by Karen Ball
As many of you know, we at the agency were in Dallas, Texas this last week at the American Christian Fiction Writers’ conference. Folks told me it was too bad we had to go this time of year, that it was unbelievably hot and humid.
I wouldn’t know.
From the time I got to the hotel until I checked out, I never stepped a foot outside. Why, you may ask? Well, let’s see…
I taught a Continuing Education track on “Writing that Sings,” as well as an afternoon workshop (with fellow SLA agent Tamela Hancock Murray) on “Overcoming Fiction Foibles. In between, I met with editors, conferees, and a number of my delightful clients. I also accompanied several of said delightful clients to their meetings with editors. Every meal was a meeting, every meeting was fast-paced and full of information. And I took part in the My Book Therapy production of a musical, based on Oklahoma (I was Ado Annie, the agent who cain’t say no—don’t get excited, folks, Ado may not be able to, but I’m good at it <gg>).
All of which is to say by the time I checked out on Sunday, my brain was full to overflowing. So here are a few of the tidbits I picked up in all those gatherings and meetings:
- The tried and true isn’t so tried or true nowadays, so some editors are taking a look at things that haven’t been seen in CBA for awhile, such as biblical fiction, foreign settings, and young adult.
- Authors that sign on for a project have been known to drop out at the last minute, leaving editors with a hole they need to fill…NOW. So guess who editors come to asking if any of our clients happen to have a completed manuscript on hand that isn’t contracted? Yup, the agents. One publisher came specifically to our agency, and only our agency, because they trust us to meet the need. That meant a lot to all of us.
- In-house staff continues to suffer cutbacks, so there are ever-decreasing numbers of people to do the work. Which means more piled on to already overworked folks. And that means they need folks like Steve, Tamela, and me more than ever to help out. I had one agent say to me, “Thanks for being my filter and weeding out the proposals that aren’t ready for me.”
- The overall feel out there is surprisingly positive. Publishers are feeling their way in the new landscape, sure, but they’re excited about doing so. And some feel it’s giving them—and writers–new opportunities.
- While branding still matters, more and more writers who have been published are recognizing that they themselves are the brand, rather than a specific genre or category. (This is something that Sally Stuart, Janet Kobobel Grant, Wendy Lawton, and I—who make up the leadership team of the Mount Hermon Career Track—have been saying in that track for years. So I’m especially happy to see writers embrace the idea.)
- The plethora of social media and marketing ideas out there just keep growing, and writers seem to be in two camps: those who LOVE social media, those who DESPISE it. I spoke with one author who was almost dancing in the hallway at all the opportunities to get in touch with readers. Another told me she wanted to crawl under the table at the idea.
- Publishers are cutting midlisters loose more quickly, so writers have less time to “make it” before they find themselves “free agents,” so to speak. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “This isn’t how I expected my career to go.” Writers find themselves wondering what’s next—or if there is a next.
Next week I’ll talk about what I heard from fellow agents, but I wanted to stop here for now, in part because there’s just too much to put in one blog. But mostly because I want to say to any of you who have struggled with that last bullet point, yes, there is a next. But here’s the thing, understanding what exactly that is means being focused on the now. On the One who has given the task of writing. On what He is seeking to accomplish in you through the journey you’re on.
With God, there’s always a next step. And the beauty is that we don’t need to worry what it is. We just need to keep our eyes on Him, keep our ears trained to His voice, and rest in the truth that He’s got this.
He’s got it, friends.
He’s got you covered in every way. And He’s at work to bring about His will in you and your life. I know it’s easy to brush that aside in the face of career or financial woes, but none of that changes the truth of the matter. God is in control.
My prayer for each of us today is that we can take a deep breath and, even if only for a moment, rest in that truth. And maybe, just for awhile, let the worry and striving go. And walk for awhile in the sure knowledge that we’re not on our own.
I hope to go to this conference next year.
Thank you for the great information. I will take each piece to heart.
Amen! “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you, not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” I think of that verse anytime the voice of doubt gets too loud. Great post! And YAY for more YA in CBA!
Karen, Good to see you at ACFW. I think everyone who writes is worried, whether it’s “pre-published” (ie, not yet published) writers or those wondering if a publisher will give a contract for their second, fifth, or even twelfth novel. We’re not promised a tomorrow, much less a good one, but God’s in control. Thanks for emphasizing that.
