Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Musings on the ACFW Meeting

Kay and I were only able to attend one day of the ACFW meeting, but in addition to the Friday events we got to hear Liz Curtis Higgs on Thursday night, and it would have been worth walking the twenty-five miles from Duncanville to Addison just to hear her. I've ordered the CD's of her other talks and can hardly wait to get them.

My first reaction was that if 85 percent of the readers of Christian fiction are women, we have the right mix of the sexes on the writing end. There were other men there, but we were far outnumbered by the women. I think the disproportionate composition was best typified by the fact that, on Friday, the first floor Men's Room was converted to an auxiliary Ladies' Room. I stood in the hall for a few minutes at break time and managed to avert a few catastrophes as men began to walk in without reading the sign. Fortunately for us, other facilities were available one floor down.

The halls were crowded and the ballroom was packed during the time we were there. I suppose this is a good problem, indicating an increasing attendance--this year, over 400 I'm told. I hope that next year, arrangements can be made to make things a bit more comfortable, but since you have to book facilities long before you know how many people are coming, it may continue to be a problem. As my former chairman at the med school liked to say, "You can't have enough churches for Easter."

I've been fortunate enough to attend the conference at Glorieta, NM, once and the one at Mount Hermon twice. The classes offered at the ACFW were very similar, although the faculty had a different look. I attended Randy Ingermanson's Fiction 301 class, and Randy did his usual wonderful job, both imparting words of wisdom and keeping everyone loose with his slightly off-the-wall approach to life. Apparently other folks agreed, since the room was jam-packed. I believe that the serious fiction writer, whatever their level of development, could find something to help them elevate their craft.

For the writer of romance fiction, historical fiction, even suspense fiction, this is a great conference to meet others who wish to write in those genres from a Christian worldview. As a published non-fiction writer, I tried to laugh off the frequent jabs at those of us who don't write just fiction--I hope they were made in fun. But it was a time for bonding as much as for learning. I saw many, many groups huddled together, praying for one another before those sweaty-palm-time appointments with editors and agents. I witnessed friendships being formed, Christian sisters and brothers holding one another up during a stressful time. It certainly was a time when I could feel the pervasive presence of God.

Was it worth it? I think that the 400 people who voted with their pocketbooks to register, then endured the rigors of travel to get there, would agree with me that it's a unique meeting, and from what I saw, they were all getting their money's worth.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The ACFW Meeting

On Thursday of this week, my wife and I will travel to this year's ACFW meeting. I know that lots of folks will be doing the same. However, they'll be parking their cars, checking their bags, securing a boarding pass, going through security (gulping the last of their spring water and Diet Coke before doing so), enduring the cattle-car experience of boarding, scrunching their average-sized (and occasional more than average-sized) bodies into seats designed for folks who are four feet six with narrow hips, watching the luggage carousel spew out everyone's bag but theirs, then finding the Super Shuttle stop or coughing up the cost of a dinner at a five-star restaurant to get a cab to the hotel. Kay and I, on the other hand, will get in the car, drive for about twenty-five minutes on the Dallas North Tollway, and check in. In other words, the meeting is here (well, at least in the Dallas metropolitan area), so there's really not a great excuse for our missing it.

I've never been to an ACFW meeting. I joined after hearing great reports about the group from other attendees at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers' Conference. I've been "on the email loop" a couple of times, but have been forced to opt out of it both times because I just didn't have the time. I perceive that this is a very dedicated group of folks, and I'm looking forward to seeing firsthand how the meeting goes. I'll be taking a course offered by Randy Ingermanson, who led my critique group at the last Mount Hermon conference. I'll be able to renew acquaintance with some of the folks I've met along the way, and Liz Curtis Higgs is the keynote speaker. Kay and I've been fortunate enough to hear Liz before--it's always a pleasure.

Anyway, I promise to give you my impression of the meeting on my next post. From some of the stories I've heard, it should be quite an experience.

And for those of you who'll be flying in--read Psalm 100 when you're frustrated. Of course, a few tranquilizers in your carryon luggage might help, as well.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What Are Authors And Editors Reading?

In a previous posting [You Have To Read Before (And After) You Write], I preached the need for authors to read the works of others who are turning out excellent material. Recently an editor with whom I'm working recommended that I read the works of Dr. Michael Palmer. He included the caution that the material is at times not "G-rated." I started reading these books and found them to be excellent. Were there occasional words that I'd rather not read? Yes. Could I get past that and learn from the writer? Absolutely. It was both enjoyable and educational to read these novels.

