Author Tamela Hancock Murray

Conquering Conference Jitters

conference-jitters

Next week the annual American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference is upon us. While this particular conference is one of the largest in our industry (over 700 will be there in St. Louis), writers can become nervous before going to even the most intimate conference. We all want to make a good impression and show other industry professionals our best. You have already prayed and handed the conference over to the Lord, so here are a few more tips based on questions I’ve been asked over the years:

1.) What do I wear? 

Each conference has its own personality and you’ll need to adjust accordingly. For instance, hiking across a college campus during a spring rain shower requires different clothing than staying indoors at a five-star hotel. Visit the conference web site to glean as much information as you can about what you might expect concerning accommodations and weather. For any conference, the best rule is to select clothing that makes you feel great. Comfortable, flattering clothes that show polish are easily available at different price points. No agent or editor I know encourages writers to spend a fortune on conference clothing. Look in your closet. Chances are excellent that you already own clothes that are right for you to wear. If you’re still unsure, it’s hard for women to err with a simple dress or a blouse or sweater with dark slacks or a skirt. Men can’t go wrong with a presentable shirt and trousers. Both men and women can add a blazer according to personal style.

2.) How do I use my one-sheets?

Conference veterans know about one-sheets, through which authors present their stories, photo, bio, and contact information on one page. Editors and agents often take these home with them, but few will accept chapters and full proposals. Imagine toting fifty full proposals back with you on a plane! However, it doesn’t hurt to have a few pages of your manuscript, and even the full proposal, printed for the agent or editor to peruse during the appointment. Having a writing sample available might help the conversation.

3.) What contact information should I take with me?

If you already have an agent put your agent’s contact information on the one-sheets and the sample chapters you use for editors. This is because an editor usually prefers to contact the agent about a manuscript.And talk to your agent before you go to make sure you are both on the same page with what you are pitching to editors, and even deciding which editors you should see.

Make sure you bring a nice stack of business cards…with your picture on it. That will help when meeting other authors and editors in hallways and at meals. This is a good way to help folks remember you. Some authors are even putting their Twitter handle on their business card. And a few published authors will put the cover of their book on the back side of the business card which can be great advertising! Steve Laube says that each night he gathers whatever one sheets and business cards he collected, and along with that day’s schedule he makes notes in his Moleskine notebook so that he can reconstruct the items that need followup and the people he met. This could be one way for you to absorb all that you heard each day.

4.) What should I strive to achieve during my appointments?

Get to know an industry professional. The one-sheet is not your do-or-die document. A one-sheet will give you talking points and something to present to the editor, but really, you are demonstrating a little bit about who you are. You want to convey your business style and show the editor or agent you are easy to work with, professional, and that you are willing to do as the Lord leads to be a successful published author. I highly recommend you read Steve Laube’s advice on “That Conference Appointment” before you go.

I wish you great conference success, fellowship, and fun!

 

 

 

 

 

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Saving the World, One Romance at a Time

Often I will receive submissions of novels tying in an element of mystery and suspense with romance. Writers targeting the romantic suspense market will find difficulty in placing this type of story. Why? Because romantic suspense readers have certain expectations that won’t be met with a mere element of mystery and intrigue.

In my experience trying to sell and market romantic suspense, I have found that the readers of this genre want all-out adventure and crime solving along with compelling romance. The suspense is foremost, with the romance being tied in so deeply that the story won’t survive without it.

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He Said. She Said.

A blog reader recently left an excellent comment on an earlier post:

Tamela, fiction workshop presenters taught me that the best word for “said” is “said”–that others only tend to slow down the reader’s eye. I’d appreciate a discussion on this.

While I don’t know the workshop presenters in question, what I can guess they meant is to avoid substituting creative verbs for “said” as a tag. For example:

“Cyrus, tell that joke about the tortoise and the hare,” the cowboy chuckled.

“This caviar is not up to my standards,” the dowager sniffed.

These tags aren’t without merit, because they do help convey the emotions and actions of the characters. In fact, they could even be expanded into effective action tags. At the least, simple punctuation would keep these characters from performing the improbable task of sniffing and chuckling words:

“Cyrus, tell that joke about the tortoise and the hare.” The cowboy chuckled.

“This caviar is not up to my standards.” The dowager sniffed.

So why would fiction workshop presenters tell writers to use the word “said” as a tag? I would say that there is a time and place to use a simple tag. In a fast-paced scene, a simple tag will keep the action flowing. For example:

“Get the gun,” Bruce said.

“What?”

“I said, get the gun.”

“Why?”

“Don’t ask questions,” Bruce said. “Just do as I say. Now.”

In a case such as this, complicated action tags could slow down the rhythm and urgency of the scene, distracting the reader rather than adding to the story. The “said” tag is used infrequently to help the reader keep track of the conversation.

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A Matter of Perspective

During a recent visit to my local bank, I produced a document bearing the Virginia State seal. The banker commented on how terrible the seal is for men.

What an odd thing to say!

