Why Should I Go to a Writer’s Conference?

I believe there are three compelling reasons to go to a writer’s conference and as many, or more, conference “genres” to choose from.

Mount Hermon Azalea

Mount Hermon Azalea

  • You will dwell with a community of writers. The benefit is not only the chance to meet other people who think like you, but you will gain affirmation, encouragement and support. Perhaps you will meet a Facebook friend or an online writer’s loop member face to face for the first time and a lasting friendship blossoms. Or you might sit next to someone at dinner   who writes in your genre or lives nearby and a friend and/or critique partner is found. “A generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25.
  • There is no better place to learn the writing craft. Most conferences will have an ???????????????????????????????array of workshops and tracks for every level of writer, whether you only have a vague idea about what you want to write or you have a whole drawer full of manuscripts. You can learn specifics about the publishing world from editors and agents and gain insight to what each is looking for. And you can learn from authors who have found success and are generous in sharing what they have learned along the way. “For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul, discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.” Proverbs 2:10-11
  • You will have the opportunity to make an appointment with an agent, editor or mentoring author. Beyond learning, building relationships is really the core and the blessing of writer’s conferences. Editors and agents are very interested in finding excellent writers who they enjoy on a personal level as well. The ability to work together is almost as important as your ability to write. If the thought of sitting down
    A meeting waiting to happen.

    A meeting waiting to happen.

    and chatting with an industry professional fills you with anxiety, say a prayer, take a breath, and know that the person you are talking to is interested in what you have to say and wants you to succeed. One of the biggest blessings I have found at conferences of any size, is that those who are there to instruct have a big heart for what they do, and are glad you are there. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

There are many conferences to choose from, Christian and secular. And there are many good secular conferences so don’t be afraid to attend and be a light to the world. But if you desire to write for the Christian market, you really need to also attend Christian conferences. I like to break them down by size, and each has its benefits. I’ve attended the Romance Writers of America conference (this July it’s in San Antonio!) and a plus is meeting with the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter.

  • The small, weekend workshop. You can usually find one of these close to where you live, and they often are the best place to dip your toe in the water, or your pen into
    Beachside 2011      The Weight of Words

    Beachside 2011 The Weight of Words

    the ink. Especially great for newbie writers. and also those who write because they love to, but don’t necessarily aspire to be traditionally published. Choose one that is lakeside, beachside, or mountaintop for an extra dose of inspiration! My favorite is Bob Welch’s Beachside Writers with Jane Kirkpatrick. They are a dynamic duo and the weekend offers a unique blend of learning the craft and practicing your writing skills. It’s on the Oregon coast in Yachats, and I try to go as often as possible.

  • Regional conferences. Once again, most likely you won’t have to travel far to find a writer’s conference that is still small but offers much to the writer who wants the chance to meet editors from publishing houses and magazines, agents, librarians, freelance editors, and multi-published authors who enjoy “giving back” and sharing techniques or writing methods they’ve learned along their journey. Most likely there will be an amazing keynote speaker. I have just returned from the Mount Hermon
    Mount Hermon Check-In

    Mount Hermon Check-In

    Christian Writer’s Conference in Santa Cruz, CA. Author and speaker Glenna Salsbury was the inspiring keynoter this year and next year Author Robin Gunn will be speaking. The campus is in the redwoods, with dogwood and azalea in bloom, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful spot to be inspired to write. The sense of being among a community of writers is awesome, and as you drink in the beauty and tranquility you can’t help but experience God’s presence. And  the Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference has fantastic conferences ranging from one-day to a full four-day conference in Portland with keynote speakers such as Author Jane Kirkpatrick, Allen Arnold of Ransomed Heart Ministries and Author Dan Walsh.

  • National conferences. This is where you will find a compendium of knowledge about all aspects of the writing world. It’s most likely located at a conference hotel and
    Enjoying friends at ACFW

    Enjoying friends at ACFW

    maybe only occasionally near you. But it’s worth the time and effort to attend. The pace might seem hectic and you will literally fall into bed each night, but you will come home filled with enthusiasm to finish the book or start the next one! My favorite one is the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference, held this year in beautiful St. Louis, MO, with keynote speaker, Author Lauraine Snelling. The conference dates this year are September 25 – 27th. And remember, if you feel overwhelmed, there is always a chapel or prayer room arranged at ACFW with Brandilyn Collins and volunteers there to pray with you and/or beside you.

I’d love to know if you have attended a conference or if you are planning on attending one in the future. Which are your personal favorites? Why? If you’re attending one for the first time what do you look forward to the most? What do you fear?

The Joy of Categories

From actual query letters…

“I’ve got a novel that’s sort of a historical fantasy magical realism.”

GregsBooks“My new nonfiction is for everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. There’s nothing as good or like it on the market. It should be stocked at the front of the store in the ‘bestseller’ section.”

“The graduation gift book I’m proposing will be the kind of book retail will stock all year around.”

