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Writing Conferences and Your Allies

Later today, I’ll be sending out my e-zine with an article on the importance of having Allies.

What are Allies? Allies are your writing buddies. They are your equals or near-equals. They are the people who understand you better than anybody except your closest family members. (And they understand some things about you better than even your closest family members.)

You can’t succeed in publishing these days without Allies. You need them to bounce ideas off of. You need them to weather the storms of rejection. You need them (probably most of all) when you get successful, because a real friend can tell you when you’re starting to get full of yourself.

Where do you get Allies? You get them wherever you can find them. I made a list just now of my nine closest Allies. Of these, I met seven at writing conferences. The other two I met online, but I really only became Allies with them after meeting them in person at conferences.

I’ve often blogged about the importance of conferences, but usually I’ve talked about the fact that you meet editors and agents there, you learn how to behave like a professional, you get great training, and eventually you meet exactly the right agent or editor and make exactly the right pitch at the right time and you get the break you need and suddenly you get published.

But the unspoken secret that most professional writers know is that writing conferences are where you meet Allies. Allies are combinations of friends, professional colleagues, mentors, and shoulders to cry on. All in one.

Allies are typically writing in the same general niche that you are. The writing world has many niches. Romance writers. Mystery writers. Science fiction and fantasy writers. Etc.

Not everyone has exactly one perfect niche that they could fit into, but most writers do find one where they can belong. And most of their allies will also identify with that niche.

My own niche for most of the time I’ve been a writer has been the world of Christian fiction. It’s not the perfect fit for me. Given how weird I am, nothing could be the perfect niche. But Christian fiction has a lot going for it (including double-digit growth in market share for most of the last two decades).

It’s been a good place for me in many ways. My most recent book (WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES) doesn’t fit that niche, and I have some novels planned for the future that also won’t fit that niche, but that’s OK.

Most of the teaching that I do is still at Christian writing conferences (although this has also been changing in the last few years).

I have two favorite conferences, the two places where I’ve consistently met with my Allies and found new ones: The Mount Hermon conference (in the spring of every year) and the American Christian Fiction Writers conference (in September of every year).

I taught again at Mount Hermon this year and it was incredible, as always. Mount Hermon is where I met my coauthor John Olson, and it’s where some of my happiest memories in writing have happened. I had a great time this year, teaching a mentoring track with five students, hanging out with friends, meeting many new people.

I’m already gearing up mentally for this September, when I’ll be teaching a major track (on that pesky Snowflake Method of writing a novel) at the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference.

ACFW is an exceptional organization. It’s roughly modeled on RWA (Romance Writers of America) in its organizational structure. ACFW now has about 2500 members, many of whom are published novelists.

Last year, the ACFW conference had about 600 attendees, and we expect more this year. It was terrific last year and it looks to be even better this year. You can make appointments with any of 26 different fiction editors. Or with any of 17 different agents. Just about every Christian publisher and every Christian literary agency tries to send somebody to ACFW.

If you happen to fit into the niche of Christian fiction, there is simply no better conference on the planet than ACFW. And yes, I’m biased. I’ve been on the Advisory Board of ACFW since 2004. I’ve watched it grow from a small cadre of mostly romance writers into a massive organization of writers of every kind of Christian fiction you can imagine.

One of the high points of the ACFW conference is the awards banquet. ACFW runs two major kinds of awards, the Genesis award (for unpublished writers) and the Carol award (for traditionally published books).

These awards have grown amazingly in prestige in the last few years. Winning in one of the Genesis categories is now considered one of the best ways for an unpublished novelist to get noticed by the publishers. And winning a Carol award is now considered roughly equal in prestige to winning a Christy award.

But for me, the highest of the high points at ACFW has consistently been the time I spend hanging out with my Allies. Writing is a lonely business. It’s also a tough business, where you are only as good as your last book. Editors and agents come and go, but Allies accumulate.

As I noted earlier, my own career is trending more toward the general market. That’s just because no one niche is perfect for me. I’ll always be a multi-niche guy. The publishing world is changing and so am I. I expect that I’ll always have one foot in the niche of Christian fiction, where so many of my friends and Allies live. (I should note that some of my Allies are also trending toward the general market, so no matter where I go, I’ll never be without Allies.)

For the foreseeable future, I just plain can’t imagine missing the ACFW conference every September. Which means I’ll continue to see many of my Loyal Blog Readers there.

And for those Loyal Blog Readers who live in a different niche, it also means that there’s a good chance that I’ll see some of you as I continue to expand my footprint into other niches.

It’s a big world out there. The more Allies you have, the happier you’ll be and the better you’ll do.

You can get more info on the ACFW conference on the ACFW web site.

7 Reasons I’m Going to the ACFW Conference

I registered last week for the ACFW conference in Indianapolis. The dates for the conference are September 17 to 20, 2010. ACFW stands for American Christian Fiction Writers, an organization of over 2100 writers.

