Friday, May 28, 2010
In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends, Tinman and Scarecrow, are skipping along the yellow brick road on their way to see the Wizard, when all of a sudden they stumble across a big, scary-looking, enchanted forest. Being the brave souls they are, the trio decides to venture into the darkness and, along the way, end up convincing each other that hidden behind the twisting shadows are lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!
Of course we know shortly thereafter a lion does jump out. And we know at first he does intimidate the threesome. But later we also find out Mr. Lion is there because his call is the same as Dorothy’s, Tinman’s, and Scarecrow’s.
Conferences, seminars, and workshops are, many times, viewed the same way as the trio viewed the enchanted forest: Big, dark, and scary, filled with prowling agents, editors and publishers. Thus we begin our journey into the unknown by reciting a chant of “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” until we’re finally convinced that the only thing these “beasts” want to do is tear us apart. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Or maybe you view your conference-forest as filled with enchanted writers who have already met their wizard and are on their way back home to Kansas, leaving you alone to be pummeled by rotten apples. If that’s the case, look around. Chances are, others like you are standing on that yellow brick road, scared and alone, wondering if they’ll ever get out of the forest alive. Link arms with them. Let them become your reinforcement as you walk through the maze of appointments, workshops, and general sessions.
Just remember, despite all the possible obstacles that want to hinder your conference journey, the LORD is there with you, for you, to make straight the crooked yellow brick road and direct you toward the Emerald City—even if the pathway there sometimes looks like a dark, scary, enchanted forest.
Monday, May 24, 2010
It’s hard to get left behind. Especially when you’ve been reading about how great conferences are on certain loops and blogs.
So what’s a writer to do? How can you beat the don’t-get-to-go blues?
I have a couple suggestions.
1. Accept the disappointment, pray about the opportunities you feel you’re missing, and then move on. I know it’s hard. It’s not fair. It stinks big time. But as I tell my boys everyday, we don’t always get to do what we want to do. If we did, I’d be eating chocolate and having a pedicure right now.
2. Keep up with your critique group and ACFW chapter meetings. You can learn a lot from these interactions, maybe even more than you could at a conference. You get to know fellow writers deeply. They get to know you. And best of all, you get help and encouragement for your writing on a regular basis.
3. Have a write-in or a write-out. Get your writer friends together and head to Starbucks or Barnes and Noble with your laptops. Or host a write-in at your house. Get creative with snacks. Maybe have a writing-related game to play when everybody’s taking a break.
4. If there’s a particular presenter at the conference you really wanted to learn from, why not read their book while the conference is happening? They’ll be teaching on material from those books, and when your friends get back, you’ll be ready to discuss the techniques they (and you!) learned.
Bottom line, it really isn’t the end of the world. Although conferences are a great place to learn and advance your career, God does not need CCWC, Mount Hermon, or ACFW to execute His plans for you. Trust that He has gone before you and prepared your writing way.
And if you just can’t shake those blues come conference time, give me a call and we’ll go out for pedicures and chocolate. Unless you’re a guy. Then I’ll just hit you in the arm and say, “Tough luck, dude.”
Evangeline Denmark has storytelling on her heart and in her blood. The daughter of novelist, Donita K. Paul, Evangeline grew up living and breathing good stories. She has co-authored two children’s books which are under contract with Waterbrook Press and also writes adult fiction. Evangeline is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, serving as chapter secretary.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
1) Do your research. First, make sure that you request meetings with publishing representatives that would be a good fit for your book. Study the information on the conference website and go to each publishing house’s website. Study the kinds of books they publish. You don’t want just any publisher to say yes to your project, you want the right publisher. Once I get my editor appointment sheet at the conference, I also like to go online and check out their recent releases. If I’ve read any of them, I make it a point to mention them. If I haven’t read any of them, I usually ask questions about a couple that interested me.
2) Have a plan. I wouldn’t suggest scripting a conversation. Each editor and agent is different and I think it’s best to approach them as individuals. That said, it is beneficial to have a general plan of what you would like to say. I usually start by chatting about the books their house has released. (If it's an agent meeting, I ask them how they're enjoying the conference.) Then I give them some brief information about myself. How long I’ve been writing, magazine articles I’ve published, my professional background. After that, I go through a brief overview of my story, usually revealing just enough to get them interested. (If you need help with preparing your pitch, there are a lot of good resources out there. Specifically, literary agent Rachelle Gardner has some great tips on her blog: http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/search/label/Pitching) After the pitch, the editor or agent will usually ask questions, or possibly ask to see a sample of your writing.
