Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Preparing for a Writers' Conference

ACFW is just around the corner--am I the only one this only recently dawned upon?-- and some of you may be attending for the very first time. Including our own and very beloved Sherrinda! So as the pre-conference jitters begin to rise, you may be wondering how to prepare. And do you REALLY need a full proposal and all those sample chapters?

Let me start with the biggest thing.

You need to get your head wrapped around your story, and you need to ask the Lord where He is leading you. If you see your writing as a calling rather than a hobby (and it certainly doesn't have to be, but be honest with yourself and seek God's heart for your story) then you need to surrender it. Because you were never in charge of it to begin with. Preaching to the choir here... man, why is that so hard to do? I think it's because our passion stirs a desire for control. But if God called you and God equipped you and God saw you through countless hours staring at your computer screen, God is certainly not going to fail you on the follow-through. Which means selling the book is not up to you.

Let that sink in a minute.

Selling your book is not up to you.

I've given some pretty stellar pitches in my day. Not one of them has turned into a book contract. Why? Because I wasn't ready. My stories weren't ready. And then the market wasn't ready. And you know what? I'm thankful. The last thing I want to do is begin what I hope will be a lifelong career, a lifelong dream, on a shaky foundation.

Maybe you're the one who thinks you aren't ready (hello, Moses) and God is saying you are.

Either way, the God who breathed your life into existence is more than capable of orchestrating your steps if you'll just let him.

So be flexible. Seek Him. Trust Him. And marvel at what He does.

Now, let's get down to the nitty gritty.

You'll need...

  • One sheets. If you don't bring anything else, bring a one sheet. This just needs to have a blurb hitting the most compelling points of your book (in other words, we don't need to know about Great Aunt Sally's lifelong dream of candy striping), a short bio about you and your credentials, and your contact info. Most people enjoy making these visually pretty, but it's not necessary. 
  • Business cards. Consider putting a photo of yourself on these so people remember what you look like.
  • Sample chapters. Just bring a couple, and don't expect anyone to actually take these with them. But they may want to see how you write, so come prepared.
  • An outline of your story. No, you don't need this in writing. But make sure you're able to tell someone your characters' struggles and growth, as well as your hook, on the spot.
  • A pitch ready. You can find SO many resources on this, but just know you're looking for your hook-- what brings the characters together in a unique way? Make this conversational and short. You don't have to be awkward about it or hit everything. The goal here is just to have an answer when someone asks, "What's your story about?"
  • To do your research! Pardon my teacher voice for a moment. But these editors and agents are SO encouraging to all of us writers, and truly want to find good stories. It's how they make a living. Do not waste their time by going into an appointment unprepared. Know a little about what kinds of books each house publishes, and know what they're acquiring. Treat it like a job interview because that's exactly what it is. Do not pitch an Amish romance to someone who's clearly expressed they only want to see suspense. It wastes their time, and it basically tells them you aren't invested in the field. I'm always baffled how many people treat editors as if an editor should bend over backwards to figure out their story or to make conversation. No. The industry professionals in ACFW are so generous, but we need to honor that by coming ready. Ready does not mean perfect or that you're not nervous. Ready means you're not ignorant. 😂 If there's one thing you should know in and out, it's your own story. If you can't answer questions about it, that's a huge red flag.
  • To plan some down time. Skip a breakfast and sleep in. Go back to your room in the afternoon. Swing by the prayer room and have Brandilyn pray for you. Find ways to seek out and guard some time for reflection to recharge your spirit. Otherwise, you're in danger of overwhelming yourself.

Above all, just be you. No one cares if you stumble over your pitch. Laugh and start over. No one cares if you forget the main character's name. They know you're nervous. Written proposals can remedy all these things. What a written prooosal can never emulate is the enthusiasm on your face when you share the story on your heart. So get giddy. Find your joy.

And make a few friends along the way. :)

See you all next week!


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh my goodness! I so needed this. I'm trying not to have jitters but they are there. I still haven't done my One Sheet and I haven't practiced my pitch much. Aak!! The Lord will see me through. I know this. He has led me every step of the way this year. Thank you, Ashley, for this post!!

kaybee said...

Ashley, this is so true. All of it. It's in God's timing, and we need to have that perspective before we even pack. I've been guilty of treating a conference like any other business opportunity and pushing myself forward when I should have waited on God. I'm not going this year, but thanks for the reminder.
Kathy Bailey

Savanna Kaiser said...

Thank you, Ashley, for all of this. Your words are an encouragement to me as I prepare to pitch for the first time next week. :) I'm really excited, but really nervous too! What a great reminder that my stories are all in God's hands to do with as He pleases. It's a journey, right? :) Hope to see you there!

Pepper said...

Great points to remember, Ash! Seasoned or not ;-)