So, I am finally getting my chance to write down my reflections on Realm Makers. It was really interesting for me to go to two writers conferences just two weeks apart, because of course I can’t help comparing the two in some ways.
I went to the first Realm Makers two years ago because I wanted in on the ground floor. I wanted it to succeed and grow and become more awesome every year, and I think it’s doing that. That first year, I didn’t have plans to pitch anything, because there were so few editors and no agents there. I just wanted to be part of it and learn as much as I could. I put tremendous effort into trying to get to know people and make new friends, and it didn’t happen, but by then I could accept that without feeling sorry for myself. Well, not too sorry, I hope!
Last year I couldn’t go due to schedule conflicts and also due to the fact that it was much farther away, so this year I was delighted it worked out–though to be honest, I would not have committed to going if I had known I was going to have emergency surgery and a host of new health problems! Driving all that way by myself would definitely not have been my first choice, but it was the only plan that really made sense.
I was in a bit of a quandary about the pitching situation. At the Dallas conference, I pitched my story Mirage, which has just undergone a complete revision and is in pretty good shape, I think. I had also made the decision in Dallas to aim at the general market rather than the Christian one, so my original idea was maybe not to pitch at Realm Makers this time either, especially since I hadn’t heard back from the agent who has Mirage.
However, the lady who was in charge of setting up appointments wouldn’t let me off the hook! She kept reminding me that I hadn’t made an appointment yet. So, I studied the options and found there was a crossover press that looked promising. Since I haven’t heard back from the agent about Mirage, I had to pitch something else. I decided that I would pitch my novel The Chelladreen Hope, which has been languishing on an editor’s desk for three years. He sounded really interested in it, but then I never heard back, so I’m assuming nothing will ever come of that.
I am actually in the process of revising it again, since I have become a better writer in the last three years, so hopefully it will soon be in the best shape of its life! I am expecting it to be several weeks or months before I hear anything back, but at least someone is looking at it.
This time, I knew going in that I would not be a lone ranger again. My friends Donita and Evangeline were going to be there, and my young friend Rebekah would even be sharing a suite with me (and two total strangers!). This was my ninth writers conference in six years, but the very first one ever that I could look forward to hanging out with more than one friend.
So, I was pretty psyched about going, even given all the driving involved and the fact that there are no “fun” caffeinated beverages that I can drink anymore! As you know, I arrived just in time for the early bird class, which was excellent. In fact one of the exercises in that class led to a story idea that I’m very happy with.
I’d just like to take this moment to put in a plug for early bird classes. Most writers conferences have them–an extra class or two held the day before the “real” conference starts. That means arriving at the conference a day early, which may mean an extra night in a hotel. Often, however, the cost of the extra classes is very reasonable and does not add much to the overall cost of the conference, and if that’s the case I’ve found the early bird classes are almost always worth it. I have a personal threshold of about $50. If the classes cost more than that, they’re usually out of my reach.
I have already told you about the events of the conference, so this is where I talk about my evaluation and recommendations.
- If you’re an aspiring writer of speculative fiction, and if you’re a Christian, Realm Makers is the only writers conference that is aimed at you. It’s the only conference where you will be surrounded by “your people,” people as nerdy and quirky and creative as you are. At other Christian conferences you will be part of a tiny minority at best, and you may even feel a little excluded.
- If you are hoping to be published and have never been to a conference, you really should go. You will meet editors and agents and find out what they are looking for–and what they aren’t. There is no one on earth who can’t improve as a writer, and at a conference you will be given some great tools to become a better writer.
- Take notes. Lots and lots of notes. No matter how amazing some new insight is, I promise you will forget it if you don’t write it down. Once you get home, type up and organize your notes. Then USE them!
- If you hate wearing a suit or other formal business wear, you will love Realm Makers. Some people cosplay the whole time. Even presenters often dress very casually, but that doesn’t mean they are any less professional in their presentation and content. That early bird class was taught by a man dressed as Luke Skywalker! The more informal atmosphere is a huge draw for me, because my foot issues make it virtually impossible to wear acceptable dressy shoes without being in agony. Also, I’m really in favor of wearing comfortable clothes if you’re going to be on the go all day until into the evening.
- If you love dressing up, the awards banquet will be a dream come true. A room full of grown-ups playing dress-up and loving it! There were everything from elves to fairies to jedi and sith lords to Avengers and even a zombie Napoleon! I love it so much.
- If you want to see what kind of speculative fiction is being published by Christian authors right now, hang out at the bookstore and browse! Anyone attending the conference can bring copies of their books to sell, and you’ll find a little bit of everything.
- Another note about the bookstore–I always forget to save up enough for buying books. It’s a hidden cost of the conference. Trust me, you will want to buy some books, and almost any book you buy, you can get signed by the author. If you are saving up to go to next year’s conference, go ahead and figure in a book budget. You’ll be sorry if you don’t!
- If you don’t know a lot of other writers like you (or any), there’s a good chance you will meet some at Realm Makers. You do have to be willing to start conversations and think of stuff to say, which is really hard if you’re as introverted as me. Don’t be afraid to hand out your business cards, like I was. I think I might have only given out one card!
- Take advantage of any informal social events that are offered, because that’s where you’ll get a chance to have some real conversations. I missed one of the major events of this last Realm Makers because I was trying to finish the work on my dress, and I kind of regret it.
- On the subject of meeting people and making friends, I’m going to say something that I’ve never heard anyone else say, and it’s this: don’t suck up to people that you think are “important” in hopes that they will further your career in some way. I have a few acquaintances who do this, and to be honest, it disgusts me. They’re always inserting themselves into photos and conversations and activities with prominent authors. They brag endlessly on Facebook about their “good friend” so-and-so who is a bestselling author. They’re always tweeting stuff like, “Had a great conversation over dinner with Mr. Famous Author!” If you meet a famous writer, and you probably will, approach them as you would any other potential new friend, NOT as someone who may be willing to do you a favor at some point. I promise you, if you focus on being a good friend yourself, to everyone whether famous or not, when the time comes for you to ask for positive reviews or back cover blurbs, you will have plenty of people to ask–and they will be happy to oblige.
- Try to avoid falling into the comparison trap. You may have to really work at this. I know I do. There will people at the conference who are younger, hipper, and cuter than you. Many of them will already have contracts or published books. You are not them, and that is okay. You are you, and your road is yours alone. Just think, if you are not published yet, you have a little more time to get even better as a writer. Rejoice with those who have already reached that goal that may seem so far away for you. Who knows what their private struggle may be?
- If you’re looking for top-notch food and coffee, and especially if you are gluten free and diabetic, you will probably be disappointed! But nobody starved. Take snack bars with you and your favorite water bottle. You’re not there for the food anyway!
- After the conference, friend everyone you met on Facebook. Cheer each other on! Someone started a Facebook group for Realm Makers “alumni” and I am enjoying it a lot. Writing is a solitary activity, so this constant encouragement is just wonderful.
- If finances are tight, start saving for next year right now. Figure out about how much you’ll need for registration, transportation, extra meals, and books. Then divide that by ten or eleven and you’ll know how much you need to scrape together every month. That’s the only way I am able to go to conferences, usually. Maybe, if things work out, I’ll see you there next year!
This year’s cloak recipient and last year’s cloak recipient.