Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Minneapolis Writers' Conference September 18-21, 2008

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) holds a writers' conference every year, usually in September. Though I joined the organization in November of 2006, I have yet to attend one of their conferences, but I’m hoping this will be the year.

Writers' conferences are something else that has changed in the last twenty or thirty years. There are far more of them, and they are being better attended than ever before. As usual in life, there are reasons for this.

One of the reasons is the proliferation of people writing books. All kinds of people dream of writing a book, of seeing their name on the cover, and signing their autograph on something that bears their name. When books were handwritten, having that happen was seldom even a daydream for all but a tiny few. Even with the advent of printing, it was still a dream beyond the reach of anyone except a rare few because the letters were still set by hand with tiny pieces of metal type—again a time-consuming and painstaking task.

Through the centuries, producing books has become easier and easier, until with the advent and availability of the computer and a personal printer in almost every home, almost any Tom, Jack, or Susie can make the dream of writing a book happen.

For many decades in the last century, the norm was that you wrote your book, then you drafted a query letter giving a good “pitch” for why the book should be published, and you sent the letter to an editor at a publishing house. Those who were really sharp did their research and were able to address the query to a specific editor by name. As the editors worked their way through that “slush pile,” they spotted a few they felt had potential, and the other received the dreaded rejections.

However, year by year, the editors in the industry became more and more swamped by unsolicited material, so much so that they had to draw a line in the sand and make a firm policy that they would no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts or even proposals. And, in most cases, that included query letters.

So what does that mean? How can one get an editor to look at one’s material these days?. The primary answer is writers’ conferences, but it is an answer with two prongs. One prong is the editors themselves, and the other is the agents. Agents do have access to editors, so if an author does not succeed in getting an invitation directly from an editor, that author needs to work on acquiring an agent. The agent will work as the go-between to get the author’s work seen by an editor. The standard practice is that the agent gets 15% of what the author gets, providing the agent engineers a “sale” for the author.

So editors and agents, as bridges into the publishing world, are key elements of writers’ conferences. But they aren’t the only thing conferences are about. Conferences are about learning the craft of writing, learning it from the pros. We’ll talk about next time.

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