Tag Archives: writers conferences

When You Finally Know Your Why – What Do You Do Next?

​”A great many Christian workers worship their work….There is no responsibility on you for the work; the only responsibility you have is to keep in living constant touch with God…” 
– Oswald Chambers,
My Utmost, April 23, “The Worship of the Work”

This was one of the fastest posts I ever wrote. Sometimes it comes out this fast because the thing that blocked it is suddenly removed. When I first wrote this, I’d just listened to about 30 book pitches at Mount Hermon, and given the opening talk the previous afternoon, a thought based on a blog post on “writing for one master.”

I always have an amazing time at the Mt. Hermon Christian writers conference. And much of the reason is that it’s always a thrill to connect with old and new writer friends. I’ve written about the essential value of writing friends a lot. But for a week every year over Palm Sunday, I get to receive from and retreat with a whole group of fellow frazzled faithful freaks all at once. And it is always such an amazing time.

If you were ever misunderstood in your life, or felt alone and unimportant to those around you, or if people  put you in a box, or you learned to protect yourself out of necessity, or spent years hoping someone would see you but secretly hoping they’d only see what you wanted them to see, and you’ve struggled to speak in your real voice…then you know what makes this conference so special. That’s the same stuff literally thousands of writers are coming to terms with and finding out they’re allowed to feel and reveal and then deal with so we can heal from it together, and finally become real together in a safe place of grace.

Now you want to come, and I would advise you do. Move heaven and earth to save up and make it happen because it’s not just about the books deals that happen there or even ultimately the professional craft that gets established, but the community of like-minded believers relating together–both sharing their stories and finding connection in deeply personal, universal identification with each other. 

Content, craft, and community are what every writer needs to learn to navigate, and all those things get unpacked, shaped, and embraced in the essential freedom of knowing there’s a big community waking up to God through pursuing the work alongside you.

The path of freedom for Christian writers is always found in seeking God through his always surprising process of inviting you toward the higher purpose, in wonderfully diverse unity together.

But as special as it is, this isn’t about the conference, or the great week I always have there, or even seeing and celebrating the amazing fruit of so many people’s life-investment come to greater fullness.

And the reason this post came so fast the first time is because I’ve finally seen it enough times to believe and know in my heart that God will use anything and everything to draw the world to Himself. That isn’t up to us. But also it is. We are given dominion and ownership over our small part, to cooperate in the work for His higher purposes.

Years have passed and some people leave and are lost to me. But many come back and my heart swells with pride and gratitude to see them still plugging away at this work for the higher purpose. They take what I and others have sown and use it to grow. And I see I’ve had a hand in some amazing stories all because God drew me to seek the joy of refining words for books, and loving the process and the people who pursue them.

Those people are my people, His people. They’re constantly taking their call and calling to others to be connectors in their circles and learning to look beyond the struggle and the pain to all the stories that point to His story endlessly reiterating in reflected refrains throughout time.

That story of what God is doing to unite us and draw all things to himself, it will never end.

My amazing “boost clinic” crew from 2018

So to all my old and new writer friends, know the dream is alive, and can never die. And wherever you are in the process, until we meet again…

Go light your world….

“The thing which is, but is not named, cannot be known. If you have no word for it, you can’t talk about it or think on it or consider it or meditate upon it…To name a thing (as art does) is to clothe it in visibility. To name a thing is to make it knowable.” 
Walter Wangerin, Beate Not the Poore Desk

Forever, for the Higher Purpose,

Mick

 

What a Frog Knows

This morning, I headed down to the pond and caught a frog.

I'd never have seen her if she hadn't leaped from the wooden bridge. But when she landed amongst the rocks and ferns, I trapped her with the girls' butterfly net. She was big and made no sound, so I assumed her female, an orangey-brown wood frog with a white underbelly. I couldn't wait to tell the girls, so I wedged the stick with the net between the boards of the bridge so she couldn't escape and I hurried back up to the house. 

ImgresThe girls were just waking up and I told them I had a surprise for them. We ate quickly and headed down.

When we got there the net was empty. My captive had escaped. 

It had jumped like mad when I first caught her. I assumed once the initial fear passed, she'd calm down–aren't frogs content staying even in slowly warming water? Well, a net isn't water. And seeing water just below, she must have finally seen it and discovered where freedom was.

