Christian Writers’ Conferences
by Deb Brammer
In more than 30 years of writing for publication, writers’ conferences have been one of my most helpful resources. You may have been considering a writers’ conference and wondered if it would help you. Here are some things I have gained by attending Christian writers’ conferences.
I have learned practical tips at writers’ conferences that I wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. In 1984 Lee Roddy taught a workshop which explained basic plot elements of a story. I still use some of his points as a checklist for my own fiction today. Maybe there’s a book out there that explains all that in the concise way he did, but I didn’t know about it then. Even today I don’t know of one good source of that information apart from his workshop. I learn a lot of information at conferences that make me a better writer.
Inspirational speakers also motivate me to keep writing and to write for the right reasons. I can’t forget a motivational speech that Carole Gift Page gave. “When I write I feel God’s pleasure,” she told us. Though that was in 1994 I can still remember thinking, though it was not a sermon, that it was so moving she should have given an invitation.
I have done most of my writing in isolation, far from other Christian writers. A conference gives me the opportunity to meet other Christian writers and compare notes. It allows me to meet editors and ask specific questions. The last conference I went to gave me contact with an agent and helped me consider a relationship with one some day. I have also had manuscripts professional critiqued so I could learn how to change my writing. These are things I could never have gotten from books.
A Feel for Publication
Conferences have given me a feel for the publishing industry. They help me understand publishing issues and trends in publishing. They show me the other side of the writer-editor relationship. I could get much of the conference information from books, but I come away with more than facts. I can only describe it as a feel for the process of publication. I know of no other way for me to get this than attending writers’ conferences.
Today information is everywhere. A wealth of books have been written on practically every aspect of writing. Then you have the internet, CD’s, writing coaches and critiquers, magazines, and more conferences. The problem is finding them. Writers’ conferences link me to the resources. They help me find what I need.
Writers’ conferences force me to act like a professional. First I learn how a professional writer should act. Then I get to meet editors and put that into practice. They help me take my writing to a professional level.
Choosing a Writers’ Conference
Not all writers’ conferences are created equal. I have attended 2 American Christian Writers’ Conferences in 1984 and 2007, the Write-to-Publish Conference in 1990 and 1994, and the Writing for the Soul Conference in 2004. I found all of them to be very helpful. I have attended conferences in Chicago, Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, Seattle, and a small one in Taiwan. Since I’m a missionary I just try to find one somewhere near our travels during the time we are on furlough.
Some conferences last only a day. One lasts four days. Smaller conferences may only offer courses or workshops on a beginners’ level. Others may offer much more variety on many levels. Cost varies greatly.
American Christian Writers Conference
If this is your first conference and you have not been published yet you may want to consider an American Christian Writers’ Conference. They have various conferences across America. I last attended one in 2007. Though it was a smaller conference it did offer various workshops on different levels. I found it very helpful. Courses, workshops, and instructors vary from conference to conference. You may find one at a location near you. An ACW conference runs about $200, though some discounts apply.
For a schedule of ACW conferences: http://www.jameswatkins.com/acw/acwconferences.htm
These conferences take place in the Chicago area in June. This large conference gives you a choice of 6 continuing classes and a choice of about 6 electives each time. It runs for 4 full days. You can attend for the full session or choose only certain days. The full conference cost around $470 without housing and meals. You can also order CD’s and tapes of the various sessions for about $8 each. You don’t have to go to the conference to order tapes.
For more information:
Writing for the Soul Conference
These conferences take place in Colorado in February. In 2010 they plan to meet in Denver. They offer 7 continuing classes plus elective workshops. They don’t allow you to attend for only part of the time. The conferences cost about $800 including meals. Members of the Christian Writers Guild get a substantial discount.
