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: http://www.johnvonhof.com/