A Tale of Two Conferences: Comparison Ahead

Willamette Writer’s Conference and Oregon Christian Writer’s Conference are two local writer’s conferences. I attended Willamette Writers in 2014 and 2015. In 2015, I considered attending the OCW Conference instead, but I didn’t have much Christian nonfiction at the time, and that is what the majority of agents and editors were looking to buy.
In 2016, I didn’t attend the conference. I invested the money in an online Scrivener class, several online workshops and to hire a professional to help me find and streamline my brand.
This year, I had the God-given project weighing on me. I knew I wouldn’t get any peace until I consented to write the personal narrative heavy book on dealing with grief.
My brain reminded me about OCW Conference with one simple formula:

Nonfiction + Christian = What You’re Writing

Both conferences had value. Both helped me improve my craft and gain more confidence about my writing.

What’s The Same (Similar)

These two conferences are both for writers and publishing professionals. However, the sponsoring groups represent different segments of the author/publishing world.
Because OCW is an organization of and for Christian writers, the markets they speak to are limited to those publishers with the Christian Book Association. WW is a broader organization that would include Christian writers but not cater to them.
Many aspects were the same:

  • Pre-conference workshop with a publishing professional for an extra charge
  • Numerous sessions addressing various publishing topics
  • Agents and editors available to hear pitches
  • Advance manuscript critiquing services
  • Bookstore
  • Author book signings
  • An Awards program and ceremony

Let me mention that the pitches and critiques at WW Conference cost an additional fee. When I attended, it was $15 per pitching appointment and $40 for a manuscript critique.
The manuscript critique at WW Conference was more thorough and included a 15-minute appointment with the cirtiquer. The manuscript submission program at OCW Conference was presented more as a query and the responses didn’t include markup on every page, just an overview of what was good and what needed work. It might include a 15-minute appointment, at the critiquer’s discretion.

What’s Different

The biggest difference I noticed was the cost. The overall cost of these conferences is about the same. However, with OCW two lunches and two dinners are included in the price. All pitching appointments are also included. There is a $5 per submission handling fee for the manuscript submissions.
At WW, you pay additional for meals, or you plan to eat elsewhere.
Both of these include late night sessions, but I don’t recall feeling tempted to stay over at WW to attend the classes. Those sessions were exactly why I forked out $225 extra for a hotel room at OCW.
However, I sat with the OCW president during the awards dinner and found out a shocking truth. OCW doesn’t pass along the “sticker price” of the conference to conferees. If it did, it would be more expensive than WW.

Instead, they use the entrance fees from the writing contest to offset the difference.

Why would they do this? They don’t want to price the conference out of range for new or struggling writers.
I hope they appreciate it as much as I do. But still, it’s not good business sense. They could pull out the meals (make them extra) and that would make them break even.
The other big differences:

  • The friendliness of the attendees
  • The availability of presenters to answer questions and continue discussions after sessions
  • The 30-minute mentor appointment

Meeting with memoirist Bo Stern for thirty minutes was the second part of the conference that made all the emotional turmoil of rejections and introvert post-conference burnout endurable. She looked at my proposal. She answered every question I presented to her.
Most of all, she was compassionate when I broke down discussing the painful subject matter of my book.
I decided against pitching it to other agents because I knew I would break down again. I didn’t want any “pity requests.” Those would have raised my hopes further so they could be dashed more violently when the rejections came.
What other questions do you have about these two conferences? What else would you like to know about attending writer’s conferences?

My Overall Recommendation

I have to stay with my original assessment. Each conference is aimed at different audiences.
If you’re writing Christian nonfiction, OCW Conference is the place for you. There are workshops, mentors, editors and writers there to help you find your path to publication. If you have a book proposal, there are agents there who want you to pitch to them.
If you’re transitioning between genres, it’s best to look at the individual workshops being offered. Which ones will meet your current needs? Which ones offer information that crosses the boundaries between genres?

  • If you want to talk to professional writers without paying an exorbitant fee: OCW
  • You’re looking for a manuscript critique: OCW (unless your content is totally without Christian worldview)
  • You have general market fiction or nonfiction ready to shop to agents and editors: WW
  • You’d rather have short sessions on a variety of topics than a block of time devoted to a single thing: WW

Do you have specific questions about either conference? Have you attended either conference? If so, would you share your perspective on it?

