Preparing for a Writer’s Conference

Seventeen years ago I went to my first writers’ conference. I was a rookie. I had my proposal and a sample chapter – such as they were. I had studied the list of speakers and knew who wrote what and who I wanted to talk to.

Looking back, I thought I had done my homework. I’m an analytical person, thinking things through and trying to plan ahead. I had a book idea. It was good. At least I thought so. But I went home with rejections. Deflated.

I returned year after year and kept learning. Having attended more than 40 conferences as participant and speaker, I’d like to share a few thoughts on planning for a conference.

At every conference, I talk to writers who are frustrated because they can’t interest an editor in their idea. Just like I was when I attended my first conference.

Let’s start with your writing idea.

Whether it’s for a book or article, it must be the best you can do. Maybe you think it’s your best. But until you have studied the craft of writing and received feedback from others, it’s probably not your best. Here’s where critique groups come in. Join one if you can (on-line or face-to-face) and learn from the feedback of others. And don’t forget to read a book about writing in your genre.

The same goes for your proposal or query letter. It’s your responsibility to know how to write them. If you haven’t read a book about queries or proposals, take the time to do so and then implement what you learn. You have the opportunity to submit proposals, queries, articles, and sample chapters to the faculty. You want them to be professional.

How about your idea?

Have you identified its audience?

Is it large enough to make the publisher money through book or magazine sales?

Publishing is a business and while we love our ideas, they have to stand on their own merits. Too small a market makes it hard for publishers to earn back expenses. An over done idea will be a hard sell. An idea whose time has come and gone will receive no support.

On the other had, an idea that has been thoroughly explored and vetted, an audience identified as well as how to reach them, is timely, has been written as close to perfect as possible, and is a good match for the publisher to whom it is being pitched, has a better chance of catching an editor’s interest.

Did you catch that last point – a good match for the publisher?

Conference organizers do a great job of getting publishers, editors and agents to the conference. Look over the faculty list and do your due diligence to learn what they publish. Spend a few hours exploring their websites to see what type of books they publish, or if a magazine, what articles they use. Find several that might be a good match for your writing. Your pre-conference submissions should go to these individuals. Then at the conference, meet them and get feedback on your submission.

Remember that the faculty at the conference is a small representation of the much larger Christian publishing industry. While you may not find a home for your writing at the conference, you will learn a lot to help you polish your work and this will help you submit to other publishers after the conference.

I love to talk to writers about their writing interests. Many are well thought out and with patience and perseverance, they will be published. Unfortunately, many others are not. When you decide to go to a writer’s conference, you need to make a plan that will not only help you be successful, but also the editors to whom you pitch your ideas.

If you want to learn what came out of my first ideas and rejections, ask me. It may inspire you. I took those rejections and turned them into a positive outcome.

Are you attending any conferences this year? What are you doing to prepare?

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John Vonhof is a freelance writer who writes for the Christian and secular markets. He teaches at writer’s conferences, has self-published two niche market books, both of which were later sold to a mainstream publishers, and has been published in many magazines, newsletters and Internet sites. Writing for niche markets is his passion. To learn more about John and his writing, visit his website:

A Fragrant Offering: A Prayer for Caring and Community

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2, NIV


Thank You, Lord, for this community of writers dedicated to serving You, one another, and the readers You have placed under our charge.


Guard our hearts and minds as we learn to love in word and deed within this fellowship of believers.


Help us equip and encourage each other toward excellence of craft and Christ-like character.


Refine our attitudes and strengthen our resolve as we rejoice, and support one another, in our seasons of pruning, as well as our spurts of growth.


May each word we write, as well as everything we say, do and think, be a fragrant offering of love and devotion to You.


In Jesus’ name, Amen.

How has God used Inspire to equip and encourage you during your writing journey?

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Xochi (pronounced so-she) Dixon is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher who loves Jesus and digging into God’s Word. She lives in Fairfield, CA with her hubby, Alan, their teenage son, Xavier, and their doggy-daughter, Jazzy. She enjoys amusement parks, baseball games and reading. Currently working toward a BA in Christian Ministry through Regent University, Xochi serves within the Youth Ministry at First Baptist Church of Vacaville. She writes Teen Fiction, Non-Fiction for women and teens, poetry and devotions.

