The Best Conference Ever
September 25, 2007 | Written by admin
I’m just back from the ACFW conference in Dallas, and while I’m not exactly prone to raves, allow me to rave about this one… Fantastic conference. Incredibly strong. Probably the best conference I’ve ever been to in terms of content. I saw more publishable manuscripts than I’ve ever seen at a writing conference. The team of people who put this together are to be commended for creating such a strong gathering of writers. They had the wisdom to start working with a professional event planner, and long ago decided to make this something more than the usual "show up and meet one another" type of venue. The keynote speaker was James Scott Bell, a fine novelist whose greatest legacy may be his nonfiction "Plot and Structure" book with Writers Digest, and he wowed them. (I’m not a fan of most general sessions at writer conferences…too much rah-rah for my taste. I don’t need faux inspiration to do my job.) The attendees found Jim funny, insightful, and moving. The workshops offered were quite broad, and they had far more meetings taught by working professionals than most conferences. The food was good (another pet peeve), the rooms at the hotel were top notch (no crummy dorms), and the gala on the last night has been turned into a true "event," with celebrity authors winning awards and people from the industry taking part. A great weekend. If you’re a novelist, consider marking next September’s conference on your calendar. It’s going to be in Minneapolis, and they’re working with the Mall of America to stage the book signing. Already sounds like a great time.
I’m way behind in answering questions, so I’ll try to do some catching up this week. Someone at the conference handed me a note that read, "For Your Blog: Do I need to go to ABA to make a living at writing?"
This question presumes ABA writing jobs automatically pay better than CBA writing jobs, and that’s not necessarily the case. Religious fiction is THE growing category in publishing these days, so there continues to be a market for Christian novels. I think you should ask yourself what you do best, and focus your writing on your answer. But…let’s face it. It’s tough to make a living at writing. Even some fine writers struggle to make a living at it. Writing can quickly become a job, and the joy can go out of it. There’s a huge difference between a full-time writing professional and a part-time writer. The stakes are much larger. Study the ramifications of your decision and make sure you really want to make that leap.
Several people at the conference asked if they should consider moving into full-time work as editors. To that I can only ask, "What do you want to do? Write or edit?" Most writers have little desire to become full-time editors, and I don’t know a lot of editors who secretly pine away to be full-time writers (though there may be a few). The question seems like it’s coming from a frustrated author — someone saying, "If I can’t make it as a writer, is there a chance I can still work in the industry by becoming an editor?" And, unfortunately, I can’t answer that for you. But know that many very creative writers struggle with the discipline and consistency it takes to become a full-time editor. (A hint: If you just love books, consider applying for a job at Barnes & Noble. It’s low stress, you get to read everything for free, and you have the opportunity to talk books all day.)
On a similar topic, someone asked me, "Is it possible to make a living writing what you love?"
That, of course, depends on what you love. If you happen to love things that have a large market, the answer is "possibly." If you love obscurities, the answer is "only if you are a great writer." And that’s the point to keep in mind when talking about making a living writing: If you really want to get published regularly, become a great writer. It’s the best way to impress publishers. (And yes, my answer begs the question, "And how do I become a great writer?" But you probably know the answer to that one already — you work at it. And there’s no guarantee you’ll be good enough. That fact is, it takes a certain amount of innate talent to write for a living. But I never knew anybody who regretted working to improve their craft. As we Scots like to say, "Time spent sharpening the tool is never wasted.")
I’ve had three people write to ask me, "How can I know it’s time to move toward making my living at writing?" Since I was just talking about this subject at the conference, I thought this would be an appropriate time to share my views about an author moving from part-time to full-time writing.
There’s a basic forumula you can use to determine if you’re ready to move toward full-time writing. It looks like this math theorum, and it’s called the MacGregor Equation: 24m(n) + 4b(r) = RJ
Let me decipher this for you… What you’re really looking for is a salary — the ability to turn writing into a REAL JOB. So you first have to decide what that salary would be. Let’s say a "real job" in your mind is making $3000 a month, or $36,000 in a year. That’s the end of our equation — the RJ or "Real Job."
To get there, you need to have 24 months of writing already contracted (that’s the "24m" part of my equation). And over that time, it has to be paying you a normal salary (that’s the "n" portion). Going back to your numbers, if $3000 per month constitutes a Real Job, then you need to enough contracts in hand to pay you $3000 per month for the next 24 months (or a total of $72,000). In addition, you need to have four books (the "4b") earning you a royalty ("r") to supplement the money you’re being paid on your advances. Not just four books in print, but four books that have earned out and are making you money.
If you’ve got that (24 months of real job wages coming in, and 4 books earning you royalties), you’re probably ready to begin exploring full-time writing. The problem is that most writers sign a book deal, are paid an advance, and quit their jobs. ("See? I’m a full time writer!") But as soon as the advance is gone, they realize that they have no money, don’t know where the next paycheck is coming from, and may not have finished their contracted book yet. What to do in that situation? For some, the answer is to sign up for another book. But that’s a trap — soon you’ll find yourself owing money on books you haven’t written yet. Eventually you can get to a place where you can never write all the books contracted, and you’re facing a financial disaster. When that happens, there’s no easy way out. Write the books and make no money, or pay the money back. A serious dilemma.
You can protect yourself from that by following my formula. If you don’t have 24 months of real job wages coming in, plus 4 royalty-earning books, don’t quit your day job. Keep working the plan until you’re ready financially to make this sort of commitment.