I’ve finally finished off this month’s edition of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine and sent it out, so I thought I’d do a quick blog while I still have brain cells left. I’ve been blogging lately about writing conferences and have now answered a TON of questions. I emailed uber-agent Chip MacGregor a couple of days ago to see if he’d be willing to do a little role-playing with me on a “typical” pitch for a novel. I’ll be pretending to be Tom Clancy pitching my first novel, A HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. We’ll do that next week sometime, so watch for it.
In the meantime, I’d like to answer more questions my loyal blog readers have posted about conferences. I deferred this one from Susan last time I blogged:
Question: Is the one-sheet usually written in first or third person?
Randy sez: I asked Meredith Efken for her opinion, and she said she thinks third person looks better.
I’ll confess that I’m not quite sure where I was in the lineup of questions that my loyal blog readers have submitted. I think the next question is this one, from Sally:
At what point do you begin to see a payoff from going to conferences? I’ve been to several, but feel I can’t swing the cost this year. Is it better to attend the same ones every year, so that you are a familiar face, or to try different ones to meet more people?
Randy sez: This is a little like asking when you’ll see a payoff from dating. You might meet Mr. Right on the first date, but you might not meet him until the four hundredth. There’s a bit of luck involved, but in some sense, you make your own luck. You simply never know when it’ll happen, and that’s what makes the Publishing Game every bit as scary and infuriating as the Dating Game.
I’ve said this many times: life isn’t fair. I don’t know how to make it fair. But here’s what I know. When I started writing, I went to a mid-sized regional one-day conference every year for 8 years. Nothing happened. I had some close calls with success, but never won the prize. Then I decided to start going to a larger national five-day conference every year. I committed myself to going to that same large conference every year until I got published.
The first year I met my buddy John Olson and made some friends.
The second year I made many more friends and watched as John came THAT close to selling a series of novels to a major publisher. Meanwhile, I generated no interest at all from the editors, although a couple of published writers did tell me my writing was good.
The third year, I made even more friends, including one who helped me make the vital connections I needed to sell my first (nonfiction) book. A few months later, I also sold my first novel.
The fourth year, I made many more friends and won the Writer of the Year award. That same year, John and I pitched an idea for a Mars novel to an editor there whom we’d been seeing for the past several years and who now knew we were in this for the long haul. Ultimately, we sold that book.
The fifth year, my first two books were finally available and I had actual factual books in the bookstore. That was the year I felt like a real author–when I had books I could hold in my hands.
Most of the above would never have happened if I’d stuck to my original habit of going to a small regional one-day conference every year. But NONE of it would have happened without the years and years I spent alone in my office typing on my computer and developing the skills I needed.
Writing fiction is a terrible, lonely, crushing business with no guarantee of success. There is no way to make that fact go away. I won’t lie to y’all and pretend it’s anything else. The odds are stacked very heavily against any novelist. What I have seen is that writing conferences improve your odds very strongly, if you develop friendships with other writers and with editors and agents.
But no conference anywhere can make anything a certainty. Getting published requires talent and hard work and luck. You are born with talent. You supply the hard work. But there’s not much you can do about that pesky luck.
Amy VR says
For the first time I somewhat “disagree” with you, Randy.
“But there’s not much you can do about that pesky luck.”
It’s like that old joke about the man who dies and when he sees God in Heaven says, “God, I was a good and faithful servant. I followed every commandment and lived an honorable life. And every day I prayed to win the lottery but you didn’t answer my prayer.” And God replied, “I heard your prayer… but you never bought a lottery ticket.”
I think we can “help” ourselves have good luck. We have to be proactive by working hard at our craft and getting out there in the writing world at conferences and such. Like you said, if you never went to the big conference year after year, you may never have sold your first book. I think there was only a tiny smidgeon of “good luck” in there… what really happened was 99% hard work and determination!
I forget who said it but I love this quote…
Often, the only thing that stands in the way of our success is the inability to stick to the plan long enough to achieve it.
