utopYA Idea eXchange Speakers and Topics Announced

Utopia Announcements, utopYA Idea eXchange


This new utopYA Idea eXchange experience has been incredible. Reading through all the submissions with the team was so rewarding, and subsequently brutal when it came time to narrow down the list to the only 12 available spots. You all have such verve for your dreams, unique ideas and points of view on process, creativity, publishing, craft, marketing and so much more!! It’s truly remarkable. The only downside for us was having to choose between all the awesome.

It wasn’t super scientific, but let me share with you how we ultimately came to the choices::

>> If there was more than one idea submitted on the same or similar topic, we chose the one that was the most thought out and clearly defined on the submission application.

>> If we already had panels scheduled on the topic or idea suggested, we either found a place for that person on said panel (if there was still room), or we, unfortunately, had to move on.

>> We also looked for a diverse range of topics that inspired, motivated, challenged us to think bigger, and/or offered solutions to current problems, or shared insight into particular areas we hadn’t seen or heard before.

Thank you to everyone who submitted an idea. The following 12 selections are listed by Title, “Talker” and Description. Congratulations to the 12 inaugural utopYA idea eXchange Talkers!


Writing provides us many journeys: death-defying adventures, times of self-discovery, routes of escape from reality, or simply ways to murder our co-workers and not be thrown into jail. While many creative people, myself included, are constantly looking for a way out of something terrible, like mourning a loved one or a career that is killing us cubicle by cubicle, we often must find a way to love and accept where we are right now before we can reach beyond that terrible thing and into what is absolutely possible. My writing has seen me through the illness and death of my mother, and just this year, I was able to leave my 20-year corporate job as a CPA and transition into a full-time career as an author for young adult fiction. And I didn’t have to win the publishing lottery to do it. It’s not always easy to juggle what life throws at us while pursuing a career as a creative, but it can be done. And we just might get to slash some of the people who have held us back at the water cooler when it’s all said and done.


I would like to talk about the importance of local marketing and the impact it can have on your long-term sales. So often we think that we need bloggers all over the world to spread our message. In reality, you can start at home. You should start home. Nothing is more valuable than word of mouth.

Using examples from my own experience, I will share how social media, local newspapers, local book signings, local book clubs, and networking with young professionals can create promotional synergy across all platforms, online and off, leading to speaking engagements, sales and more. When you get people talking about you in your area that can lead to larger media coverage locally, and that leads to bigger opportunities in larger affiliate markets. With social media becoming a larger challenge in getting our messages out, you can and should let others do the work for you. People get very excited to meet authors. Give the people in your city the opportunity to “know a celebrity,” and allow them to drive your success from the inside out!


Abuse does not discriminate against age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, social economic status, or religion. We can end abuse for all and bring it to the forefront in the media. This talk will discuss positive ways to shed light, shed tears and shed the past, while forging a more powerful future for all.

AN ARTHURIAN WRITER IN A YANKEE MARKET: From “Wellies” and “Jumpers” to underage drinking and promiscuity. Talk by Katie M. John

A lot of British teens cut their teeth on American TV and movie culture, but the reverse is not as widespread. I myself am a writer of ‘very English’ YA – Arthurian based legends and Celtic folklore. I underestimated the consumption of ‘shared’ culture, and have had to learn to adapt to this new world market.  While JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” has been a very successful example of a British export, things such as book title change, language and some cultural bridging had to occur.

It is interesting to take a very familiar territory such as the YA form and explore it from a completely different cultural angle – especially with the emerging e-book market and a greater fluidity of publishing across continents. It’s important to understand first hand cultural social contexts surrounding English / British Teen fiction, and the sometimes conflicting American standards and language. This talk will attempt to bridge the divide and discuss opportunities available.

LET YOUR PIRATES DO THE PLOTTING: How to Use the History of Piracy in Your Next WIP. Talk by Dr. Angela Sutton

In history, piracy (the high seas kind, not the online kind) was always a symptom of some larger problem that went unaddressed. Piracy happened, and is still happening, not because people intrinsically want to take to the seas to rob others, but because of bigger overarching structural and social conditions. In this talk, I will share some original research about a pirate’s crucifixion on the eve of the American Revolution, to demonstrate how asking questions of any pirate’s story will illuminate the conditions, persons, and contexts which allowed their bloody trade to flourish. Then I will explain how fiction writers can recreate what we’ve learned in this research process for the pirate characters in their stories.

Pirates are just as interesting in history as they are in fiction. Writers who understand the relationship between piracy and the overarching contexts in which it manifests will be better equipped for the world-building necessary to write a convincing three-dimensional pirate story. They will be able to begin with one pirate, and expand to a full cast of other characters and their overarching scandals which allow their fictional pirates to exist. This kind of know-how can help drive forward the plot of any story.

YOUR SOUL’S TRUTH. Talk by Devri Walls.