 

Like reading this? You’re a click away from getting Hero Delivery, a bulletin with deals and new releases from Sharon Hughson.

Maybe you like romance or some of my other books. I’m sure there’s something worth reading on my page.

Already read one or more of my books? Please leave an honest review on your favorite site. A review is the same as the author discovering a gold nugget in the bottom of her washing machine.

Something for Everyone in I’M ABOUT TO GET UP

Once you pick up this book from Julie Hunt, skip right to chapter 25 and you’ll see why a review of it appears on my “No Fear This Year” blog. I’M ABOUT TO GET UP is a memoir about grief written from a Christian perspective, but it has nuggets of truth to help anyone who wrings their hands when faced with death.

You’re at the funeral, next in line. The family stands there, red-rimmed eyes glistening with tears, hugging each person in turn. What will you say?

I’ll confess that I avoided a number of funerals in my younger years just because I couldn’t imagine how I would interact with the grieving family.

Until I was the grieving family. And I heard those cliché phrases that meant nothing or experienced the deep comfort of a wordless hug.

I’M ABOUT TO GET UP

about_to_get_up_coverThis book came to me before it released to the public. A publicist whose newsletter I follow invited me to be on the “launch team” for the book.

Since I’m intermittently writing my own grief memoir-ish book, I thought reading one would give me an idea how other approach the topic.

I’ll admit, it was difficult to read the book in December. Christmas has been a difficult time since 2009 when my grandmother graduated to Heaven a few days before the holiday.

Julie’s experiences are raw and real. She pulls you in to the Rainy Day with her and the grief she depicts resonates. It was too close to my own heart some days, so it took me a few weeks to get through the less-than-200-page book.

If you read nothing else, read the appendices. Here Julie lists all the things people want to know, the “where the rubber meets the road” practical things. Like what you can do for a grieving person, what NOT to say at the funeral (or any other time) and words that do offer help or hope.

In a world where people want to sweep the grieving process under the carpet, this book is just the dose of reality we need.

My Review

It was obvious from early in the book that Julie’s religious beliefs differed from mine. There were moments when my eyebrows scraped my scalp as I thought, “They did what?!”

Still, that’s not what this book is about. And Julie didn’t defend or expound on her specific spiritual ideals. Well, not the ones that had me gawping. The ones that had to do with facing grief head on? Yep, those she tackles.

Nothing can prepare you for the death of a loved one. I speak from experience at the bedside of a terminally ill mother. When they go, you grieve. A part of you shatters and needs time and care to be repurposed.

Julie goes chronologically through her own grieving process. This approach worked well, making the book read like a novel. If you like “based on actual events” reading, this book fits that bill.

Advice and encouragement for both those struck by grief and those attempting to minister to them is sprinkled throughout the prose. You won’t find sermonizing or patronizing in these pages.

In fact, the best part of the book is the practical, pro-active lists given in the epilogue and appendices.

I give four out of five stars to this book.

My Recommendation

This book is a must-read for every person in ministry. The glimpse inside a grieving heart will offer the best hands-on training a person could get without facing an actual death in the family.

Julie admits that she couldn’t read books when she was grieving, but I think this book is the sort that could be read to a grieving person. It is certainly an exceptional handbook for someone who fumbles with how to comfort others in the face of loss.

If you’ve been grieving a loss for a while and feel like the pain is still more raw than it should be, pick up this book. I promise you’ll see yourself reflected from a page or chapter, and you’ll be able to take the next step toward healing.

Thank you, Julie Hunt, for being real with all of us. Your journey will empower others so they can get up and get back to living.

What books helped you deal with grief and loss on a practical level?

Writing in a New Direction

Which-Way-is-the-Right-way-for-Satellite-Web-Browsing-Sometimes directions are clear: “Turn left at the next stop light.” Other times, the directions can be convoluted: “Take the next right. Keep left.” (My GPS often says this, in fact. Amazingly unhelpful.)

In 2013, I started in a new direction. I quit my job with the school district to pursue a writing career full-time. I finished my bachelor’s degree and wanted a change.

Immediately thereafter, I finished my first young adult fantasy novel and had begun writing its sequel. I took a class on antagonists from Writing Jedi Master Kristen Lamb. When we spoke on the phone about my story, I learned it was gobbledygook without a clear purpose.

