Category Archives: Writers Conference

First Day

NOTE: I wasn’t willing to pay $10/day for internet at the hotel, so I wrote my entries in a word processor to be uploaded later. This is what I wrote Friday, September 17:

Airplanes more often than not offer an opportunity to meet new people. It’s especially nice when the person you end up sitting with is in the mood to chat.

My seat-mate was a young lady named Kathleen. She’s one of the directors for the new sister college to Bismarck’s University of Mary being set up in Rome. She’s taking Rome’s directors (a priest and two nuns) on a tour, first of North Dakota and Washington D.C.

She also gave me the opportunity to pitch my novel. I was able to describe it in a few sentences, and she seemed pretty excited about it. Even though science fiction is not her chosen genre. Kathleen did, however, express interest in buying my book once it’s published so she could give it as a gift to her mom who loves science fiction.

Did I just make my first sale? Either way, I gave her my card. I hope she emails me, because her story is an interesting one. Come September 28th of this year she’ll be living in Rome most of the year to set up the new college. It’d be nice to “see” Rome through someone else’s eyes since I doubt I’ll ever see it myself.

Her brother is also a writer, although his chosen genre is historical fiction, specifically North and South Dakota history. He and their father are putting together a documentary about the politics of global warming, how it’s driving most of the fear and “need to go green,” and not necessarily hard scientific facts. It should be out next summer, so I’m going to keep an eye out for it. They plan on submitting it to the yearly Fargo Independent Film festival.

Talking to her made the flight – pardon the pun – fly by. The hour and 15 minute flight seemed more like 15 minutes.

The best part is when she promised to pray for me at the conference. Wasn’t that sweet? I will also do the same, because she has a lot of work ahead of her. She and the other directors are the pioneers in setting up a new school in a foreign country, so they can only guess at the obstacles awaiting them. But it’s also exciting, and I’m sure it will be quite rewarding.

The flight to Indianapolis ended up a stark contrast to the first plane. No one sat next to me. In fact it was the only empty seat on the plane. As my husband surmised, my deodorant had given out by then.

Finding the bus stop was a simple matter, but what should have been a quick fifteen minute ride ended up almost an hour. The first driver stopped not one block from the hotel and waited for her relief driver. He never showed, so ten minutes later we continued on. After a few more blocks and another stop the other driver took over. Again we went around and around, this time because he was new and didn’t know his way around. Three others who also are attending the conference and I decided about two blocks from the hotel to be dropped off right there.

Heck, we might still be on that bus if we hadn’t said something.

Because the bus ride took so long, we ended up missing the first timer’s orientation. Oh well, the amount of information given in our packets was enough for me. And most conferences are similar, so I knew what to expect over all.

I grabbed my packet which included a nice shoulder bag, conference brochure and name tag with two ribbons, that say “First Timer” and “Finalist” (for the Genesis contest). I then went to a different table to find out which editor and agent I will meet with along with the time for each. Turns out, I got both my first choices! Woohoo!

Next came the opening session where we were given more information. There was also worship where the song leader kept us standing way too long through six songs. I kept thinking, “come on, most people here are older and can’t stand for too long. Give us a break.”

As much as I love to sing and worship, I was glad when it was over.

Author Tim Downs gave the keynote address where he talked about how much of the Old Testament is in story form. And in the New Testament, Jesus preached by way of parables – he told stories.

Tim’s overall point (when we weren’t laughing ourselves to tears with some of the stories he told), was that people respond better to a story – fiction – than a lecture. Our responsibilities as writers is not only to entertain, but to encourage people to think and draw them closer to Christ.

When supper time rolled around I said, “God, you choose the chair for me to sit at.” When I felt the draw to a particular seat in an empty table, I promptly sat my patootie down. After a few minutes when people kept passing my table by, I wondered if my deodorant indeed died on me.

But no, I just needed to be a little patient. The table filled up, and we all introduced ourselves. Guess who ended up at my table? Steve Laube, the agent I wanted to, and will be meeting with.

I didn’t tell him that, though. I played silent (mostly) sponge and listened to him give advice on how to pitch our stories to agents/editors.

That’s not to say I’ll walk away with a contract or even any interest by the time it’s all said and done. I learned a lot in that one hour, and that’s what counts. Perhaps I won’t be nearly as nervous once I meet with him.

Will keep you apprised.