Inspire Writer Spotlight: Kathryn Mattingly

How long have you been a member of Inspire Christian Writers?

I joined the El Dorado Hills IW group right after the holidays, in January. I saw it as part of a new year’s resolution to reinvent my career path. Nonetheless, that initial visit was to ‘check it out.’

With fear and trepidation did I consider taking on such a commitment while job searching and rebuilding my past entrepreneurial business as a private reading/writing tutor.

I can honestly say that first meeting was impressive! Everyone was gracious, intelligent, professional in attitude and motivated to succeed. I hope I have something worthwhile to contribute toward each ‘inspired writer’s success.

What prompted you to join Inspire?

Chris Pedersen, a friend and neighbor, mentioned the group to me on several occasions but at the time I had a highly stressful position as a department chair at a private college. I was laid off because of economy related cutbacks. It would seem time was suddenly on my side, and of course, timing is everything. When Cindy Jacks, from my Wisdom for Women Bible study group shared how much it was benefiting her as a writer, I caught her enthusiasm! Looking back, Chris was just as excited and motivated by IW as Cindy, but God had to open my heart in order to walk through that door.

When did you first know you were a writer?

When I was in 4th grade I often got scolded for writing lengthy stories in lieu of completing other schoolwork at my desk. One day the teacher confiscated and read what I’d written. She sent it off to a contest and I won a blue ribbon. I would like to say I was hooked from that moment on. Truthfully, I was hooked the day I had a vocabulary large enough to escape into a fantasy world.

Describe your writing career high point and low point.

I remember pitching my first publishable book to a coveted NY agent at the PNWA conference in Seattle and he took me on as a client. The manuscript won an award as a New Century Quarterly Finalist and got a second reading at Random House. Publishing was just beginning to spiral into a funk over the impending doom of e-books on the horizon. They tightened their purse strings, especially to new writers who would take some time and investment before a pay off. Long story short I lost out to a more established author with a fan base. (That would be one of my all time lows.)

Another high was winning a short story contest in which the prize was getting your short story collection published. It went to press and then the publishing house (Carpe Diem) went bankrupt. The editor I had been working with disappeared into the black void of Cyberspace and I never heard from him again. (That was another all time low.)

My second and third publishable books met a similar fate at creditable publishing houses, after second readings and ongoing negotiations with my agent. Ultimately, I was told literary fiction has a tighter budget and greater risk of getting lost in the sea of choices, because it doesn’t get the automatic pull of readers hooked on a particular genre. My biggest all time low was firing my agent and giving up at that point. I am not a patient person. Thankfully God is working on that.

 Which of your stories is closest to your heart?

When I was in Rome I wrote a short story about a beautiful little ragtag girl with a large white cat following close behind, begging among the outdoor cafes while her parents watched from across the street. The whole family dynamic affected me. These were young healthy gypsies with gorgeous children living a lifestyle they basically inherited. I found it all very fascinating.

How did you react when you received your first acceptance or publication?

I was excited to have my short fiction accepted into an anthology with much more seasoned writers, but making the “Internationally Yours Prize Winning Stories” anthology was my most satisfying accomplishment.

Describe receiving your first book contract.

I was ecstatic, but then the publisher went bankrupt. (It was the collection of my short stories).

What project of yours is gathering dust?

My four novels, but technically, I have blown the dust off and am spit shining them as we speak.

What’s next for you?

Getting those novels published – one at a time.

What does it mean to you to be a writer?

I have a personal quote I use frequently that sums it up:As a writer of fiction, I am not always sure where reality ends and non reality begins, when sane thoughts become less than sane, or what is imagination versus undiscovered truth, but ultimately, it is my job to make you as unsure as I am.” To me, this is what keeps life interesting and ultimately, poignant.

Was there a book that changed your life?

