2019 Conference Recap

The Chapter Twenty-One Conference was one week ago today! Thank you so much to everyone who joined us, from our speakers to our volunteers to, of course, our wonderful attendees. Thank you also to the Ch1Con team, as always, for collaborating with us on the conferences and to all the authors and publishing friends who sent books and/or book swag for the attendees. We had an amazing time putting on the conference and hope you enjoyed it as well!

We kicked off the conference weekend with a cocktail hour at the hotel bar, which ended up running longer than scheduled, because none of us wanted to leave. (Love you all!) Last year, the Topic of the Weekend (the one thing we kept inexplicably returning to) was cannibals. This year it was ghosts. Hanging out with writers is fun.

Saturday morning, the conference began with an awesome workshop by Katy Rose Pool (author of upcoming YA fantasy novel There Will Come a Darkness – September, 2019). She discussed how to write a page turner by focusing in on the reader’s anticipation, and we all learned a ton.


Next was our first panel of the day, the annual “Young, Scrappy, & Hungry: A Panel of Young Publishing Professionals,” in which Gretchen Fredericksen (sales strategy coordinator at Macmillan) and I (Ch21Con director Julia Byers–assistant for a children’s literary agency) discussed the non-writing side of publishing. This turned into an extensive discussion on querying practices, comp titles, and how bestseller lists work, and it was nice to give the attendees a behind-the-scenes look into it all.


Following this was our keynote address! The excellent Francesca Zappia (YA author of books including Eliza and Her Monsters and the upcoming Now Entering Addamsville – October, 2019) returned to the conferences in order to speak about reminding yourself why you write. It was an incredibly inspiring speech. (We also loved her twenty-minute rant on Ghost Adventures + her stories about her own haunted house, although we will NEVER be visiting her family.)


After Chessie’s keynote, we took a break for lunch. Like last year, we enjoyed a buffet of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza and salad. We had a pleasant surprise when the Ch1Con group decided to join us in our conference room for lunch, giving the teens and twenty-somethings a chance to discuss writing and nerd out about books, movies and TV, and anything else they could think of. (My table mostly spent lunch discussing the Chaos Walking film adaptation, which we are all very excited about and wish would STOP GETTING DELAYED FOR ITS THEATRICAL RELEASE.)

After lunch, it was back to the writing workshops! We kicked off our afternoon with a workshop led by YA author Joan He (Descendant of the Crane and the upcoming The Ones We’re Meant to Find – 2020). She discussed how to build plots and, as Ch21Con team member Allison Mulder said afterward, “I’m pretty sure you [Joan] just fixed my novel.”


Next was our final workshop of the day, led by Riley Redgate (author of several YA novels, including Final Draft). She taught the Ch21Con attendees all about how to write a kickass query letter (and her workshop was so excellent even I took notes, and I literally read query letters all day as my job).


Basically, if you haven’t read all of our speakers’ books already, you need to do so immediately.

We ended the conference with our annual “Ask Anything Panel,” which we share with the Chapter One Young Writers Conference. We had some technical difficulties (as per usual), so we ended up doing the live-stream in three places: as a Live on the Ch1Con Instagram, as a Periscope on the Ch21Con Twitter, and as the scheduled live-stream on YouTube. (The YouTube video is missing the beginning of the live-stream though.)

Of course, we also took our annual class photo. Look at all these wonderful, talented people!


And at the end of the day was the speakers’ exclusive book signing for attendees.


Overall, we had such an excellent time at Ch21Con 2019 and we can’t wait for next year. Thank you again for joining us in Chicagoland last weekend!

Want even more conference photos? You can view them all here.

Before I sign off, the team and I do have a little more news to share:

Next year, the Chapter Twenty-One Conference will have a new director. I’m so excited to announce that longtime Chapter One Events and Ch21Con team member Ariel Kalati will be taking over!

Ariel is a brilliant, hilarious, and incredibly creative person and I’m so, so excited to see what she does with Ch21Con. (And for the time being, I will be staying on as the president of Chapter One Events. I’ll just no longer be directly involved in event planning for the org.)

Since this year’s conferences were my last time having a captive audience for probably a very long time, I shared a very sentimental and self-serving speech at the end of the day and I figured I would share it here too.