Right now, I’m sleepy. I’ve been up since 4:15am and it’s time for bed. Tomorrow will be another busy day.

Will I Survive This Time?

Plane ticket purchased, conference fee paid and hotel room reserved, I now have five weeks to prepare my manuscript — and myself for the ACFW Conference in Indianapolis.

On my to-do list:

  1. Rewrite my one-page synopsis
  2. Rewrite and practice my one-sentence pitch.
  3. Design and order new business cards with a photo of moi.

You’d think after attending a major writing conference three times, I’d feel like a veteran. Not even close. This will be the first time I’m attending this conference. While in some ways I know what to expect, in others I’m clueless.

Pitching my story is one of them. It’s not so much not being comfortable talking about it, but boiling it down to a single sentence and make it so interesting people will want to read it. Especially agents and editors.

The last time I signed up for the Christian Writers Guild conference I purchased a short guide by Meredith Efken called “Writers Conference Survival Guide.”

My main motivation came from the absolute failure I made during the previous year’s conference. I took the attitude that I didn’t need to prepare for the conference. I figured God would guide me to the right editors, etc. when the time came.

Most of you have heard the phrase, “Don’t put God to the test.”

If you do, God ends up doing the testing, and guess who earns the failing grade? Not God, that’s for sure.

I ended up not knowing anything about the appointments I made and made a complete fool of myself. I ended up canceling all my other appointments and concentrated on the workshops instead.

In the end it wasn’t a total loss, for at the very least I learned that preparation is key in getting the most out of the conference as far as workshops, meeting other writers, and piquing the interest of publishers/agents. Part of it means researching prospective publishers as well as the editors and agents themselves.

For instance, using science fiction as an example, Zondervan at large will look at speculative fiction, but the specific editor at the conference may only interested in looking at historical romance.

The guide by Meredeth talks about this and so much more. She also includes how to create a one-sheet and a fill-out-able list of what must be taken to the conference. With the list filled out after packing, it’s one less thing to worry about before the trip begins.

With just over a month to prepare, I best get crackin’.

I Should Give Up More Often

A few days ago, I sat down with God and gave him my thoughts on a few things. The main one was — as I’m sure you expect — about writing, or my lack thereof lately.

I basically told him, “This contest is it. If nothing comes of it, I’ll know you want me, for the foreseeable future anyway, not to write anymore. At least not for publication.”

It wasn’t an ultimatum, per se, more of a “What do you want me to do?”

My life is full, contentedly full. Raising my two-year-old, enjoying photography and working full time I figured was enough for now. To add writing to it felt more like a burden. With nothing to show for it over the last month or so, I thought it was time to quit.

I didn’t have a problem with that. I love writing, still do and know I always will. But I was beginning to think that the novel writing was a mere phase, something to keep me occupied and passionate about until something better came along — like my son. It was also a way for me to talk to God, and for him to talk to me.

Through my son I’ve found other avenues of communing with God.

Or so I thought. Hence the sign I asked of God via the Genesis contest.

This afternoon when I returned from lunch, I happened to look at my phone. Someone had left me a voice mail. I missed it because I left it at work to charge. I shrugged thinking it was either my hubby wanting to know where I hid Thomas’s shoes, or a wrong number.

Wrong on both counts!

Turns out my novel made the top 5 finalists of the first round and will go to the second.

Am I excited? Sure! It’s an answer to a prayer (well, one of the few yeses anyway). Heck, the first thing my husband said when I came home was, “What’s with the big smile?”

I look forward to receiving my scorecard. I’ll have until May 16th to make any edits accordingly and resubmit for the final round. I also have to send it a head-shot of yours-truly for a presentation during this year’s ACFW writer’s conference in September. I’m wondering now if I should go . . .

Whether or not my novel wins, I can at least mention it made the finals in future (verses past?) query letters.

We Mustn’t be Lazy – Part II

Friday night I prepared for my last editor appointment on Saturday afternoon with Sherri Langton of Bible Advocate.

I skimmed through a sample magazine left on her table, and discovered none of the articles I brought with me would fit as-is.

I decided to change my tactics to simply ask questions about her magazine.

I questioned her about Bible Advocate’s target readers, and what they expected as far as content (deep Bible studies, or more basic, etc).

As we talked, a few statements made by our speakers whispered in my ear, and the image of a waterbug surfaced.

