Wednesday, October 1, 2014

ACFW Conference 2014

The ACFW conference in St Louis is over and I’m home and trying to recuperate. It’s a fun, informative and exciting time, but it usually takes me a couple of days to rest up and downshift from all the energy that flows through the hotel.
            This year was especially nice since I didn’t need any appointments with editors or agents, or first meetings with my representatives. So I could hang around and visit with old friends and make new ones.
            I had a new perspective of the conference this time. I’m usually so stressed about pitching that I don’t fully embrace the other events taking place. This year I could stand back and observe. The First Time Attendees are easily spotted. The all wear the same wide-eyed, deer in the headlight expression. They look pale and usually stand with their backs to something, a wall, a chair, or even a few steps away from the people nearby. Those are the ones I sought out this year. I remember my first conference and even though I came with friends it was an overwhelming experience. So many people, so much information about how to get published, and so much I didn’t understand.
            I’ve been to some ACFW conferences where the disappointed people far out-numbered the happy ones people after an appointment. Editors turn down one sheets, or firmly explain that they only deal in romance not dystopian stories. This year however it seemed the happy stories were the norm. And there were a lot of first timers. I waited outside the interview rooms for a couple of them and they all came out with smiles and filled with excitement over requests for their work. Most of the people I spoke to had the same story to tell. Good interviews and requests for partial manuscripts or full.
            My little circle of friends all had good news to share after their interviews. And I don’t want to forget the workshops. This year offered a huge choice of helpful information for the new writer all the way to the multi-published who needs help with marketing or indie publishing.
            If this was your first conference I hope it went well and that you weren’t discourage. The secret is to come back again. Don’t let one not-so-perfect or negative appointment keep your from trying again. Each time you go you’ll be wiser, smarter more prepared and especially more comfortable. It takes time. Just like it takes time to learn how to write a book, or to make friends.
            We all start out thinking our book is special. We have a God given message and we’re on fire to share it with the reading public. If we could just get an agent or editor to look at it they would see the deep meaning and the brilliant characters we have created.  
            Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for reality to undermine all your excitement. At that point you start to realize that you need to attend that workshop on dialogue, the seminar on how to develop conflict and the class on what makes a good suspense. You begin to understand that there’s more to writing commercial fiction that you expected. There are rules and expectations and yes, requirements.
            Over the years, I’ve noticed a progression both in myself and others. It goes something like this:

First conference:  I’ve written a book. It’s great. The agents and editors are going to snap it up.
Second conference:  I don’t understand. Why don’t the agents and editors get it? My book is better than some that have been published.
Third Conference: That’s three years in a row that the editors said my writing isn’t strong enough and my ideas are too out of the box. But I believe in my story. I just have to persevere.
Fourth conference: (after workshops, critique groups, reading books on writing, eating a small slice of humble pie). Maybe I should change directions slightly. Maybe I should listen to what the editors and agents are telling me. Maybe my way isn’t the best way and my book isn’t the best it could be. I said I would never lower myself to – try a new genre – start a new story – submit to that publisher – but I guess I need to rethink my attitude and maybe I should write what’s selling instead of what I want.
Fifth Conference:  A First Sale ribbon.
            This example is a bit different currently because writers have the option of e-pubbing or self-pubbing. I won’t go into the pros and cons of that. It’s nice to have options. But first you have to learn to write. You need others to look at your work and point out the weak spots, the errors, the places where you need to change. You need to understand how the business works, and you need to learn how the conference can help you achieve your goals.
            I hope you had a good conference but if you didn’t, don’t give up. Study and learn and come back next year ready to try again.
            And if you run into me, I’ve got a hug here with your name on it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Just an Ordinary Pot

