What You May Not Know Before Going to a Conference

Have you ever been surprised by what you’ve learned at a conference? A couple of my meetings I’ve had over the years surprised me. To wit:


A few years ago, I interviewed a novelist at a fifteen-minute appointment. I read through her summary, and realized that the theological position of the story wouldn’t fit with most CBA houses. I made several suggestions on how to bring the story in line.

Her eyes widened. “I can’t do that.”

“Well, then I don’t think your writing is a good fit for the Christian market. I think you should try the secular market.”

I braced myself for an argument, but instead, the tension left her face. “I had a feeling. Thank you.” Her step showed a noticeable bounce as she exited.

So even though the conference wasn’t a success as far as finding a publisher or agent, she was successful in firming up her place in publishing. I would count this as time well spent.

Agent or Editor?

At another conference, a sweet young thing came to her appointment with me, saying she had nothing to pitch. She wanted to find out what it’s like to be a literary agent.

I was happy to share my thoughts with her.

After I concluded, I asked, “So, do you think you’d like to be an agent?”

She shook her head. “No. It’s too much business. I want to play with words.”

I couldn’t put up a good argument that agents primarily play with words all day. The way we play with words is quite different than the way a full-time editor or writer plays with words. Sweet Young Thing and I ended the appointment with (I think) both of us feeling we had accomplished much.

Sometimes, you really do need to know what you don’t know. A conference can be part of the process of finding out.


Your Turn:

What is the most surprising discovery you have made at a conference?

Has going to a conference caused you to alter your career path?


7 Responses to What You May Not Know Before Going to a Conference

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton July 7, 2016 at 5:14 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    I’ve not altered my career path at conference, but I’ve tweaked it. I’ve learned so much at conferences.

    Sometimes meeting a person in real life is different than meeting them online. This can be either good or bad, but most of the people I’ve met have been as genuine as I thought they would be.

    I’m looking forward to going to the ACFW conference next month in Nashville and hope to learn more and meet many more online friends and reconnect with those I only get to see once a year.

  2. Avatar
    Shannon July 7, 2016 at 5:48 am #

    I had a life-changing appointment with you at the ACFW conference last year, Tamela! I came not knowing whether or not I wanted to write for CBA and the Lord spoke so clearly through you to me. It was like a “lightbulb” moment that I didn’t expect to happen in a meeting with someone else. It gave me such focus and a clear direction for me. Now I’m heading to the conference next month with a finished manuscript and a very clear idea of who I’m writing for. Thanks for allowing yourself to speak into my life!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray July 7, 2016 at 7:59 am #

      Shannon, thank you for sharing this with me. It means so much! To God be the glory!

  3. Avatar
    Richard Mabry July 7, 2016 at 5:57 am #

    Tamela, you’ve listed a couple of ways conference attendance can change a writer’s course, and they’re good ones. For me the most significant thing I learned at my first couple of conferences was that agents and editors are humans, too. And they can be fun if you’re not hanging on their every word and action as possible harbingers of doom for your career. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Avatar
    Carol Ashby July 7, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    I went to CCWC in May as my first multiday writers conference. I didn’t expect any real interest because I haven’t built a large social media following yet. Knock me over with a feather when two editors asked for full manuscripts of two different novels. Maybe that’s a standard thing to do since there is no overhead for them to do that, but it certainly felt good when they did. I don’t really expect they will want to publish either novel at this time without 5k followers or a robust email list, but it was still encouraging.

    My take home was take a swing even if you don’t expect a hit. You might get at least to first base, and that’s a quarter of the way home.

  5. Avatar
    Barbara Blakey July 8, 2016 at 12:35 pm #

    I have yet to attend a conference without the Lord showing up, but never in the ways I think He will. You’d think I’d learn my lesson, but every conference is another surprise. I’m always glad I went.

  6. Avatar
    Tisha Martin August 17, 2016 at 9:17 pm #

    I have yet to attend a large writing conference, but I will soon. Thank you for pointing out the delightful truth that writers should possess a learning attitude, and also that we should realize what we are there to learn. This is exactly my aim when I go to my next conference.

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