Despite Slashed Publishing Budgets and Plummeting Ad Pages, Writers Conference is Drawing Record Crowds

It’s been a bad year for publishing: ad pages are down sharply, book sales have slowed.

That means it’s also been a rotten year for freelance nonfiction writers-the folks whose ideas, reporting and writing skills annually produce countless articles for magazines, newspapers and Web publications, and thousands of books in every subject category.

What’s more, staff cuts and closings have boosted the freelance ranks with many formerly employed writers and editors.

Those factors and others have registrations booming for the 2002 ASJA Annual Writers Conference, to be held April 13 and 14, 2002, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

For 31 years, the ASJA conference has been the premier career-improving event for nonfiction writers, from longtime professionals to newly minted freelancers. They come seeking insider details from leading editors about who’s buying what, which specialties are in demand and how to branch out into a new writing area.

Editors participating on the 25 panels and workshops at this year’s event come from major magazine and book publishers, including: The New YorkerThe Atlantic MonthlyHarper’sMen’s JournalFitnessSelf, Food & Wine, ParentsNew Age JournalModern MaturityNational Geographic AdventureSaveurRolling Stone, W.W. Norton, Simon & Schuster, St. Martin’s Press, Bantam/Spectra, Ballantine, Crown, Henry Holt, Time Warner, John Wiley, Broadway, and many more. Other publishing experts-agents, publicists, technology specialists, authors, marketers, syndicators, producers and even a worklife psychiatrist-will also participate.

Panels cover a wide range of professional interests, such as “Switching From Staff to Freelance,” “Telling and Selling the Narrative Nonfiction Story,” “Getting the Skinny on Health, Fitness and Medical Writing,” and “More Money, Less Work: Making the Most of Reprint and Spin-Off Sales.”

At the opening session, keynote speaker Laurie Beth Jones, a bestselling author, will address how to “Become the Professional Writer You Were Born to Be.”

The luncheon keynote speaker, Nina Bernstein, is a 2001 finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle award, for The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care. Reviews call Bernstein’s book “insightful and riveting” as well as “compelling and essential reading.” She reports on poverty and child welfare for The New York Times.

The conference stresses the importance of writers sharing information and is open to all, whether members of ASJA or not. Free contracts counseling, offered on Saturday, helps attendees understand the legalese of their written periodical agreements. There’s also a mentoring program, available for an additional fee, that teams those in need of career advice with ASJA members experienced in their field for 30 minutes of face-to-face guidance.

ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) is the national organization of independent nonfiction writers. Founded in 1948, the Society currently includes more than 1,000 freelance writers of magazine articles, books and other forms of nonfiction writing who have met the ASJA’s exacting standards of professional achievement.