I believe that every one of us has something inside that makes us truly happy. Sometimes we come to a path and we can hear a little voice shouting at us, “Do it! Take it! Trust me!” We look, but the path is scary, and dark and we can’t see three feet in front of our noses. Too often we turn away and run back to the safety of what society tells us we should do. We do things that are “acceptable” or those things that make “good money.” We do the things that are not “impossible.” But impossible is for those who fail to dream.

I spent a long time doing what I was “suppose” to do. I avoided risks because they were scary. Then one day that voice in my head told me to write a book. I had never written anything before so I told it to shut up. The voice was relentless, and finally after six weeks I gave in, if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity. Fast forward eight years, I have published four novels. This summer I shut down my business, sold our home and downsized. I did everything the American Dream said NOT to do — I went backward. And that is where I find myself, living a dream.

None are so weak and so downtrodden as those who feel they don’t have a choice. In this talk I’ll share how I went from terrified to conquerer of my fears, and how YOU, too, can find yourself on the other side yelling, “It was worth it! It. Was. Worth. It.”

THE ART (& Adventure) OF THE INTERVIEW (or How I came face-to-face with Quentin Tarantino). Talk by Laura Elliott

I’m really excited to share the fun and joy of being able to get the material we need from the interviews we do, even when we have subjects that don’t feel like talking about what we need to talk about, or when we find ourselves face-to-face with someone we never thought we’d get access to. Lots of times the reason we interview folks is because there’s something sensitive happening in their lives — a high point or a low point. This talk will help us get to the heart of our research in a way that’s fun and compassionate, and prepares us for moments of serendipity when we’re face-to-face with someone we always wanted to interview, or when we have to do an interview in less than idyllic conditions, sometimes in total chaos. The Interview Adventure is a set of skills writers can not only use professionally, but also in their personal lives to help write down their family histories, because let’s face it, who can be more off-topic than Aunt Marge?

The talk will also include technical tips that will make transcribing, or writing the essay, article or story easy peasy.

EXORCISING THE DEMONS: Writing through PTSD and Depression. Talk by Chelsea Starling

Writers are often more sensitive to the suffering of those around them. The upside of which is that this not only makes them better writers, but sometimes, it also makes them better able to understand and help those around them. But what about when the writer is the one under duress? Though there are no firm statistics on how many writers experience depression, researcher Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore has reported (as have others) that writers have depression or manic-depression more often than non-writersIt’s in these tough and trying times, that writers often believe they are alone in their suffering, but they are not. Connecting with each other is powerfully healing.

This talk will “go there.” Sharing elements from my own story, I will help you discover — What are the signs that you or a writer you love suffers from PTSD, depression or other illness? What are the healthiest ways to keep the demons at bay, and what can you do when you feel sucked down?

(aaand now you have that En Vogue song stuck in your head – you’re welcome!)

We writers are awesome at silently flogging ourselves when it comes to our output. “I didn’t meet my word count for the day/week/month – I suck!” “I told my fans I’d have the next book in my series released in June, and it’s now November – fail!” “I planned to publish four books last year, and I only published one – I’m not a real author!”

I’ve been there. I struggled to put out two books in two years . . . and then two and a half years went by before my next release. I lost every bit of momentum I’d ever had (and I didn’t have much to begin with). But now, I’m on track to release five titles within a year. I have a day job and a full life, and I can tell you, being able to release five titles in a year is not a matter of having “enough time.” It’s about having the right mindset, and focusing in the right way. I figured out how to use my goals to keep me on track, rather than as a way to punish myself, and all it really took was changing my perspective. I want to share what I did, and inspire other writers to stop beating themselves up and ENJOY the thrill of setting and meeting their writing and publishing goals.


This discussion will enable attendees to wrap their minds around why some fictional characters are so timeless and live in a corner of our hearts forever. We will be addressing the full scope of the soul journey & how to develop richness in a character as well as how to view your own life experiences in terms of destiny. Yes, what you’ve suspected all along is true: your heart is much bigger than you think.

YOUR TIME TO SHINE. Talk by Liz Long

Many authors, myself included, have confidence issues when it comes to proudly stating to others that they are a writer. Over the last year, my life has changed, thanks to UtopYA and amazing readers, and learning that this journey isn’t just about putting books out – it’s also about having confidence in ourselves. This is a talk to take pride in what we do, to have faith in our hard work, and declare that YES, we are writers and proud of it! No more furtive looks, no more shy shrugs – it’s time we revel in being writers, indie or otherwise. How many people do you know in your everyday life who have written full-length novels?! Readers change our lives when they love our work, instilling confidence in our abilities. It’s time to shine both inside and out.

Which utopYA Idea eXchange talks are you excited to hear? Let us know in the comments.

Tickets go on sale Friday, November 28th. Grab them on Eventbrite by clicking here.