Many books have changed my life if we are speaking about a deeper awareness of our world and the many complexities within it. As a child I was deeply affected by Steinbeck’s The Red Pony. I read ferociously, but all those amazing books mostly blend together in my head except for this particular book by that great master.

During my teenage years the big standout was: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I was reading the classics and this one caught me up in a huge AHA moment we seldom have. Within the last five years, despite having read many noteworthy books, one that definitely stands above the crowd is: Little Bee by Chris Cleave. The nonfiction behind the fiction in this tale has greatly affected me.

Describe your writing environment.

I have a small den with a large desk housing a small Mac Book Pro and a large gray cat most of the time. The cat is my most cherished possession along with the Mac Book Pro. If a fire broke out and I could only grab one, let’s hope I choose the living pet over the replaceable electronic devise. But I don’t trust my decision making when under pressure so I pray about it frequently.

The desk holds a large printer (of course) and a small box I bought in Roatan, Honduras (carved by native Hondurans out of their exquisite inland mahogany) and in the small box is an assortment of tiny flash-drives that house the millions of words I have written. I hope to keep adding to this collection of flash drives, God willing.  

What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

Elizabeth Engstrom Cratty (who wrote Lizzy Borden) told me early in my career “persistence is the key.” Liz was the first person to believe in me and publish my work. (I have a dozen short stories published in anthologies.) If I had listened to her, my four novels would be published today. Instead I am giving them one more final edit. (The more we write, the better we get.) I won’t quit this time until they are published. I will be “persistent.”

Visit Kathryn’s blog, The Possibility Place,  friend her on Facebook, and connect with her on LinkedIn.

Need a Buddy for Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference?

Last year, I had the privilege of meeting Jeanette Hanscome, coordinator of the Mount Hermon Buddies. I mentioned I was considering attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. After spending one afternoon with her, I couldn’t sign up for the conference or the program fast enough.

Jeannette is the author of three Focus on the Family books for teen girls. She has published over 400 articles, devotionals, and stories. She is a regular contributor to Walk Thru the Bible’s Tapestry, Standard Publishing’s Encounter—the Magazine, and the “Girls, God, and the Good Life” blog. She has a passion for teaching and coaching new writers, as well as the gift of encouragement.

It is my privilege to introduce you to Jeanette Hanscome.

Thank you for joining us on the Inspire Christian Writers blog, Jeanette.

Thank you for inviting me. I’ve heard wonderful things about Inspire Christian Writers.


In your journey as a writer, how has belonging to a writing community helped you?

The friends that I’ve made through the writing community have become like an extended family to me. It has provided me with mentors, friends and prayer partners, and allowed me to make a difference in other writers’ lives as well.


When and how did the Buddy Program begin at Mount Hermon?

Several years ago, my friend Marilyn and I roomed together at Mount Hermon. During the conference, we kept running into overwhelmed first-timers. Some were discouraged, others felt overloaded, others couldn’t understand why they felt like crying or hiding in their room. ALL of them thought they were the only ones having a hard day.

We assured each writer that even those of us who had been attending the conference for years hit low points.

Marilyn mentioned how nice it would be if first-time registrants had some pre-conference mentoring or prep. We bounced the idea off a few faculty members and the Buddy System started the next year.

The program has grown and changed since, but the basic goal is still the same—helping first-timers prepare for an exciting, inspiring, but sometimes overwhelming five days.


In what practical ways does this program serve writers who are attending the conference for the first time?

About a month before the conference, first-timers who sign up for the program are matched with those who have attended at least once before.

Buddies are equipped to answer pre-conference questions, offer prayerful support, help define realistic goals, and advise on choosing workshops. Buddies can also help newbies prepare to pitch ideas to editors (if they plan to), guide in preparing to submit manuscripts, and give advice on practical things, like what to pack.

Some first-timers set themselves up for disappointment by going to Mount Hermon with unrealistic expectations; a pre-conference buddy will often recognize this and offer a gentle reality check, averting an emotional disaster.

