Let me start by saying with the wealth of information this could have been a two day event, or even a one and a half day event. The authors spoke about writing the memoir, writing screenplays and graphic novels, world building, writing a page turning novel, cooking up a novel like it were cornbread, how to create interesting characters, the importance of marketing, and publishing.
Lynn Raye Harris was traditionally published through Harlequin when she first began writing, and now she is a successful self-publish author making real money and selling a lot of books. Her story was one of hope for all of us out there who are self-publishing or indie published (not always the same thing). People seem to be more open to self-published books than they used to be. Hopefully this translates to getting more of these books into the bookstores, and a higher level of self-published books. I know in the early days a lot of self-published books looked like they were done by amateurs, both in cover design and text. All of the authors agreed that a professional cover is a must, as is a professional editor.
Most of the authors also agreed that book signings, while fun, don't sell a lot of books. Since the development of eBooks, most authors who do book signings have found that while there are a few people who want that special signed copy of a book, most just want to know if the book is available online so they can get it there. Plus, in this day and age of developing technology, an author can do an e-signature and sign the eBook!
Some of the things I learned -
Networking is a big deal. You might be a self-published author who is struggling because you have no idea what the heck you are doing and the only people who have bought your books are family and friends. Talking to other authors who have done something will help as they can give advice or at least tell their success stories, which in turn will help you.
Marketing is not cheap and being an author isn't cheap, especially for the self-published author. Editors cost money. Sure, your husband or wife or partner may be a wonderful editor, but most likely they will not be as honest as necessary because they love you. No one wants to hurt a loved ones feelings. Cover design, sure you can do it, but if it isn't the best and professional looking then people will look at your book and think that the book itself is done by a amateur.
Character development is a big deal. Your characters need to be interesting. If your characters are one sided or only two dimensional the readers will not always be interested in what is going on or what is happening. I have read books where I have loved certain characters, but the bad guy is so underdeveloped that I didn't care about his, how bad he was, or what was going to happen to anyone.
Start in the action. You may feel the need to explain the entire backstory of the characters, but the readers don't need that. If you feel the need to give the entire backstory of the characters, just drip it, like a slow drip coffee, throughout the book. Make sure those details are given at the perfect point, like when the characters are having some difficult personal issues and needs to reflect on something. There are lots of ways to address this information, just don't vomit it onto the page in one entire scene.
Lastly, most authors are awesome and willing to answer questions. They understand the struggle, and no matter how big they are, if they have the time and the energy they will answer any writing, publishing, and marketing question you have. Just don't expect them to read your manuscript or story, that's not their job.
One more thing before I go, I heard of a program while I was at the Conference it is put on by Middle Tennessee State University and you can find it at www.mtsu.edu/write. It is an online program so you work from home, but the bonus is you work with a published author, who is also your mentor through the entire program. You will learn how to hone your craft, you can enroll as many times as possible (for example if you have already done it once and finished a novel but want to do it again to make sure you know what you are doing), and you will often walk away with a partial or full manuscript.
So, fellow authors, let's write! Let's chat! Let's help each other when and where we can!