NETWO Conference

As it turned out, the two writers’ events I wanted to attend this year were only two weeks apart. After WORDfest/Writers in the Field two weeks ago, I didn’t even have time to sink back into apathy before attending the North East Texas Writers Organization conference today.

It was the smallest conference I’ve ever attended, but the classes were all excellent and I found it very worthwhile. And I have to admit, I really enjoy hanging out with other writers. I now feel doubly inspired to start sending my work out again. I’m saying that here in hopes that making it public will make me feel obligated to do it.

A Virtual Shot in the Arm

I am ashamed to say that I have not followed through on my resolve to start querying again—but now I feel that I am newly re-motivated.

This past weekend I attended an event in Dallas. In fact it was two separate events that kind of merged together: WORDfest and Writers in the Field. Writers in the Field is my favorite writer’s event of all the variety I’ve attended. It’s a hands-on research bonanza where you can learn about almost anything you might be planning to write about. I went the first year, in the fall of 2017, and last year I presented a workshop on historical writing implements there.

There was just one little problem. The venue was flooded out due to torrential rains. We had to hike in. The food truck never made it. We had a tornado warning. Therefore, some of the presenters and exhibitors were unable to present and exhibit. So yesterday (Sunday) we had a “do-over” day at an indoor venue in Dallas. I was asked to give my workshop again, which I was happy to do. I had about a dozen people attend, and they really seemed to be interested.

Since I was going to be there on Sunday anyway, I went on Saturday also, to WORDfest, an event in its third year, which I had wanted to attend the last two years. Let’s just say that next year, I’ll try to make a priority of going. It was such a massive infusion of enthusiasm and motivation.

In addition to a great schedule of classes—several choices in each time slot—there were hallways full of exhibitors, many of whom represented various writers’s groups and services in the North Texas area. Everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic. I got to vote on the Oxford Comma (I’m in favor, in case you wondered). I got to participate in a live-action game of Clue. I learned about Chinese folklore and writing fight scenes and so much more. I entered the raffle but didn’t win anything (I never do).

On Sunday, after I taught my class, I attended more classes, but since this was Writers in the Field, I also got to learn about all kinds of things, from people who are fanatics about their area of expertise. True fanatics are absolutely irresistible. I talked again to the amazing man who is an expert on the Titanic and who impersonates its captain. And the lady with the stunning collection of Victorian-era ladies clothes. A martial arts expert. A locksmith. An equestrian. An Olympic level archer. A lady weaving Viking-era trim. And did I mention that this was all FREE?

I drove home feeling so encouraged and so ready to get to work on getting my writing out there at last. This time, I really need to follow through!

 

The Rule of Three, Part III

Three years ago, it struck me that maybe I should stop going only to Christian conferences. In fact, when I first started writing I had never intended to go to Christian conferences at all! But I did because that’s what everyone said to do. Then I saw an ad somewhere for the DFW Writers Conference, and found that it was much more affordable than ACFW, and also always conveniently close! And it was early enough that I could get a great discount too.

I was nervous about going. During my forays to ACFW, I had been told the following things about secular writing conferences:

—Everyone’s always drunk. It’s all about drinking.

—Everyone, including the presenters, uses foul language all the time. It’s wall-to-wall F-words.

—Everyone is super-competitive and not supportive or encouraging at all.

—No one there is going to be interested in any form of Christian fiction or even “clean” fiction.

Still, I wanted to give it a try. That first time, my husband came with me and did some sightseeing in Dallas while I was at the conference.

What a pleasant surprise it was! There was a “cocktail party” in the evening, but that first year I didn’t go to it. The second year I did (they had plenty of soft drinks). I didn’t see anyone even close to being drunk. The drinking was not a big deal at all.

I heard very little offensive language. One of the presenters let a word slip once, and immediately apologized for being unprofessional. The other writers in attendance were likewise circumspect in their language—at least the ones I talked to.

The classes were fantastic, and the presenters were first-rate. This conference had a feature that was so incredibly educational, which they called the “gong show.” During the first part of the conference, aspiring writers anonymously submit their query letters into a basket. It’s totally voluntary. During the gong show, a bunch of agents line up on stage and there are a series of gongs and mallets in front of them. A guy with a wonderful “radio voice” starts reading a query from the pile and each time he gets to the point where one of the agents would stop reading, that agent bongs his gong. At the third gong, the man stops reading and the agents all explain why they lost interest. So helpful! (And often hilarious.)