Buddies and first-timers attend a Meet & Greet on Friday night and check in with each other partway through the conference, but once the workshops get under way, newbies are encouraged (and usually eager) to make new friends, start accomplishing their goals, and get all they can out of their time.

The Buddy System also serves first-timers who either didn’t know about the program or registered too late to really benefit from pre-conference mentoring. Select buddies are available to answer questions, offer encouragement and prayer, or just help newbies feel settled and welcome.

In the past, I’ve hosted a special table at lunch and dinner, especially for registrants who need a little boost of encouragement. Everyone is welcome at this table, whether it’s their first conference or their twentieth.


After the first day of the conference, I realized Mount Hermon was an emotional and spiritual experience, as well as a learning opportunity for writers. How have you seen the Buddy Program bless writers who participate as newbies to Mount Hermon?

Since each buddy has attended before, they have experienced the emotional ups and downs and know that God meets people in a unique way at Mount Hermon, often in areas that have more to do with our hearts than our writing. Buddies understand the need to pace ourselves and lay our agenda aside for God’s plan. Those who participate in the Buddy System not only come prepared for this, but also have someone to pray them through the journey.


How are Mount Hermon Buddies matched up?

When first-timers sign up, I ask a few simple questions: name, e-mail address, type of writing, their goals for the conference, and this year I also ask first-timers to let me know if they have any special needs that their buddy should know about.

I pray before matching people up and leave the rest up to God. Buddy/first-timer pairs have discovered that they lived in the same town, were struggling with similar health problems or family issues, or had hobbies in common.

It has been fun to watch friendships form through this program, too. I love it when God does that!

How can writers who have already experienced the Mount Hermon Writers Conference benefit from and serve through the program?

Buddies are definitely blessed in the process of serving. This is their chance to “give back”—to pass on the tips and encouragement that they needed during their first year. It’s fun to watch someone go from nervous to excited—from vowing that they won’t talk to any of those scary editors, to not only talking to one, but getting the go-ahead to send a proposal or article. Serving the first-timers is actually one of my favorite parts of this conference.


What would you say to encourage someone who is considering attending Mount Hermon for the first time in 2012?

Don’t let fear hold you back from attending.

I have low vision and was afraid of getting lost on an unfamiliar campus. If I had given in to fear, I would have missed out on a life-changing experience. And I don’t throw around the term life-changing casually.

If you have the desire to go, ask God to help you make it happen. Go to learn, meet other writers, and seek God’s direction for your writing dreams.


Thank you for taking time to visit with us on the Inspire Christian Writers blog, Jeanette.

Thanks again. This was a lot of fun. Please spread the word about the Mount Hermon Conference and about the Buddy System.

You are invited to attend the 2012 Mount Hermon Writers Conference, scheduled for March 30th to April 3rd.

To request a Buddy, or to sign up as a Buddy, please email Jeanette at:

After interviewing Jeannette, I signed up to serve as a buddy. I look forward to meeting you there!

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Xochi (pronounced so-she) Dixon is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher who loves Jesus and digging into God’s Word. She lives in Fairfield, CA with her hubby, Alan, their teenage son, Xavier, and their doggy-daughter, Jazzy. She enjoys amusement parks, baseball games and reading. Currently working toward a BA in Christian Ministry through Regent University, Xochi serves within the Youth Ministry at First Baptist Church of Vacaville. She writes Teen Fiction, Non-Fiction for women and teens, poetry and devotions.


A Dual Perspective: Inspire Interview with Author / Editor Dana Wilkerson

I met Dana Wilkerson, editor of ENCOUNTER—The Magazine, at the 2011 Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. She taught the Magazine Articles workshop and shared valuable tips on formatting articles and submitting to magazines. The skills I learned in her class equipped me to submit and sell seven pieces after leaving Mount Hermon.

Dana has served as a full-time Independent Publishing Professional for over five years. Her commitment to building up the body of Christ is evident in her service as a writer and an editor. With a Bachelors of Science in Elementary Education and a Masters of Divinity in Christian Education, she currently offers valuable insight as the editor of ENCOUNTER-The Magazine and 252 Basics Family Experience. Her most recent published works, The Vow – The True Events that Inspired the Movie (Collaboration, B&H, 2012) and My First Hands-On Bible (Contributor, Group/Tyndale, 2011), are just two examples of how God is using Dana to reach readers of all ages.


