Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Christian Writer's Conferences: Interview with Colleen Coble

The Value of Conferences

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be focusing on Christian writer’s conferences. These are an incredible blessing to the writing community and well-worth the cost. Best-selling author Colleen Coble is involved with two of these conferences and kindly agreed to share some thoughts with us.


Colleen, welcome to Pix-N-Pens and thank you for being our guest this week. Can you tell us what conferences you are involved in and when and where are they being held?

I'm involved in the American Christian Fiction Writer's Conference and the Mount Hermon Christian Writer's Conference. Mount Hermon is coming up in Mount Hermon, CA from April 2-7, 2009. ACFW is Sept 17-20 in Denver CA.

How did you get involved in these conferences?

Mount Hermon was the first Christian Writer's conference I attended. A crit partner, Kristin Billerbeck, lives in California and told me about it. It's set in the redwoods and has a wide range of writing topics. Lots of editors and agents attend, and it's a great place to learn about the business and to network. I met my current editor, the fabulous Ami McConnell, at Mount Hermon in 2001. I know if I hadn't met her face-to-face, I wouldn't be at Thomas Nelson today. That personal connection is so important! I'm thrilled to teaching there this year!

I write fiction so I've been involved with ACFW for many years. Its focus is only fiction. I'm now CEO of the organization as well so am involved in the planning stages for it. It's the premier conference for fiction and nearly every publishing house has an editor in attendance. Many agents attend as well. It's a great conference to learn how to write fiction and to network with other writers. We cover many genres and the location changes from year to year. This year we're in Denver, and next year we're in Indianapolis.

What actually happens at these conferences?

While the workshops are fabulous for learning the mechanics of writing, the really important things go on outside of class. The attendees make friendships and connections that last a lifetime. You can find a critique partner or an agent or an editor. You learn how the business is changing and how you can be part of those changes. You may find a new type of writing you want to try. You have the camaraderie of learning that we're all facing challenges. It's a magical time to discover you're not alone and not "weird." There are other people out there who think about character and plot while they're brushing their teeth!

What level and type of writers are the conferences aimed at?

Both conferences have something for all levels. Mount Hermon has a professional track for authors who have written several books as well as beginning authors who are just starting. ACFW strives to make sure there is something for the writer just learning what point of view is as well as the seasoned author who makes a living at writing novels. Both groups benefit from interaction with each other too. The new writer hears how the published author faced rejection, and it's an encouragement when their first manuscript is turned down. The seasoned author is privileged to share her wisdom and also gets to share in the excitement of the new author. At ACFW some of the publishing houses routinely award a contract or two at the conference, and it's an exciting time for all of us.

What can writers expect if they come along to a conference?

They can expect to go home changed. They'll have new friends, a new commitment to craft, new connections to build on, and some exciting new ideas to try.

How can writers know if they’re ready to attend a conference?

I think everyone NEEDS to attend a conference. Yes, it costs money. But writing is a business. Any business requires an investment. Especially in today's publishing climate, the networking that goes on is hugely important! You might not be ready to submit a manuscript, but there are classes that will benefit you even if you don't know what point of view is all about or how to incorporate a setting into your book. Those are things you can learn at a conference.

Can you give us three tips on preparing to attend a conference?

1. If you're pitching a manuscript, have the idea distilled down to a paragraph of the big concept.
2. Determine to step outside your comfort zone and talk to other people. Don't be intimidated by the published authors. They are there because they want to talk to YOU.
3. Look over the class offerings and be honest about where you are. If you're just learning, take the entry level classes and don't complain that you can't take the advanced ones. Begin where you are.

Do you believe conferences can play an important part in a writer’s growth?

Absolutely! Even after having written thirty-five books, I learn something new at every conference. I develop deeper friendships and learn more about the business. I will always go to conferences!



Best-selling author Colleen Coble has won the ACFW Mentor of the Year award twice, and her books have won or finaled in numerous contests including RWA's Rita award, the Holt Medallion, the ACFW Book of the Year, Booksellers Best, the Daphne du Maurier, and the National Readers' Choice Award. Visit her at colleencoble.com and girlswriteout.

Available Now: Cry in the Night-Bree Matthews faces the greatest challenge in her life after finding an abandoned baby in the woods.

Many thanks for sharing with us, Colleen. I'm sure your words will inspire many of us to sign up for a conference this year.

If you've ever attended a Christian writer's conference, please feel free to leave a comment and tell us how it benefitted your writing. We'd love to hear from you.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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