Wow. You won't believe how LUCKY I am. In yesterday's mail, I received a query letter in which the author "guaranteed" me his book is "literally going to sell a billion books worldwide." Zowie! And he can back up such a wild promise with "1200 Bible verses synergistically harmonized by the Lord God Himself." Holy cow. (If you haven't received an answer to prayer lately, it's probably because God has been synergistically harmonizing this guy's verses.) He also noted he has "literally spent the last 13 years doing 14 hours of research per day," making me think he might need to bone up on the usage of the word "literally." He told me his book is both "the final word on the Trinity" and "the Suprascientific Theory of Everything." Yowzer. He then promised to make me "a hundred million dollars — easy," and noted "this is the chance of a hundred lifetimes." He closed with a personal aside, saying, "I hope you're ready for the big time." I decided I'm not — the whole suprascientific thing makes we shudder. I am not worthy!
And aren't I the lucky one? I also received a proposal for "104 prophetic poems that have been dictated to me" AND a "fiction novel" about portals between earth and heaven, that includes a "giant race of people living in the mountains of California," that the author notes is "based on historical fact and my own experiences."
Wait, there's a lesson here. I wrote to each of these people, to tell them they need to research agents before querying, and that their writing needed help (I left off any notes about "and be sure to take your meds"). But in each case the author wrote me back a nasty note. So, yeah — though these people can't write, and don't know how to approach an agent, they feel they know much more about the business than I do. I mention this because there are some great writing conferences coming up soon, and maybe if you're starting out, you'd find it helpful to attend.
The American Christian Fiction Writers annual conference is happening next week in Denver. I'll be there — I've long said ACFW is the best conference in the country for commercial fiction writers. Good speakers, good sessions, and a well-organized conference in a nice setting. If you're going to be there, make sure to say hello. Bestselling romance novelist Debbie Macomber is delivering the keynote, and there are a ton of workshops and breakout sessions. I'm doing a couple workshops (one on writers mentoring writers, the other on "the future of publishing"), and I always enjoy the social times at ACFW. Plus I get to wear my kilt at the annual awards banquet on Saturday night. (I'm doing the Blackwatch this year instead of the traditional MacGregor tartan — so if you're coming, you now have another reason to go on living.)
Talk of the conference reminds me that I've had a number of letters from people asking about the value of conferences and workshops. I think writers' conferences are a wonderful way to meet people, get exposed to the industry, gain some helpful information, and remind yourself that you're not alone in this crazy business. It's also a great place to meet agents and editors face-to-face — many experienced writers will tell you that the bulk of what they learned about the industry early in their careers came through attending writing conferences, where they met people, heard stories, and had a lot of basic information explained to them. I can tell you that a number of the authors I represent are people I first met at a conference. So if you have a chance to attend, by all means you should go.
At the same time, I think the value of conferences can diminish for experienced authors. That's why I encourage people who have published to do three things… First, attend a conference as a mentor, not just as participant. Use a conference as a way to give back, to share your knowledge, and to encourage a fellow writer who isn't quite as far along the path. You probably had people invest in your writing career when you were starting out — here's your chance to do the same with someone else. Second, find a mentor or writing partner. For an experienced writer, a critique group may not be quite as valuable as finding one person whose judgment you trust; who will read your material and give you straight answers about what works and what doesn't. Third, consider a more in-depth workshop or seminar to boost your knowledge. The fact that Donald Maass is doing a shortened version of his "Writing the Breakout Novel" seminar at ACFW this year is fabulous. If you're a published author, consider attending the full-blown version. Or maybe take in McKee's "Story" workshop. A good, advanced-level seminar can be extremely helpful for those who don't feel they're getting much out of the one-hour workshops at a conference.
And yes, I have a reason for tell you that… I've been working with Jim Rubart, a longtime marketing consultant, to create an advanced marketing seminar just for novelists. We'll be announcing it at ACFW, but this fall and next summer we'll be hosting small groups of writers in a handful of cities for two days, focused exclusively on developing fiction marketing techniques that are specific to each author and their books. More on this in a later post.
You can also find good info on the web, of course. Make sure to check out the popular www.publishingperspectives.com . My friend Jason Ilian put me on to them recently, and I've become a big fan. Novelist Brandt Dodson introduced me to another good site: www.bookbusinessmag.com . These folks have been on a roll — great thoughts on the future of the industry. One blog I've become addicted to is LIsa Delay's www.lifeasprayer.wordpress.com , which I really enjoy.
Um, in case you haven't heard, I hurt my back and neck. Patti and I are moving (we finally bought a place at the beach), and I celebrated by showing off my testosterone and wrestling the washing machine into the truck. Bad mistake. I wound up in the ER, and now I'm taking drugs and can't lift anything heavier than a pencil. It sucks, and I'm cranky, but more than anything I'm mad. Mad at myself for thinking my 150-lb body could wrangle a washer up a ramp and into a truck by myself. Mad at Sears for making such a heavy washing machine. Mad at Jerry Jenkins for not calling me and invited me to represent his latest million seller so I wouldn't have to even OWN a washing machine — I could just toss my clothes into a corner and the laundry fairies would show up and magically make them shiny again. Anyway, if you can't tell, I'm on serious painkillers. So if you don't like anything in this post, blame it on the drugs.