ASJA Atlanta Conference - Speakers

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Keynote Speaker 

10:00AM - 11:00AM

Robert Hicks

Named #2 in the most recent listing of the top 100 Reasons to Love Nashville by Nashville Lifestyles magazine, Robert Hicks was described as Nashville’s “Master of Ceremonies.” Being a New York Times best-selling author should be enough – but not for Robert Hicks, award-winning author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country. His passion for words is equaled by one for preservation, saving the history-steeped places associated with the Battle of Franklin. Writer, speaker, leader, world-traveler, preservationist – one person really can make a difference.” His third novel, The Orphan Mother was released on September 13, 2016, by Grand Central Publishing and has garnered rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and many more.

Dream of Being Pitch Perfect: Practice Your Skills With Top Editors

11:15AM - 12:15PM        ​

Get the inside scoop on what the editors of top publications need right now. The editors will give a brief overview of their publications and the types of pitches they want to receive. Then, step up to the mic and give your one-minute pitch-and receive immediate feedback. No pitch? No problem-you'll still learn from the discussion.

Jennifer L.W. Fink ​ - Moderator  

Jennifer L.W. Fink is an ASJA Board member and Registered Nurse-turned-writer who writes about health, parenting and education. Her publication credits include The Washington Post, Parents, iVillage, Boys' Life, Ladies' Home Journal, Scholastic Teacher, District Administration and Medscape. Jennifer is also the creator of, a resource for parents, educators and others who care about boys. 



Maria Carter

Maria Carter is features editor for the websites of Country Living and Woman’s Day. Prior to joining Hearst Magazines, she worked as a freelance writer. She’s written for more than 45 different publications including Atlanta Magazine, House Beautiful, Men’s Journal, and Vegetarian Times. She lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend and their dog, Ringo. 




Mira Lowe @miralowe

At CNN Digital as Senior Editor for Features, Mira oversees various editorial initiatives, partnerships and multiplatform opportunities, working closely with research, sales and product teams. She lead an editorial team that focuses daily on how to best tell stories and engage audiences via text, photos, video, interactives and social media.




Christine Moore @chrissiebmoore

Christine Moore is a senior digital content strategist, editor and writer for Healthgrades, a leading physician search and health content brand serving up to 1 million users a day. In her role, she oversees the development of roughly 50 new titles a month covering a diverse range of health topics, from how doctors diagnose endometriosis to preparing for a colonoscopy to the surprising health benefits of coffee. Prior to joining Healthgrades, Chrissie worked at Cartoon Network Digital as a writer, producer and associate creative director. Outside of work, she blogs at and contributes to Paste magazine. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Chrissie lives with her husband and son in Decatur, Ga.

Bryan D. Vargo

An award-winning writer and editor, Bryan has honed his knack for crafting creative copy and well-packaged stories during his 20-year career. He has held a variety of positions for newspapers, magazines, websites and custom publications, which has made him a firm believer in adaptability. Having spent most of his career in magazine publishing, Bryan has carved out his niche in health journalism at Arthritis Today magazine and (both published by the non-profit Arthritis Foundation based in Atlanta), where he is currently employed as lifestyle and web editor. Bryan is a graduate of the University of Delaware’s journalism program and an avid lover of adventure sports and the outdoors. 

Dream of Breaking into Trade, Custom, Digital and Alumni Magazines

11:15AM - 12:15PM        ​

There has never been more work for writers – the secret is knowing where to look and how to catch an editor’s eye. In this session, learn how to build relationships with editors (what to do, what to avoid at all costs), how to keep your name top of mind when editors are assigning, ways to re-slant your research and sell your work to different, non-competing markets, how to pitch to custom magazines using your journalism clips, and much more. Featuring Kesley Ogletree, Executive Editor at Connect Meetings (publishers of four trade magazines), Tanisha Sykes, former personal finance editor at ESSENCE and Jennifer Goforth Gregory, successful content marketing writer.

