Monday, January 08, 2007

NH: In 2007…Get Thee to a Writer’s Conference

I well remember the early days of my writing and editing career. I was working full time and writing very, very part time. And yet, I knew this writing compulsion was something that was important to me. I desperately wanted to succeed at this craft…and yet I had so much to learn.

At that time, I was managing a Christian bookstore, so I was around the fruit of my mentors all day. I would eagerly unpack the latest shipment from Zondervan, Tyndale, or Harvest House and, to be honest, actually covet the success of the authors whose books I was shelving.

Fast forward to the year when I actually took the plunge and began to send out some query letters and humorous articles. At that time, our daughters were small—and as any parent knows, children are an incredible source of material. One of my early articles came about when I walked past the bathroom and heard an inordinate amount of splashing. I peered in and saw all three girls kneeling over the tub, holding their Cabbage Patch dolls.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Our middle daughter piped up and said, “Our dolls have all accepted the Lord as their Savior, so we’re baptizing them.” Sure enough, the dolls were sopping wet…but thoroughly saved.

It was also about this time that I realized that I wanted to step up my progress as a writer. And so off I went to my first Christian writer’s conference. Could I afford it? NO! But could I afford not to go? NO! So for at least two, possibly three of my early writer’s conferences I traded work for conference admission. In short, I offered to shuttle arriving authors and editors to and from the airport. Both of these conferences were at least 45 minutes from the airport. That meant 90 minute round trips—several 90 minute round trips both at the beginning of the conference and at the end. But during those trips I met not only some other aspiring authors, but even better—some very prestigious editors.

And of course, there were all those great workshops and motivating keynote sessions. And wonderful fellowship with other would-be authors who understood the pain of rejections from editors who were clearly unable to detect great writing when they saw it. And speaking of those editors—it was with great fear and trembling that I would sit across a dinner table from one of them and try to pitch my latest great idea, no doubt with broccoli stuck between my teeth.

Fast forward a few more years. Now I’m one of those woeful editors who sits across the table from trembling authors—grinning ever so slightly and thinking to myself, if they only knew. And I’m now the one who obviously doesn’t recognize great writing when I see it.

But wait. That can’t be true. I have actually acquired some of my very favorite authors at conferences. Authors I wouldn’t have been exposed to in any other way.

When I first came on board at Harvest House, almost seven years ago, I sold them quickly on the idea of sending me to conferences (they hadn’t made conferences a priority previously). And on my first outing I came back with three proposals that we eventually published. Six years later, one of those authors, Roxanne Henke, is still very successfully publishing with us. I’m so glad I was there to discover her talent. I’m also so glad that she made the effort to come to that faraway conference in California all the way from a small town in North Dakota, with nothing more than a hope and a manuscript. She also came in spite of the knowledge that a previous editor had harshly rejected her with the words, “You need to learn how to write.” (I’m still incredulous that an editor could say that about such a powerful novel as Roxy’s After Anne).

Now we have a new year upon us. Fresh and unblemished. It’s entirely likely that no one reading this has received their first rejection slip of 2007. But you probably will. I’m certain I will, as I continue my own writing career, again writing very, very part time.

Here’s an idea for a couple of New Year’s resolutions: first, don’t be discouraged when those rejections come (you already know this, don’t you? But we all need reminding. No writer likes rejection). And second, make it a priority to go to a writer’s conference this year—preferably a Christian writer’s conference if that’s the market you’re writing for. These conferences are held in many places around the country. Find one close to you. Or go to the websites of some of these conferences and see if the faculty, speakers and/or workshops are ones you need to hear.

If finances are a problem, see if there are scholarships available. Several conferences do offer at least partial scholarships. If not, ask the conference director if there is a way you can work during the conference to pay for your tuition. Or, why not approach your church missions committee and share your plans to succeed as a Christian writer. Ask them if they would consider either a partial or full investment in your writing ministry by underwriting your conference expenses.

And, of course, pray. I think every successful Christian writer and editor can look back and see how God moved in their life to prosper them in their career. Ask God to open every door you must walk through to succeed. And then consider that one of those doors might be at a writer’s conference. So, make it part of your writing plan in 2007 to get thee to a writer’s conference.

Here’s one excellent site that lists some up and coming conferences:

Nick Harrison is senior editor at Harvest House Publishers and the author of eight books, with his ninth to be released this spring.


At 8:16 AM, Blogger Richard L. Mabry, MD said...

Good to see a posting from you. Thanks for the glimpse into your past and the excellent advice that stems from it.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing.

At 11:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So nice to have your voice of experience here, Nick. And I'll add that your authors (including this one) greatly benefit from working with an editor who's familiar with "both sides of the desk."


At 4:44 PM, Blogger Angela said...

Welcome to Charis, Nick! And a hearty "amen" to everything you said. If I'd been able to go to a conference back when I started, I wouldn't have had to learn by trial-and-error . . .


At 12:53 AM, Blogger Dona Watson said...

Thanks for this very timely (for me), thought-provoking and encouraging post. It's something I really needed to hear.

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Dona Watson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff, Nick! Are you going to be at Glorieta again this year?

At 2:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, all.

John, we're sending another fine editor from Harvest House to Glorieta this year. I have to share the fun with others. I will be at the Jerry Jenkins conference, Mount Hermon, the Colorado conference put on by Marlene Bagnull, the Oregon conference and the Northwest Christian Writers' Alaska cruise.


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