Archive for February, 2015

February 23, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

Relationships and Other Odds and Ends


This is the sixth and last post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. In this post, we’ll look at the importance of forming friendships with other conferees, the proper way to respond to editors, and what to do with the tote bag of hand-outs you’ll take home with you.

The Importance of Friendships

If you’ve been writing for any length of time, you know this “business” can be lonely. While you’re slaving away at your computer, your family and your non-writing “normal” friends, who love you dearly, don’t understand you, wondering why you’re spending all your time writing something that will “probably never be published.” (And even if it is published, it might take years.) Only another writer understands the burning desire deep down in your heart to get that story or poem out before you burst, whether it’s ever published or not.

Thus, it’s important for you as a writer to have those kindred spirits as friends to dump on occasionally, to talk you through writer’s block, to cheer with you when your manuscript is accepted, and to cry with you when you get your umpteenth rejection letter. If you have no critique group in your area that meets regularly, then the next best thing is to form Conferees.on.Porchfriendships at writers conferences and keep in touch with your writer buddies throughout the year.

I have numerous writer friends, who live across the country, but we keep in touch via the marvel of the Internet or by phone. Many of these special friendships were formed over my attending twenty years of conferences, and I thank the Lord for these writers’ encouragement and camaraderie when I’ve needed it the most.

So remember when you attend the conferences, look for opportunities to meet other conferees. Sit at different tables during meals, talk to folks on your breaks, and get names, phone numbers, and email addresses of those you get to know. You’ll be very glad you did.

Responding to Editors

I have one word to say concerning your follow-up after meeting with editors at writers conferences: RESPOND.

If an editor, or agent, reviews your work at a writers conference and asks you to contact him/her in a few weeks after the conference, then do so. A number of editors and agents have told me that only about 25% of the conferees they meet at conferences respond to that request, which is hard to understand. Those who don’t respond might be kissing a contract goodbye. In the two years I’ve been filling the shoes of an acquisitions editor for a small press, I’ve had similar results with some folks I’ve met at conferences. They’ve never contacted me after the conference…ever! It’s a mystery that defies explanation.

Thus, my advice to you if you meet an editor or agent who likes your work and wants you to get back to them a week or so after the conference, then make that a top priority when you get home. It might be a golden opportunity for you to land that contract you’ve been writing for all these years.

What To Do with a Stack of Hand-outs (and Books Purchased)

Most faculty members will have hand-outs for the conferees who attend their workshops. If you go to even a one-day conference, you might sit in on four to six workshops during the day. Going to a multi-day conference will, obviously, fill your tote bag with all kinds of valuable information that can help you master your craft. Then there’s always the book table, which lures you to buy invaluable how-to books and tomes of the best-selling faculty members. But what to do with dozens of papers and a two-foot stack of new books?

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a plan for all these papers and books, they might land in a messy pile in the corner of your computer station, stuffed in a drawer, or left in the tote bag Frank.Stuffed.Duck.in.Lobbyyou’ve carried home. This, in my opinion, is a misappropriation of funds and vital knowledge!

If you’ve possibly paid hundreds of dollars to attend a conference, then strive to get the very best out of it, while you’re there and afterward. Buy a three-ring binder and file your hand-outs in the binder, making sure you’ve labeled all the hand-outs with the faculty member’s name who taught the session. It’s your choice whether to put the papers in alphabetical order or in chronological order. Store all your book purchases in an obvious place and READ THEM! Thus, all that helpful information will be at your fingertips and can only help you to improve your craft.

So, what’s the bottom line concerning attending writers conferences? Go to as many as possible, make new friends, meet with agents and editors, and take detailed notes that will be at your fingertips when you get home. Of such are best-selling authors made.

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February 16, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

Different Ways to be Critiqued

This is the fifth post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. This time we’ll look at the different ways you can have your work critiqued at most writers conferences.

“Have my work critiqued?” you might ask. “Why would I want anyone to look at my work? I have a novel all ready to submit to a publishing company, and I’m not about to rewrite it…or any part of it.”

Well, if that’s any writer’s attitude, I have one word to describe that person: foolish.