Back to the drawing board. For another young adult fantasy series, which Kristen and I had discussed during the heart-shattering call. Her advice: write the entire series before going back to edit book one. That way I’d know what the “real” story of the series was by the time I was rewriting.

Six months later, I had three complete novels in very rough first draft form. The summer of 2014, I attempted to market the first book in the series. By the time I’d gotten the final rejection back, I knew the first book was crap needed work.

But I had this amazing idea for a contemporary young adult fantasy. Dragons, erupting volcanoes, teenagers with special powers and the end of the world at stake. Who wouldn’t want to read that?

Or maybe the question should be: who wants to read it?

I’m still waiting for the rest of the rejection letters to roll in, but I think I finally figured something out.

What I Can Sell

As much as I love young adult fantasy, I’m not going to break into publishing with those stories.

No, I’m not giving up. I’m not copping out.

I’m being realistic.

Young adult is the fastest growing and most competitive fictional market right now. And fantasy has to have a certain bent to even get a look.

Sadly, dragons aren’t it.

Dragons: so TEN years ago.

Short fiction: I have sold three short stories. Two of them are sweet romances written to a new adult audience. The third is a young adult dark biblical retelling.

Bible studies: These are independently published by me, and I don’t price them to make a bundle. However, I do have a small following who enjoys my quirky teaching style.

Writing that Grows Me

In the end, writing the biblical fictionalization and Bible study books challenge me as a person. They require a slightly different writing voice and tons more research than most of my fiction stories.

In short, they stretch me out of my comfort zone.

And if people will buy them, I should produce them.

My Big Dream

During November, I wrote the first book in another young adult series.

I know. I know. I never learn.

What’s different about this book? It uses the short story I’ve already sold as a springboard into my post-apocalyptic universe. I continued the story of Scisco Irons, a sixteen-year-old blacksmith who dreams of discovering the technology destroyed in his homeland during the Demon Wars. And escaping the backward region he’s lived in forever.

I introduced a snarky teenage girl with major trust issues. Added in a “mentor” character with a pile of his own secrets.

The best part, I pitched the outline to the publisher of the short story (at her request, because she liked the world introduced in that story and saw potential for the story to continue). She wants to see it.

I have a professional editor who will help me content edit the first draft and polish the second draft to get it ready for submission. She’s employed by the publisher but has offered to help me because she believes in my story.

The dream:

I submit this manuscript in May 2016. The publisher adores it and offers me a three-book contract (that will finish out the series as I’ve envisioned it).

During our conversations, I mention my four other manuscripts. She asks for outlines of each of them. Why not, right? It doesn’t cost her anything.

She sees the potential in all of them and offers me another contract on Doomsday Dragons and asks to see the first Gates of Astrya book before deciding on that series.

Of course, the Age of Apocalypse series will appear in bookstores everywhere during 2017-2019. I’ll have an enormous fan base. They’ll scarf up anything I write.

The rest is J.K. Rowling’s history.

Where I’m Going Now

As often as I’ve been accused of being a dreamer, I’ll argue that point. I’m a realist. Yes, I’m a realistic optimist, but I know better than to float on the puffy vapors of “hope it happens.”

I’m going forward. I have a novella releasing in a collection with nine other independent romance writers in February. And I’ll say this, romance rolls from my heart onto the page. Nearly effortlessly (and then the editing torture begins).

All those years of sneaking my mom’s romance novels into my room to read when I should have been sleeping are paying off. Unfortunately, those royalties aren’t buying too much at the moment.

I have another study book in the works. There are ideas for sequels to Reflections from a Pondering Heart, but I’m not convinced that’s where I should invest my time.

My biggest project idea is a grief memoir/Bible study combination. I’ve got this baby outlined, and I’ve started amassing research. Am I ready to tap into my personal losses for the memoir vignettes? That’s the big unknown.

I’ll keep subbing short stories to anthologies – romance, young adult and fantasy. My crazy ideas will find their way into the spiral notebook I have dedicated for them.

Writing is more than my passion or my dream. I’m convinced it’s my calling.

And I’m saying “yes.” Even if I’m unsure of the direction it will take me.

Any advice? What would you like to read from me?