“I know now I need to look closer into my spiritual journey,” I said to Sherri. “Lately I’ve been walking on the surface of my faith, and God’s been telling me all during the conference I need to dig deeper.”

I realized then God’s task for me right now. It isn’t to write to be published, or read the Bible in search for that one perfect verse for my article or story, but to feed my soul.

God is jealous of the time I spend away from him, and wants me all to himself. In the process perhaps I’ll gain deeper insights readers are searching for.

Other non-spiritual insights I’ve gained from attending the conference:

1.    Research!

Study the current guidelines online. Don’t depend solely on Writer’s Market Guide or Sally Stewart’s (the Christian version). Guidelines change all the time, and are kept more current on the magazine’s websites.

Read up to six months of issues. This can be both time-consuming and economically difficult. Who among us has the money to subscribe to every single magazine we want to write for? I have a few ideas:

Check archives online. Most magazines keep archives sometimes up to twenty years.

Talk to friends or even people at your church to see if they subscribe and ask for their old copies.

Flip through current issues either at your local bookstore (some carry many Christian magazines), and Christian bookstores.

Check out the local library. Some may carry the magazines you want to write for.

2.    Take the business card of every editor you speak with. No matter what the results of the appointment, email them a short note thanking them for their time. As one attendee noted, editor’s have long memories. They’ll appreciate your kindness, and remember you positively when you do have something saleable.

3.    Do the same for other attendees. Networking is key to gaining readership, but also the friendships developed can be invaluable. You can encourage one another and provide feedback for your writing.

4.    Be realistic! All writers attend conferences to sell their writing. However, to attend for that reason alone will only discourage you. Less than 10% of attendees sell something at a conference. If you go with equal purpose of making friends, and learning from the classes, speakers, workshops and the editors, your experience will be far more rewarding.

Tomorrow: A More Spiritual Journey.

 

“You had to choose science fiction.”

After starting my trip in the smallest airport ever built — the size of a medium-sized restaurant — I arrived at the conference half-way through the Thursday night kick-off session. Gary Chapman spoke, and he talked about the five ways a person should apologize.

I didn’t take any notes, because I don’t apologize (kidding).

When he finished, all the attendees stampeded to the tables in the back for appointment sign-up. We could choose up to three. Zondervan was first on my list, and I made second in line for that. The other two I managed to get were near the bottom of my list, but no matter. I could still take a seat at the reserved tables for lunch and dinner, and talk to them then.

The conference scheduled was structured with a continuing education class in the morning, a workshop in the afternoon, publishing panels (Q&A with all the editors) and an evening speaker after supper. The 15 minute appointments took place during the classes and workshops.

Friday morning I attended the Publishing 101 class with magazine editor Lin Johnson. She discussed what most editors looked for, and how to format all submissions. I noticed even at the start I made a few boo-boos with my articles I wanted to show off.

For instance, never begin or end an article with scripture. Oops. Did both.

My first appointment with Andy Meisenheimer of Zondervan started at 9:45, and I was only a little nervous — a few stomach butterflies only.

I sat and pitched my novel.

“What is the sub-genre,” he asked, “Cyberpunk, Space opera, or what?”

Andy received a blank stare as a response. That’s one thing I didn’t include in my research and wish I had. I said at one point, “You’re asking great questions. I wish I thought of them beforehand, so I could answer better.”

After bumbling through my pitch a little more, I gave him my pitch sheet.

He looked up with a sigh and said, “You had to choose science fiction.”

Although his bio said he was willing to look at science fiction “or anything weird,” the larger Christian publishers are still not willing to take most speculative fiction. Most science fiction is mass market, and CBA doesn’t know how to mass market their books.

“Plus,” he said, “science fiction doesn’t sell in the CBA market.”

I think he anticipated my next comment, because he said, “Granted they can’t sell what they don’t publish.”

I nodded and said, “It’s a catch-22.”

“Exactly.”

He then recommended I try the smaller presses such as Marcher Lord Press, or even vanity-press.

“I plan on writing my own science fiction novel, and will likely try the small presses first or self-publish. I don’t see that route as a stigma, because it’s the only option for Christian speculative fiction writers at this point.”

In the end Andy further verified what I already knew, so although he didn’t ask to see more, I didn’t waste my time.

