Novel Pitch was lucky to connect with Mackenzie Brady Watson a literary agent at New Leaf Literary & Media Inc. to talk about BinderCon. This is a writer’s conference in New York City, November 7-8, is unlike most you have seen.
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Novel Pitch: Tell me a little about the history of BINDERCON. What was the catalyst to start this conference and what has been its recent history?
Makenzie Brady Watson: In summer 2014, BinderCon founders Leigh Stein and Lux Alptraum met in a Facebook group for women and gender non-conforming writers. Inspired by the community they found online, they decided to bring that energy to an in person event: and so, after an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign, the first BinderCon took place in New York in October 2014. Referencing Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment, BinderCon is a chance for women and gender non-conforming writers to get out of the binders and into the bylines, bookstores, box office, writers’ rooms, and wherever else writers are able to make a living.
NP: There are a large number of writer’s conferences in NYC each year. What makes this event unique and why should a new writer consider attending?
MBW: BinderCon has always considered including marginalized populations (including, but not limited to: POC, low-income writers, gender non-conforming or trans people, disabled writers, etc) a high priority. Our strategies include strategically partnering with organizations that serve to represent the voices of marginalized communities, such as VONA and the OpEd Project, and regularly applying for grants that allow us to provide stipends to marginalized populations (thanks to a grant from the Esmond Harmsworth Foundation, we’re able to provide stipends to trans and gender non-conforming writers who attend the conference this fall, we are also offering childcare stipends to enable more mothers to attend). Additionally, each conference we offer up to fifty scholarships, many of which go to writers of color and low income writers who would not otherwise be able to attend; we also secure enough sponsorship to cover much of the cost of the event, allowing us to keep ticket prices at an affordable level (it should be noted that tickets do not cover most of the weekend long events costs).
In contrast to AWP, the largest creative writing conference in the country, we offer comped admission to all speakers – which allows for a more diverse collection of speakers; in our year long history, we’ve been successful at ensuring our panels offer a multi-faceted representation of diversity, including race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, parental status, disability.
NP: Your event features Speed Pitch Sessions. They are listed as 10 Minute One on One sessions with Editors and Agents. Tell me more about the format of your event and what writers can expect from the session.
MBW: One of our main goals for the conference as a whole is to provide the attendees with industry knowledge, networking opportunities, and a series of actionable steps that they can perform after leaving the conference that will (hopefully) serve them as they build their careers. This is certainly true for the speed pitching event. Attendees have a chance to sign up to meet with specific editors and agents based on their bios and pitch “wish lists”, and during those meetings, attendees have ten minutes to talk about what they have written, what they want to write, and how that might fit with the editor or agent across the table. They also have the opportunity to ask questions about the industry at large or find out more about that specific agent or editor. It’s also a great chance to simply get to know more people in the business. Not all attendees will be able to sell a story or get an agent right away, but they will learn how to refine their pitches based on the agents’ and editors’ feedback and create the beginning of a relationship that could serve them very well down the line.
NP: Who are some of the Agents and Editors that you attract to BinderCon and what they are looking for?
MBW: We have a diverse group of agents and editor this year representing a variety of print and online magazines, book publishers, and agencies both small and large. Some focus on publishing short, personal stories, others are commissioning feature length articles on international topics. The agents represent everything from children’s picture books to Young Adult novels, upmarket adult fiction to academic non-fiction. For more on each agent and editor, please see the sign up page.
NP: Can you share any great success stories from previous conferences? (ideally a story of someone who found an agent or editor at your Speed Pitch Session, but other stories of publishing success are welcome)
MBW: After taking Lisa Selin Davis’s personal essay workshop at BinderCon 2014, Julienne Grey wrote and placed an essay about her mother’s death in the New York Times.
Scholarship recipient Maria Hengeveld met an editor from TheAtlantic.com during speed pitch, and successfully placed her first reported piece.
Chelsey Drysdale met a Bustle.com editor at breakfast at BinderCon LA and successfully pitched an essay.
Kirstin Kelley made a contact at BinderCon LA that turned into an internship at Bitch Magazine.
BinderCon LA helped Amanda Montell move forward with her web series, “The Dirty Word!,” which will be premiering soon on Wifey.TV and After Ellen. She also published an essay in Literary Orphans, after learning of the venue from Anna March and Wendy C. Ortiz’s personal essay workshop.
Jennifer Pardini met the editor of Modern Loss at BinderCon LA, and has an essay forthcoming on the site.
NP: How does BinderCon fit with the WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS movement and other efforts towards diversity in publishing? Are you seeing or feeling a groundswell in publishing around these issues, or are we on the foothills of a long climb?
MBW: As mentioned, we’ve made it a priority to include as many diverse speakers as possible through the programming we offer and encourage more diversity among our attendees by offering scholarships and stipends that benefit marginalized groups. We share a similar mission with WNDB – who hosted a panel at our first conference – as we, too, want to help increase the number of diverse stories that get published each year and also the diversity of the writers publishing them.
NP: If I am an author who can’t attend your event, but am inspired by your efforts how else might I participate?
MBW: We’re pleased to say that all of the keynotes and many of the panels will be streamed live as they occur and the rest of the panels will be available in an online video archive after the event. It’s our hope that anyone who can’t attend in person can still benefit from the programming. Streaming information will be available at nyc.bindercon.com closer to the conference.
NP: What is one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring author who is planning to attend BinderCon?
MBW: BinderCon offers a very varied programming schedule with many sessions happening simultaneously. So, in order to get the most out of the weekend, I’d recommend evaluating the schedule ahead of time and creating a timeline of your own based on your particular needs and interests. I’d also recommend making the most of the organic conversations that will crop up with fellow attendees, panelists. workshop leaders, and conference organizers, etc. We hope that many attendees will leave with at least a few professional contacts if not a whole host of new writerly friends.
NP: Is there anything else you would like to add about BINDERCON specifically or on pitching in general?
MBW: Be open. Be open to meeting new people, to hearing new writing and pitching techniques, to trying new writing styles and methods, to new career paths, to sharing your own stories. We hope you have a marvelous time. And also please let us know if/how we can make the conference even better next year!
Thanks to Mackenzie for taking the time to tell us about BinderCon and thanks to all of the organizers for creating such a special conference. I am sure this will be an amazing event. For more information be sure to visit www.Bindercon.com
Mackenzie Brady Watson is a literary agent with New Leaf Literary and the programming chair for this year’s BinderCon. She has worked in publishing for over five years and represents a mix of YA and adult literary fiction and non-fiction for all ages.
You can find her on Twitter at @mackenziecbrady or in person at BinderCon!
To find out about other writers conferences, and pitch opportunities take a look at the Pitch Opportunity page.
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