As an author and literary agent, I’m often asked for publishing advice. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my standard response to such queries is, “Have you been to a writers conference?” Because, for most of us, that is a major and necessary step toward writing for publication, for many reasons. One of those reasons is the variety and quality of people you’ll meet at a writers conference, such as:
The conference staff. Every conference has a director, maybe a codirector, as well as various people who make the event happen: bookstore staff, audio-visual experts, and so on. These folks usually serve selflessly, exhausting themselves before, during, and after the conference for small rewards beyond knowing they’ve helped others pursue their dreams and begin to fulfill their potential.
The industry insider. Writers-conference faculties feature accomplished writers, publishers, editors, agents, and other industry insiders. At Christian conferences, these people are surprisingly approachable; available; and, well, almost human. They frequent conferences to find new talent and build (or renew) longstanding relationships.
The newbie. Every writers conference hosts a host of new conferees. They’re often starry-eyed and overwhelmed from the start, but soon come to the realization that, while there’s a huge number of things to be learned, they’re also surrounded by their tribe—people who share their interests and obsessions. They also soon realize that their “newbie” status expires quickly, and they’re now among the “intelligentsia.”
The regular. I often ask in my conference workshops how many people are “newbies,” attending their first writers conference. I then give them one of the most valuable pieces of advice I have to offer: Consider this conference the first of many to come. I then explain that very few (if any) writers enjoy the kind of publishing success they’re pursuing after only one conference. For most of us, our development and realization of our aspirations follow regular participation in writers conferences.
The hobbyist. Not everyone who frequents Christian writers conferences is pursuing a traditional publishing path. Some—and this is entirely valid—come primarily or exclusively to sharpen their skills and enjoy the fellowship of like-minded people. They, like me, have made lifelong friends at previous conferences and return home inspired and refreshed, especially if they had the honor of meeting a celebrity like Bob Hostetler.
The fast-tracker. There’s a better term for this person, but I’m too lazy to come up with it. This is the writer who “gets it,” not only absorbing information but also making contacts, building and pursuing relationships, refining skills, setting goals, and making plans. I often tell workshop attendees that a tiny percentage of people I meet at conferences set goals following a conference and then take realistic steps to achieve them; but those are the folks who are soon publishing regularly, winning awards, and even sometimes serving on faculty.
I could also mention many other fine people you’ll meet at conferences, but I’ll let others add to the list in the comments. And some, perhaps, will comment to say which ones they are or have been.
A Christian writers’ conference,
a thrilling tribal pageant,
and I know there’s a good chance
you’ll meet your future agent.
But don’t look past the others there,
insiders, newbies, staff,
and don’t forget to join in prayer,
and don’t forget to laugh,
for we are but arty clowns
in service of a merry God
who gave Good News to banish frowns
and show that writing’s fatal-flawed
when the reader yawns, gets bored,
and Salvation is ignored.
“for we are but arty clowns
in service of a merry God”
How often I forget we love a merry God. Thanks for that, Andrew. I really needed to be reminded of that today. 🙂
Pam, thank YOU for letting me know that this sonnet spoke to you!
I have met many wonderful almost-humans at a writer’s conference, including my absolute favorite author, and the wonderful Dan Balow at Northwestern a few years ago. It was one of the best, most encouraging experiences. I wonder how different it will feel next time being published instead of a complete newbie.
Spot on, Bob. I was a newbie at last year’s BRMCWC, and will return as a conferee later this month—with a soon-to-be launched debut novel in the Blue Ridge bookstore!
After years of attending conferences, workshops, critique groups, and more, I do believe I am all of these people … all these characters in an on-going story.
I enjoy some parts. Not so much others. And all at different times.
I’ve attended WCCW twice and couldn’t agree more about the selflessness of the staff. They are truly inspiring! It is so wonderful to be in the presence of other people who write because they have a “call” for it.
May I add another type?
The Helper. They are the returning conferees who notice newbies, befriend them, offer directions to an event, listen to the scared or overwhelmed ones stumble over their own words, and encourage those who see many successful writers and begin to doubt their own abilities or calling.
Yes, Jeanetta, that’s an important group. Sometimes the Lord even deems us to be that helper. Makes it worth the trip.
This is great, Bob. I’ll be a newbie at this fall’s ACFW conference.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Attending a writer’s conference is one of the highlights of my year. I love the learning and time to grow with other writers.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Bob, I remember meeting Steve at a writers’ conference. His comment? “So you’re the woman who’s stalking me on my blogs.” It was memorable, to say the least!
Thanks, now a question for you. If you could go to only one conference which would you choose?
Thanks, now a question for Bob.If you could go to only one conference a year, which one would you choose?
When attending my first writers conference, I met a local writer from my region.
You will expand your network at a conference.