Wendy Helfenbaum  - Moderator @WendyHelfenbaum

Wendy believes in the art of reinvention – in her 25-year career, she’s happily swung back and forth many times between news reporting, producing award-winning children’s TV shows, corporate gigs and translation, enough to know that a versatile writer is a successful writer. Based in Montreal, Wendy covers architecture and design, parenting, business, travel, education, careers and gardening. Her words have appeared in dozens of consumer, trade, digital and custom publications, and she’s worked with many brands, universities and nonprofits. 


Nsenga Burton @Ntellectual or @TheBurtonWire

A media scholar with over 15 years of experience teaching at the college-level, Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an award-winning professor, multimedia journalist and blogger, filmmaker and producer. Currently, she serves as editor-at-large for The Root (a Univision company) and contributor to Huffington Post Black Voices where she writes media criticism. In 2013, Dr. Burton founded The Burton Wire, an award-winning news blog that covers global Black and Afro-Latino populations. In 2013, Dr. Burton was named a Scripps-Howard Journalism Fellow and won the 2013 NABJ Ray Taliaferro Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 2014 News One named Nsenga to the list of Top 15 Black Bloggers in America. In addition to her work as a journalist and professor, Dr. Burton is a leader in the field of technology and diversity serving as Executive Director of the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs for the past three years. 

Jennifer Bradley Franklin @JennBFranklin

Jennifer Bradley Franklin is an Atlanta-based multi-media journalist, storyteller, editor and author. Her work appears in USA TodayCondé Nast TravelerDelta SKYAmerican Way, People, Food Network, Southbound, Flavors, Hospitality Design, and a host of others. She’s the managing editor of Flavors, dining editor of Southern Seasons, and holds an ABJ in Journalism from the University of Georgia's Grady College. Her first book, Make it ZERO, the Movement to Safeguard Every Child (2016), brings hope and action to some of the biggest concerns facing America's young people - issues like poverty, hunger, trafficking and much more. 


Jennifer Goforth Gregory @byJenGreogry

Jennifer Goforth Gregory is a freelance content marketing writer and strategist who specializes in tech, data analytics and finance. Her clients include IBM, Adobe, Samsung, Hewlett Packard, Allstate, Ameriprise, Intuit, American Express, Infusionsoft and State Farm. She lives in NC with her husband, two kids and three dogs. Jennifer also writes the popular content marketing writing blog The Content Marketing Writer (  


Dream of Breaking in and Making Big Bucks from Business Writing

1:30PM - 2:30PM   

Love to Write, But Hate to Starve?
Exploring the $75+/Hour World of “Commercial” Writing!
You CAN make a GOOD living writing! Many businesses large and small rely on outside freelancers to handle their writing needs—and for a host of solid economic reasons. And they’re willing to pay handsomely (i.e. $50-125+ an hour). Join Peter Bowerman, author of the award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles ( and nationally renowned authority on lucrative commercial freelancing, for a fast-paced, informative, and entertaining workshop. You’ll study actual samples, and learn all the who, what, where, and how-to of turning your writing skills into a lucrative career with enviable lifestyle benefits. If you’ve dreamed of thriving as a writer, don’t miss it. 

Peter Bowerman - Moderator @wellfedwriter

Peter Bowerman, veteran commercial writer, is the self-published author of the three award-winning Well-Fed Writer titles (, how-to “standards” on lucrative “commercial” freelancing. He chronicled his self-publishing success (100,000 copies of his books/ebooks in print and a full-time living since 2001) in the 2007 release and its 2014 update (both multiple-award-winners), The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living. In 2010, he launched The Title Tailor, his book-titling specialty (


Dream Bold: Writing about Tough Topics

1:30PM - 2:30PM   

Tackling Southern- Fried Tough Topics

How can writers accurately and fairly capture the flavor of the South when they uncover dark regional secrets? Join our panel discussion for an inside look at the challenges facing writers when they seek to reveal uncomfortable truths about Southerners. 

Randy Dotinga - Moderator 

Randy Dotinga, immediate past president of the ASJA, has been a full-time freelance journalist since leaving the newspaper business in 1999. He specializes in health and medicine, history, politics, and the odd & unusual. His clients have included the Los Angeles Times,,, U.S. News & World Report, Voice of San Diego, (Long Island) Newsday, WebMD, and many medical trade journals. He is also a longtime book reviewer for The Christian Science Monitor. 