I’m pleased to introduce Dana Wilkerson, author, editor, and encouraging teacher.

Thank you for taking time to join us on the Inspire blog, Dana.

Thanks for having me.

Why do you think it’s important that unpublished and published writers submit to magazines?

Submitting to magazines that accept unsolicited submissions is a great way for unpublished writers to break into the publishing industry.

I know it’s frustrating for new writers when they discover that most publications only accept submissions from published writers. After all, how can you ever get published if you have to already be published to get published?

One of the great things about ENCOUNTER—The Magazine is that we accept unsolicited submissions from anyone, published or not. To me, what’s important is the words within an article, not the list of the author’s previous published works.

I also think it’s good for published writers to keep submitting to magazines because it keeps them fresh and challenges them in different ways than writing a book or blog entries does. It also helps put authors’ names out there, because magazine circulation numbers are often much higher than book sales numbers or blog hits. It’s a great form of publicity.

What can writers do to make their work attractive to editors among the throngs of daily submissions?

First, follow the writing guidelines. I know that sounds simple and obvious, but you would be surprised how many submissions I get that are not appropriate for our magazine in either content or format.

Second, be creative while staying within those writing guidelines. At ENCOUNTER we use themes for each week, and it amazes me how many articles for a theme sound exactly the same. Find a new approach or a new angle for a topic.

Congratulations on your new book, The Vow: The True Events That Inspired the Movie, which hit the shelves and the theaters on February 10, 2012. What is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of writing a book based on a true story?

The most challenging aspect was making sure I was portraying the real people and events accurately while also writing in an engaging way. I worked very closely with Kim and Krickitt Carpenter as I wrote because I wanted to be certain what I wrote was what really happened.

And the great part was that they weren’t interested in making themselves look good; they wanted the reader to know them, for better and for worse, but most of all they wanted to make sure God was the focus.

The most rewarding aspect was the thanks I got from the Carpenters for doing what I just described.

What is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of collaborative writing?

The most rewarding aspect of collaborative writing is knowing I’m helping people get their stories out there for people to read. I don’t think the reading public should be deprived of hearing an inspiring story just because the person the events happened to isn’t an accomplished writer. I love helping those people share their stories with the world.

The most challenging aspect is communication. Some people I’ve worked with, like the Carpenters, have been great about being available and keeping in touch with me while I write.

Others (and I’m not going to name names here!) have been really hard to track down when I really need some input or answers. In those cases I just have to push ahead while hoping I’m headed in the right direction and won’t have to do extensive re-writes.

As an author and editor, you have a unique perspective on the publication process. What advice would you give authors who are intimidated by the process of pitching and submitting to an editor?

I know interacting with editors can be intimidating, but we’re people just like you. Many of us are also writers ourselves, and we’ve been (and still often are) where you are.

My advice is to do your homework. Take a look at sample pitches, cover letters, and so on from writing books and websites so that you can appear to be a professional even if you don’t feel like it!

Then do some research on the specific publication you’re pitching or submitting to. Resources like The Christian Writer’s Market Guide are a fantastic place to start, and almost all publications have a page on their website dedicated to writing FAQs and guidelines.

Don’t ask an editor a question that is answered in those places or do (or not do) something that our guidelines have told you not to do (or not do). It makes us think you’re not serious about writing for us.

And finally, be confident, but also be teachable and willing to adjust your writing according to editorial guidelines and suggestions.

What would you say to authors who have felt frustrated or discouraged when it comes to receiving a “no” from an editor?

We have all been there, so take comfort from the misery of others. Ha! I’m only partly kidding.

Seriously, though, the fact that you received a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean your work wasn’t of good quality (though it might; if an editor will give feedback, take advantage of that option). Some rejections might just mean that there were too many great pieces to print. That happens all the time with ENCOUNTER.