3) Bring along a professional one sheet. Most people are visual. A compelling one sheet can be a valuable asset, not only serving as an outline for you, but also showing the editor or agent that you understand the basics of marketing yourself and your work. It gives them something to look at, and, if you use the right graphics, it can help them picture your story. If you’d like more information on doing a one sheet, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is something I have spent a lot of time with, and I would be happy to send you some examples.
4) Adjust your expectations. While the editor and agent meetings are a good time to pitch your project, they are mostly about networking and learning. It’s highly unlikely that someone will contract you on the spot. In fact, even if they request material from you, it will likely take months for you to hear back from them. Knowing this can actually help calm your nerves. Your whole publishing career will not hinge on one appointment at a conference. So relax and focus on building relationships in the business over time.
5) Learn everything you can. Take the full fifteen minutes to gain all of the wisdom that you can from the agent or editor. If they tell you in the first five minutes that they aren’t interested in what you’ve pitched, don’t run away and hide in the bathroom. Instead, use the rest of the appointment to ask them questions. Ask what they’ve worked on recently. Ask them about the market. Ask them about their favorite books. Show them that you’re interested and that you want to learn.
A lifelong storyteller, Sara Richardson is passionate about communicating reasons for hope. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, an Internet communications manager, and a whitewater rafting guide. In addition to writing fiction, Sara has published nonfiction articles in parenting and family magazines. As a member of MOPS International, Sara enjoys speaking to moms’ groups. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University. Visit her at www.momstories.org.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
I mean, would you expect to sit behind the wheel of a car for the first time without someone having taught you at least the rudiments of driving? Would you expect to pass your driver's test without studying and practicing? Do you think you could just imitate your dad's driving and pass?
Writing is much the same as learning to drive. Sure, you can ride around in a car for days (read many books) and hope to learn how to drive. You can study the driver's test for hours (read books on writing), hoping to understand the fundamentals. You might even watch old videos of The Streets of San Francisco (watch movies and study plot and character arc) to learn how to drive up and down steep hills at high speeds. But you still won't really know how to drive. Or write well.
Going to a conference combines all the basic elements of writing -- learning, having a teachable heart, being able to express your projects to others, brainstorming, taking criticism and rejection, and if it is a Christian conference, spending time with like-minded people. Not to mention, any rejections you get at a conference will probably be the nicest rejections you're likely to get.
Choosing the right conference is key to enjoying the experience. Take a good look at the continuing education tracks being offered, and choose one according to your skill level and type of writing. The continuing education classes are the backbone of your conference. If you mess up on selecting a workshop that isn't appropriate for you, no worry -- it's just one hour out of forty. But choosing the class you will be in every day is much more important.
Determine if you are looking for a conference where you get to meet one-on-one with agents or editors to tell them about your project (pitch your work) to see if they are interested enough to have you send the project to them. If this is not your goal right now, don't worry about setting up appointments, or choose a conference that doesn't offer appointments.
Going to conferences is every bit as important as joining a local writers' group or being part of a critique group. Each of these will give you an opportunity to learn, and you will also be able to help someone else.
Hey, going to a conference is kind of like going to church -- you shouldn't go to church only to receive ministry, but also to give ministry to others.
Conferences are like that. You can make lifelong friends, find out what the industry is doing, and spend time hanging around people who love to write as much as you love to write.
If you cannot attend a particular conference, check out their website -- most conferences offer CD's or tapes of each class, which you can purchase for a fraction of the cost of attending.
The start of the conference season is upon us. If you plan to travel, find a conference or a workshop in the area. If you plan to stay in your home area, do a search on the internet for conferences -- www.shawguides.com is a good place to look, as is the Christian Writers Market Guide.
Go to a conference, come back filled up with good information, excited about your project. Share your passion to write with someone else, and watch their eyes light up.
Monday, May 17, 2010
I had sold 6 books by that time and 3 of them had released. Considering how many other authors said speaking comes with writing, I figured speaking at conferences was my next step. So, I assembled topics on which I was skilled and presented them to every known writing conference where I had any contact with the committees.
Each one of them came back with a "no, thank you" or a "sorry, we already have someone teaching on that topic" or a "sorry, we don't have any openings."