Karen Branan 

Karen Branan, author of "A Lynching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth," is a veteran journalist who has written for newspapers, magazines, stage, and television for almost fifty years. Her work has appeared in Life, Mother Jones, Ms., Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Today’s Health, Learning, Parents, Star Tribune (Minneapolis), The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on PBS, CBS, ABC, CBC, BBC, and CNN.


Robert Hicks 

Named #2 in the most recent listing of the top 100 Reasons to Love Nashville by Nashville Lifestyles magazine, Robert Hicks was described as Nashville’s “Master of Ceremonies.” Being a New York Times best-selling author should be enough – but not for Robert Hicks, award-winning author of The Widow of the South and A Separate Country. His passion for words is equaled by one for preservation, saving the history-steeped places associated with the Battle of Franklin. Writer, speaker, leader, world-traveler, preservationist – one person really can make a difference.” His third novel, The Orphan Mother was released on September 13, 2016, by Grand Central Publishing and has garnered rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and many more.

Matthew Shaer

Matthew Shaer is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a correspondent for Smithsonian Magazine. His reporting has appeared in The Atlantic, GQ, New York, Harper’s, Wired, Fast Company, and Men's Journal, among other publications. His Atavist Magazine story The Sinking of the Bounty was a finalist for a 2014 National Magazine Award in Reporting. The article is anthologized in Best American Magazine Writing 2014.



Dream of Expanding Opportunities

2:45PM - 3:45PM​

We’ll discuss how to give journalists new avenues for money-making and becoming a great success story. Writing is a skill. Editing is a skill. Project management is a skill. You’re not a professional until you have paying clients, and you don’t have a sustainable income until you have achieved cruising altitude with practice and business development.  How can you build a first assignment into a true career? This panel will outline classic and new strategies that are proven in today’s market. 

Christine S. Cozzens- Moderator 

Christine S. Cozzens is Charles A. Dana Professor of English and director of the Center for Writing and Speaking at Agnes Scott College. She received her BA and MA from Stanford University and her Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. Cozzens teaches a variety of writing courses, including the nonfiction sequence in the creative writing program and the creative writing senior seminar, nineteenth-century British literature, and Irish literature and film. Her essays about travel, writing, and other subjects have appeared in The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, Cara, Ireland, and the Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, among other publications. Cozzens was the founding editor of Southern Discourse: Publication of the Southeastern Writing Center Association from 1998 to 2014. She has been an SWCA member since 1989, served on the board for twenty-five years, and was the recipient of the Southeastern Writing Center Association Achievement Award in 2003.


Joanne Cleaver

Communication and content consultant Joanne Cleaver designed the MOVE Project, a research and advocacy platform that measures and supports the advancement of women. Since 2003, MOVE Projects have catalyzed the advancement of women in public accounting, cable television, transportation and other industries. Cleaver was a financial journalist for 25 years, including 4 ½ years as deputy business/real estate editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and two years as a senior content producer for Tribune Digital. She is a widely published writer and author of seven books, most recently, The Career Lattice (McGraw Professional, 2012). She leads strategic communication firm Wilson-­‐Taylor Associates, Inc., which designs and manages content, editorial and research projects for all media and equips clients with media skills and strategic messaging.


Daryn Kagan

You might remember Daryn Kagan from her more than 12 years as an anchor on CNN. Today, Daryn continues her television career as the host of RLTV’s “Bookmark.” Daryn is also a syndicated newspaper columnist for Cox Newspapers. Her weekly, “What’s Possible!” column inspires readers in newspapers across the country. 80 of her most popular column make up her new book, “Hope Possible: A Network News Anchor’s Thoughts On Losing A Job, Finding Love, A New Career, And My Dog, Always My Dog.” She is the creator and host of, an inspirational, online website featuring stories that, "Show the World What is Possible." Daryn lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and Little Sister from the Big Brother Big Sister program. Her 16-year-old dog, a 3-legged cat and eight chickens complete the family.

Thonnia Lee

Thonnia Lee is an award-winning journalist, magazine writer and editor. A former newspaper reporter, her work also has appeared in local, regional and national publications including Atlanta, Essence, and Black Enterprise magazines.  She uses her storytelling experience for corporate clients to write speeches, develop online content, brochures, and internal magazines. She also serves as an editor and coach for new authors. 