I wasn’t worried about my fellow attendees being too competitive, because to be honest I couldn’t imagine them being worse than what I had experienced at ACFW—and they weren’t.  Some were chatty, and some were not, but no one was unfriendly. The second year I went to a free workshop the month before the conference and met some people I could hang out with and they were very encouraging.

And unhelpful? I didn’t find that either. The second year I went, I drew a “lot” that gave me a chance to bring a writing problem before a panel of experts. I was struggling with the beginning of one of my stories. Not only did one of the agents on the panel request my proposal, but one of the fellow attendees offered to critique my first 50 pages and she gave me fabulous feedback. So helpful. And she did it out of the kindness of her heart.

Both years I went, I had serious interest from agents in my work, which unfortunately didn’t result in representation, but the reality is that I found more interest here than at any Christian conference I have attended. I love this conference and was sad I couldn’t afford to go this year. I hope I get to go again. I haven’t even got to three yet with this one!

The Rule of Three, Part I

Eight years ago, I made what was for me a momentous decision. I had been told, over and over, that the road to publication lay through writers’ conferences. I had two “finished” novels and I badly wanted to be published, so I saved up all year and that September I went to my first writers’ conference: ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). ACFW is huge—the biggest Christian writers’ conference in the country. This is kind of like deciding you want to learn to swim and somehow getting into the Olympics.

It was (and is) very expensive. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone at all if I had realized at first that the conference fees did not include lodging at the fancy hotel. (I really was that clueless). By the time I paid the registration fees, paid for a hotel room, and bought my plane ticket to Denver, I was out close to $1000, which was a real hardship for us at the time or any time since.

I was so excited about going. I had talked it over with my husband and had told him I would plan on going to that conference a maximum of three times. If I didn’t feel I was benefiting from it by then, and if I hadn’t snagged an agent or editor, I would stop going.

That first time, though, I went in with very high hopes—not necessarily that I’d find an agent or editor, but that I’d make a bunch of new friends. Writer friends. I packed tea making supplies and my two favorite china mugs, so I could share tea with my new friends. I had been part of a “newbie” email group for a few weeks, and one other lady in the group had offered to meet up with me shortly after I arrived in Denver. I couldn’t wait.

I met up with my new acquaintance, and I could almost see her thoughts. She saw I was fat, and also old (compared to her) and she lost interest instantly. She never spoke to me again.

It turned out that was a portent of things to come. All the fabulous friends I was supposed to make already had friends and didn’t want more. As an introvert, I put forth massive amounts of effort to talk to people and get them to tell me about themselves. I was summarily brushed off over and over and over. If there was an agent or editor at the table, everyone focused on sucking up to him/her and I had no hope of even having a “hello” returned.

To make matters worse, my appointments went very, very badly, especially one with the YA editor who told me that I had not written a YA book and that in fact my story was unpublishable. “There is no market for this book!” she said in her perky little voice. That phrase reverberated through my head for weeks afterward.

The classes were excellent, and I learned a great many things that I needed to know. I learned them while feeling utterly rejected and lonely, but I did learn. Many, many tears were shed during that conference.

I did finally end up making one new friend—on the shuttle ride to the airport, but the reality was that weekend was one of the most emotionally devastating experiences of my life. When my husband asked if I’d had a good time, I had to say no. However, I was not sorry I went. An experience does not have to be enjoyable in order to be valuable, and that conference was very valuable. I learned many things about writing and publishing that it was crucial for me to know.

So, I went to ACFW two more times. By then I was much more experienced and I had an actual friend to room with and I kind of got included in her friend circle enough that I didn’t feel so much like an outcast. But during my third ACFW conference, I realized that three times was enough for me. Despite my efforts to fit in, these weren’t “my” people. Most of them were romance writers. Those of us who write speculative fiction were on the fringe, and it was difficult to find an agent or editor who would even be interested in my stories.

If you write mainstream Christian fiction or romances, you would probably love ACFW. After three tries, I realized it was not a good fit for me. It’s not as if that’s the only writing conference around, though . . .