"Ah, I'm sorry, girls" I said. "That's disappointing."  

"It's okay," Ellie said. She's wanted to catch a big frog for months. Always my gracious Elianna. 

"Maybe it got through the boards," Charlotte said, showing me how the stick could fit between them. 

"I think you're right," I sighed. "We'll just have to wait and try again."

The past few days I taught at the Oregon Christian Writers conference coaching novelists in revision. I wanted to inspire them to write over the long term, so I tried to share how stilling and seeking the water is all we need to get free. But I always question whether I should have spent more time on practical tips and trends.

It's true: desperation usually makes a bad cologne and writers conferences can stink. But turned in the right direction by staff and speakers–masterfully done by Jim Rubart and Cec Murphey this year–the aroma's greatly improved.

I've met so many writers and as a rule, we tend to strain against the stories holding us captive. I talk a lot about how revision is letting our stories still us so we can reach the end and experience the transformation.

I imagine that frog catching a glint of morning light on the water below, and finally understanding she could simply squeeze through the boards to head down. 

Desperate for freedom, the water's call turned her in the right direction.

Life offers continual opportunities for revision.

"I kneel down to toss in the laundry. I set the dial to extra dirty. I stay on my knees and watch the water run into the washer, watch it splash against the circular glass of the washing machine’s front door, hear its gurgling fall. Down it flows. Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower and lower places to flow. I watch water run and spiritual water must flow like this…always seeking always the lowest places—and the washtub begins to rock. I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water, and I must kneel low in thanks.

 The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.”

-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

 

I've forgotten this insight many times. But today a frog has helped.

Writing well requires the revision to turn our desperation in the right direction and go lower. We all forget, so we need reminders to still and seek the water. 

We searched the pond but couldn't find her and we turned to pursue our daily business–me to my computer and the girls to enjoying the lazy last weeks of summer. But even up at the house, I'm down at the pond today, turning this lesson of the frog over in my mind, the freedom she figured out. When desperation for freedom turns to straining, stop. Seek the water and simply go down. 

To all my new writer friends, you whose books need this too, think of the frog and her freedom won in stilling. I pray you find your way down to the water…

Writers Conference “Dos and Don’ts”

From an editor's perspective, writers conferences can be a mixed bag. For those of you planning to attend one in the near future, or wondering whether you should, let me offer some dos and don'ts that apply to any writer's conference you might attend as an aspiring author…

Do know your genre. Everything may be expanding into new genres and sub-genres, but there will always be a line of books that precede yours in content and style, both informing it and categorizing it for a quick comparison. You may not like that others have written books like yours, but the fact is, it's your duty to know them and how you're improving the mold. Categories help us know what we're getting, even as barriers are breaking down between CBA (Christian Book Association) and ABA (American Book Association). Some people may not like categories, but they help readers. Some people may not like books that push the boundaries, but they're a sign of health and vigor.

Do get a publishing professional to sit on a panel and use you as an example of a fresh, and engaging voice. It was at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal conference (in 2008 or 9?) that I was introduced to Ann Voskamp. She asked me to help her edit, and went on to publish an amazing book called One Thousand Gifts. Her distinctive, individual voice is what makes that book work, a voice she developed for years of writing and blogging and seeking out gifts for which she was thankful. So many things go into making a book a best seller, but her experience in writing and reading developed her voice and that was absolutely a factor in getting her published, not to mention talked about. Don’t be conniving and crafty, but do be a crafter of unmistakably unique work.

Don’t simply go to the conference to be fed. I hear this often: “The singer / food / accommodations / teaching is so wonderful!” Well yes, but these are compliments for the organizers, and they need to hear them. When you’re with a pro, don’t gush. They're not interested in your experience of the trappings. Would you be here if it was the worst, backwoods conference on the planet, just to deliver my the book that’s going to make me fall out of my chair? (more on this in a bit) Which leads me to,

Don’t be a sycophant. If you don’t have the definition memorized, please go do so now.

Don’t miss the point. IN 2005, on a panel at ACFW, I recommended The Time Traveler's Wife as the best book I’d read that year. In a rare moment of foresight, I included a warning that it might be offensive to some, but for months after that, I still heard about grumbling: “I can’t believe a Christian editor would recommend that book.” Dear ones, you have a responsibility to know what’s being written and read currently. Professional editors, agents and writers are readers. If you aren’t, that’s a serious handicap. Yes, do skip the sex/language/violence, but don’t misunderstand: you need to find out why an editor is recommending a book. Understand what that author did and that’s your ticket into his stable.