Dream of Publishing Your Book: Self-Publishing, Hybrid or Traditional

2:45PM - 3:45PM​

Moderator Echo Garrett, author of multi-award winning “My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change” (originally self-published and then sold for 6-figures to Random House) and 12 other books, has used all three methods of getting her books to market and will lead a discussion of the pros/cons of each. Panelists include: Daren Wang, executive director of the Decatur Book Festival (the nation’s largest book gathering) and author of the forthcoming novel “The Hidden Light of Northern Fires” (St. Martin’s Press); Peter Bowerman, author of “The Well-Fed Self Publisher" and a national expert of the topic; and Ahmad Meradji, CEO/founder of BookLogix, which offers self-publishing services as well as a hybrid model.

Echo Garrett- Moderator 

Echo Garrett, author of the multi-award winning book My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change, has written or contributed to 12 other books, including Why Don’t They Just Get a Job?: One Couple’s Mission to End Poverty in Their Community, and has experienced all three routes in publishing. The Marietta-based writer’s work has appeared in more than 75 national media outlets including Parade, Delta Sky, Success, and The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. She has been interviewed on Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, NY-1 and served as editor-in-chief of Atlanta Woman magazine. 



Ahmad Meradji @booklogix 

Ahmad Meradji has over 25 years of experience in publishing and on-demand printing. A 15-year veteran of Xerox, Ahmad was involved in setting up the first digital book publishing and on-demand printing models at Xerox, later serving as a consultant in the publishing industry. In 2007 he formed Apex Book Manufacturing, and then BookLogix in 2009. Ahmad is passionate about helping authors publish their work, and sharing his extensive knowledge of self-publishing and on-demand printing. He is a frequent public speaker on the topic of self-publishing, sharing his insights at a number of universities, conferences, and community events.


Daren Wang @darenwang

Daren Wang’s debut novel, The Hidden Light of Northern Fires, will be published by St. Martins Press in 2017. He founded the AJC Decatur Book Festival in February 2005, convening booksellers, presenters, authors, arts advocates, and community leaders to start planning and fundraising. Before that, he had worked in public radio for 15 years, specializing in programming focused on authors, literature, and the arts. He’s produced programs featuring such luminaries as Kurt Vonnegut, Sidney Poitier, Alice Walker, Charles Frazier, Barry Hannah, Philip Glass, Reynolds Price, and Jimmy Carter. He was the last person to interview James Dickey before his death in 1997. Series which he has produced and or hosted include The Spoken Word, Porches: The South and Her Writers, Circle of Friends, Between the Lines, ArtVoice, and Atlanta Forum. Wang is a graduate of Cornell University. He lives in Decatur, Georgia with his wife Eva.




Dream of Building Your Personal Brand

4:00PM - 5:00PM​

Today's journalists and authors are in a tough spot. There are too many writers trying to land the same high-paying gigs. The answer? Create an amazing personal brand that makes you stand out. In this interactive session, award-winning author Beverly Harzog takes you through a few simple steps to help you identify your unique brand and how to use it your benefit. Whether you're a freelance journalist or an author, you'll come away from this session will the tools you need to take your writing business to the top.

Beverly Harzog- Moderator 

Beverly Harzog is a nationally recognized credit card expert, consumer advocate, and award-winning author. Her latest bestselling book, The Debt Escape Plan: How to Free Yourself From Credit Card Balances, Boost Your Credit Score, and Live Debt-Free (Career Press, 2015), won the American Society of Journalists and Authors 2016 Outstanding Nonfiction Book Award in the Self-Help category. She’s also the author of the award-winning and #1 Amazon Best Seller in three categories, Confessions of a Credit Junkie: Everything You Need to Know to Avoid the Mistakes I Made (Career Press, November 2013). Beverly’s byline has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Good Housekeeping, Health, Better Homes and Gardens, Cooking Light, New York Daily News,,,,, and many more. Her expert advice has been featured in thousands of media outlets, including TV, radio, print, and major websites. She’s appeared on Fox News, CNN Newsource, NBC New York, NY1, ABC News Radio, Bloomberg Radio, and more. 


