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.