I’m continuing to answer questions on writing conferences. I’ve had the help of guest expert Meredith Efken in answering many of your questions over the last couple of weeks. Meredith has a great e-book out, the Writers Conference Survival Guide that covers all this stuff in depth.
So it’s conference ’season’ up over eh? I’ve been drooling over the ACFW conference schedule…
What other conferences are about?
I’m an Aussie, so drooling is about all I’m going to do for a few years. I’m looking at options now so that once I have a finished manuscript, I hope to make it to an ACFW conference. It covers my genre completely, includes many of the authors I avidly read, and every publisher that I would target, so I’m guessing it’s the one for me. Still, if you know of other conferences coming up, feel free to list them here so I can do some more drooling. We all know how important it is for writers to dream!
There are so many conferences in the US, it’s hard to choose between them. So those of you who are angsting over whether you’ll make a fool of yourself, take just a minute to be grateful that you can easily go to a conference near you. I have many loyal blog readers in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Europe, who would kill to have all your options.
As for which conferences to go to, I always recommend that a freshman start with a good regional conference near home. That will minimize your investment in time, energy, and money and yet will give you a good look into the publishing industry. There is a lot to learn, and you might as well learn it cheaply.
For sophomores, it’s not too early to pick a good national conference that is in line with your interests. The many Christian novelists who read my blog are often talking here about the ACFW conference (in September) and the Mount Hermon conference (in March or April). These are both great, and I teach at both every year, and usually 2 or 3 others. There are many other Christian writing conferences, such as Oregon (where I’ll be teaching next week), Florida (where I’ll be teaching in February), Colorado and Philadelphia and San Diego (where I have taught in years past), and a number of others.
However, many of my loyal blog readers are writing fiction for the general market, and there is a vast selection of conferences to meet your needs. If you write romance, then of course, you’ll probably be most interested in the RWA conference (I don’t know much about it, but I have many romance writer friends who’ve gone to this over the years, and one of my friends is a past president of RWA). Mystery writers have a number of conferences specifically for them, and the name I hear year after year from my mystery-writer friends is Bouchercon. Fantasy and science fiction writers also have some specialty conferences.
Writers in other genres can generally go to just about any non-specialty conference and get some value out of it. A number of years ago, I went to the San Diego State University conference, and out of that, I was invited to a continuing seminar with about 20 writers studying under Sol’s tutelage. Sol is one of the great writing teachers and I can still hear his voice in my ear whenever I lapse into narrative summary or backstory. When you hear me rail against these sins, you are hearing an echo of Sol.
The best resources for learning about conferences are WRITER’S MARKET (an annually updated book on publishers, agents, conferences, magazines, etc.) and WRITER’S DIGEST. Either of these will give you an encyclopedic list of your options.
As I noted above, most of these conferences seem to be in the US. There is not much I can do about this, except to commiserate with my many friends who are outside the US. I know that some conferences offer scholarships, and so I would recommend polishing your craft, saving your money, and waiting for the opportune moment.
Randy, I read somewhere recently that editors don’t read manuscripts, they read proposals. Isn’t it possible for an editor to be interested in a novel that is not yet completed, but that has a solid proposal?
Randy sez: Yes, but the amount of interest the editor will have depends on two things:
1) How good the writing is
2) How complete the manuscript is
Proposals are great, and you really do need one in order to get interest for your book. However, the best proposal in the world can’t save bad writing. It just can’t. The purpose of a proposal is to provide an editor with a summary of your book. It’s just quicker to read a 10 page proposal than a 400 page manuscript, plus the proposal is physically easier to carry around. In the end, the editor will make a decision based on the strength of the writing plus any marketing oomph you have–and you will describe that oomph in your proposal.
One thing all editors are wary of is the first-time writer who has three fantastic sample chapters but who has not yet completed the book. The fear is this: “What if those three chapters are the result of ten years of hard work with critiquers and editors? What if the writer doesn’t have the skills to write a whole book? What if this story doesn’t actually work? What if???” So the editor will almost never buy an incomplete manuscript from a first-time novelist. It can happen, but the smart money sez to finish the durn book.
I think we need a balance of writing well and pitching ourselves. I met with an agent at Mt. Hermon and she was considering saying no to something I had sent her before the conference UNTIL we met face to face. She asked me to simply tell her the story. And I did. After that, she said, well, that made all the difference. Send me 3 more chapters and a more detailed outline.
I’m still waiting to hear from her, but at least I had a second chance, and that was because I could tell my story.
On a happier note, I was asked for the full manuscript of the same story 3 months ago! Still waiting to hear on that, too.
Randy sez: Editors or agents tend to take you more seriously if they meet you at a conference than if you just send them something in the mail. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, when they meet you, you now have a face. You are no longer just ink on paper or electrons in an email. You are a human; they can see you; they can assess your passion for your writing. And passion can carry you a long way.
Second, when you have invested hundreds of dollars in airfare and conference fees, when you have taken time away from family and job, all to go to a conference, then you are a SERIOUS writer. Editors and agents take you more seriously at a writing conference simply because you are acting like a serious writer. This does not guarantee anything, but it is better to get to first base than to strike out. It just is.
Third, as you meet editors and agents at conferences, you will lose your fear of them. I am not exaggerating to say that many years ago when I started writing, I was terrified of the idea of meeting such High-Powered, Important People. Those who have been reading my e-zine for long know that I once suffered from Panic Disorder. I don’t any longer, but I did. And meeting editors and agents was high on my list of triggers for panic. But as I got to know these folks, sat with them at dinner, talked late into the night at conferences, and just watched them in action, I realized that they’re just people. They don’t acquire a Superman cape and tights when they become editors or agents. I know some editors who refuse to do lectures at conferences because they’re afraid of public speaking.
The longer you hang out with editors and agents at conferences, the more human they become, and the easier it is for you to talk business with them. Someday, when you’ve developed your craft, when you’re a Senior, when you’ve got a strong manuscript, and when you’ve lost your fear of talking to editors and agents, making your first sale will feel like graduating from high school did. It’s an achievement–an important milestone. But you’ll have earned it. And you won’t be afraid to take the next step.
That has happened to a large number of my friends and students. It can happen to you. It can. Writing conferences are part of that process.
I’ll be at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference Monday through Thursday of next week, so I may not have time to blog then. I always plan to blog at conferences, but it’s way more fun to talk to writers and editors and agents, so my good intentions usually go awry.