Dream of Writing for Stage and Screen

4:00PM - 5:00PM​

Panelists Michael Lucker and Linda Sherbert, who are both industry professionals as well as instructors in writing scripts, bring decades of experience in stage and screen to Dream Bold Atlanta. Topics include adapting existing books, articles, real-life events, and other source materials to a script for performance for the camera or a live audience; how to get your work adapted; how to get your script read by the right people; and how to negotiate your deal. Both panelists will share advice and personal experiences (as well as weaving in advice for writing scripts as time permits). Michael teaches at Emory University and the University of North Georgia, and Linda teaches writing courses at the Alliance Theatre. 

Michael Lucker- Moderator @screenwriteratl

Michael is a writer, director and producer with twenty years experience creating film and television.  He began his career writing and directing television commercials while earning his undergraduate degree in broadcasting and film at Boston University’s College of Communication.  Soon after he landed in Los Angeles working in production for ABC, NBC and CBS before taking a job as assistant to Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment on feature films Always, Arachnophobia and Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade.  He went onto serve in creative affairs on feature films at Hollywood Pictures before embarking on a career as a screenwriter, helping pen screenplays for Paramount, Disney, DreamWorks, Fox and Universal, including Vampire In Brooklyn, Home On The Range, Mulan II and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 as best animated feature. In television, Michael has worked with Animal Planet, Cartoon Network, Travel Channel, History, Discovery, NBC, TBS, TNT, TLC, OWN, DIY, MSNBC and A&E.  A renowned instructor in screenwriting, Michael presently serves as screenwriting advisor to the Atlanta Film Festival, national advisor to the Serenbe Artist in Residence program, founder of Screenwriter School, mentor to the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Reinhardt University, lecturer in screenwriting at Emory University and professor of film and media studies at University of North Georgia.  


Linda Sherbert 

Linda Sherbert is a veteran writer, script consultant, and instructor of screenwriting, playwriting, and magazine writing. Currently, she is working on several screenplays, one of which has garnered interest from Disney and a top L.A. production company. She is a teaching artist at the Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre, where she has long taught playwriting and screenwriting courses; this season, she added a standup-comedy course. She worked as an editor for New York’s Hearst Magazines and writes for other national magazines. She has taught at Emory University, University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University, and Art Institute of Atlanta. She is a guest lecturer in screenwriting at SCAD. She earned an MFA at Catholic University, and she continues to study screenwriting with Corey Mandell of UCLA’s film school. She led a pitching workshop at StoryExpo in L.A. She is a script consultant for film and TV, most recently a spec pilot for a writer who works at ABC-TV.


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  • A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God.
    – Sidney Sheldon
  • A critic is a man who knows the way but can't drive the car.
    – Kenneth Tynan
  • A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self–addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.
    – Ring Lardner
  • A young musician plays scales in his room and only bores his family. A beginning writer, on the other hand, sometimes has the misfortune of getting into print.
    – Marguerite Yourcenar
  • All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary – it's just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.
    – Somerset Maugham
  • Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
    – Christopher Hampton
  • Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life.
    – Lawrence Kasdan
  • Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from two, it's research.
    –Wilson Mizner
  • Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them.
    – Flannery O'Connor
  • I just wrote a book, but don't go out and buy it yet, because I don't think it's finished yet.
    – Lawrence Welk
  • I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
    – Douglas Adams
  • I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done.
    – Stephen Wright
  • It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.
    – Robert Benchley
  • It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.
    – Andrew Jackson
  • Most writers can write books faster than publishers can write checks.
    – Richard Curtis
  • No fathers or mothers think their own children ugly; and this self–deceit is yet stronger with respect to the offspring of the mind.
    – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  • There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
    –Somerset Maugham
  • Writing a novel is like paddling from Boston to London in a bathtub. Sometimes the damn tub sinks. It's a wonder that most of them don't.
    – Stephen King
  • Writing a novel is like spelunking. You kind of create the right path for yourself. But, boy, are there so many points at which you think, absolutely, I'm going down the wrong hole here.
    – Chang–rae Lee
  • Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.
    –Samuel Johnson
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