Are you a left-brained, list-making, analyzing, outline-oriented writer? Are you a right-brained, creative, spontaneous, seat-of-the-pants writer? Some combination? If you’re attending a writers’ conference, engage both halves of your brain and plan the right way—and the left way.
The American Christian Fiction Writers Conference is scheduled for September 22-25, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri, and registration is open. ACFW Conference Link. ACFW runs an excellent conference for Christian fiction writers with top-notch faculty and dozens of editors and agents in attendance. If you’re serious about growing in your craft, getting published, or building your career, a writers’ conference is a must.
Having attended nine major conferences (including ACFW), I’ve found it’s best to let the left brain reign before the conference and the right brain fly free during the conference.
The Left Way
Before the conference, analyze, plan, and make lists. Proper preparation allows you to get the most out of the conference and be relaxed.
• Which Continuing Education tracks and workshops to take? ACFW offers five CE tracks and thirty workshops. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses as a writer, as well as where you are in your manuscript and your career. Pick workshops to target your weaknesses or solidify your strengths, and try to balance between craft and publicity.
• Which editors, agents, and published authors do you want to meet? At ACFW you can schedule one or two appointments with editors, agents, or mentors, which must be chosen at the time of registration. Also make a list of professionals you’d like to meet—at workshops, meals, etc. This list can keep you focused during the flurry of a conference.
• Prepare your pitch. The most common question you will be asked at conference is, “What do you write?” Be prepared to answer with a sparkling one to two sentence description. Also be prepared to answer follow-up questions with more detail. But not too much detail. Really.
• Prepare your One-Sheet. A one-sheet is “you and your project” on a single piece of paper. A catchy tagline, a short paragraph describing your novel or series, a short bio, and your contact info. Include your photo, and use graphics, fonts, and colors that coordinate with the feel of your story while still looking professional. Don’t overload the page or use micro-fonts. White space is your friend.
The Right Way
At the conference, work your plan but let your right brain frolic. Serendipity tends to produce the best conference moments.
• Let your creativity play. You will learn so much and be surrounded by hundreds of creative people. Soak it in. Brainstorm characters, plotlines, and more. Turn off your internal editor and resist the urge to burn your manuscript.
• Veer off your list. Your list of professionals to meet is a guide, not Scripture. Try to meet others, even those who aren’t looking for your genre. The publishing industry is fluid, and the editor from House A may be with House B next year—or have become an agent. That casual conversation you had over dinner might lead somewhere unexpected. And don’t forget, these people know the industry. Ask questions, absorb, and simply enjoy them as people.
• Meet new friends. While targeting professionals, don’t overlook the person next to you in a workshop or at a meal. I’ve met some of my dearest friends this way. We struggled along the pre-published road with each other and now we’re exploring the world of publication together.
• Watch for God appointments. My best conference moments have come when I set aside my plan. Pray with those who’ve been rejected too many times, who need a boost before an appointment, or who struggle with personal or family issues. Skip a workshop to connect with a friend. Introduce people with similar interests. Listen for God’s voice about your writing and life. When you look for God at work, you’ll find Him.
I hope to see you in St. Louis in September! Please veer off your list to say hi!
In what ways have you been blessed by planning or by serendipity? How can you best prepare while staying open to spontaneity?