When I first felt the call to write I pounded away at the keyboard with pride and eager anticipation. I was certain that I’d be the next publishing success and that readers would be scrambling to buy my book.
Imagine my excitement when I learned that a friend of mine knew one of the senior editors, Ed I. Tor (not his real name), at the largest Christian publishing house in the country. His daughter lived with her and her family while she was attending college so he sort of owed her a favor.
I was the favor.
I received a call one day from Ed saying that he wanted to see the first three chapters of my book.
My printer couldn’t print fast enough.
A couple of weeks later he wanted to see more. My ticket to the bestseller list was just around the corner. For the next several weeks I could hardly sleep while visions of bookstore fairies danced in my head.
Soon after Ed I. Tor called I had a brilliant idea. My family and I were planning a trip from Oklahoma to North Carolina. Nashville, the promised land of publishing, was smack in the middle.
Ed agreed to meet me for lunch at a swanky downtown restaurant. My manuscript was polished. I was poised for a contract.
After a few formalities and introductions I opened my briefcase and pulled out a three-ring binder. This was in the early 90s and graphic art programs were not readily available to amateurs, but I’d managed to create some artwork for the front cover. As Ed glanced at my design displayed under the clear plastic sleeve of the notebook his eyes widened. I wiggled in my seat and sat a little taller.
Ed put on his glasses and opened the binder. My heart swelled. His fingers did a casual dance through the pages and the colorful tabs that separated each chapter. He must be impressed, I thought. Especially with the book-style layout and artistic font I’d chosen for my manuscript—Comic Sans.
After a few moments of glancing through the pages he took off his glasses. Rubbing his chin, he looked at me.
“You’ve probably got about three books here.”
“Really? How can you tell?”
“Judging by your table of contents you plan to cover several different topics.”
I tried to conceal my excitement, but a broad smile spread across my face. A multibook contract? He must love it! I’m better than I’ve realized.
He opened a packet of sugar and poured it into his iced tea. The teaspoon seemed to make music as it swirled the ice cubes around the glass. Even the waiters seemed to be waltzing in unison as the restaurant morphed into a theatrical venue. This moment would be edged in my memory forever.
Ed unrolled his silverware and put the linen napkin in his lap.
“I’d like to ask you a question.”
This was it. I wanted to jump up and shout, but I did my best to conceal my excitement and appear professional.
Leaning back in his chair he took a deep breath. “Have you ever thought about going to a writer’s conference?”
A writer’s conference? Excuse me? Didn’t he know that I’d been writing bank-exam reports for the Federal Reserve Bank? I knew how to write.
His words echoed in my mind like the droning drip of Charlie Brown’s mother’s voice.
Have you…wah wah wah
Ever thought…wah wah wah
Of going to a writer’s conference?
In that moment, the magic disappeared. The waiters stopped dancing and the music faded. The red velvet curtains of success inched to a close. This was not the ending I’d imagined.
Why in the world would I need to go to a writer’s conference?
Wah, wah, wah.
A few months later a friend told me about American Christian Writers. “They have a weekend conference coming in Oklahoma City. It’ll be fun,” she said. “You’ll learn a lot, and it’s always great to meet other writers.”
It’ll be a chance to network, I thought, so I registered.
My eyes were opened that weekend. That’s when I realized that I didn’t know that I didn’t know. There were standards in the industry that I was oblivious to. Ignorant of. I learned manuscripts are written in Times New Roman—12 point, and double spaced. Comic Sans screamed novice louder than an echo in the Grand Canyon. Manuscripts weren’t presented in three-ring binders with tabs dividing the chapters, and graphic art was left to cover designers.
Besides the industry standards for formatting a manuscript there were so many other things I didn’t know. Like how to craft a query letter and a proposal. How to use the Writer’s Market Guide to find publishers and magazine editors and where to submit. And then there were people called agents. Did I need one of those?
I also learned a few things about the craft of writing: Seasoned writers show, not tell. Inexperienced and boring writers tell, not show. Maybe that was why my manuscript rivaled Ambien for insomnia.
I did meet a lot of other writers that weekend. I did my share of networking. But my greatest take away was that I gained tremendous respect for the world of writing. It’s a craft that has to be honed. We never arrive; there are always new things to learn. Styles change. Standards change. Even if we write nonfiction, accomplished writers understand that they still have to master creative nonfiction skills to capture the reader’s interest. Skills like how to use scene description and dialogue to make a true story come alive. Skills I never learned writing technical reports for the Federal Reserve Bank.
My meeting with Ed I. Tor turned out to be a two-way favor. He repaid kindness to his friend for housing his daughter while she was in college. And me? The favor was the gift of knowledge.
Without the wisdom I gained at my first writer’s conference and the many more that would come later, I’d still be in the same place. Stuck in ignorance. My dream of being published would remain a fantasy. My stories and words of inspiration would never leave my own computer. No one would ever benefit from the blood that poured out of my fingers.
Ignorance is not bliss. If you’re reading this, I suspect that you have a dream in your heart. Keep pressing on. Delays don’t mean no, so don’t give up!
If you want to write and get published, may I challenge you to do yourself a favor? Make attendance at writers conferences and retreats a priority. The continuing education they provide are essential for your success. And as you apply what you learn, pass the favor on. Invite another writer to join you. You, your friends and the world of readers will all be better for it.
Speaking of writer’s conferences…I serve on the team for Write Well Sell Well and WriterCon. I’d like to invite you to connect. Check out Write Well Sell Well’s blog and if you’re available, WriterCon holds an annual conference over Labor Day weekend in Oklahoma City. Our team would love to have you!