Appreciate your sharing. (And you didn’t miss much by not getting outside–it’s still hot and humid in September in our area.)
I love the encouragement in the last paragraphs. Feels good to be reminded that God is in control when you are at that ‘what next’ point.
“I was Ado Annie, the agent who cain’t say no—don’t get excited, folks, Ado may not be able to, but I’m good at it.” You got me good! Haha! 🙂
First of all, you were awesome as Ado Annie. I highly recommend the MBT Pizza Party to those who go to ACFW, that is, unless you’re allergic to fun.
Second, thank you for the insights you gathered from those who are “in the know.” It helps to know these things as I plan my next course of action.
But most of all, thank you for that last section. My favorite verse in the Bible is Psalm 77:3, “I remembered You, O God, and I groaned.” Why? Because, sad to say, I sometimes forget. So it’s always good to be with those who will continually remind me. Thank you for that!!!
Seriously. This gal can sing! You may have a second career as writing conference entertainer. 🙂
Diana Lesire Brandmeyer
Thank you so much for the update. I wasn’t able to go this year and miss getting information and seeing people. This was a nice replacement.
Karen, I laughed so hard at your part in the MBT skit–thanks for making it a memorable evening.
I agree with you about trusting in God’s plan for our life. It’s been a discouraging year for me, and though nothing “miraculous” happened at conference for me personally, I left hearing God tell me I didn’t need it–that HE will take care of everything. What a precious gift! Thank you for stating exactly what I believe. 🙂
Heather Day Gilbert
AGH! Foreign settings…here’s hoping some editors are considering a lovely Viking setting which spans from North America to Iceland…
I hope we start seeing some of these DIFFERENT books get picked up by the CBA. Goodness knows that’s what CBA readers are clamoring for. I think they’d also like to have some CBA YA dystopian to fill that hunger left by a very popular series in the ABA…
And I love that you don’t have to be locked into one genre as a writer. This is some good news you’re bringing us today! Thank you for sharing!
Well I don’t know about editors, but I’m interested in your book! I’m fascinated by all things Icelandic, since my family is from there and I’ve been there. And every winter, I’m enamored with Scandinavia, imagining myself curling up by candlelight inside a cozy house while the snow flies. If you need another reader, let me know… 🙂
I agree Heather, YA Dystopian would be a great addition(or more dystopian period)!
I wasn’t able to attend, thank you for sharing! I find your second bullet point under Editors very intriguing. Now if I could only get my MS into someone’s (YOUR) hands!
Thanks for the encouragement. With God all things are possible. I’m excited to be on this journey. God shows me more each day about His goodness. What an amazing life.
Look forward to your other posts.
A lot of helpful information! Thanks for sharing. Definitely needed to hear/read that last part today.
Thanks for the tips and encouragement. Your comments on what editors are looking for was especially helpful and eye opening.
Elizabeth M Thompson
Thanks for the industry updates and conference highlights, Karen.
Thanks too for reminding us to cease striving and trust God to handle our writing careers. It’s so easy to forget in turbulent times that we have a strong tower, in whom we are safe!
Karen, I LOVED your Ado-Annie character. You are a multi-talented woman, as I understand you also wrote your own lyrics? 🙂 Great job at the MBT Pizza Party.
Thanks for this encouraging post today, too. What a apt reminder of how interconnected the writing industry is. Your words challenge me to stay close to the One who gives the story He wants each of us to write. He is the One who best knows the plans He has for our stories. Looking forward to next week’s post. I can provide a pic of Ado Annie if you’d like. 😉
Karen, first, it was so much fun performing with you in the skit!
Second, you are so, so right. He DOES have this. I actually felt like he answered the prayers I had before the conference: not that I’d necessarily walk away with an agent and contract, but that I would get some direction in my writing career. He provided, and in more ways than I can possibly describe.
Were you Curly with the long blonde hair? You were amazing too. I told Michelle Lim, what a gift to have such a voice (a gift I do not seem to have!) Not only to make us laugh, but to praise God so beautifully.
Aw, thanks, Charity! Yes, that was me. 😛 I had fun hamming it up. It helped to let off the tension from pitching appts earlier that day!
Wish I would have seen your skit! Maybe next year.
Your classes provided inspirational material that not only prepared us for after the conference, but for during. A friend and I both left the class prepared beyond what we thought for our appointments. Despite your hectic schedule you graciously met with each person, aligned your eyes to give them your full attention, and you gave each a word of direction/advise/encouragement. Thank you.
