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.