Do pay attention. Much of the benefit, if not all, of a writers conference is what you learn while there. Authors' and editors' names, literary terms, methods of writing, clarifying, editing, working, thinking, appealing to the muse. Don't waste your time worrying about your pitch, selling your idea, trying to force your way up from the place you need to be to learn. It's not about getting published. It's about being in a place where you are being courted because you've acquired so much knowledge, and your book begs to be published. While many bad books do get published, publishing the good ones is inevitable. 

Don’t listen to amateurs. There is more slippery sludge thrown around by well-meaning Christian newbies than any of us can shake our fingers at. The blogging world has made this bad advice proliferate, and there’s far too much posturing and speculating that goes on in absence of good data and some honest humility. Pride and ego can get the best of anyone—so be smart and listen to those who know.

Don’t tell me your entire story. Just stick to the P’s: Pitch, Package, Platform. PITCH: Give me the essence in as few words as possible. (caveat: “Aliens meets Blue Like Jazz” is not helpful. “Philip K. Dick meets Don Miller” is better, but explain that genre with a more specific comparison like, “Dean Koontz meets Graham Greene.” (I've actually heard this one. And that gave me a great picture.) PACKAGE: Tell me about series potential, what else you've written, what your "brand" is, any foreword or endorsements you’ve got, good-sized* publicity and promo opportunities, which leads right into PLATFORM: How big and how wide is your network? Are you bringing any guaranteed pre-sales through your blog, business, website, contacts in ministry, media, or miscellany (schools, churches, professional organizations, etc.) *total network of 1000 or more is fairly baseline for mid-size Christian publishers. That won't get you in the door a big of NY publishers.

Do know something about what publishing houses publish. Know the catalog and general sales figures (CBA top 50 titles, at least), especially for books like your own. You can find info on sales figures by asking questions: an author/agent/editor or clerk at a larger bookstore.

Do get in a crit group with real writers. When you say you’re in a crit group with a promising author or authors I recognize, it’s a big indication you’ll be an author I want to take more seriously. This is an alternative to getting a respected agent’s highest regard, though having both would probably make me fall out of my chair.

Do make me fall out of my chair. I really am a nice guy. But I have to be efficient as an acquisitions editor making pitches against the competition of other editors and publishers. A vast majority of the pitches I hear at conferences are not good. Learn what you're doing. Read this blog, have a professional help you, and if you’re pitching know the person, their house, and publishing guidelines. Even better, know their publishing goals. Follow what they've published and read their blog! The professional in the chair across from you is looking to see that you get it, you understand the situation, and you’re well-prepared. Do that, and you won’t have to quiver and freak out. Learn the criteria of a good proposal. Read the publishing trades (mainly PW & GalleyCat for ABA, CBA Marketplace and Christian Retailing for CBA market) and relevant editorial (Christian Communicator, Books and Culture) so you know what’s happening in the business you’re hoping to join. And remember, it's a business.

So go to writers conferences and soak up the knowledge and the community of like-minded individuals, and help someone grow! When you do that, you win. You get noticed. You get inspired. And those around you will remember or realize for the first time how great it is to be in a place like this, doing work they love, with people who are making a difference.

I mean, that's what I hope for…

 

A repost from the archives as I head out to the OCCWF conference this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there!

Writers Conference Dos and Don’ts

From an editor’s perspective, writers conferences can be a mixed bag. For those of you planning to attend one in the near future, or wondering whether you should, let me offer some dos and don’ts that apply to any writer’s conference you might attend as an aspiring author…

Do know your genre. Everything may be expanding into new genres and sub-genres, but there will always be a line of books that precede yours in content and style, both informing it and categorizing it for a quick comparison. You may not like that others have written books like yours, but the fact is, it’s your duty to know them and how you’re improving the mold. Categories help us know what we’re getting, even as barriers are breaking down between CBA (Christian Book Association) and ABA (American Book Association). Some people may not like categories, but they help readers. Some people may not like books that push the boundaries, but they’re a sign of health and vigor.