For three years, I continued to submit my requests to speak and attempted to determine where there might be a need. But each time, I was turned down. It started to feel like a duplication of my writing career, where the bigger houses rejected me in spite of being a multi-published author.
So, I had some thinking and praying to do. At first, I was hurt and disillusioned, thinking I needed to become a more "known" name or get to know the "right" people in order to travel in the "accepted" circles of authors and speakers. I began believing I hadn't crossed some imaginary rite of passage that only I knew and had created. After some time spent in reflection, I realized it just wasn't time yet.
But that didn't mean I'd give up. I continued to speak to smaller writing groups, at women's ministry events and various other venues where I could fill a need. That way, I could keep up my speaking from growing stagnant and continue to build a resume.
Another disillusionment from conferences came in the form of rejection after rejection because I didn't have an agent. Despite being a multi-published author with 8 books in print and over 100,000 copies of my books sold, I'd been feeling like I was a unpublished author starting from scratch all over again. The editors were all saying they wanted a publish-ready manuscript that had not yet been sold before they would even consider my writing. But while under contract with my current publisher, I didn't have time to polish my other manuscripts and get them publish-ready.
Needless to say, it began to affect my enthusiasm and even my passion for writing. I started to believe I'd always be "stuck" in mass market, category romance.
That's when CCWC came into play. For those unfamiliar with this conference, it's the Colorado Christian Writer's Conference, and it takes place every year in May at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. Several of us board members with ACFW Colorado were present this year, and it was an amazing conference!
For the first time in two years, I finally received some encouraging feedback, and multiple invitations to submit my work, despite not having signed with an agent. And although we haven't "inked" the deal, the agent I've been praying would show interest gave me permission to say we are seriously talking should anyone ask if I have representation. Since it's not official, I won't give the name of this agent, but it's looking really good.
I just have to write another book before the end of August. Simple. :)
Oh, and two editors gave me their business cards and permission to bypass the "normal" submission and grow straight to them with this new series.
After too many rejections to count, being turned down to speak at every major writing conference, and feeling like I was missing the "secret" to moving forward in my career, I finally have some great leads and a step up. I'm on the next rung on the ladder, and I'm sure it's only a small nugget of all that's in store.
So, if you're wondering whether or not to attend a writer's conference, and if it's worth the investment of your funds, I'm here to tell you to go! It IS worth it. And if you can't afford one of the national ones due to distance or cost, start small and look for regional ones that might be a bit closer to home. They're out there. I promise. You just have to discover that diamond in the rough.
And if you are having trouble finding one near home, let us know. We'll be happy to help you locate one for you.
Now, how about those of you who HAVE attended a conference. Any success stories that might not otherwise have happened if you hadn't gone? Please share.
Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since she was a child. Today, she is an author, online marketing specialist and freelance web site designer who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart. They have 1 daughter and a border collie. She has sold eight books so far to Barbour Publishing, is a columnist for the ACFW e-zine and writes other articles as well. Read more about her at her web site: http://www.amberstockton.com/.
Friday, May 14, 2010
I took a clinic at CCWC where each person submitted the synopsis and first ten pages of his or her novel prior to the conference. Then, during the meetings we discussed each one and the instructors went over the manuscripts. The instructors were experienced authors and editors. When mine was discussed, they pointed out good aspects and some that needed to be corrected. Later in the day, one member of the group came up to me and made an extremely rude statement about my writing. I have to admit I was hurt and angry. My attitude was tempered the next day, however, when her manuscript was critiqued. I listened to her defend her writing against every comment. Although I don’t know what was in her heart, it seemed she had a need to always be right, even at the cost of putting someone down to make herself feel better. She reminded me of the first lesson – always go to a conference with a teachable heart. Listen to the comments others, both faculty and conferees, and evaluate whether or not your writing would be better if you edited it with those comments in mind. You don’t have to agree, but you can’t learn or improve if you are so busy defending your work you won’t accept advice.
The second lesson was about the importance of being part of a writers group such as ACFW. During workshops and in general conversation, it was easy to spot those who have never been part of a writing organization. They didn’t have the background or skills to be as effective in pitches or in classes. I can’t encourage you enough to be part of a writers group that helps you to learn the ins and outs of the publishing business.
The third, and possibly the most important, lesson was to be prayerful and mindful of God’s direction while at the conference. I felt it most at CCWC as I went through the ups and downs of the days. My value and calling as a writer was affirmed as every time something negative happened, like the comment mentioned above or an appointment that didn’t go as well as I would have liked, it was countered by a positive and encouraging message, which usually came from an unexpected event. I felt God was directing me through these meetings and events. When you go expecting God to direct your steps, He will.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
So I've been AWOL on most of my lists.
