Get Thee to a Writers Conference

Guest blog by James Scott Bell

jamesscottbellJames Scott Bell is a bestselling thriller writer and long time friend. His most recent release is Don’t Leave Me. He is also the author of the #1 writing books, Plot & Structure and The Art of War for WritersIf you do not have them buy them today (He has five other must-have books on writing too.


I am asked all the time by ambitious, up-and-coming writers what they should do to get in the game. I tell them to do three things:

 1. Produce the words.

 2. Study the craft.

 3. Attend a good writers conference.

 The first is non-negotiable, of course. The most important thing a writer does is write. But that should be accompanied by a study of craft, because it does no good to put down words if common mistakes are being made and bad habits ingrained. You study by reading books and magazines and good blogs, and getting feedback from people who know how to help you. Sometimes you pay such people. They are called freelance editors.

The third item on the list is the writers conference. Here, the writer not only gets access to professionals teaching workshops, but can network with like-minded scribes and soak in the vibes about what it takes to make it in this roiling, changing world of publishing.

Select your conference with care. Look at the list of faculty. See what their credits are. Try to find a conference that is of longstanding reputation. I teach regularly at two: the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and the Writer’s Digest Conference (now twice a year, once in New York, once in Los Angeles). These are both highly reputable and you can count on getting your money’s worth. Smaller, more local conferences can be of benefit as well. Check out the comments of former attendees.

To gain the full benefit of a conference, one must approach it strategically. Let me suggest the following:

1. Plan ahead. Make a prioritized list of who you’d like to meet, what speakers you’d like to hear, and the workshops you need to attend (determine to work on your craft as well as your marketing).

2. Make appointments. Sometimes you can sign up for these in advance. If you’re polite and professional, you may be able to set them up at the conference. Do not expect to get every appointment you want. You can follow up with a polite email afterward saying you’re sorry you couldn’t get together, mention the conference, and include a short pitch.

3. Always remember the two cardinal rules for the writer’s conference attendee: Don’t be dull and don’t be desperate. You should be able to tell someone, in thirty seconds or less, what your book is about, in such a way that the person can immediately see its potential.

4. Talk to other attendees. Don’t only focus on the celebrities or the industry people.

5. Don’t come off as “me me me” all the time. Listen to other people. Ask them what they’re writing.  Let the conversation flow naturally.

6. Keep your tech at bay. Don’t spend most of your time getting email, texting, tweeting. Be with actual people in the actual moment.

7. Don’t invite people into your social networking world right off the bat. Get to know them first. Remember, true networking is based on what you bring of value to the other person.

8. Jot notes on the back of business cards as soon as you can. Remember the key information you’ve gleaned from the contact. Mention it the first time you contact the person.

9. Be a match maker. If you meet someone who might be interested in someone else you’ve met at the conference, get them together. Your estimated value to both will increase.

10. Treat everyone with respect, including the staff. Your reputation radiates outward.

What’s the old saying? Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. You can get lucky that way at a conference. I recall two career-shaping conversations I had at conferences, outside the main hustle and bustle. One was with a fellow named Steve Laube, who was working for Bethany House at the time. That conversation turned into seven books with Bethany. The other was with Karen Ball, who gave me advice when I had a major publishing decision to make. She helped me make the right one.

I wish I knew where to find those two again. They seemed to know what they were doing.

So stop with the excuses. Save your pennies and get thee to a writers conference. The investment will pay off.




News You Can Use – Feb. 26, 2013

Buy Your Way onto the Bestseller List – Will the deceptive practices ever end? (The Wall Street Journal article link may not last without subscription so I linked to this blog instead.)

Instead of Physical Books at a Signing, e-book Vouchers – Let us know what you think of this new idea!

60% of All Audio Sold is Now Digital – Try to find the audio books section in your local store….this is why.

Amazon Penalizes Those Who Link to Free Books – Fascinating. Read this article carefully if you use the Amazon Associates program to monetize your web site.

Jeff Bezos’ Wife Publishing a Book…But Not with Amazon – There is all sorts of “interesting” in this article.

AOL is Still Making Nearly $200 Million on Dial-up Customers – And that is in just the 4th quarter! This bring back any memories?

Book Murals from Around the World - Fantastic Photos. I want the one with the steps leading up to my office.

