Postcards from SXSW

I’ve been trying to write a SXSW post for several days now. This has honestly been the first chance I’ve had to sit down at my laptop and write, read emails, post a few leads and handle other obligations. It’s been a busy, but extremely rewarding weekend.

Warning: Long Post Ahead

In the early 90’s I worked for a music and tattoo publication that sent photographers and journalists to the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas each year. It looked like a fun time and I was rather envious. The conference has grown to include film and interactive portions, but the music event was always the most attended…until 2010. Now, attendance for  SXSWi, also dubbed “Spring Break for Geeks” has surpassed the music portion by 40%.

My mission for SXSW this year was simple; talk to folks about my book. (Did you know I’m writing a book?) I don’t mean that my purpose for this conference was to get a book deal, but I want to pick the brains of some of my author friends to discuss the publishing process and get tips and opinions. This information isn’t only for me, either. I will be blogging about my experience writing and trying to get a book published for those members of the FWJ community who would also like to go this route. As you will see by the bottom of this post, I more than accomplished my mission.

So here it goes…

I had a much longer post written up (though this one’s getting a bit wordy) but erased it as I’m sure you don’t want to read about every single person I spoke with. So I’m bringing you some highlights. I hope I didn’t leave out anything or anyone important. I also hope I don’t look like some creepy name dropper for naming my friends. Feel free to slap me around if that’s the case.

As is always the case at SXSW, I learn more and meet more people in the hallways of the conference halls than in sessions.  However, this is the first “Southby” where I wasn’t working for someone else. I didn’t have to spend the day in a booth and was able to do my own thing. I have to tell you, it’s much nicer to go to a conference as an attendee than an exhibitor. Booth work can be fun, but being there on behalf of me is much more rewarding.

The People

I met some of the Freelance Writing Jobs community including FWJ blogger and long time Twitter friend Andy Hayes and FWJ contributor Thursday Bram. It was such a treat to spend time with the people who make this community what it is. I tried to plan a meetup but it wasn’t to be. Still, I spent time chatting with all and hope to spend more time with them all today. I was flattered by how many people at SXSW read our blog network. It’s humbling and an honor to meet readers and hear feedback.

My very good friend Chris Garrett has proven to be my conference buddy and we’ve shared many meals, sat side by side at various sessions and found quiet corners to chat at loud and crowded parties. I think if I was to put together a conference survival toolkit, Chris would be the number one entry.  Patrick O’Keefe, Brandon Eley, Liz Strauss, Darren Rowse and Becky McCray are also regular, friendly faces and I always make sure to attend their sessions and make personal time for them all.  They’re my friends, my dinner companions and my mentors and I’m a much better person for knowing them all.

I was so happy to meet up with my friend Keith Burtis who has a smile for everyone for he meets and is the best person to brainstorm with for social media projects. I also got to finally spend some time with Brian Clark and Sonia Simone. I’m fans of both and felt all starry-eyed in their presence. I just hope I didn’t make an ass of myself. I met both briefly at BlogWorld, but I enjoyed chatting with them in Austin at an informal, quiet party. I was disappointed to learn I was in the same room as Naomi Dunford from IttyBiz and didn’t even know it. I felt bad because she was one of the people who I was most interested in meeting and had I know I would have made a point to introduce myself. I feel like an ass for totally not recognizing her. (As you can see, there are lots of examples of my assery in this post.)

The Places

I am so not a party person. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than standing in a room so crowded you can’t move, let alone hold a drink, while shouting in the ear of someone who can’t hear you but nods as if he knows exactly what you’re saying. Most nights we opted for dinner with friends. I ate enough BBQ to last for a while. With my apologies to Mr. Ng, Austin has provided me with some of the best BBQ I’ve eaten yet. If you’re ever in town check out Stubbs and the IronWorks or take a cab to Ruby’s gas station where you’ll leave with very clean hands.

My friends and colleagues on the BlogWorld and New Media Expo team (and I) took Chris Garrett out for his very first taste of barbecue and he seemed to enjoy the “Big plate of meat.” I regret to inform you, however, that Mr. Garrett is not a member of the clean plate club.

We did attend a couple of parties though, the Wiley Publisher’s party where I ran into Jason Falls, David Berkowitz, Thursday Bram and several others. We also attended the SOBCon party hosted by dear friend Liz Strauss and a new good friend, Terry Starbuck. More friends were in attendance including Lucretia Pruitt, the aforementioned Andy Hayes, Darren Rowse, Chris Brogan and so many others. It sounds like I’m doing a bunch of name dropping, making me look like an ass yet again, so I’ll stop at this point. I learned once again I missed Naomi. My apologies, Naomi. I really did want to shake your hand.

Both parties weren’t too loud or crowded to talk. Tonight’s Demand Studios party looks as it’ll be a lively event and I look forward to meeting up with the DS team. Finally. SXSW is so big, I haven’t seen any DS-ers since I got here.

The Book

So the book? Remember? My mission for this trip? The book publishing process is so overwhelming, I don’t want to wait until I’m finished writing before shopping it around, though. So I came to SXSW with a plan in mind. I would talk to my author friends (we discussed doing this beforehand so they weren’t waylaid) and pick their brains and ask their recommendations. Patrick O’Keefe, author of Managing Online Forums, Chris Garrett co-author of ProBlogger, Brandon Eley author of Online Marketing Inside and Out and Lisa Sabin Wilson author of WordPress for Dummies and BuddyPress for Dummies offered insight, tips for finding agents, publishing houses, self publishing, royalties and so much more. Patrick is especially a gold mine of information. Thanks to all of the above for your patience and generous sharing of information.

On Saturday night, Chris G., the BlogWorld team and I went to dinner and followed it up by attending a party thrown by Wiley Publishers for their authors. Thanks to an introduction by Chris and Rick Calvert, I was able to pitch my book to a rep from Wiley. It wasn’t a hard sell at all. We discussed the book and the intended audience.  I don’t know if anything will come of it, but it was a positive step in the right direction. The next morning I ran into the Wiley rep. in our hotel lobby and she told me mine was one of two books she’s pitching when she gets back to work. OK so maybe I’m walking on air a bit.

So the book writing process has begun. I don’t know if this publishing thing will work out or not, but I plan on blogging about my entire experience, the good, the bad and the ugly, so stay tuned.

Finally, the end….

Today is my last day at SXSW. I’m working in my room for a couple of hours before heading to the convention center one last time. I’m tired. Really tired. I hope I got all the typos and incoherent ramblings removed from this post. If not, please forgive me.

Though SXSW is huge and crowded, it has proven to be an important learning experience. For some it’s about the parties. For me it’s about reconnecting with very good friends, making new friends and doing as much as I can to further my career. My mission was accomplished and I’m returning home tired but inspired.

Edited to Add: Yay! I finally got to spend time with Naomi and we enjoyed a little girl talk. I think I have a crush. I will also have some major news to share very soon.

Looking forward to SXSWi 2011…





2 responses
  1. Patrick Avatar

    Hey again Deb, thanks for the mentions. It was great to see you and to talk and hang out a bit, as always. Congrats on the book stuff. I’ll help however I can. 🙂



  2. Becky McCray Avatar

    Deb, I’m still heartbroken that we didn’t make it to dinner at SXSW. I must make a better plan to focus on people next year! Until then, see you at BlogWorld. 🙂
    .-= Becky McCray´s last blog ..The 15 year overnight success story of SweetSoaps =-.

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