I guess I should report on the second day of the conference. I was thankful it started a little later than the first day, but 8:30 is still plenty early for me to be functional enough to absorb information and take coherent notes! My first session was the final Kevin J. Anderson class, on how to be more productive as a writer. It was excellent! And he should know–he’s written over 120 books.
Later in the morning we had a keynote address from a very inspiring speaker–Shilo Harris, who suffered severe injuries while on duty in Iraq. His heart to minister to fellow veterans is very moving. And I love his sense of humor! He wore his “Spock” ears to speak to our group. I bought his book and one of the things his assistant asked each person in line was if they were a veteran or had family who had been in the service. So I mentioned that I had two brothers who were veterans and when he signed my book, he wrote this:
At lunchtime I was joined by a fellow attendee–the one and only actual conversation I had with anyone at the conference. It was a little amusing. We write in the same genre, so I was thinking that we had some common ground there, but then the conversation turned to the subject of travel and our common ground evaporated. She hates to travel, has never been on a plane, and has only left Texas twice in her life–to visit relatives in a neighboring state. I, of course, have done a lot of traveling in the past and would be on the move perpetually if I could afford it! I think we both walked away from the table trying to wrap our minds around the weirdness of the other person. I cannot fathom how anyone would not want to see the whole world!
The reason the topic of travel had come up was that I was going to a class on travel writing after lunch. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I enjoyed it, and it was the one and only class of the whole conference where I got to sit at a table and take notes in comfort.
I alarmed a woman in the restroom on the sixth floor when I refilled my water bottle from the tap. “They have water available in the lobby,” she said. “I know,” I said, “but I don’t want to go all the way down to the lobby just to fill my water bottle.” She gave me the most horrified look you can imagine, and muttered something about the safety of tap water. Have we really reached the point where some people think only bottled water is okay to drink?
I fell asleep in my next class, which also wasn’t at all what I expected, so after that I sat out and just did some reading and knitting. Yes, of course I had knitting with me!
The final period of the day was devoted to the query “gong show.” It was a brutal but very entertaining and instructive event. During the previous two days, anyone who wanted to could submit their (anonymous) query letter for the gong show. There were six agents on stage, all with access to mallets and gongs. The rest of the agents were in the front row of the audience, and they also had a gong.
There was an MC and a man with a wonderful voice who read the queries. He would start reading, and the agents had to ring the gong as soon as he reached the point in the query where they would have stopped reading. Once three gongs had rung, the reading stopped and the MC would ask the agents why they would have rejected that query.
I estimate they got through about 30 queries in an hour. Only one made it through unscathed. The most common “gong” offense was being too wordy. Agents have very short attention spans. If you can’t hook them in five sentences, you’ve lost them. It was very educational. I know it must have been hard for some of the people who submitted their queries to hear those gongs ringing–often during the first sentence! But they also got to hear the reason, so hopefully they will be able to craft a better query in the future.
That was the final event of the conference, so I walked out into the heat and Walter picked me up and we drove home, stopping for supper on the way. It was good to get home!
Now I feel I should say some words about why I went to this particular conference and whether I feel I achieved my objectives. In the past, I have attended the huge ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference three times. It is very expensive. I am not sorry I went, and I learned a great deal from going. However, one of the things I learned was that I did not fit in with that crowd. I write in a very unpopular genre (unpopular for them) and there was very little acknowledgment that writers like me even existed. I had thought that the ACFW people would be “my people,” but they were not. I made one good friend from that experience, and for that I am very thankful.
I also went (and will go again) to Realm Makers, the delicious wall-to-wall nerdfest for Christian speculative fiction writers. Those people definitely are “my people,” though I didn’t make any new friends there either. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t go to conferences expecting to make friends! Hoping, yes, but no expectations.
What I began to suspect after going to seven Christian writers’ conferences, was that I do not write Christian fiction. (I actually suspected this before I ever went to single conference.) I am a Christian who writes fiction, and some of my characters share my faith, but the stories I write are not about faith. I just try to tell a good story. What this means, in effect, is that for several years I have been knocking on the wrong doors.
So, I signed up for the DFW Writers’ Conference because it was a general market conference. I wanted to see how I’d do. I wanted to see if it was a better fit for me. And . . . it was. It was an excellent conference. It was not, as some people had hinted it might be, full of profanity and booze. The speakers were pros who are successful in their careers and who know how to communicate what makes them successful without resorting to vulgar language.
Since this was a new experience for me, I had a LOT more anxiety going in and literally almost made myself sick. Now I know that if I go again, and I hope I will, there is nothing to fear. As you know, my verbal pitch went well and I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to not be judged on whether or not my story was “Christian” enough. And, by the way, probably close to half the agents present handle manuscripts in my genre, so if the one I spoke to ends up not making an offer, I have other choices.
Speaking of genre, that was another refreshing thing. There were, I’d guess, about 200 attendees at this conference. Instead of having some three-quarters of them be romance writers, there was a wild mix of just about everything. Lots of speculative fiction writers like myself, mystery and suspense writers, historical fiction writers, non-fiction writers, literary fiction writers–all of it. It was like a breath of fresh air. I’m so glad I went.