My Writers’ Conference Experience

Last week I attended the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference began on Monday and ended Thursday afternoon. For any writer who has never attended a conference, I highly recommend it.

One of the reasons to attend a writers’ conference is that writers have access to agents and editors in a way that doesn’t happen by simply sending in a query. Editors and agents pay more attention to writers who attend conferences because they can tell that these writers are serious about their craft and willing to invest time and money to improve their writing skills.

If you are planning to attend a writers’ conference it is important to thoroughly familiarize yourself with who will be at the conference and know what you want to accomplish. This will help you to prioritize and make the most of your time. My priorities were 1) to help out with morning worship by playing the guitar, 2) gain a better knowledge of the craft of writing women’s fiction, 3) talk with a mentor about writing as a career, 4) build relationships with agents, editors and authors, 5) get an understanding of the place of my writing, 6) volunteer, and 7) spend time in the pool. I managed all of the above.

Before the conference I selected a coach and signed up for a Coaching Class–seven hours of in-depth teaching in three morning sessions. My class was taught by Angela Hunt. Angela has written contemporary fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction and several books on the craft of writing. It was inspiring to hear her tell about her writing journey and her technique, which she covers in her book, Writing Lessons From the Front: The First Ten Books.

I also selected a Mentor for a half hour appointment. Poppy Smith–an author, international speaker and life coach gave me some helpful input as we discussed writing as a career path.

At the conference I signed up for 15 Minute Appointments with Editors and Agents, based on their availability. If I could not get an appointment I waited for mealtime and sat at the Tables of Editors or Agents I needed to meet. I also had a conversation with two agents during the Thursday afternoon one hour Autograph Party.

There were twenty-six Afternoon Workshops. We could only choose four. Since we were not committed to particular classes ahead of time I was able to change my plan at the last minute and attend the class of an agent I was encouraged to see, based on my other meetings. Thankfully I managed to spend time with every person I planned to talk to.

At the end of the day, after the Keynote Speaker, I felt too tired to attend the final Night-Owl Workshop. I went to my room to rest and my roomie almost dragged me to the Night-Owl. She knew I needed to go and she was right.

One of the things I discovered in speaking with several agents about my book is that it may not be suitable for Christian publishers. The Surrey International Writers’ Conference is a renowned conference held in my hometown every October, so I’m thinking of attending it next year and hearing more on the subject.

The hope of every writer is to get a publishing contract but, realistically, the chance of this happening at a conference is still pretty slim. As you may have noted in an earlier post, I participated in the Manuscript Submission Program by submitting my first ten pages, cover letter and synopsis to two agents and an editor a couple of months before the conference. The response was that my novel has “promise” and “potential” and needs more editing.

In summary, I got much more than I expected out of the conference. If you are going to a conference I suggest you read Chip MacGregor’s post, Ask the Agent: How Do I Get the Most Out of a Writers’ Conference. I heeded his suggestion to plan which sessions to miss in order to have time to spend with friends and added my own version–remember to include time at the pool too!

OCW Conference

I promised to report on my experience at the OCW Conference. Initially the goal was to find an editor who would want my novel. As the date approached I saw that I would not complete editing my novel in time.

I did a lot of the hard work, as I had intended. But something was missing. At the conference I found out what it was.

I did not show my novel to anyone nor did I pitch it. But I consulted with my coach and a mentor. What I learned was very helpful.

I learned, first of all, that I am writing “women’s fiction,” not a “romance,” as I had thought. In women’s fiction it is the story and issues of the heroine that drive the book, not the romance.

For me coming to this understanding was huge. It meant I now understood why I could not accept some of the recommendations of my critique partner. It is alright for me to do the things I want to do, and feel I need to do.

I also dug deeper, with the help of my coach, and refined the underlying message of my book. I now have greater clarity about how to proceed with my writing.

Several people encouraged me to stay with my novel. One author remembered my characters from the time I shared my story with her last year and she is particularly waiting for me to finish the book.

At the conference I found something I needed and for which I did not even know I was looking. Now I can’t wait to see what my book will look like by the time the next OCW Conference rolls around.

Writing Update

I am two and a half weeks away from the Oregon Christian Writers’ Conference. Last year when I went to the conference for the first time–my first ever writers’ conference–I submitted my novel to an editor who said it was too “edgy” and “not suitable” for the publishing house she represented. I’ve since learned that “Christian” novels have to be “squeaky clean.” My, there is a lot to learn in this business of writing. (People who know me well probably can’t imagine that I’d write anything but squeaky clean, but that just goes to show how little “reality” is allowed in these houses.)

In the past year since I started considering an actual career in writing I have learned sooo-oo much! It has been an extremely exciting journey.

Of course, now I have been working on figuring out how “edgy” my book is going to be and I have been looking at other Christian novels (I confess I don’t often read Christian novels) to see how they do it. Maybe this is the time to admit that I don’t really like Christian novels a lot and so you are probably wondering why I would write one. Well, I thought The Shack was kind of original, although I don’t really like the spin-off theology, as in ‘imagine your God to be whatever works best for you.’ I also liked John Grisham’s The Testament, and I liked Have a Little Faith, by Mitch Album. OK, these are not “Christian” books, maybe not even “Christian” authors. And so maybe I shouldn’t be looking at a “Christian” publishing house.

I thought I might write an enjoyable romance that just shows normal Christianity without being preachy. Not that this hasn’t been done before. But for some reason I have not found these books. I believe that there are a lot of people out there, who, like me, are looking for good values and a sprinkling of spiritual content in their reading.

I also wanted to see if I could set my story in a church and give people an idea how churches work. That is turning out to be difficult, especially since the way we are ‘doing church’ is often not really very effective.

As an update, I had my first ten pages edited for the second time and came away discouraged over how little I know about how to write a novel. Novel writing is very different from writing a blog, believe me! A friend of mine told me I need to have a ten year plan, and that helped. I’m not going to learn this in a day, or a year for that matter.

At the same time, it can be thrilling when I finally “get it.” I’m getting better at “showing” versus “telling” so things are looking up. There are actually a number of things I am doing right.

A big problem has been understanding my POV–point of view. For those of you who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, I will explain what I have been learning about POV in another post. Suffice it to say, you need to have one “point of view” character at a time, and nothing gets put on the page that the POV does not know. It’s not as simple as it sounds.

One of the hardest things for me has been to know where to start my story. I imagine a couple of people, like me, might not know that it is actually a good idea to start in the middle, not tell the story from beginning to end, chronologically. This means that there is a lot of “back story” that one needs to weave into the “real” story. Another big learning curve here. (I know you seasoned writers are probably rolling your eyes now in disbelief, but hey–we all start somewhere.)

This book was completed last year, and, naively, I thought it just needed a little editing. But now it looks like it needs a major engine overhaul and there are days when I wonder if it is worth it, especially when I would much rather be blogging. =) Maybe I am a “non-fiction” writer as opposed to a “fiction” writer. They really do seem to be two entirely different animals!