The worst part of an appointment isn’t the nervousness before or during, but the mental chastising afterward. I walked away and berated myself for saying one thing, not saying another, did I sit too close or too far, did I breathe my dragon-breath on him . . .

By the time I returned to the class I was grinning. I reminded myself no one thinks about me nearly as much as I do. I bet the moment I left the table, Andy was talking with his next appointment and likely even forgot my name.

I attended the “Thick-skinned Manuscript Clinic” on Friday afternoon. I submitted months ago the first two pages of my novel for critique by Jerry Jenkins (co-author of the "Left Behind" series and owner of the Christian Writers Guild).

Jerry critiqued three fiction submissions, and Andy Sheer (managing editor of the guild and former editor of Moody magazine) critiqued three non-fiction submissions.

Mine was the last of the afternoon. The moment he placed the transparency of my submission on the overhead, my ears started to burn. I was grateful to have long hair, because I could cover up my delicious apple red ears, and no one would know the submission was mine.

A second later I saw it. In the second paragraph I wrote “he” instead of “The.” I thought, “Oh, crap, is he going to pounce on that!” I can’t believe I missed something so glaring even after combing through it at least four times.

Jerry didn’t start there . . .

Sorry, I have to end this entry now, because the critique is quite lengthy. Tomorrow I will go through it point by point. I think you’ll enjoy it, though.

Home at Last

First off, my apologies for not writing an entry every day while at the conference like I promised.

It was a full schedule, for one, and by the time I arrived at my room between 9:30 and 10:00, all I wanted to do was sleep.

Plus the hotel didn’t provide wireless internet in all the rooms. My only options were to drag my laptop down to the lobby, or spend $10/day on ethernet access.

No thanks to both.

But I did keep excellent notes, so in the next week I’ll write what happened and what I learned each day.

I hope you all had a terrific weekend, and will enjoy an even better week. I look forward to catching up with you as well.

A Subject Times Two

I keep a separate blog on another site, and sometimes my entries are the same there as they are here, including the last two I wrote. Two people who normally read my other blog added comments that I wanted to highlight and delve into:

Kara commented in my previous entry:

I think you can write to fit a certain market and still maintain your own voice. Unless of course that market is just too far removed to fit you. Takes the Drabblers, for example. We can’t [exactly] take a piece we have laying around and submit it. Not if we expect them to bother reading it anyway. They have very specific requirements, and a theme. Yet when I write for a Drabble contest, I don’t feel I’m faking it, or selling out, or giving up on my true voice, and I’d bet you don’t either.

An excellent point, and one I wished I had addressed, darn it. Her comment shows that our voice is more difficult to subdue or kill than we too often fear.

Dan commented in my previous previous entry:

So, what’s with these conferences? How do you find where they are held and how do you gain admission? Is it like a job fair?

I want to answer here, because the answer is a bit long, and will include links you might find useful.

A job fair is an apt description. At most conferences, publishers, agents and magazine editors attend. Throughout the conference, writers make fifteen minute appointments and pitch their writing. Competition is high, because there are only so many slots, and many conferences limit the number of appointments a person can make. For the conference I’m attending, the limit is three. I have to make sure I choose wisely.

The conference also provides continuing education classes and elective workshops of a multitude of subjects whether it be fiction, nonfiction, poetry or children/juvenile writing. There’s usually something for everyone.

These are usually the larger/annual conferences. You can also find single-day conferences that focus on a single subject. These are usually more local, and a lot more reasonable price-wise. Many conferences are also geared to a specific genre. You’ll find many Christian writers conferences, conferences for science fiction/fantasy writers, and romance to name a few.

Be aware with some conferences, you may need to be a member of the organization who sponsors it. If not, they many times charge more for non-members than members.

One way to find a conference near you is through Writer’s Market. For the online version ( http://www.writersmarket.com ) you need a paid membership. It’s $39.99/year or $3.99/month. If you don’t have the cash, most libraries keep a current hard copy.

You can also do an internet search, and narrow by state. Most conferences, even the small ones, have an internet page with all the information you need.

http://www.writersconf.org/ is another site where you can narrow by state, type, genre and dates.

If you want to attend a writers conference (whether you’ve been to one before or not), I highly recommend you purchase the ebook "The Writers Conference Survival Guide" by Meredith Efken. It’s $15, but well worth every penny. You can find out more about it here: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/info/mefken/