For those who don’t know the “backstory” of Chapter One Events—the nonprofit through which we run these conferences—I founded the for-profit corporation that would eventually become the not-for-profit organization we have today, way back when I was seventeen, with the help of some amazing friends and my incredibly supportive mother. It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and I guess I was looking for a way to procrastinate my college apps or something. Then I directed our original conference, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference, all through college, until 2017, at which point I handed it off to the ever lovely Emma so that I could step aside to found and direct our newer, older conference, the Chapter Twenty-One Conference.

Well, that was the explanation we gave to everyone in 2017, anyway. The original plan had not been to start an older conference at all, because I actually had been contemplating leaving the org entirely for a couple years already at that point. Because as much as I love Chapter One Events, and all of our volunteers and speakers and attendees, after five-ish years with it all, I did eventually reach a point where I was ready to move on to the next “chapter” of my life, if you will. Running this org takes a lot of time and patience and energy, and I was aging out of Ch1Con anyway, so it seemed like perfect timing to leave.

But then, in the midst of making those plans, I noticed that some of our other volunteers and some of our absolutely wonderful attendees were beginning to age out of Ch1Con too. Which meant they were losing this lovely little community we had built and nurtured for them. And it became clear that I couldn’t leave quite yet, because the Big Kids, aka the twenty-something writers, needed a community for them, too.

So the team and I worked together to create Ch21Con, which we launched last year. And I am so, so glad that we’ve established this second, older conference. But I also always knew I was kind of running the conference on borrowed time. Because it was always there, at the back of my mind: it was time for me to go. And to let these guys finally get to really spread their wings and do amazing things by taking the two conferences and the organization at large in their own unique direction. One I could never think of.

So here we are.

I don’t know if anyone wants to hear any words of advice, or lessons I’ve learned from directing these conferences all these years, but you’re going to get them anyway. Because these are things I wish someone had told me when I was younger and hopefully maybe some of this will resonate with you. So:

  1. Dream bigger. The sky is not the limit—you set the limit. You can do anything you set your mind to, as long as you’re willing to work hard for it. So think of the craziest thing in the world—the thing no one else from your hometown has even dreamed of doing, or that one thing that scares you almost more than you want it—and go after it with all your might. Your dreams are for the taking. Go get them.
  2. Be stubborn. I’m not going to tell you not to take no for an answer, because I think that’s actually, like, extremely bad advice in the way a lot of people interpret it. But here’s what I think that phrase should mean: just because one opportunity doesn’t work out doesn’t in any way mean another one won’t. So don’t give up. In most things in life, it only takes one yes, so keep looking and keep pushing and keep propelling yourself forward until you find that one yes. And if a yes isn’t coming, don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities, too. You’re all writers, so I assume you already realize this, but in case you don’t: there is nothing more incredible than creating something from nothing. It is as close to magic as any of us will ever be lucky enough to come. If you can’t find a door, find an ax. Go make magic.
  3. And finally: know when to say goodbye. Take it from me, right now, in this moment: goodbyes are really, really Even when you know it’s time to go, change is the hardest thing in the world—even when it frustrates you a lot of the time, and especially when you have loved the thing you are leaving behind with all your heart despite that frustration. Sometimes, you just need to push yourself into that big, scary unknown.
    • And remember to let yourself change and grow. You are not beholden to anyone else’s dreams for you, least of all those of your younger self. There are incredible things out there still to be discovered. There are so many more mountains to conquer. We are all made of stardust, and your pulse is the hum of the universe within you. So go. Explore.

Thank you, everyone, for an incredible eight years. Thank you for shaping my life in ways I never could have expected—God, there have been so many plot twists along the way—and thank you for bringing some of the best friends I will ever know into my life. And thank you especially to Emma and Ariel, who have been here since before the beginning, and my mom who has been here even longer.

2019, for me, has felt like a year of goodbyes in a lot of ways. Which makes this especially hard. But I firmly believe everything we’ve done with this org so far has just been prologue. Chapter One Events has a lot of amazing stories left to tell, stories I am so excited to see unfold, and hopefully I have some pretty great stories left to tell, too.

So: into the unknown. Here we go.

Thank you. See you at Ch21Con 2020!

— Julia and the Ch21Con Team


2018 Conference Recap

I can’t believe it’s already been over a week since the inaugural Chapter Twenty-One Conference! We had so much fun putting on the conference and hope our speakers and attendees enjoyed it as well.