Types of Critiques: If you have plans to attend a writers conference, then by all means plan to have your work critiqued. Most conferences will offer several venues. A writer may choose to do one or several of them to get an objective opinion concerning the quality of writing and how the work can be made publishing ready:

  • Attend classes where the faculty member asks the conferees to bring samples of their written work to class and you do a “work-in-progress” revision over the course of the conference. With the faculty member’s lectures and suggestions, each conferee in the class works on his/her pages, sometimes in class, sometimes in the evening to bring to class the next day.
  • Attend another “work-in-progress” continuing class. This differs in that your sample pages will be sent to the faculty member ahead of time (with a fee) before the conference starts. He/she then critiques your sample pages, brings them to the conference, and you along with maybe eight or nine others in your class—class size is usually limited— revise during the continuing workshops each day with the faculty member’s mentoring and teaching basics.
  • When you arrive at the conference, sign up to meet with one or several faculty members in freebie private (usually 15-minute) sessions. During these critique periods, you sit down with a faculty member and show him/her on the spot no more than five pages of your written work. The 15 minutes are spent with the faculty member reading the pages then making suggestions. If the faculty member is an editor of a publishing company, he/she might express interest in your work, so much so that he/she could want you to submit your work to the company for consideration. (It really does happen. This is how I got my contracts for the Keystone Stables Series by Zonderkidz, my homeschool helps book by New Leaf Press, and my Loves of Snyder County Series through an agent I met at a conference.)
  • Register ahead of time with a fee to have a sample (usually 10 to 15 pages) critiqued by a particular faculty member whom you’ve chosen. The faculty member critiques the work before the conference then meets with you at the conference for a half hour, reviewing the critiqued work and making suggestions. He/she encourages the writer as well as gives invaluable advice to improve the work.
  • Attend scheduled freebie critique meetings with your peers. Often, conferences will allot some time in the schedule for conferees (and sometimes a faculty member coordinator) to meet and discuss each other’s work. Usually two or three pages at the most are read out loud, and each one in attendance offers his/her opinion and suggestions. As you can see, most writers conferences feel it’s SO important to have conferees’ work critiqued, the directors will provide all kinds of opportunities for conferees to participate. Wise conferees, both newbies and experienced including published authors, will take advantage of any or all of these opportunities to improve their writing skills. A publishing contract might be right around the corner.
  • Next time, we’ll do the sixth and last blog in this series about writers conferences. We’ll discuss relationships, responding to an editor’s request for you to submit to his/her publishing company, and odds and ends.

Happy writing!

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February 9, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

But I Already Know All That!


Cec Murphey Teaching a Class

This is the fourth post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. This time we’ll discuss why it’s absolutely necessary for you as a conferee to choose the correct workshops and learn the essentials of becoming a better writer, no matter what genre interests you.

The best conferences will offer a variety of excellent workshops covering numerous topics to whet any writer’s appetite. But which ones should you choose? How do you decide?

Using a past brochure from the Montrose Christian Writers Conference, I’ve listed just a few of the 50+ workshops the conference had offered from Monday morning until late Thursday afternoon:















As you can see, this conference, as most others, offered classes and sessions from fiction to nonfiction to marketing to poetry to social media, and much more. The key to getting the most out of any conference is analyzing your strengths and weaknesses, your knowledge of the writing/publishing world or lack thereof, and the genres of writing you’ve attempted. Then, a wise conferee will plan ahead to attend classes all day long and take notes. Also, most conferences offer CDs of the workshops presented, so any conferee can go home with a wealth of information packed in his/her suitcase.

With 60+ conferences under my belt, the only words of warning I have to offer is mainly to the newbie or the writer who’s not sure he/she really wants to write at all, so here goes.

Chapel.gathering.7.20.14My Advice to Newbies: If you plan to spend hundreds of dollars on conference registrations and room/board or, at least, your valuable time and the expense of traveling to and from a conference, then go with the goal of learning. If you’re just starting, you need to evaluate what workshops will be most valuable to you. I can’t emphasize enough the value of attending any beginners’ workshops offered.

“But I’ve been writing for two years, and I want to know how to write fiction better!” you might say. Or maybe you’d say, “I know all that stuff about margins and fonts and what kind of paper to use for submissions. I want to know how to get my poetry published.”