One thing new (and sometimes veteran) authors don’t understand is that every book must have a recognizable category. The queries for books listed above have none. The moment you go outside of a known category, retail doesn’t know what to do with it. They don’t know where to stock it; they don’t know how to describe it to their customers. In short, they won’t know how to sell it. And that’s the point of writing books you’d like people to read . . . to sell them.

It starts with what is known as a BISAC code. It’s those few words on the back of the book that give retail and consumer a clue as to what the book is about. Every book gets a maximum of three. Here are the categories from the Book Industry Study Group:

ANTIQUES/COLLECTIBLES
ARCHITECTURE
ART
BIBLES
BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY
BODY, MIND & SPIRIT
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS
COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS
COMPUTERS
COOKING
CRAFTS & HOBBIES
DESIGN
DRAMA
EDUCATION
FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS
FICTION
FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
GAMES
GARDENING
HEALTH & FITNESS
HISTORY
HOUSE & HOME
HUMOR
JUVENILE FICTION
JUVENILE NONFICTION
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES
LAW
LITERARY COLLECTIONS
LITERARY CRITICISM
MATHEMATICS
MEDICAL
MUSIC
NATURE
PERFORMING ARTS
PETS
PHILOSOPHY
PHOTOGRAPHY
POETRY
POLITICAL SCIENCE
PSYCHOLOGY
REFERENCE
RELIGION
SCIENCE
SELF-HELP
SOCIAL SCIENCE
SPORTS & RECREATION
STUDY AIDS
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING
TRANSPORTATION
TRAVEL
TRUE CRIME

Handy dandy, but did you notice there are only TWO categories for fiction: Fiction and Juvenile fiction.

When you toddle over to Barnes and Noble, here are the categories you’ll find as you browse the aisles:

Fiction Books & Literature
Graphic Novels
Horror
Mystery & Crime
Poetry
Romance Books
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Thrillers
Westerns

Children
Ages 0-2
Ages 3-5
Ages 6-8
Ages 9-12
Teens

Non-fiction
African Americans
Antiques & Collectibles
Art, Architecture & Photography
Bibles & Bible Studies
Biography
Business Books
Christianity
Christian Fiction
Computer & Technology Books
Cookbooks, Food & Wine
Crafts & Hobbies Books
Education & Teaching
Engineering
Foreign Languages
Game Books
Gay & Lesbian
Health & Fitness
History
Home & Garden
Humor Books
Judaism & Judaica
Law
Medical & Nursing Books
Music/Film/TV/Theater
New Age & Spirituality
Parenting & Family
Pets
Philosophy
Politics & Current Affairs
Psychology & Psychotherapy
Reference
Relationships
Religion Books
Science & Nature
Self Help & Self Improvement
Social Sciences
Sports & Adventure
Study Guides & Test Prep
Travel
True Crime
Weddings
Women’s Studies

Not bad. A little bit more descriptive in fiction, which is helpful, but if you wanted to find “historical fiction,” for example, you have to browse a few thousand books and hope you bump into a title that screams “historical” from the spine.

How about at a Christian bookstore? At a local Mardel, here is what we found:

Bible Reference
Bible Studies
Biography
Christian Living
Commentaries
Counseling
Devotional
Fiction
General Interest
Gift Books
Health
Marriage & Family
Men
Prayer
Seasonal
Software
Spanish
Spirit-Filled Life
Teen Interest
Women

Again, ONE designation for fiction. (Really? Do they really NOT want to sell novels?)

And then there are award categories. Here are the categories for the “Christy Awards,” the yearly fiction awards:

Contemporary Romance
Contemporary Series (sequels and novella)
Contemporary Stand Alones
First Novel
Historical
Historical Romance
Suspense
Visionary
Young Adult

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has their own set of categories for determining the “Carol Awards”:

Debut
Long Contemporary
Long Contemporary Romance
Long Historical
Long Historical Romance
Mystery
Novella
Romantic Suspense
Short Contemporary
Short Contemporary Suspense
Speculative Fiction
Suspense/Thriller
Women’s Fiction
Young Adult

The INSPYs (Bloggers Awards of Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature) has yet another set of categories:

Romance
Literature for Young People
General Fiction
Speculative Fiction
Mystery & Thriller

The ECPA has their Gold Medallion Awards in these categories:

Book of the Year
Bibles
Bible Reference
Children
Fiction
Inspiration
New Author
Non-fiction

If all of this seems confusing, well, I suppose it is. When in doubt take comfort that you don’t have to pick from the Amazon.com categories. Just try to find three categories to mention!

The point is, each book gets three known categories on the back. Choose wisely in your proposals, but also try to choose broad categories so your book will get the most amount of exposure. And please, for the love Ernest Hemingway, don’t make up a category and call yourself a “pioneer.” Don’t implore the agent to think “outside the box.” Don’t call publishers “short-sighted non-creatives.” Just pick some categories and color inside the lines. We’ll all be happier.

Have you ever been confused about categories? How did you solve your dilemma?