For example, I might get 20 submissions for one week’s theme, of which 7 are great articles. (See, I told you some rejected articles are great.) We print at most 4 freelance articles per theme, but usually it’s just 2 or 3. So what I have to do is choose just the right combination of articles for those 2-4 spots, based on length, genre, and subject matter.

I often have to send rejection letters for articles that I absolutely love just because there’s not enough room.

What final word of encouragement or advice would you like to share with published and unpublished authors?

Keep writing! You never know where God might take you and who He wants to reach through your words.

But keep in mind that His plans might be different than yours. The goal is for God to be glorified, not for us to make a name for ourselves.

Thank you for sharing insight from both sides of the fence in the publication world, Dana. We pray the Lord will continue to use you to equip and encourage your fellow authors as He blesses your personal writing ministry.

Thanks, Xochi. It’s been a pleasure.

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ENCOUNTER – The Magazine is currently accepting unsolicited submissions. Check out their writer’s guidelines and read samples of the magazine. If, after all of your research, you feel your work fits the needs of ENCOUNTER, pray for God’s leading, polish that piece and send it in.

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Xochi (pronounced so-she) Dixon is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher who loves Jesus and digging into God’s Word. She lives in Fairfield, CA with her hubby, Alan, their teenage son, Xavier, and their doggy-daughter, Jazzy. She enjoys amusement parks, baseball games and reading. Currently working toward a BA in Christian Ministry through Regent University, Xochi serves within the Youth Ministry at First Baptist Church of Vacaville. She writes Teen Fiction, Non-Fiction for women and teens, poetry and devotions.

Life on the Ledge or Leaning on the Lord?

Have you ever felt like the writing road is lined with ledges? I certainly have.

I felt like I was living on the Ledge for several months this past year.

But I survived.

Following is what I learned as I leaned on others during that tough time.

I suffered a debilitating case of Second Book Syndrome shortly after I was contracted. I felt sure what I was writing was drivel or dreck or downright disgusting. My supportive hubby and awesome CPs held my hand as I teetered on the Ledge.

In time I realized there was no way to deal with Second Book Syndrome other than to trudge through it. So I wrote the story, such as it was, sure it was terrible. And I prayed, surrendering my efforts and the outcome to the God.

Guess what? He’s faithful and omnipresent, coming alongside me in my down times. No surprise there, huh?

I wrote, but I wasn’t alone. The Lord plopped Himself beside me on the Ledge, ready to stay the course, and imbued me with renewed enthusiasm, energy, and ideas.

Gradually my confidence returned–in baby steps, mind–and when I looked up one day, I discovered I was no longer languishing at the edge of the Ledge. It loomed in the distance, but as I kept my focus on the story I’d been transported to a new place, a better place.

Did I still feel the fears at times? Yup. But I wrote anyway, and the Lord honored my efforts. I finished the story, performed my self-edits, and will be sending it to my CP soon.

When I delved into the finished story, sure it stank and eager to seek ways to improve it, I had a pleasant surprise. It was better than I’d thought.

Oh, I could claim creative brilliance, but that would be a laugh. I know the real reasons.

One is that my talent didn’t leave me; only my confidence did.

The other more important reason is that I tapped into the Source of my creativity and inspiration. I invited the Lord to be my partner on my writing journey at the outset some six years ago, and He’s been there for me all along.

With God beside me I can do this–even face the Ledge–because He’s there with me, upholding and uplifting me and blowing my mind with His goodness, guidance, generosity, and abundant love.

Have you lived on the Ledge? How did you respond? What lessons did you learn?

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Novelist Keli Gwyn is a California native who lives in the Gold Rush-era town of Placerville in the Sierra Foothills. Her stories transport readers to the 1800s, where she brings historic towns to life, peoples them with colorful characters, and adds a hint of humor. She enjoys visiting her fictional worlds, the Coach outlet store, and Taco Bell.

Keli’s debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, will be released by Barbour Publishing in July. She’s a member of the El Dorado Hills Inspire group.

Learn more about Keli by visiting her blog. You can connect with her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter.