Why Can’t I Go To A Conference?

By Michael Ehret

After a solid decade (almost) of regularly attending writer’s conferences, this year I’m not able to. Let me correct that: I’m probably able to, but the door to attend one has not opened for me this year.

My conference of choice, American Christian Fiction Writers, is even meeting within driving distance of my home and the keynoter is one of my favorite authors: Ted Dekker. But it’s not happening this year and I vacillate between being OK about it and being pretty ticked off, truth be known. Can you relate?

At last year’s conference, I got what I considered a pretty clear message from God about my writing. (See the details here and here.) “I’m inviting you into a new season of writing.”

Surely that would include attending my favorite writing conference? Seeing my favorite writing friends? Surely? Apparently not—and don’t call me Shirley.

Feel like this guy because you can’t attend
a writer’s conference?

Despite my efforts to pry that door open—or to find that ‘promised’ open window God provides when He closes a door (you know that’s not biblical, right?)—there’s no conference in my year.

Are you there too? Are you feeling left out? On the outside looking in? Not one of the cool kids? Bring your pocket-protector self over and have a seat. OK, you’ve got three minutes to cry and fuss and whine. I’m setting a timer. 3-2-1 Go!

Feeling better? No? Well, me either, but here are three things you can do if you’re not attending a writer’s conference:

1. Buy yourself a much-needed or long-desired writing resource.

One of my favorite
fiction craft books

One of my reasons for not being able to go this year is monetary. That may be a reason for you, too. And it’s a valid reason. Even though we’re writers, we still have responsibilities that we can’t just toss away. Am I right?

So, instead of buying a conference (easily upwards of $1,500 with registration, hotel, plane ticket, etc.), treat yourself to some resource you’ve been wanting and putting off. Maybe that’s a craft book. Maybe that’s a writing assist program like Grammarly or Scrivener. Maybe it’s a framed inspirational quote to display in your writing corner.

Just buy it. Feel guilty later if you must, but console yourself that (whatever it is) it’s far less than the cost of the conference you’re not going to.

2. Consider, oh, I don’t know, writing?

Wilma Rudolph, an American Olympic track and field sprinter who won three gold medals in 1960, once said: “Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle.”

You get that, right? The struggle is what makes the reward, when it comes, so sweet. So persevere in your writing. Take the time you’re not going to spend at your preferred writing conference, put your butt in your chair, and write.

Honor your gift and your calling—and, for your own sake, get lost in your fictional world. Bring life where there is no life. And if your sadness is overwhelming, choose to write the scenes where your hero and heroine face their Black Moments—and all seems lost.

All is not lost for them. You know it, as the creator, but they don’t. They are just living the day-to-day lives you, their creator, wrote for them … You’re getting the point right? You don’t need a hammer on the head, right?

3. If you can’t write, then pray for your writer friends who are attending conferences.

No, I’m not kidding. When you’re locked in a pity party, the best way to break free is to do something nice for someone else. So, if you can’t be there…then be there for your friends who are there.

Hold them up before the Lord. Pray for encouragement. Bravery. Their emotions. The editors and agents they’ll meet with.

Pray for the casual, unplanned for meetings around meal tables. The overwhelming feeling of the introvert writer who just can’t face another class or another “thank you, but this isn’t right for our house” appointment.

Be Aaron to their Moses.

If you do these three things, you’ll find the time goes much quicker, you’ll feel more productive, and you’ll be a blessing. And isn’t that better for everyone, including you?


Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian
Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a
marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for
The Indianapolis
News and The Indianapolis Star.

Hot Time in the Cool Mountains!

HOT time in the COOL mountains!
Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains”
Christian Novelist Retreat 

Retreat for writers wanting to learn more about the
craft and creativity of writing novels – all genres – contemporary and