Then I decided to conduct an experiment. I wondered what successful Christian authors and editors are reading. I queried ten people, six authors and four editors, about their favorite fiction author. Some gave me one name, others a laundry list. A few included the caution that there might be explicit material in the novels. But these folks, just like me, could get past that and appreciate the good writing. I thought you might enjoy knowing what these people are reading.

The six authors, listed in alphabetical order, are: KAREN BALL, JIM BELL, BRANDILYN COLLINS, ALTON GANSKY, RANDY INGERMANSON, GAYLE ROPER. Pretty good company, huh? The authors they gave me, also in alphabetical order, are: MICHAEL CONNELLY, KIT CRAIG, MICHAEL CRICHTON, EVE DUNCAN, KEN FOLLETT, MARK HADDON, IRIS JOHANSEN, DEAN KOONTZ, LUANN RICE, NORA ROBERTS, LISA SCOTTOLINE. If I may add my own personal preferences, they are JOHN GRISHAM, MICHAEL PALMER, ROBERT B PARKER. I'm pleased to say that I am familiar with and enjoy the work of a majority of these authors. Am I going to try out some of the others? Probably. By the way, don't try to figure out which of the Christian authors are reading the more worldly books. My lips are sealed.

I also queried four editors. I've decided to let them remain anonymous. Editors have too many people knocking on their doors and peeking over their transoms already. Let's give them some privacy. But it's interesting to see the great variety in their personal reading lists. Ready? JOHN AUBREY ANDERSON, SHERWOOD ANDERSON, TED BELL, STEPHEN COONTS, MICHAEL CRICHTON, DICK FRANCIS, DEAN KOONTZ, ROBERT LUDLUM, MICHAEL PALMER, BARBARA PYM, EUDORA WELTY. Again, some of these are names I know, others I don't. But I'll get to know them.

What can you deduce from this, besides the fact that authors and editors read in their spare time? The writers whose work they choose for their leisure reading are also folks who can teach even these pros. Quoting from some of the responses, these authors speak to them with their "wonderful characters," the "ability to create incredible tension and sympathetic protagonists," and "an amazing job of authentic voice."

So, there you have it. Now go out there and read...then write. And maybe in a couple of years, someone is going to ask you what you, as a successful novelist, are currently reading. Of course, I hope it's one of my novels. Peace.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Do You Need An Agent? Can You Get An Agent?

At every writer's conference I've attended over the past three years, attendees have worked to attract the attention of editors. Personally, I've found that most editors are willing to give you ten or fifteen minutes to listen to your pitch. Sometimes they say, "Send me a proposal," and sometimes we hear, "That's not right for our house. Sorry." But they're not nearly as unapproachable as a lot of fledgling writers think.

The group whose dance card fills up the quickest at these gatherings isn't those who wear the hat of "editor." It's the agents. Moreover, the high-profile agents are the most sought-after. Somehow, there seems a dissonance to me in that. These folks have well-established clients whose writing has proven itself over and over. Why should they even bother talking with prospective clients? The answer, of course, is that they're sifting through all the proposals they get, hoping to find the author of the next best-seller.

I'll be attending the ACFW meeting here in my home city of Dallas in a couple of weeks. I've kept an eye on the appointment logs for editors and agents, and it's interesting that many editors (including a number from well-respected houses) have open appointments. On the other hands, agents are booked from sunup to sundown. Everybody wants to have an agent.

A recent Charis Connection blog (see the link at the right) asked a number of very successful Christian writers whether or not they had an agent. The majority had one, and several had gone through the sequence of no agent-agent-change agent. The notable exception was Jim Bell, but Jim's a lawyer, and I'd hate to go up against him in negotiating a contract. (Sorry, Jim--lawyers frighten us doctors). Although most have an agent now, many of the respondents sold their first work "over the transom"--that is, just getting an editor to read a proposal through one means or another. But times have changed, and it's tough to do that now. There has to be a means of getting the work considered, and an agent is the best avenue for that.

Most publishing houses won't look at an unsolicited proposal now. The two primary avenues for getting your work considered are attending a writer's conference and receiving a go-ahead from an editor, or having an agent who will shop your work around. I've said before that getting an agent is like getting a loan at the bank. It's easiest if you can prove you don't need one.

In my case, I've been fortunate enough to have one book published (The Tender Scar, a non-fiction work), and my fiction has attracted sufficient attention that I've recently been signed by an agent. I'm hoping that this is a good thing, and I think it is, but only time will tell.

Whether you have an agent or not, the quality of your writing is still the major determinant of whether someone is going to consider your work. So study, pray, work, revise, rewrite, and keep at it. Don't just write one thing and then rework it to death. Sometimes that first book is like the first waffle--the one you practice on and throw out. Keep writing. The rest depends, not on an agent or an editor, but on God.