“With God, there’s always a next step.” Powerful words, Karen. I felt blessed to share elevator space with you again! 🙂
You received some excellent takeaway value! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Karen, I was one of the appointment timekeepers at the conference and was blown away when I saw you accompany some of your clients into their appointments. I’ve never seen an agent do that before. What a way to support your authors. Very impressive!
I loved hearing your take on the conference and am eager for the next post filled with more impressions.
Karen – ggod word, thanks!
There are so many unknowns in publishing. I’m thankful you ended with encouragement! I’m planning already on being at conference next year and can’t wait to join the fun.
Thanks for the overview, Karen. It is always helpful to hear another industry experts summary of the landscape.
I enjoyed singing, laughing, and chatting with you at Conference this year!
Great reminders and encouragement there at the end – it’s so easy to get caught up in the business that we forget where the focus is supposed to be. Thanks!
It’s taken me years to finally embrace your last point. But now I get it. I don’t have to know where the next step leads, I just need to step. Because God’s got this! Definitely freeing!
An encouraging and informative post! One to glean from and be encouraged. Thank you, Karen! A pleasure meeting with you this year. 🙂
Karen, what a blast it was in Dallas. In some ways I feel I’ve really been blasted, because this week I’m walking around shell-shocked. I thoroughly enjoyed the “Writing that Sings” seminar and hummed, “It is Well with my Soul” for days. Thank you for giving so much back to this industry, and thank you for this blog post. Although it’s not entirely encouraging, that last paragraph says it all: God’s got this.
What a great reminder! Thank you! Feel free to forward this post to me frequently! 🙂
Looking forward to more highlights of the conference and so bummed that I missed you as Ado Annie. 🙁
I attended both of your classes and learned so much.
This was my first conference, and you helped so many of us relax and focus on our writing.
Thanks for reminding us Who we are writing for.
Thank you for being willing to “take the heat” for us so that you could bring back information like this! It’s good to see that the industry is shifting and moving just as we authors are expected to do.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts – I look forward to hearing more.
I shan’t miss it next year! Sounds like a blast.
(I missed Ado Annie! Bummer!) Our face-time together and with editors during the conference was the most important part of the conference for me. Your wisdom and encouragement is such an incredible blessing. You have the ability to speak the truth but continually remind us where our hope lies. “Thank you” isn’t enough. Blessings, dear one!
It was a fantastic conference, with God’s touch written all over it. I really appreciated Mr. Laube’s conversation in the appointment I had with him.
I had appointments that took me elsewhere, but I caught part of “Writing that Sings.” It was awesome.
Canada’s a bit far away, so it may not be possible, but y’all definitely make me want to go back every year. 🙂
I love that you keep pointing us back to God! And I just had to pipe up and say that I was Ado Annie too! In the 4th grade at Schmidt Elementary in Westminster, CA. (Looking back, I think it was awkward to have a 10 yo girl sing “but as soon as someone kisses me, I somehow sorta wanna kiss im baaack!”)
Good times, and still one of my favorite movies. Next year I’ll have to go to the MBT Pizza Party, sounds fun.
Deborah K. Anderson
So glad to hear that editors are taking a look at YA. Thanks for the encouraging post.
Your Writing That Sings class was awesome. You gave me so much to think about. Now to put all those tips into practice.
And Ado Annie was great. What do you do for an encore?
Thank you so much for your participation at the conference…it’s because of giving people like yourself that the conference is the success it is. 🙂
Karen, as someone who just attended ACFW for the first time, I appreciate a seasoned voice on what is happening in the CBA. It’s difficult enough to wade through all the information thrown at a newbie, so I’m encouraged to read a blog post by someone who has been in the industry for a while and can still speak positive words to all of us. God is in control, and sometimes when we’re striving to get published it can feel like we’re at the reins, but the truth is, we’re just a passenger. Thank you for that reminder.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Yay for people looking at YA…and Biblical Fiction. I’ve spent several years going to conferences and having editors and agents tell me that no one is buying Biblical fiction anymore and that YA doesn’t work for the Christian market. I guess things do move along and change. It’s nice to hear that the books you love are coming back. Thanks so much. And I loved your “Writing that Sings” track, it was encouraging and informative.