making connections with people I spoke to and clients I met with.

Gray:  Organizers Jodi Helmer and Carolyn Crist made sure everything ran smoothly. There were all kinds of fun things that helped make everyone feel perky…goody bags full of snacks, pens and other swag and raffles where you could win things. Carolyn in particular was Ms. Enthusiasm and it was contagious.

Helderman: I came home with a renewed enthusiasm about possible markets for my essays and stories. This conference was particularly outstanding in terms a cohesiveness, camaraderie and bolstering our sense of belonging.

Mark your calendar! Next year’s national conference will also be held at the Downtown Marriott, April 19-20! If you attended this year’s conference, don’t forget to respond to the survey that hit your inbox last week. We use all of your feedback—positive and negative—to plan for next year.