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A Time to Mourn

by Steve Laube

Autumn Pine Forest

This past weekend was a time to mourn. We attended two family funerals here in Phoenix. The first for my wife’s grandma, Izora Weed. An amazing woman who was 101 when she passed. The second was my wife’s Uncle Ken Merrick who brings to mind many fond memories.

It has been a tough year. The loss of far too many family friends (including another this past week). My father last September. The family members mentioned above. And even our family pet of 16 years.

Loss after loss. Grief after grief. Before long it becomes a question of “How much more of this can we take?”

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Fun Fridays – Feb. 22, 2013

Have you ever had a similar, but virtual, experience while buying something online?
Very clever two minutes:

HT: Kim Moore

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Dear Editors

by Tamela Hancock Murray


Dear Editors:

When I first started writing, not for a letter grade in college, but in hopes of a paycheck — or at least a byline — I solicited you with many articles, devotionals, short stories, and book-length manuscripts. Each was posted with dreams of finding your favor. More often than not, you sliced those dreams with your pens of rejection.

And for that, I want to thank you.

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Down in the Valley

by Karen Ball

I see you

Imagine awakening one morning, not knowing where you are, utterly unable to move or speak. Imagine coming to the slow realization that you are in a hospital, and that the people all around you are looking at you and talking to you, but you can do nothing in response. Imagine doctors telling that, at the age of 43, you’ve suffered a stroke that has caused what they call “locked-in” syndrome, where your body is frozen but your mind is fully functional. Fully functional…and trapped. Imagine realizing that the only thing you can move is your left eye. That’s it.

One eye.

Such was the case for Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean Do–pronounced jhan doh–to his friends and family), a one-time editor of ELLE magazine. I’d never heard of him until I caught the fascinating docudrama, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  But get this: the movie is based on Bauby’s memoir. Written after he had the stroke! Remember, now, he can only move his left eye. That’s it. He cannot speak. Cannot respond in any way except to blink that one eye. And he wrote a memoir.

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News You Can Use – Feb. 19, 2013

What Kind of Reader are You? A Diagnostic Guide - An article from The Atlantic. Share which kind you are in the comments below!

10 Tricks to Make Yourself a Dropbox Master – If you don’t use Dropbox consider this article a nudge to use some form of cloud computing as a backup.

Lumio: A Modern Lamp With Infinite Possibilities - This is a link to a Kickstarter campaign for a very cool looking portable lamp. If you have a book lover in your family…think about Christmas.

How to Write While Managing a Full-time Job: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Time – Patrick Carr, one of our clients, wrote this great article for Writer’s Digest.

A Short Course in Line Editing – In a nutshell what an editor is looking for. Make their job easy and do this before you send in your draft.

Your Brand and the Marketing Rule of Seven – The marketing rule of 7 is that a buyer must receive seven impressions regarding your product before they buy. Is this still viable in your opinion?

Amazon KDP Select – Pros and Cons – An important place to start if you are considering using Amazon KDP to self publish your ebook.



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When You Hit the Wall of Discouragement

by Steve Laube


I recently received the following question from a client (an award winning author):
Is it common for an author to hit a wall of discouragement? To feel as though they’re working so hard for so little? To question why they’re doing this?

Unfortunately it is quite common. Doesn’t mean it aches any less. Sort of like getting old…everyone does and it aches, but it is a common malady.

I recently read a blog by a writer in the general market who wrote, “Why am I doing this? I work so hard for so little money only to have critics tell me I have no talent at all.”

It truly comes down to whether your calling is stronger than the frustration and anguish of the writing process.

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Fun Friday’s – Feb. 15, 2013

I want one of these for next year’s “Happy Pancake Day”!
One minute of ingenuity.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

by Tamela Hancock Murray

open book with red heart inside
Today is St. Valentine’s Day.

How appropriate for a literary agent who loves and represents lots of Christian romance novels!

Valentine’s Day is a favorite in our house. As a newlywed, I bought a heart-shaped cake on our first Valentine’s Day together to celebrate. Later, I bought a heart-shaped cake pan so I can bake a cake myself.  That first year I also cut my husband’s sandwich for his lunch into the shape of a heart. But he telephoned from work and said that my efforts made the sandwich too small! After all these years, I still like to treat him to an extra-special dinner and tie a balloon to his chair, though.

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