I really believe in attending conferences, and I've tried to make at least one conference every year since the early nineties. Then i lived in Illinois and my very first conference was held in St. Louis by the American Christian Writers. It was through them that I learned of Marlene Bagnull and got a copy of her Write His Answer Bible study book. Then in 1996, we moved to Colorado, and I contacted Debbie Barker about the Colorado Christian Writers Conference the next spring. Only to be told that Marlene would be directing it from then on. So I got to meet Marlene in person at the first Colorado conference she directed and I attended.
A few years later, my husband was working in New Jersey. That summer I learned to use the trains and made my first trips to Marlene's house to help her prepare for the Philadelphia conference. And from there, over several more years and another job for Roger in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I worked myself into where I am now, Marlene's assistant for both conferences.
So, as i said, I believe in the effectiveness and necessity of conferences for writers.
This year, as for the retreat last month, we're looking at a major winter storm to hinder those traveling to Estes Park for the conference this evening and tomorrow. This year, the opposition to us preparing for the conference has been more than usual. Marlene and I and several others who are on the staff have experienced some pretty bizarre things.
Two nights ago, Liz Babbs, a faculty member from England, wrote Marlene, telling her of a vision she had while praying for the conference. She saw the auditorium at the Y completely surrounded be the Lord's mighty warrior angels. Angels taller than the Reusch, fully armed and ready for battle. The next morning I read in my quiet time 2 Kings 6, where Elisha asks the Lord to open his servant's eyes to see God's army surrounding the Syrian army that surrounded Elisha's town. The Syrians had come to kill Elisha, but the Lord's army prevailed. And so, this is what we are claiming for this conference this week. God will prevail over everything the enemy attempts to put in our way. And I believe God is going to do some awesome things. He already has in my own life.
It's not too late to register and come up, even for a day. You can walk in as well. We are meeting on the campus of the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park. Check out what we have to offer this year at www.writehisanswer.com/Colorado.
Pray and see if this is what the Lord has for you right now. If not, then please pray for us as we meet. God doesn't always open the doors, and if this one is closed for you this year, that's okay, too. He will make a way for you another time, maybe another place.
Monday, May 10, 2010
As a new writer, I went with the desire to learn and experience as much as I could. To accomplish this, I volunteered to be a part of the choir, picked up people at the airport and helped at the registration desk, where my first “experience” took place. Does anyone else think they would fail to recognize Chip MacGregor because he didn’t look like the picture on his blog? Not to mention by trying to follow the rules, I almost refused a request from our president (again because I didn’t recognize her) when she told me it was okay to break the rules for something. They were probably glad when my stint at the registration desk was over. I had better luck picking up people at the airport since I had prepared signs with their name and ACFW on them. I even did okay in the choir although I could have used a little more practice time before the conference.
I must say that one of the things I loved most was meeting fellow writers. It was fun to sit down next to someone and start asking them where they were from and what they were writing, etc. Everyone had a unique story to tell. I think I met more people from Colorado than anywhere else and they were all writers that I hadn’t met at any of the local chapter meetings.
If you struggle with the cost vs. benefit of going to a conference, I encourage you to try it at least once. Yes, there are ways to get the workshops on tape and save on the other expenses of going, but there is something about meeting others who share your calling. It’s an opportunity for you to share in the successes of others as well as their disappointments. It’s a way to connect with the outside world and see that you aren’t alone in your dreams and fears. Those are some of the benefits. So how do you manage the cost? There are ways to cut the costs. Find someone to room with. Find a conference closer to where you live. Forgo your Starbucks (insert weekly/daily) habit and put that money towards a future conference. Hold a garage sale. Look for a one-day conference if a multi-day is out of reach at this season of your life. Look for conferences that a local chapter is hosting.
This week is CCWC in Estes Park. You can go for a day or more. Next month there are a couple of opportunities; one at Glen Eyrie and one with The Masters Seminars with Susan May Warren and Chip MacGregor. Those are just the ones in Colorado coming up. If these are out of reach, start planning for next year. You too can have a conference “experience”. And it doesn’t have to come from volunteering although that is a good way to force yourself to participate and not sit in a corner soaking it in.
I’d love to hear one of your memorable conference experiences. To conference we will go!