For more information:
More Things to Think About
We could wish these conferences were less expensive. When you compare the amount of money you actually make with freelance writing and the high cost of conferences, you may dismiss them immediately. I can’t tell you what to do. I can only say that I have found conferences to be very helpful. They are no substitute for actual writing. But a combination of persistent writing to the best of your ability with expertise from conferences may move your writing ahead in a very effective way. If you feel that the Lord is leading you to pursue writing in a serious way, an occasional conference may help you to improve your writing and serve Him better. And the conferences may actually give you information or contacts that will help you earn more money writing.
These conferences are generally targeted at Christian writing across a broad range of denominations. Doctrine is not the key issue. Writing is. Though I might wish for a conference to target fundamental independent Baptists like me, if I ever found one I fear it would be very small. It would not be able to offer the level of help of these larger conferences.
In spite of that, I have found these conferences to have a healthy Christian atmosphere. Even the music has usually been good. Though I might differ doctrinally from some of the speakers, those differences are generally set aside and never mentioned. The point of the conferences is to help writers write and most conferences try to stick to that.
Preparing for the Conference
I found this very helpful article in the Writers’ Corner at CBD. It talks about “Pitching Your Story,” presenting a book proposal in a 15-minute interview with an editor at a writers’ conference.
Adam Blumer just returned from the 2009 Write-to-Publish conference. He has recently published his first novel with Kregel Publications. He is a graduate of Bob Jones University and, several years ago, worked with my son-in-law, Luke Bolton, at Northland Baptist Bible College. I’ve edited Adam’s comments for length. For a longer version of his reaction to the Write to Publish conference use this link: http://www.adamblumerbooks.com/2009/06/09/what-god-did-at-wtp/
This year, I bit the financial bullet and decided that with my novel coming out in March, I just had to go to the Write-to-Publish Conference this year (June 3-6) at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Bless Lin Johnson’s soul (she’s the director). She’s been sending me brochures advertising the conferences for years, but I simply never found the finances (or the courage) to take the next step. I know; it’s silly. I’ve been involved in publication work of some kind and publishing short stories and articles for years, but the thought of going to a writers’ conference freaked the fire out of me. Anyhow, God seemed to be prodding me like a little lamb who didn’t want to follow the flock, but I decided to do the right thing after all. Not a fun step (because I’d rather stay cloistered in my north woods office), but definitely a necessary one. Especially this year.
And boy am I glad I went to the conference this year! The one-on-one meetings with agents and editors made the conference worth every cent.
I met with three agents. I thought I’d be shaking in my boots, but for whatever reason, God kept me mostly cool and collected. I’ll be honest. It is intimidating to sit down with some of these people, considering their credentials and experience. But these agents were warm and sensitive and did a good job at making me feel at ease. The Freelance Career Track class with agent Chip Macgregor was outstanding. The continuing class with him for four days was chock full of valuable information. I couldn’t write stuff down quickly enough—it was that good. He certainly knows the business, and I walked away knowing lots of things I didn’t know before. I also attended stimulating workshops with Rachelle Gardner and Diana Flegal and walked away inspired and motivated.
The long and short is that the conference was a slam dunk for me. I met some wonderful people who clearly love the Lord. I learned more about the business of writing and networked with several industry professionals and got my name out there. Somehow I found the courage to attend a critique group each evening and read my work aloud twice. Don’t ask me where the courage came from because that sort of thing is not my cup of tea.
How did this conference change me? I know of at least one specific change in my life as a result of the conference. I’ve made a commitment to write each morning from 6-8 a.m. (thank you, Chip MacGregor, for the advice). Please hold me accountable to this schedule. I used to write during the evenings after my regular work, parked in a favorite chair in our living room with my laptop while my daughters watched The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for like the seventeen time. Not the most conducive environment for productive writing. I definitely need to be more businesslike and disciplined about my writing time.
We’ll see where the writing and opportunities go from here. Am I glad I went? YOU BET! I’m now waiting on the Lord to show me the way, but I’m so glad I took a step of faith, made the financial sacrifice, left my comfort zone, and went to the conference. The benefits appear to be worth every penny. I give God the glory for whatever He chooses to do through this conference.