Do get an agent to sit on a panel and use you as an example of a fresh, and engaging voice. It was at the ACFW conference in 2005 that a respected agent used Siri Mitchell as his example of what’s most important in evaluating fiction proposals: a distinctive, individual voice. I’ve known Siri for over 6 years now and having that confirmed by an agent/editor (okay, it was Chip MacGregor) was absolutely a factor in getting her published. Don’t be conniving and crafty, but do be a crafter of unmistakably unique work.

Don’t simply go to the conference to be fed. I hear this often: “The singer / food / accommodations / teaching is so wonderful!” Well yes, but these are compliments for the organizers, and they need to hear them. When you’re with me, don’t gush. I’m not interested in your experience of the trappings. Would you be here if it was the worst, backwoods conference on the planet, just to deliver the proposal that’s going to put my publishing house on the map? Good. Let’s talk. Which leads me to,

Don’t be a sycophant. If you don’t have the definition memorized, please go do so now.

Don’t miss the point. On a panel at ACFW, I recommended The Time Traveler’s Wife as the best book I’d read in 2005. In a rare moment of foresight, I included a warning that it might be offensive to some, but for months after that, I still heard about grumbling: “I can’t believe a Christian editor would recommend that book.” Dear ones, you have a responsibility to know what’s being written in the market. Most CBA editors are ABA readers. If you aren’t, that’s a serious handicap. Yes, do skip the sex/language/violence, but don’t misunderstand: you need to find out why an editor is recommending a book. That’s your ticket into his stable.

Do pay attention. Much of the benefit, if not all, of a writers conference is what you learn while there. Authors’ and editors’ names, literary terms, methods of writing, clarifying, editing, working, thinking, appealing to the muse. Don’t waste your time worrying about your pitch, selling your idea, trying to force your way up from the place you need to be to learn. It’s not about getting published. It’s about being in a place where you are being courted because you’ve acquired so much knowledge, and your book begs to be published. While many bad books do get published, publishing the good ones is inevitable. 

Don’t listen to amateurs. There is more slippery sludge thrown around by well-meaning Christian newbies than any of us can shake our fingers at. The blogging world has made this bad advice proliferate, and there’s far too much posturing and speculating that goes on in absence of good data and some honest humility. Pride and ego can get the best of anyone—so be smart and listen to those who know.

Don’t tell me your entire story. Just stick to the P’s: Pitch, Package, Platform. PITCH: Give me the essence in as few words as possible. (caveat: “Aliens meets Blue Like Jazz” is not helpful. “Philip K. Dick meets Don Miller” is better, but explain that genre with a more specific comparison like, “Kathy Tyers meets Siri Mitchell.” Now I’m getting the picture.) PACKAGE: Tell me about series potential, any foreword or endorsements you’ve got, good-sized* publicity and promo opportunities, which leads right into PLATFORM: How big and how wide is your network? Are you bringing any guaranteed pre-sales through your contacts in ministry, media, or miscellany (schools, churches, professional organizations, etc.) *target groups of 1000 or more.

Do know something about what my publishing house publishes. Know the catalog and general sales figures (CBA top 50 titles, at least), especially for books like your own. You can find info on sales figures by asking questions: an author/agent/editor or clerk at a larger bookstore.

Do get in a crit group with real writers. When you say you’re in a crit group with a promising author or authors I recognize, it’s a big indication you’ll be an author I want to take more seriously. This is an alternative to getting a respected agent’s highest regard, though having both would probably make me fall out of my chair.

Do make me fall out of my chair. I really am a nice guy, but I have to be mean and nasty because this is just how it works with so much competition and so few who really get it: a vast majority of the pitches I hear at conferences are really bad. I have a blog, I have a reputation, and if you’re pitching me without knowing anything about me, my house, or my publishing goals, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Egos aside, the editor in the chair across from you is looking to see that you get it, you understand the situation, and you’re well-prepared. Do that, and you won’t have to quiver and freak out. Learn the criteria of a good proposal. Read the publishing trades (mainly PW Religion & CBA Marketplace) and relevant editorial (Christian Communicator, Books and Culture) so you know what’s happening in the business you’re hoping to join. And remember, it’s a business.

Mainly, I like to see people at writers conferences soaking up the knowledge and the community of like-minded individuals, and helping each other grow. When that’s evident, I get inspired, and I realize again how great it is to be in a place like this too, doing work I love, with people who are making a difference.

And who doesn’t want that?