2017 Keynote Speakers

Erin McKean
“Beyond Words: Dictionaries on the Cutting Edge”
Click here to listen to a recording of this keynote

Photo Credit: CC-BY Joseph Gerharz
CC-BY Joseph Gerharz

The first English dictionary was published in 1604, more than a hundred years before Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and dictionaries have been in the vanguard of publishing ever since. What can the history and present state of reference publishing tell us about the future of publishing?

Erin McKean is the founder of the new, not-for-profit Wordnik.com, the world’s biggest online dictionary. Previously, she was editor-in-chief of American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press. Her goal is to make every word in the English language “lookupable” — including the 52 percent of unique English words that aren’t currently in any dictionary. Erin is the author of three Weird and Wonderful Words books, and most recently The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of our Time. She has written regular columns for the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal.

Jennifer Worick
“Things I Wanted to Punch in the Face — Publishing Edition”


People think booksellers and publishing professionals are happy, nice people. But we know the truth. While 90 percent of the time you are blissed out by the book business, there are some things that are guaranteed to make you as ornery as a protagonist in a Richard Russo novel. Customers who snap covers of books, only to get the book from the library or Amazon. Excessive punctuation. The improper use of “its” versus “it’s.” Even books that sounded promising but didn’t live up to the hype. Join us for this cathartic, hilarious session as author and publishing consultant Jennifer Worick explores all the things we want to punch in the face — metaphorically speaking, of course.

Jennifer Worick is an editorial director turned author turned publishing consultant. She has authored or co-authored more than 25 books on pop culture, humor, and craft topics, including the New York Times bestseller The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Dating & Sex and most recently, Things I Want to Punch in the Face. Worick is the co-founder of The Business of Books, a successful Seattle-based publishing consultation company.

Ron Charles
“The Reveal on Reviewing: Behind the Scenes
of the Washington Post Book World with Editor Ron Charles”
Click here to listen to a recording of this keynote

Julia Ewan / The Washington Post
Julia Ewan / The Washington Post

Ron Charles sits in the captain’s chair of one of the last remaining newspaper book sections and stars in the hilarious satirical video series “Totally Hip Book Reviews.” In this onstage interview with author Kevin Smokler, Charles takes us through the life cycle of a book review, from how books are chosen to his perspective on the power of reviews in the digital 21st century. Charles will also discuss the ecosystem of book reviewing, which now spans print, audio, and social media, and the effect of book reviews on the fortunes of small presses.

Ron Charles is the editor of the Washington Post Book World, and he writes a weekly review. He has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for best criticism and first place for Arts and Entertainment Commentary from the Society for Features Journalism. In 2014, he served as a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. He and his wife, Dawn, an English teacher, live in Bethesda, Maryland.

Miriam Sontz
“A Passion for Books and the Business of Books”

A passion for books needs to be balanced with a passion for business. Many people enter the book business with an incredible passion for the printed word, but few enter with a passion for the rigors of day-to-day business operations. Bringing these two worlds together is what the book business is all about. We all may be able to hand sell the latest and greatest prose to a well-read clientele, but how do we deal with the daily tug of financial implications, technology updates, staff and personnel issues, and growth? How do we handle leadership roles and work with a diverse staff and an even more diverse and demanding public? Join Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell’s Books for an illuminating view of the book business. Sontz’s 40 years in this tough and demanding industry has offered her many opportunities to grow as a business leader to meet the challenges of the changing marketplace, workforce, and technology. She even promises to bring humor into these tough subject matters!

Miriam Sontz, CEO of Powell’s Books, is a 32-year veteran of the largest and most innovative family-owned independent bookseller in the world. She was promoted to the position of CEO in April of 2013, accepting full responsibility for the company’s day-to-day operations and business strategy. During her years at Powell’s, Miriam has worked in many leadership roles including manager of the Burnside and Beaverton store locations and director of Powells.com. For over the last decade, she has been a visionary executive for the company, guiding it successfully through tumultuous times as consumer reading behavior has changed dramatically, and at an unprecedented rate. She has steered the company toward a stronger focus on customer service, product selection, and innovation in order to stay relevant in a highly competitive marketplace. Throughout her career, Miriam has dedicated herself to the bookselling industry, serving previously on the boards of the American Booksellers Association, Write Around Portland, Literary Arts, and the Independent Booksellers Consortium.