Christina Berry says
Really, really enjoyed the newsletter, Randy. Truly LOLed about the flossing.
One of the highlights of the OCW conference was sitting down with an author I highly respect and idolize–in a very godly way, of course–and having him enjoy my work. Never would have happened if I hadn’t been at the conference and been willing to risk hearing my writing stunk.
Cecelia Dowdy says
I am a HUGE advocate of writers conferences. As a matter of fact, I was writing for five and a half years, attending the national RWA conference each year, before I sold a book. That first sale was the direct result of my meeting Tracie Peterson, an editor and multi-pubbed author. My second sale to Steeple Hill Love Inspired was the direct result of an editor appointment at a local RWA conference. I believe these contacts were highly instrumental to my landing those first two contracts. Each year, I would set up appointments with editors to pitch my novels. If the editor had no free appointments, I’d find out if they were leading any workshops, and approach them afterwards. People said I was bold to do so, however, you make your own luck. I’d NEVER approach an editor in the bathroom, though!
Karla Akins says
There are no guarantees in life. It’s the same with writing. I guess we just have to write because we have to write. It’s like a duck that has to swim in order to be a duck. And if we get the validation by being published, then that’s icing on the cake.
Sheila Deeth says
Just like the job-hunting game too. And at some stage it’s not just where will you commit your time but where will you commit your money. No conference this year.
Ann Isik says
Randy writes: Writing fiction is a terrible, lonely, crushing business …
Thank you for the honesty. It’s true. And if I may say so, after practising visual art for over 20 years,any HONEST artistic endeavour is incredibly difficult to achieve, never mind get noticed.
I think that much discontent comes when success is confused with fame. I would suggest that the artist/writer is called to do his work first to teach about his/her personal happiness and growth – to propel them along their own journey. To push them to find out who he or she is and what comes to them that they need to say. This is a personal and solitary road. Fame is a different thing, not necessarily connected with talent, even. Sorry I’ve made a speech!
Donald James Parker says
I agree with what Randy is advising concerning networking and building relationships and trust. Unfortunately the writing business seems to adhere to the old rule of “it’s not what you know but whom”. Of course, just knowing an editor/publisher is not going to get poor work published. That relationship can only open doors that otherwise would be hard to budge. In the world of secular writing I would jump on this bandwagon and smooze it up with the best of them. In my world, God is the one in control and I’ve decided to forgo the conferences etc. and just write what He wants me to produce. If he’s truly called and ordained me to write – the gates of hell aren’t going to stop me from succeeding. I was just prophesied over on Wednesday at a prayer meeting and the word was that God was going to open doors and I needed to be obedient to walk through them. Another service I was at a word was given that I felt was for me – that God would do the fighting and the person receiving the word was supposed to be still.
So I’m taking the higher road – despite conventional wisdom.
I hope all of you find that luck you need to break in!
I think I liked the funny Randy better.
Krista Phillips says
I think my opinion is somewhere between Randy’s, Amy’s and Donald’s.
I don’t believe in luck. I believe in God. Nothing happens by chance without God knowing it. I think there are a lot of writers out there, unpublished, that work and work and work and will never be published.
Was that God’s will? I have no idea. It could be that God wanted them to write, but not be published. I learn a lot from what I write, so even if no one else gets the privilege to read my awesome awe-inspiring words (LOL), I do. (and so does my mom…) hehe
Or, it might be that they have sat on their duffs for years, writing and writing, and not doing anything else. Instead of going to God, they wait for God to come to them.
I firmly believe that God requires action. He desires patience and wants us to wait on him, but we need to be in tune with God enough to GO when he says GO, and to WAIT when he says WAIT.
To copy Amy’s tactic of an old analogy, it’s like the story of the guy who lives in a house, and a storm is coming. He prays for God to get him out safely. The storm comes, and God sends all these people (I don’t remember the story detailed… I should listen better in church!), including a guy in a boat, and the dude just says, “Nope, I already prayed. God’s gonna save me. I don’t need you or your old boat.”