Mrs. Judith Gue taught third grade at the small private school I attended in a bucolic part of Virginia. Mrs. Gue was a plump woman who favored silk dresses, kept a paddle on her desk as an unspoken and ever-present threat, smoked cigarettes like a fiend and had also taught my mother. She relished the first story in the Virginia history book, about how Sir Walter Raleigh covered a mud puddle with his cloak so his queen’s feet would not be sullied. Pride filled her voice when she shows us the seal, speaking of “Victory over Tyrants” for our great state. The woman depicted is the Roman Goddess Virtus, the goddess of virtue, and the defeated man is a tyrant. I have my doubts that the men responsible for the seal, designed in 1776, were raging feminists.

I said to the banker, “You’re not a native, are you?”

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Coming Full Circle

by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Today’s guest blog is from Kim Vogel Sawyer a best-selling author whose books have topped the sales charts and won awards since 2005, when she left her elementary school teaching job to write full time. Her books have won the Carol Award, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and the Inspirational Readers Choice Award. Her stories are designed to offer hope and encouragement to her readers. Kim sees a correlation between the writing of a good story and God’s good plan for every life, and she hopes her stories encourage readers to seek God’s will in their own personal lives. Bestselling author Tracie Peterson says: “Kim Vogel Sawyer is an exceptional storyteller who is sure to please fans of historical fiction. Her attention to detail and love of God shines through.”

In addition to writing, Kim Vogel Sawyer is a popular speaker, freely sharing her testimony of God’s grace and healing-both physical and emotional-in her life. She and her husband Don reside in Hutchinson, Kansas, and have three daughters and four grandchildren. She is active in her church and loves singing, acting, playing handbells, quilting, and chocolate!

__________

In 2002, as my health was crumbling to the point that full-time teaching was no longer a possibility and I didn’t know what I was going to do, my dad–feeling as though I needed a major lift–took it upon himself to make my publishing dream come true. He sent a story I’d written, titled A Seeking Heart, to Steve Laube, who, at the time, owned a self-publishing company called ACW Press. And Steve agreed to help me get it into print.

Thus began a journey beyond the scope of my wildest imaginings.

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Responding to Criticism

When someone tells me she’s not sure she wants me to read her manuscript, I know she’s not ready for publication. Such sentiment shows a lack of confidence and a fear of both rejection and criticism. Even though readers usually treat writers with respect, a critical word can puncture the heart.

Imagine the wounds delivered on Internet sites such as Amazon from readers who lack that respect. A major complaint I hear from distraught authors is that people download free Christian novels and then post hostile reviews. A cursory bit of research reveals some say they felt duped because they didn’t realize they were downloading a Christian novel. It is likely they just grabbed it because it was free and did not look at other reviews or the book’s description. These readers aren’t victims of duplicity, they were, at the very least, lazy and then blamed others when the book wasn’t to their taste. Unfortunately the temptation is for the author to strike back with a serrated reply.

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Tag, You’re It!

One of the most common habits I see burdening stories is overemphasis on conversational tags, which goes hand in hand with not making good use of action tags. Here’s an example I just made up:

“No,” she exclaimed. She looked at the the pot of stew bubbling the stove and saw red juice splattering. She began to stir.

Unable to resist multitasking, I demonstrated several bad habits in the above sample of poor writing.

First, punctuation. When a character exclaims, use an exclamation point.

“No!”

“She exclaimed” adds no new information unless you need to designate a character from several so in almost every case, omit it. Same can be said for tags such as “said” and “asked.” In fact, “asked” accomplishes nothing because the question mark says it all.

Any tag should reflect what the character is saying. “He’s a slippery snake,” she hissed, trumps, “What a viper,” she hissed. If in doubt, entertain the office cat. Read sentences aloud to make sure the tag works.

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Bon Voyage — or A New Adventure?

On Monday, Barbour Publishing informed the industry that they will be discontinuing their Heartsong Presents imprint. After 18 years and 1,000 titles, it will end its run in December 2011. Publishing has always been fluid. Steve Laube says that it is important to stay flexible because “A publisher can dramatically change directions after a meeting on Tuesday.”

I never thought Heartsong Presents, a line for which I proudly wrote, would collapse. Ever. But their line isn’t the first. Remember, for instance, Palisades? Or Alabaster? Both of those romance imprints were published by Multnomah but abruptly disappeared. Or the Three Rivers imprint or the Jan Dennis imprint at Thomas Nelson (both of which ended on the same day in the 80s). Many times a writer has been waylaid as these situations changed for them, sometimes in mid-contract.

If you are an author whose line has been discontinued, you must summon the courage to take the next step. This is where your agent can be invaluable. 

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More Convention Highlights!

As you know from reading our own Steve Laube’s excellent insights on this blog about ICRS, the days were busy, exciting, and invigorating. The convention confirmed our optimism about Christian publishing’s bright future.

I’ve been to the convention a number of times and have always been blessed. This year, it took place in Atlanta, a lovely city that offers hot, sunny, humid weather. My biggest challenge was trying to keep my hair presentable.

A writer following ICRS news would think this event has shrunk to nothing, but in fact, the Convention Center overflowed with exhibitors. All total, 21 writers from The Steve Laube Agency were in attendance.

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Convention Time!

by Steve Laube

Last week was the 2011 International Christian Retailing Show (ICRS) in Atlanta, Georgia. Tamela Hancock Murray and I  had a busy time. Statistics released declared that professional attendance was up 9.7% to 1,748, primarily representing buyers. Total attendance was up 5.83% to 4,918. International attendance was up 16.17% to 431 attendees from 61 countries.

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