Writing Tip — When Your Writing Conference Plans Go Awry

worried-girl1-413690_1280You have decided you want to pursue publishing. You registered for a writers’ conference, researched the editors and agents who will be attending, and signed up for interviews with ones who represent your kind of work. You have all the appropriate materials ready and have polished your manuscript until you need sunglasses to read it.

Then you get to your interview and are told:

“You don’t have a platform? All writers must have a platform.”

“The market is very soft right now for … (YA Christian fiction, historical fiction, vampire romances, YA historical vampire romances, etc.)

“You’re writing isn’t quiet … there yet.”

You get home from the conference, crushed. What now?

First, you need to decide if you still want to get published. If publishing would suck all the joy at of writing for you, keep it as a hobby, something you pursue to satisfy yourself and those you wish to share it with. That’s how I regard the poetry I post: it’s fun writing I can share to connect with readers.

If you decided you need to be published, take a deep breath. Rejection at your first conference is not the end of the journey. To paraphrase Steve Laube of the Steve Laube Agency, pinning all your hopes and dreams on one or two interviews is too much pressure for you and the editor or agent.

When you get home, take a break from your writing, get back into your old routine, and after a few days, or even a week, revisit the advice given to you in the interviews. Above all keep this key advice in mine:

Take the advice professionally, not personally

The agents and editors know nothing about you. They give their advice based on their expertise in the business and your writing. Rejection of your writing is not a rejection of you as hard as this is for a writer to understand since we put so much of ourselves in our writing.

Process the advice like you would if you received it from a plumber who is trying to fix a problem with your pipes and offers several solutions.

Do you need a platform? Investigate what you can accomplish in that area. Is your writing not “there” yet? Read writing manuals or take online courses.

Or don’t take the advice if you don’t think it’s feasible or doesn’t really apply to you. I had an agent tell me to try writing romantic suspense because YA Christian fiction is a hard sell now. I have never read romantic suspense. By the time I became familiar with the rules of the genre and wrote a whole novel, its popularity might have waned. Besides, I have no interest in romantic suspense. So this advice doesn’t work for me.

If you have attended a writers’ conference, what advice would you give for handling rejection?


Writing Tip — The Best Way to Prepare for an Agent Interview

african-american1-3370087_1280At any writing conference, the interview with an agent, or editor, is the most nerve-wrenching, anxiety-ridden, nightmare-inducing few minutes a writer will have. The best way to prepare for an agent interview, and reduce the nerves, anxiety, and nightmares, can be boiled down to one piece of advice: give ’em what they want.

If you have never attended a writer’s conference, I need to explain that usually your attendance fee covers the opportunity to schedule appointments with editors and agents. You pitch your writing project in the hopes someone will want to work with you to get it published. Each conference has its own rules about how many interviews you can get and how long each is.

For the American Christian Fiction Writers conference, all the editors and agents are listed on the conference page with what kind of writing they want to see and what materials you need to bring to the interview. You sign up when you fill out your attendance form. You may ask for as many as eight appointments, but you only get two to four, and you don’t know who you will be seeing until you arrive at the conference. Another conference I attended only allowed you to sign up when you arrived at the venue.

No matter what the rules are, you must research the people you want to see to find out what they want. One agent might want to read your first chapter. Another might want a 1-page synopsis. Another requests a one-sheet. If you don’t know what a one-sheet is, click here. Because I don’t know who I am going to see at ACFW until I arrive at the conference, I have to prepare a lot of materials, so I have exactly what the editor or agent asked for.

I also research what kind of writing the editors and agents want. Usually it’s listed on the conference site, but you can also check out the sites of the publishing houses and literary agencies these people work for. I write Christian YA. Not a lot of agents represent that. So I only sign up for the agents who state on the conference website that they are looking for it.

The Genius Myth

There is a myth, perpetuated by Hollywood, I believe, that a genius of the arts, whether in writing, music, or visual arts, makes it to the big-time by breaking all the rules because they are so talented they don’t need to follow the rules.


I’ve been to enough conferences to realize that if I don’t follow the rules, no one in the publishing industry will want to work with me. Pitching a YA novel to an agent who only represents nonfiction will get me nowhere and will show the agent I am not professional. Writing is an art; publishing is a business. Editors and agents set up these rules because they are looking for writers with whom they can have a successful business relationship. Even if they personally love my writing, they will not take me as a client if they don’t think they can sell my work.

So if the agent you want to meet says bring me three sample chapters, you do it. If she only wants adult novels, you do not sign up so you pitch your self-help book. If she wants to you dress up as the main character of your scifi dystopian novel for the appointment, as unlikely as that is, you do it. Or if you think that’s ridiculous, you don’t do it. This business relationship is a two-way street. So many writers are so desperate to break into publishing that they will take any agent who offers them a contract. But you don’t want to get stuck with an agent you can’t stand. I have had interviews where I get a very strong feeling I would not work well with this person’s particular personality.

If you have had interviews with agents and editors at conferences, what advice would you give writers attending a conference for the first time?


Monday Sparks — Writing Prompts: In the City Under the Dome …

IMG_8967I just returned from the national conference of the American Christian Fiction Writers in Nashville. The conference was held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort. Over 2,000 rooms and three giant conservatories filled with plants are covered with gigantic domes, which means the climate is regulated to perfection. The photo above shows a boat with tourists who are being told about the surrounding plants. A restaurant sits above it. I did not take this photo outside. This entire river scene is under the dome.

The man-made river encircles a man-made island with shops and walkways, as you can see in the photo below.IMG_8969

This artificial city got me to thinking about speculative fiction stories set in cities under  domes. Like in the scifi movie Logan’s RunOr more creepy, the home of Prince Prospero in Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Read Death. In that story, the evil prince of a land ravaged by plague holes up in his abbey with a few hundred best friends, and they party it up while disease runs its course and wipes out the rest of the population.


If you wrote about life in the city under the dome, what would be the reason for sealing off the population? Who would be your main character?



Writing Tip — The One Reason for Attending a Writers’ Conference

paperw-3094008_1280I know a lot of people think the writers’ conference season is in the summer. But the ones I’ve recently attended have all been in the fall, so I am dedicating my blog for September to conferences.

If you love writing and have been working on your art for awhile, you may have been considering attending a writers’ conference. For me, there’s just one reason: you want to get published.

Although conferences offers classes on how to improve you art, they exist primarily to connect writers with people employed in the publishing industry. If you re focused on developing your writing skills, don’t go to a conference. Takes classes at a college or online or at an arts center. Read books on the subject. Join a writers’ group. Most conferences don’t offer enough classed on the art of writing to justify the expense if that is where your focus is.

Most writers attend a conference to pitch their work to  agents and editors. The fact that you have spent time and money to take part in a conference shows agents and editors that you take getting your writing published seriously.

Another benefit is networking with fellow writers. I had the unexpected pleasure of bumping into Jen Turano at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Dallas last year. We connected because we attended the same high school, several years apart, and our dads both worked their. I’ve corresponded with during the past year.

What if you’re unsure about whether to pursue publishing? Find a small, local conference within your means. The first ones I attended were located in a large city that was only a two-hour drive from my home. The conference only lasted one day, so I didn’t have to spend money on a hotel room.

Research the conference. If this is its 15th annual meeting, then it is well-established. Check up on the faculty. What are their credentials for teaching? Make sure the conference offers the kind of classes you want. Does the conference offer appointments to meet agent and editors? Do they come from reputable firms? Do they represent the style of work you write?

The more research you do, the more you will benefit from a conference.

What conferences have you attended? What advice do you have for someone who is a first-time attendee?

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