   We’ve all heard the term, “Winning is everything.” While it might not be everything the thrill of reaching that finish line, selling that first novel or achieving that first goal, is so exhilarating, we immediately crave that feeling again. That’s when the drive for ‘more’ takes over. We want to win more races, sell more books, achieve more recognition, and win awards. There’s nothing wrong with striving for success, but the truth is, not everyone is destined for greatness.
   This is when the nasty bug called comparison can kick in. It can strike any of us in any line of work. Competition in publishing is fierce. To succeed we’re urged to participate in social media to promote ourselves. Be on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Have a blog, a web page, do give-a-ways and newsletters, enter contests so you can add Award Winning to your resume. And of course write books.
   So for insecure writers, it’s easy to look at what other successful authors are doing and feel like you’re not measuring up. Sometimes, as I scroll through all the good news posted on Facebook by other authors I begin to feel like I’m not doing enough. There are authors who seem to be super heroes – they work full time, homeschool their five kids, write a daily blog, a monthly newsletter, serve as president of their local writers group and in their spare time teach100 other authors how to write a best seller. It’s enough to make me want to go throw a great big pity party. Woe is me. I’m not promoting enough. I’m not writing fast enough. I should write bigger books, issue oriented books, suspense books.
   It’s awards season in the publishing world – the time when the hundreds of contests held each year announce their winners. Winning an award can boost your career up several notches, especially if it’s a prestigious one. Some authors seem to win them by the truck loads. Nearly every book they write wins some kind of award.
   As Christians we know we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others, but it’s difficult not to at times. The truth is, not all writers are created equal. God has given us each a gift to use for his glory. Some of us will write big, epic novels. Others will pen gritty suspense, coming of age, or high adventure stories. And some simply want to write romance.
   I’ve been asked; don’t you want to write bigger books someday? Something significant? I always answer no. I love writing romance. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I don’t have the call to write women’s fiction, or delve into political issues or even to write a frenetically paced suspense.
   I confess to twinges of envy when I see others gathering awards like bunches of grapes and when I hear of authors who write six books a years as if it’s nothing. I’m a one at a time writer. It takes a great deal of thought, and hard work to get one plotted and written. If I allowed myself to get too caught up in what others are doing I’d quit right now.
   So what do I do? I keep a couple of Bible verses in the forefront of my mind. One is
Philippians 4:11  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
   I am content with my productivity. I’m working at a pace that is comfortable for my abilities, and my stage in life. More significant is the other verse I like. Romans 9:21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?
   My task may be to provide sweet romances for common use. And I’m good with that. As long as I do it for his glory, and make my stories reflect his heart I’m content. If any of my little stories are destined for a more special purpose then I’ll leave that in His hands.
   In the meantime, I’ll keep following the path he has laid out for me, and be extremely grateful and content. Not everyone gets to travel the way of publication.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Three Questions to Ensure Conflict

Ask any editor the main reason submissions are rejected and they will tell you - lack of conflict. My editors at Love Inspired tweet about it frequently, speakers expound on it. Books delve into it and seminars go on for hours about its importance. So how do you build in conflict from the start? Make sure you can answer these three questions before you start writing your book.

Why are Hero and Heroine the worst for each other?
These two aren’t supposed to be soul mates from the moment they meet. Even if there’s an attraction or a history, they should have reasons why falling in love is the last thing they want.
Example: A woman who lost her husband to violence would resist falling in love with a man who was a cop. A man would resist falling for the woman who broke his heart years ago especially if he has his children’s hearts to protect now.

Why is this the worst possible time?
Falling in love has to be the very last thing on the hero and heroine’s agenda when the book opens. Something more important is going on. Loss of job, loved one, being stranded, forced to assume care of child or relative. The growing attraction should complicate their situations, and add to their conflicted emotions.

What is the urgency?
Set a timer on your story. Force the hero and heroine into making a decision. Example: His leave is up at the end of the month. Her dream job in another city starts soon. Once her mother is better she’ll return home. If there’s nothing pushing them forward, then they’re simply dating and dating equals no conflict.

If you’re like me the word conflict always made me envision a hero and heroine bickering, and fighting each other at every turn. It helped when I changed the word “conflict” to “obstacles”.  The goal of any romance is to keep the couple resisting falling in love until the very end. They have issues they need to confront internally, realizations to come to about themselves and their choices, and they have outward problems to overcome before they can have that happy ending.
Make it hard for them to fall in love. Make it cost them something they want. Then the ending will be much sweeter for the author and the reader.