October 18-22, 2015
Theme: Hope in the middle of faith and love. – I
Corinthians 13:13
unseasonably so – right now in these
but this too shall pass
And all that will be HOT in a few months is that book you’re working on
– or thinking about –
Time to improve it, work on it, brainstorm
it, get it critiqued,
enter it into a contest, and/or show
it to an editor/agent!
October is the peak season
for leaf color in the mountains of western North Carolina and the perfect time
for novelists to gather for inspiration, encouragement, improving skills and
practicing creativity. If you don’t have an idea in mind, we’ll help you find
that too.
Small, intimate group. Please register early. –
Ridgecrest: 1.800.588.7222
Ridgecrest/LifeWay Conference Center, Ridgecrest,
(twenty minutes east of Asheville—home of the
famous Biltmore House and Gardens)
All sleeping rooms and classes for the Novel
Retreat are in Mountain Laurel Hotel
Ridgecrest Novelist Pricing:
Program Fee – $325 full time
Program Fee – $120 for one day
Program Fee – $60 for one-half day
Mountain Laurel Lodging (per room, per night:
Single $69, Double $69, Triple $79, Quad $89
Meal Package – $96 per person (Sunday dinner –
Thursday lunch)
don’t come any better than these!
Lynette Eason (widely-acclaimed suspense writer,speaker,award)
Eva Marie Everson (FCWC director, best-seller,
Eddie Jones (author, speaker, publisher Lighthouse
of the Carolinas)
Yvonne Lehman (conference director 30+ years, 56
novels, 5 non-fiction, editor)
Torry Martin (anything
creative! author, actor, speaker, you name it!)
DiAnn Mills (50+ best selling novels, suspense,
multiple Christy winner)
Edie Melson (best-selling books, Guideposts
blogger, Social Media expert)
Robert Whitlow
(best-selling thrillers, movies, we’ll show his movie Mountain Top)
                           Diana Flegal (Hartline agent, speaker,
Lori Marett (award-winning scripts, DVD movie Meant to Be)
Ann Tatlock (adult and children’s books, multiple
Christy winner, editor LPC)
Deborah Harvey (music and worship leader)
(in addition to novel classes, we offer Social
Media instruction, script writing,
(for discounts: yvonnelehman3@gmail.com)
Mythic structure, archetypes, ideas, senses, social
media, compelling protagonist & antagonist, scenes, scriptwriting, movie
making, cozy mystery, point of no-return, writing as extended ministry,
seat-of-pants suspense, top ten mistakes, comedy for stage & screen,
romance, query letter, cover blurb, changing state of publishing, character
arc, plot, tension, Goodreads/Pinterest/etc., write for your life, dialogue,
successful critique groups, advanced characterization, synopsis, dialogue that
sings/dances/plays piano, genre & brainstorming
Inspiration, encouragement, association, great food
(you don’t have to cook and wash the dishes!), classes in one building,
beautiful spacious rooms, indescribably beautiful views, maybe a black bear or
so, bookstore, signings, Moments presentations and opportunities, one-on-one
with faculty whether or not you pitch…just discuss,
writing time, worship, music, fun, laughter

Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning,
best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and
directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is
now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She
mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s Degree in
English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative
Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks for
Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong series
set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love, Seeking Mr.
(released in March, August, & November 2013). Her 50th novel
is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC

It Came From Under The Stall: How Not To Impress Editors, Agents and Other Writing Professionals

by Thomas Smith

Gather ‘round children, I’m going to tell you a little story.

Once upon a time there was a very nice agent. She devoted a good bit of her time to attending conferences in order to help fledgling writers and scout potential new talent. After one particularly long day of teaching workshops, sitting on panels, taking fifteen-minute appointments and generally “doing the agent thing,” nature called. As she settled in for the first private moment she’d had to herself all day, she heard a voice from the next stall.

“I sure am glad I finally found you. Your appointment list was full, and I’ve got this novel I want you to take a look at.” Not two seconds later, a large manila envelope came skidding across the tile and came to rest on her brand new Franco Sarto slingback.

Sad but True

This tale would be hilarious if it wasn’t true. Unfortunately, there are agents reading this column right now shaking their heads and reliving a similar moment from their own past. And while such a “marketing ploy” is sure to make an impression, it’s probably not the impression you are hoping for.
It’s not uncommon for writers to make the leap from friendly conference attendee to goggle-eyed lunatic at the mention of the words agent or acquisitions editor. From outlandish claims about their writing projects (“This will be the next Left Behind”) to downright bribery (Yes, there have been $5, $10, and $20 bills clipped to query letters … and no, they weren’t mine), there is something about an encounter with an editor or agent that brings the oddball gene out of its dormant state in even the most level headed people.
Equally frightening are the writers who run headlong into reality and don’t know how to deal with it. These are the folks who meet an editor or agent for the first time and expect a line edit and an in-depth discussion about the manuscript they brought with them or they come in with a piece of uncommonly bad writing and find out (though generally in a kind way) that their masterpiece may need a little more work. Such an encounter has been known to make said writer a little cranky. Sometimes cranky enough to tell the offending writing professional exactly what they can do with their red pen. 
And while such an attitude certainly makes a lasting impression, it is probably not the one you want to make. Publishing is a small universe, and if you tick off an editor at one publishing house, and he/she moves to another house, you now have a bad reputation at TWO houses.
God Told Me…
Also, be warned: A one-on-one meeting is not the only way to breach the boundaries of good agent/editor etiquette. A less than well-placed query letter or proposal can do the same thing. Take for example a classic letter that opens something like this:
“Dear editor, God told me to write this story and He also said I should send it to you and you should publish it…” OK, with a show of hands, how many of you out there have a similar letter in your files? Um-hum, I thought so.

There is a response to this letter floating around out there, and I imagine there are many people who wish they had used it. The editor, having seen the story from God letter one too many times, evidentially said:

“Dear Writer: While I thank you for thinking of our publishing company we will not be able to use your story. Since God wrote the best selling book of all time, I can only assume He can spell better than what was evident in you manuscript…”

Now let’s have a show of hands from those of you who have ever written such a letter. (Wait, you there in the green socks … get that hand up). Not many, but a few.

The Road to Professionalism
So … how does the average writer
get in an editor or agent’s good graces? It’s not as difficult as you may

First, be respectful. Remember the magic words, please and thank you. And don’t forget the advice given by every card-carrying mother on the planet: mind your manners.