My best advice to any newbie or anyone who’s not yet decided what to write is to go to the beginners’ class. There, the instructor will share information essential for the conferee to become a better writer, no matter what genre you write. It will involve much more than margins and letter fonts.

I’ve been constantly surprised with submissions I’ve received, some from folks whom I assume have attended writers conferences for years, but their quality of writing has much to be desired. I’ve received some manuscripts that had the wrong size font and the spacing was single spaced. Others had no contact information included at the top of the first page, and the writing was so immature, it couldn’t have passed a high school sophomore’s term paper test. I can only scratch my head and wonder if these folks EVER attended any conferences, and, if they did, if they went to the right classes to help them improve their writing.Marshas.Class.Wk.in.Progress.2013

If you’re just starting to write, please don’t be embarrassed to admit your newbie status, and get to those beginners’ classes to learn the vital facts so important to improve. After you have a few of those classes under your belt, then launch out into specific genre workshops and commit to having your work critiqued by a faculty member.

All these opportunities are there to help you become that best-selling author you dream to be. So, decide to attend writers conferences as often as you can, and when you get there, go to those classes that are designed just for you. You’ll come home with a wealth of new information that you can find no place else. Apply what you’ve learned, and that publishing contract will be right around the corner.


Next time, we’ll look at the different ways you can have your work critiqued at writers conferences.

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February 2, 2015

Getting the Most Out of a Writers Conference

Making a Pitch to an Editor at a Writers Conference

This is the third post in a short series about writers conferences and why it’s so important for writers, both newbies and experienced, to attend. In this post, we’ll discuss how important it is for writers to meet editors and agents at conferences. Most conferences offer that opportunity either as a freebie perk or a paid private critique.

I can’t begin to express how advantageous it is to sit down privately at a writers conference with an editor/agent and discuss one of your projects. Four of my book contracts and the start of a wonderful relationship with an agent came to me this way. But there’s something that every writer needs to master before you ever get to the conference and meet these special folks.

“Make that pitch.” If you’re hoping and praying the editor/agent will offer you a contract, then you need to know how to “make a pitch” to that person. The scheduled private sessions usually last only 10 to 15 minutes, so a wise conferee will practice his/her pitch ahead of time, being careful to include all the pertinent information about the project in a very short time, maybe 30 seconds to a minute.

Tell your story. The key word in this is “story.” Don’t concentrate on your voice, theme, or anything other than your storyline. The editor/agent wants to hear what your story or your nonfiction work is about. Get right to the heart of the matter. Tell your listener the genre, word count, and whether the book is finished. Make sure he/she knows if you’ve submitted the manuscript to any publishing houses and if you’re waiting for a response.

Next, move into the story, something like this: LOVE SONG FOR LOUELLEN is a contemporary story set in Snyder County, Pennsylvania. It’s about a married Amish woman, who falls in love with a man for whom she cleans every Saturday. It’s also about her and her husband’s beliefs, which they question when they learn some truths of the Bible about salvation and eternity in heaven with God. My readers will have a thorough understanding of the Amish culture, including shunning and pow-wowing, when they finish this first book in THE LOVES OF SNYDER COUNTY SERIES, which will have three volumes.

Be prepared to answer questions. After your “pitch,” I recommend you stop and wait for the editor/agent to ask questions. He/she will have to read through two or three pages of your manuscript if you didn’t submit a sample of your work ahead of time, which is usually done with a paid critique. The editor/agent might say something like this: “Well, it sounds interesting but we don’t do Amish. Do you have anything else?” Sometimes when authors attend conferences, it’s hard to tell exactly what the editors/agents are looking for, even though their blurbs in the brochure might give you an overview. However, if you’ve chosen to meet with someone who isn’t interested in your work, you have one of two choices to make. Thank the editor/agent for his/her time or discuss any other ongoing projects you have that might fill his/her needs. Be professional, but be polite and always be ready to learn.

But don’t bloviate! Just remember to be as brief as possible. Remember, you only have a ten or fifteen-minute appointment, so you want to be kind and not extend your time into someone else’s scheduled slot. And remember to smile, have a positive attitude, and have a willing attitude to learn. You just might walk away with an excellent lead that will land a contract in your lap just around the writers’ bend.

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