by Tamela Hancock Murray
The recent ACFW conference (attended by nearly 700 writers and industry professionals) has writers, agents, and editors in overdrive as we all attempt to follow up on conference proposal requests. Writers are working feverishly to get proposals to editors. Some are thinking, “Surely the editor who seemed so excited about my proposal is checking email at least once or twice a day looking for it. I must, must, must get the proposal out today!”
Not so fast
Our word is our bond, and we feel responsible when we promise to submit a proposal as soon as we can. Accountability is to be commended. Editors and agents appreciate conscientious writers. However, most of us are looking for a writer’s proposal under certain conditions, and those conditions are usually quite urgent in the careers of writers already established with us. From my perspective, conference requests are different. Here are a few examples:
1.) The editor seemed so excited! Why did I get a email form letter rejection ten minutes after I sent my proposal?
This writer received what I consider a courtesy request. Think about it: no one likes to reject someone face-to-face. It is not easy to tell a person you’re not interested in a novel she’s worked on for months, perhaps even years. And it may be that you never showed them a stitch of your actual writing but only a one sheet or gave a pitch in a hallway. The softhearted editor probably liked the writer as a person, but used the quick form letter rejection to convey a hard truth after the fact.
2.) The editor seemed so excited about my one-sheet! Why did I get rejected?
The reasons are legion (see #1), but a one-sheet, while useful, has its limitations. Writers spend considerable time on one-sheets, honing to perfection. And the plot promised on the one-sheet is indeed delivered in the book — a plot perfect for the editor’s house. However, if the writing doesn’t sparkle, a perfect plot will not garner a contract.
3.) The editor seemed so excited by everything about me! Why haven’t I heard back from my submission after all this time?
Cyberspace is both an exhilarating and frustrating place to work. Few have any idea what it is like on the editor’s side of the desk. During the conference they can focus on the event and the people in it. But back in the office there are dozens of pre-existing issues and new hurdles that prevent the editor from responding immediately. The new submissions are rarely at the top of any editor or agent’s to-do list.
At any conference, we’re running on coffee/diet soda/no sleep/adrenaline/unfamiliar food and we all want to make the best impression we can upon one another. And we are all pretty pumped. Editors and agents want to find the next bright star, and we want to be excited about you and your work. So please forgive us when reality’s glare forces us to send you bad news after you return home.
My best advice is to be sure to follow up on any and all conference requests with your most superb work. Your agent will help you ensure your work is the very best it can be to submit to editors. When you receive feedback, take it seriously. Continue to write and hone your craft. Even if a conference doesn’t result in a contract this time, you have still made valuable and meaningful connections with writers, editors and agents. Persistence and willingness to learn are key. Any conference is only a part of the larger picture in your career. That’s my perspective. What’s yours?