Don’t call editors and agents by their first name unless invited to do so. For example, “Mr. Laube, may I speak with you for a minute or two about the project I’m working on?” will probably make a more favorable impression than, “Hey Stevie-Boy, hang on a minute and take a look at this proposal while I go get some lunch.” 

Here’s another tip: Don’t carry a full book-length manuscript with you to your meeting. Most
agents and editors don’t want to have to carry a stack of manuscripts with them
on the plane. If they are interested in your project, they ask you to mail or
e-mail the manuscript to them.A proposal and first three chapters is sufficient.

In short, act like a professional, even if you aren’t one … yet.

When communicating via mail or e-mail, keep the letterhead simple, professional, and as error-free as possible. No garish colors of fancy fonts.

When dealing with these nice folks in person, bring a clean, well-edited manuscript, proposal, one-sheet, or whatever is requested. Make sure it is formatted properly and meets their criteria (number of pages, etc.).

Think about what you want to say even before you arrive at the conference, or before you write that query letter. Have a clear image of the heart of your story in mind before you actually make the pitch. Then practice your pitch. A lot. Doing otherwise could very well scuttle your project in a matter of seconds. A seasoned editor or agent will know in less than a minute how much thought you have put into your idea.

When dealing with writing professionals, having a polite, professional bearing can carry you a long way. Accept criticism graciously, and always thank the other person for her/his time.If an agent or editor sees the potential in you and your work (you are, after all, a package deal), they will work with you to make the project the best it can be, and to help you become the best writer you can be.

You see, bad writing can be fixed, but a bad first impression is much harder to overcome.

NR: To be entered in a drawing for a copy of SOMETHING STIRS, leave a comment. U.S. residents only, please. The winner will be announced on Novel Rocket’s Facebook page tomorrow. Be sure to like us there! http://www.facebook.com/pages/Novel-Rocket/129877663761335?ref=hl

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. His supernatural suspense novel, Something Stirs, is available at a bookstore near you. In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Find Thomas onTwitter and Facebook

Snippets from ACFW Conference

At the recent American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Dallas TX, much wisdom was shared in the 31 workshops, six continuing education sessions, and two keynote addresses from Michael Hyatt, author of the book Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World.

If you have never attended this conference, put it on your bucket list. The time and money are well spent. As the editor of the ACFW Journal, I coordinate coverage of the conference, assigning sessions to various volunteer reporters. Some of the highlights I’m sharing come from my experience, but others come from members of my corps of reporters.

Hyatt’s first keynote address 

Michael Hyatt

After referencing Ecclesiastes 7:10 (Do not ask, “Where have all the good times gone?” Wisdom knows better than to ask such a thing. The Voice translation) he said:
“We often get stuck in a version of how things were and we pine for the old days. But they aren’t coming back. In the future you will look back on this day and think of it as the good ol’ days. You are living in the good ol’ days. God is doing a new work today and you have the privilege of being a part of it.”

Then later:
“One of the reasons your role (as a writer) is so important is we live in chaotic times. People desperately need stories to sort out the meaning of what they’re experiencing. (They need) a way of thinking about the world to help them make sense of it.

“What do you choose to do with the gift—the future—you’ve been given? Will you lean into it and believe that God is with you?”

Karen Ball on voice

Karen Ball

From Lee Carver’s notes: Find your voice by writing a lot. Do not try to sound like someone else, or compare your voice to another writer. Maintain your voice despite critiques and edits. Don’t be caught up in others’ opinions of “You should write it this way.” You are unique.

Allen Arnold/Jim Rubart on living free

From Lacy William’s notes: Arnold urged attendees to “Hold on loosely.” Rubart phrased it this way, “We have to die to all of our dreams, all of our passions, so we can be reborn.”
If writers are to write free, Arnold said they must be willing to give up control. “If God has called you to be an author, He is going to take care of that (selling your book).”

Mary Sue Seymour on getting published

From Donna Schlachter’s notes: “Digital books and the e-book market have opened the publishing market wide for many authors who wouldn’t ordinarily be published.” Seymour also noted most new publications are available as e-books.

Kathleen Samuelson on retailers

Kathleen Samuelson

From Lacy William’s notes: Many authors find retailers and retail employees standoffish, preoccupied, and indifferent. The reality is, Samuelson noted, many are overworked and underpaid. They want to align themselves with authors and the author’s message. “The retailers are your tribe,” she said. “Once a relationship is developed, these people can be your biggest evangelist.”

Chip MacGregor on proposals

From Linda Matchett’s notes: “Too many authors spend three or four years writing and only three or four minutes on their proposal,” said MacGregor. “Many of the proposals I get look the same. You need to stand out.

“Don’t be in a hurry. This is art. If you are a writer, you are an artist and it takes something to ask people to pay for art.”

Want more?

ACFW’s ezine Afictionado will have stories on these sessions and more. Publication date is scheduled for October 15. You do not need to be a member of ACFW to read the ezine—but becoming a member will help you on your publishing journey in many ways.

To read the ezine when published go the ACFW Journal page, then click on ezine in the right navigation. If you go there now, you’ll see last year’s conference ezine.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor/writer at WritingOnTheFineLine.com, where each Tuesday he takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.