Elaine Clampitt is serving as Secretary/Treasurer of Mile High Scribes, the ACFW South Denver chapter which meets at the Barnes & Noble in Lone Tree on the first Monday of each month. Come hear Jeff Gerke speak on Trends in Publishing on June 7th. Visit www.MileHighScribes.blogspot.com for more information.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
You give your name and receive your name tag, finding that your very worse fear has come true. Everything is in order. You've been assigned a roommate, classes, and editor appointments. You really have to do this.
You look over the sea of faces wishing fervently for a familiar one--or even a friendly one. You swallow hard and put on a smile and decide to be that face for someone else who has the panic in her eyes that you feel. You made here. You will believe in yourself. You will believe in the One who sent you. It's time to do this thing!
Truth is though I've felt the above, I'm no longer a new-comer to conferences. So here I stand, cheering you on, excited for the journey you're beginning . . . and thinking that all my sweaty palm experiences give me room to offer a little advice for surviving your first conference:
1) Plan ahead and treat yourself to something that will help you through the experience. Before my first conference I bought colored note cards and wrote my favorite Bible verse and quotes on them. Once I checked in I put them all over my room to remind myself to be courageous! (I've also been know to take a pretty tea cup.)
2) Once at the conference, don't do everything. Really. There's too much offered to attend every single option. If you're a morning person choose the morning devos and skip the late night chats. If you're a night person, take a snack and have breakfast in your room. When the amount of material stuffed in your brain becomes overwhelming, find a quiet place and be alone--or a friend and down-load--or take a nap. But do NOT for any reason attempt to conquer every single thing on that bulging schedule.
3) Pray each day that you can encourage someone. The Lord will lead you to that person, he will be buoyed for his journey, and you'll be refreshed to see God at work. It'll take the stress out of the serious pursuit of all those writing dreams and remind you that God is in control.
4) If a speaker or workshop isn't meeting your needs, discreetly slip out and find one that suits you. It's okay.
5) Be brave. Make friends. Believe that the person next to you in line or in your class is a divine appointment. My first conference I met a delightful woman who ended up being from my area. She invited me to her critique group where I've been happily learning for the last 8 years. I didn't seek her out for any reason except to be friendly, but God put us together.
6) And #5 reminds me to mention #6. Pray for the networking aspect of the conference--not just for yourself, but for each attendee. Ask God to weave it all together exactly the right way, networking those who need to meet to take the next step on their writing journeys and further His purposes. I like to imagine God putting exactly the editor and writer who need to meet together, or helping someone find a new best friend, or putting a writer with exactly the speaker who will help him learn that missing piece. I have lots of God stories about how He did this. LOVE to see Him so tangibly at work.
7) Don't compare your writing with others. Usually first time conferees discover they are starting on a new learning curve. Don't be discouraged by that. God has called you to write. He has given you the talent. Now you get to develop the skill. Don't let the prowess of advanced writers make you insecure.
8) Be teachable. Chances are something about this business is new to you. Listen. Don't barrel ahead with your opinions. Ask good questions, not to be noticed, but so you can learn. If a teacher presents a new concept, play with it, think about it, even if you don't like it at first.
9) Celebrate every positive experience, and grieve and move on from the disappointments. Conferences can be highly emotional, especially the first few times, or if you're doing a lot of pitching of a writing project. Hide and have a good cry if you need to. Give appropriate room for your emotions, but don't dwell on the disappointments. The crazy thing about conferences is you can feel deep discouragement one minute and have a fantastic experience the next. Keep your head high, and don't let the disappointments get you down. You don't know what might be waiting around the corner.
10) Trust God. Believe that HE is the one who opens doors no man can shut and shuts doors no man can open. Believe that HE has a plan for your writing and will guide you on the best pathway for your life. Relax. Enter into His plans for this conference and know deep inside that the One who brought you this far will see all this to completion in His time.
And . . .
while you're doing all of that, don't forget to HAVE FUN!!!!
Monday, May 3, 2010
I love conferences. They're better than Starbucks. But slightly more expensive. I'm blessed to be able to use the money I've made from writing to, as my husband says, support my conference habit.
- I don't have to make my bed. Yes. That is number one.
- I don't have to cook my meals. That would tie for number one, but I'm automatically outlining here.
- I get to see friends that are normally only one inch tall on my Facebook page.
- I get to cram my head full of craft ideas from the workshops.
- I get to meet editors that can further my career.