Why am I going to yet another conference? I can think of 7 good reasons that I want to go:

  • Writing conferences are fun. I am an extreme introvert and I don’t do well in crowds. Yet somehow, writing conferences bring out my inner extrovert, and I always meet a bundle of new friends.
  • Writing conferences are educational. I have never gone to a conference where I didn’t learn something completely unexpected and incredibly useful.
  • Writing conferences are where you make contacts. I met my first agent at a writing conference. After he died, I met my second agent at a writing conference, although at the time, he was an editor and I was hoping to sell him a book. (I did, and after he quit editing to become an agent, he called me.) Virtually all of the books I’ve sold have come as a direct result of the people I met at conferences.
  • Writing conferences are a place to serve. I strongly believe that every writer should find a way to help other writers. Normally I teach at conferences. At ACFW this year, instead of teaching, I’ll be taking appointments with writers to help them out on any question they might have. One-on-one for fifteen minutes. It’s amazing what you can get done in fifteen minutes when you’re focused. This will probably be the best part of the conference for me this year.
  • The ACFW conference is one of the best in the Christian publishing industry. Last year, there were about 500 attendees, with about 20 editors and a dozen agents. If I could only go to two writing conferences this year, I’d go to ACFW and Mount Hermon. If I could only go to ONE, I’d go to ACFW and Mount Hermon and then I’d lie about how many I went to.
  • Virtually all my friends will be there. You can never have too many friends in the publishing business.
  • I’m on the ACFW Advisory Board which meets with the Operating Board twice per year to make key decisions for the future. One of the decisions we made two years ago was to create the FictionFinder web site.

Many of my happiest memories in the publishing business have happened at ACFW conferences. At the 2004 conference, I gave a talk on “Writing From the Male Point of View” which people still talk about because I revealed a number of closely guarded Guy Secrets. I gave an updated version of that talk again at the 2009 conference. In between those years, I’ve spoken on numerous topics, made hundreds of friends, won a few awards, learned more than I ever expected, and enjoyed it all immensely.

This year I’ll be taking Jim Bell’s Early Bird Session. Jim was the guy who taught me about Three-Act Structure years ago, the weekend I first met him at — you guessed it — a small conference in Malibu, California. He’s become a good friend of mine. Jim is a former trial lawyer who now writes fiction. He served for a time as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest and he’s the author of Plot & Structure, one of the books I recommend most often to beginning writers. I expect I’ll learn something totally unexpected from Jim.

Sam The Plumber Is An Agent

I was gone for almost a week to a writing conference at Mount Hermon (near Santa Cruz, California). I’m home now and almost caught up on all the email, bills, and other untidy parts of Real Life.

I had hoped to blog before I left about my latest Sam The Plumber column. Sam has decided to become an agent, and naturally, he thinks that I should be his client, despite the fact that I already have one. You can read about Sam’s antics here.

The April issue of my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine was due on Tuesday, April 7, which was the night I got back. It quickly became clear to me that I was going to miss that deadline. It’s just too much fun at a writing conference to be working on actual writing. The April issue will therefore come out one week later, on April 14. That should be just in time for you to enjoy as you wrap up those pesky taxes (if you live in a place where taxes are due April 15.)

I really enjoyed the conference. Here is a shot of my buddy John Olson and me at the autograph party on Monday night. I am the cool and sensible guy on the left. I don’t know what John is grinning about. Probably he’s just happy that he has four books to sign and I have none. Thanks to Tosca Lee for shooting us on her iPhone.
Randy Ingermanson teams up with his coauthor John Olson for a booksigning at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference.

An Offer They Can’t Refuse

I had thought I was done blogging about writing conferences, but had a conversation last week with one of my loyal blog readers, Camille Eide, who happens to be in my local critique group.

Camille is one of three finalists in a really great contest being run jointly by the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference and a large publisher, Zondervan. The winner of this contest for unpublished writers will get a $10,000 contract from Zondervan. Pretty cool!

Anyway, Mount Hermon is running a very special deal now, and Camille told me all the details, and I thought it would be fun to do an interview with her about it. Here ’tis:

Randy: What do you write and how long have you been writing?

Camille: As far as fiction, I’m writing inspirational contemporary romance, or romantic drama. Think of a Nicholas Sparks love story with a strong faith inspiring theme. And maybe a happier ending. Love Worth Fire is the story of a bitter young widower whose second chance at love means marrying a dying woman. I’ve been writing all my life, but I began writing a novel and seeking publication two years ago.

Randy: You went to Mount Hermon last year after writing for about a year. Was that a good decision? What happened there?

Camille: It was a life-changing decision, one that confirmed my suspicions about being a writer. I blogged about it when I returned, including how I got to sit beside the sleeping Snowflake Guy on the plane ride home.