He ends up drowning and is at the gates of heaven and says to God, “I trusted you, I asked you to save me and you didn’t! What’s up with that?”
God Replies, “Ok, idiot, I tried! I even sent a boat! And I KNOW I didn’t make you blind… so you had to see it!”
The point is, God will send us ways to succeed, we have to be in tune with him to listen and grab hold. God can open a door and wave at me and say, “Krista, come on over!” But sometimes he wants us to trust him enough to obey his whisper, go up to a closed door that could be locked, and open it ourselves. It takes a lot more faith to try those closed doors than to sit there waiting for the big thunder boom of lightning.
“Knock and the door shall be opened”
“Seek and ye shall find”
“Seek first the Kingdom of God…”
(sorry for the forever long comment…)
Andra M. says
Sometimes the door God wants us to walk through is a writers conference – secular or otherwise. That is equally a “higher road.”
I’m on my fourth year going to the Christian Writers Guild conference in Colorado Springs. I haven’t sold anything yet, but sometimes that’s not the point. Networking can be part of it, but there’s also friendships with other writers to be built. The workshops available can many times be worth the entry fee. Every year I’ve gone, I spent the next three weeks mentally disseminating it all I learned so much.
In the meantime, I have mucho work to accomplish in polishing up my current works, and see what else I can write that will wow editors (hey, it never hurts to dream big).
Pam Halter says
Networking is vital to this business. And where do you meet people, make friends and contacts? A writer’s conference. Sure, you can sell your stuff without ever meeting an editor face to face. Absolutely, God is sovereign and if He wants you published, you will be. But there is responsibility on our part to learn the craft and be the best writer we can be. Isn’t it better to be able to see the teacher and talk with them and ask questions? You can’t do that with a “how-to” book.
Not that I’m saying don’t buy “how-to” books. They are important tools for a writer.
But you need a mix. Randy is right in that this can be a lonely business. It was for me until I met my writing partner at a conference. Now I write, but I have someone I can call or email anytime and talk things over with. We help each other, encourage, pray for, laugh with, cry with and my life is the better for her.
I’ve attended the same conference for 10 years. I’ve hit a few other conferences. I’d love to travel more and try out conferences where editors I want to meet are on faculty, but I have a special needs child. I simply can’t run around the country all during the year. That being said, attending the same conference is a good thing, but checking out other conferences can benefit you, as well. The key is to find the best place to present your work.
David A Todd says
I’ve attended five writing conferences the last six years, two different regional conferences and three different national conferences. The bad news is that no conferences of any significance are close to me. The good news is that gives me opportunity to travel to different conferences and meet different people.
The problem with conferences is time and money. How long can I dedicate a week of vacation each year to conferences, when the wife is really wanting to do other things? How long can I plunk down $1,200 a year on travel, registration, and board, to have met 3 or 4 people (at most) well enough to carry on a casual e-mail relationship, and those writers in the same situation as me?
It’s a tough business. I sometimes wish the bug hadn’t bit me.
Ann Isik says
I have one criticism Randy. You’ve forgotten to mention a critical prop: a small (pink) grenade of exploding pink Christian perfume (that includes you, Sam), which must be detonated at exactly the right distance from the editor, so he gets a good zapping. A that point, publication is guaranteed, is it not?
Ann Isik says
Oh no! I can’t believe I wrote the above. It woke up in the night! In case anybody is offended by my above remark, it’s meant to be a joke, after reading Randy’s latest hilarious column at Christianfictiononline.com. But anybody who hasn#’t read the oolumn won’t get the joke! Many apologies. I won’t write anything off-the-cuff for at least a month.
Donna Lechak says
I meet Randy at a writer’s conference. I appreciate his teaching and continued news letters. This were I was at the Great Philly Conference. I recieve a huge amount of encouragement, suggestions- like starting my story in a different spot. Networking will make a big difference. Two years ago I was introduced to people who were in a writer’s group only 1/2 hour from my house. If you are willing to be used of God, He may just use you to be that listener or encourager.
I had a great time. Thanks, Pam.