We kicked off the weekend with a cocktail hour at the low-key hotel bar. For some inexplicable reason, the conversation kept turning to cannibalism (something I’ve noticed happens frequently when you put writers together). However, no worries: no humans were actually harmed in the making of our bloody-looking drinks.img_8388.jpeg



Saturday morning, the conference started bright and early with our first workshop: “Stories, In Short…” by Ch21Con’s very own Allison Mulder, who is an acclaimed short fiction author, as well as a conference team member. She taught the attendees all the ins and outs of getting short fiction published, and her session was chock-full with all the dark humor (and puns) we’ve come to love and expect from Allison.


Next up was our first panel of the day: “Young, Scrappy, and Hungry: A Panel of Young Publishing Professionals.” We decided to keep this panel small this year, so it was just me (conference director Julia Byers) and Christine Lynn Herman. I work days as an assistant for a children’s literary agency, while Christine just finished a day job as an assistant for a sci-fi/fantasy literary agent, so we talked about what authors need to know about agencies, how to break into publishing, and more.

Unfortunately, due to a storm ravaging the East Coast, Christine and another of our speakers (Amanda Foody) were unable to fly to Chicago for the conference. However, we aren’t easy to defeat, so we did live-streams to bring them into the conference room whenever they had a workshop or panel.

(Due to the weirdness of having one speaker doing the panel in person and another up on the projector, though, we got no decent photos from the young publishing panel. Sorry!) (We will all just have to remember it in our hearts.)

After the young publishing panel, we shifted gears over to our keynote address: “Finding Your Voice.” Incredible young adult author Gloria Chao (American Panda) was our keynote speaker this year. She spoke about her journey to publication and the importance of including yourself in the stories you tell. She told attendees about how she was initially nervous to weave her culture and personal experiences into her writing, but she’s so glad she did, because these are the things that have come to mean so much to her young readers.

(Not gonna lie: I teared up during her speech. And I know I wasn’t the only one.)


After the keynote address, we took a break for lunch. This year, we hosted a pizza party, featuring Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. The group I sat with spent lunch discussing criticism of Star Wars, Hogwarts houses, and (yes) cannibalism. (Seriously, what is with writers and their fascination with eating people?) (New theory: writers are zombies.)



After lunch, we returned to doing live-streams so Amanda Foody (Ace of Shades) and Christine Lynn Herman (The Devouring Gray, spring 2018) could run their joint writing workshop. Their topic was “Exploring Multi-POV Narratives,” and they discussed all the different factors that go into writing a single story from multiple perspectives. Everyone was in love with Amanda’s spreadsheets for outlining (and the photos of Ron Weasley included on every Prezi slide) by the end of their session.


We closed out our workshops for the day with one titled “‘If I were Invisible’: The Advantages of the Unknown,” led by beloved middle grade author Karuna Riazi (The Gauntlet). Karuna previously spoke at Ch1Con back in 2015 and we’ve been trying to bring her back to speak again for a couple years, so we were particularly excited for her session. And she did not disappoint. Karuna discussed the expectations versus realities of publishing, and how to hold onto your dreams and your love of writing in the face of outside pressures. (Once again: tears.)


We ended the conference with the annual “Ask Anything Panel,” which we shared with our organization’s younger conference, the Chapter One Young Writers Conference (Ch1Con). Despite a bevy of technical difficulties, we eventually managed to live-stream it to our organization’s YouTube channel. So, if you’d like to watch all of our 2018 speakers discuss everything from Serious and Helpful Publishing Advice to, like, their favorite writing tropes, you can do so below!

After the conference, we of course took a group photo.


Then we hosted an informal book signing for the attendees.



And finally, after a long, eventful, and very fun day, the exhausted (but very, very happy) team cleaned up our conference room, then headed upstairs to sprawl in our pajamas, watch 10 Things I Hate About You, and eat leftover pizza. There was also maybe some champagne.

(Okay, okay, it was sparkling grape juice. After all, we shared our post-conference hangout with the Ch1Con team, who we love more than alcohol.)

(But we did have champagne-flavored gummy bears.)

Thank you to everyone who attended, spoke at, or supported the inaugural Chapter Twenty-One Conference this year. We absolutely loved putting it on and can’t wait for next year. See you in 2019!

— Julia and the Ch21Con Team

P.S. Want even more conference photos? You can view them here!