[Randy interrupts: Yes, on the plane home, I was Xtremely thrashed after too many nights staying up late talking to writers. I have never gone to bed before midnight at a conference, and it's not unusual to see the clock strike 2. So after I read Camille's chapters on the plane, I told her, "Get an agent," and then promptly conked out.]

Camille bravely continues after Randy’s interruption: So I went to my first large scale writer’s conference hoping to sponge up all I could about the craft and connect with people in the industry. I did learn and connect, much more than I had hoped. And I got a huge boost to my writing career. My novel was not finished, so like a good newbie, I had no delusions about pitching it. But after getting back surprisingly good critiques, this burning knot formed in my gut (which I knew couldn’t have come from the excellent food they serve) and I knew I had to pray down some nerve, take advantage of the opportunity and talk to an editor, which I did.

The editor asked me to send the entire manuscript when it was finished. Which was cool. So I got a little cocky and approached a couple of others and they asked for it too. If not for those requests, I probably wouldn’t have had a conversation with Randy on the flight home that convinced me I needed to get my act together and get an agent. I would probably still be debating whether I should shred or flush the novel. Or both. But, as it turns out, I finished the thing and entered it in a publishing contest sponsored by Mount Hermon and Zondervan. My novel made it to the final three (winner of the publishing contract to be announced at 2009 Mt Hermon). And it landed me an agent. I’ve decided not to flush it.

Randy: Mount Hermon is giving a great deal right now. Tell us about it.

Camille: Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference, coming up April 3-7 2009, has made a tremendous offer. If you have never been to this conference, and if you register to attend by April 1, and if you mention on your registration form that someone already registered (like me or someone else you know) invited you, you will receive $200 off the price of the conference!

The regular cost varies according to your room choice, it ranges from $845 and up, so minus $200 if you take them up on this offer and attend this 5-day conference for $645. This includes EVERYTHING: tuition, materials, accommodations, excellent food, snacks between sessions, and all the editor/agent appointments and high quality workshops, morning tracks and keynote evening sessions you would expect from a professional writer’s conference. The morning mentoring tracks are awesome too (10 students-to-1 teacher, intense daily critique sessions) but you need to sign up for those ahead and pay a little extra.

Check out the conference here: mounthermon.org

But even though it’s a professional conference, the atmosphere is casual, serene and inviting. Mt Hermon is a sprawling, secluded campground nestled into a gorgeous redwood forest and includes scenic hiking/running trails. The evening sessions are awesome, beginning with a sweet time of worship (I love it when hundreds of people from various places and backgrounds worship the Lord together . . . makes me think of what it will be like in heaven). The setting is beautiful, peaceful and inspiring! Of course, the company isn’t bad either. You’ll meet editors, agents and writers from every facet of the media. I made some great friends with whom I still keep in contact. It really is an awesome conference. I came away from it last year full, excited, changed and inspired.

If you sign up, I or the person you mention will get to share in the savings too. If you have never been to Mt Hermon and you register by APRIL 1 and give the name of the person who invited you, that person will also get $200 off our conference cost. I think this is a huge offer on their part, and certainly makes going to a high quality Christian writer’s conference more affordable for us all.

Are you up for it? I had the most amazing time last year. I hope you will consider going with such a huge discount being offered. It is well worth the price! Let me know if you decide to go on my invitation. I would love to see you there.

Randy sez: Thanks, Camille! I am already reviewing the manuscripts of the folks I’ll be mentoring at Mount Hermon and starting to get that “this is gonna be great, I can hardly wait” feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Folks, if any of you decide to take Mount Hermon up on this offer, remember to mention that Camille Eide sent you. Don’t tell them I sent you, because I’ll be a faculty member, so I am not paying any fees that Mount Hermon could refund. Whereas Camille is paying her way, and if you get a $200 discount through her referral, she’ll get one too. If you are already going to Mount Hermon and if you influence one of your friends to go who’s never been before, BOTH you AND your friend will get a $200 discount. This is a terrific deal.

Also, Mount Hermon, like many writing conferences, has a scholarship fund that can provide partial help to those in financial need.

You may be wondering if it isn’t too late to sign up. Nope. Every year at Mount Hermon, there’s at least one person who signed up for the conference THE DAY BEFORE IT STARTED, and I’ve seen it happen once or twice that somebody decided to go THE DAY OF THE CONFERENCE. At that late date, things are usually all full, but right now there are some openings. I hope to see some of my loyal blog readers there!

This year is an anniversary year for Mount Hermon, so they are planning to show some photos of events from years past. I have a gnawing suspicion that some photos from the infamous “Shaving Babbitt” scam which I ran six years ago may surface. However, if I can get my hush money payments in on time, maybe they won’t show those shots.