I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Going to a Writers Conference?

Your bags are packed with toiletries, new outfits, great shoes, pens, highlighters, and a laptop. You’ve designed your one-sheet, memorized your pitch, picked up business cards, and printed your boarding pass. You're as ready as can be--except for one thing.

What are you forgetting?


You may not even realize you're bringing a few expectations along with you. But, spoken or unspoken, we all have 'em. Here's a few recommendations about expectations.

photo by Jane Cleary


--Expect to go home with a contract. Most new authors expect to land a contract at a conference. After all, they love their “baby.” Surely, an agent or editor is going to see this fabulous work and offer a contract. Um . . . sorry. The industry doesn’t work that way. Even if you’re the next Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell. Even Stephen King has enough rejection letters to wallpaper a room. Even J.K. Rowling wasn’t an overnight success. At best, you may be asked to send a partial, usually the first three chapters.

--Don’t look around at all the other writers and become discouraged by the sheer number. They may want a contract as much as you, but are they all going to work as hard as you’re willing to work? You have to do your best and write for an audience of One. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

--Don’t use anyone. Ever.

--Don’t accost editors in the bathroom. Treat agents and editors with respect. They deserve off-duty time. And they definitely deserve a potty break! If you meet one in the lounge after dinner, just talk to them like you would to any acquaintance you happen to meet—unless you never ever stop talking about your novel. This is a small industry where reputations are remembered. This is a small industry where reputations are remembered. I suppose if you happen to catch one in the elevator regardless of the time of day, you may pitch to them, since the elevator pitch is named for this situation.

--Don’t be discouraged. Don’t think of the cost of the lovely hotel room, the conference, and the airfare and feel you’ve wasted money. You’ve invested in your dream. I’ve never met an unpublished writer who hasn’t walked down the hallway during a conference and thought, “What made me think I could do this?” We’ve all have doubts. Success isn’t going to come easily, which will make it all the more sweet when it arrives. Keep believing.


--Allow yourself some downtime. After attending a number of workshops and hearing all the things you’ve got to do to take your writing to the next level, your head may feel like exploding if you pump in one more fact.

--Network. This is one of the main reasons to attend a conference. Mingle, meet people, exchange business cards. Follow up with emails right after the conference while the contact is still fresh.

--Look for critique partners.

--Allow God to direct your career. I attended my first conference with unrealistic expectations. I wanted that writing contract. But I wasn’t ready in terms of craft or my personal life. God knew the unexpected tragedies in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to handle deadline pressures with my hectic life as the widowed mother of seven.

--Listen for industry trends. What are publishing houses looking for?

--Be friendly. Once, my friend and I noticed a woman sitting all alone at breakfast. She hesitantly admitted she’d almost stayed in her room because hadn’t wanted to come to breakfast alone. We offered her friendship. Several years later, she’s published. My friend and I still hope to be. Maybe one day, the shy author will write a blurb on my first published book.

You can make some of the best friends of your life with people who share your dreams, passion, who will pray for you, offer a shoulder when you’re rejected and celebrate when you final in a contest or land a contract.

--Meet your favorite authors. One of the perks. I don’t tell people I know Award-winning, Multi-published Author Susan May Warren. I say, “Susie knows me.”

--Keep a positive attitude. Honing your craft takes time.

--Make time to pray. At the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference, a room is dedicated to—and bathed in—prayer. Take advantage of the wonderful prayer partners.

What suggestions can you add to my list?

~ Roxanne Sherwood


  1. Loved this post! Especially the part about seeing the shy author! I know I've been tempted to stay hidden just to avoid having to go somewhere when I don't know anyone. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Loved the reminder about "Not using anyone. Ever." Networking is not using someone.
    And it's okay to decide to skip a session and rest. My husband keeps telling me to remember to sleep while I'm at ACFW. I'm tempted to not pack my workout clothes. He said, "So it's okay not to be healthy for a few days?"
    Um, nooo.
    So, I'll pack my stuff. Now, somebody ask me if I make it to the workout room.

  3. Great advice, Roxanne. It's so important to remember that we're on a journey together. The conference is one stop along the way. I agree that managing expectations is important. If snagging a contract is the sole or main expectation, you're likely to be disappointed. Enjoy the conference! You're going to be with folks who love the same craft as you and love the Lord as well.

    (Squealing now--can't wait to see my Ponderer buddies soon!!)

    Oh--and Susie not only knows us. She calls us her peeps. : )

  4. Love it, Roxanne--esp. the "Susie knows me," part. Can't wait to see you and the other peeps that will be there!

  5. Really great post, Roxanne...perfect to read the day before I take off. This first-timer is sooo excited!!

    As far as expectations...I expect lots of hugs and laughs and learning and good food...and I'm rather Anne of Green Gable-ish, so while I won't expect to leave with a contract in-hand, I can't help "flying high on the wings of anticipation"...good things are going to happen...for all of us...can't wait!

  6. Great post, Roxanne!! You hit all the highlights. One thing participants could think about doing is sending thank you notes to those editors and agents they meet with, the conference staff, and anyone who has touched their hearts. A smile and a thank you go a long way.

    For the last couple of years, I've asked God to use me to bless someone else because I remember feeling so overwhelmed by the constant activity. I can't wait to go this year and see the Ps again.

  7. Wonderful advice. Conferences are such blessings, always things to learn and precious people to meet. And at ACFW, awesome times of worship. Can't wait for the weekend!

  8. I can't wait to see my fellow Ponderers. Thanks for your comments today. Lisa B., You're right. The ACFW worship is great. I'd like to meet you. Please introduce yourself.

  9. Looking forward to seeing my friends--and making new ones. That is one of the highlights of a conference.

  10. Thanks so much for your post, Roxanne! I am thankful for the "advance" opportunity in preparing my mindset when I go (hopefully) next year. Your wisdom encourages and helps set thoughts aright. :) I hope you all have a wonderful, worshipful weekend, and I also hope you'll share about some of it in future blogs! Enquiring minds want to know! :)

    P.S. I'm praying for you all this weekend. :)

  11. Thanks so much, Jeanne! I'm looking forward to meeting you in October!