Escaping the Heat
If you follow the weather, you will know it’s been unusually hot in the Phoenix area. We hit the “triple digits” nine days ago and have stayed with it every single day since that time (yes over 100 degrees). Yesterday they tied the 1973 record of 105. Now you can talk about the low humidity and dry heat all you want but that’s pretty warm. Within the last several months, I downloaded a little free program from the Weather Channel which puts the outside temperature on my toolbar. I’ve found it fascinating to watch the temperature changing throughout the day. The program is full of surprises. This week we had a freak thunderstorm roll through the Valley of the Sun and the national weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning. My little temperature turned red and even sounded a bit of thunder, which I didn’t know about until it happened. It definitely caught my attention that something was happening outside my window.
Early tomorrow morning, I’m flying east to Asheville, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. The conference is a pure change of pace and I look forward to the opportunity to teach my continuing class on the nonfiction book plus a couple of individual workshops. It amounts to about eight hours of teaching about writing. I love this opportunity to give back to others and help them in this journey of publishing. Last year 275 people attended this conference. This year 410 are registered so it will be substantially bigger and busier. I’ve already had one eager author call me—yes, he tracked down my phone number (long removed from the Howard Books website because of another story). I was fascinated to listen to this author make his oral pitch for his fiction project (something I encourage you never to do) then I said I look forward to meeting with him and looking at his work (which is true).
From going to these conferences, I understand many of the people attending are investing in their first conference experience (usually about 50%). These writers are attending with high goals to sell a particular book or meet a particular set of editors. For another group at the conference, it will be like old home week of any reunion. They are eager to see old friends, catch up on the news and learn more about their craft or the publishing business and gain some inspiration. Usually about the third day, the first time conference people have gained something valuable—perspective. They have shown their manuscript to three or four people and received some honest help and know they need to redouble their efforts when they return home. When you make the effort to attend a conference and receive this type of feedback, it is priceless and can save years of heartache and rejection.
My challenge as an editor and fellow writer is to be diplomatic yet honest. I’ll never forget what a fellow faculty member told me about another editor, “He takes everything and encourages every writer to send him their manuscript. That encouragement dispenses lots of hope until one or two months later when he rejects everything.” I doubt this editor was taking this type of stance but for me that’s unfair and not what I do. I try to find something that needs work, provide some encouragement and information, then return the manuscript—on the spot. Because I receive many submissions and have few spots, I will be hard pressed to take home anything. Yet I am always open and looking for that stand out submission. I could be surprised at what I discover. It’s part of the adventure of these conferences.
I’m going to be teaching about the value of nonfiction and how your nonfiction idea can impact your world. Here’s a little behind the scenes detail about the Blue Ridge Conference. Most conferences restrict the faculty about the number of handouts for their classes. Some editors don’t use handouts but I do. I can understand the restriction because it adds to the overall expenses for the conference. I’ve had no restriction at this conference so I take full advantage of the situation. I try to build so much value into my few hours of teaching that the participant feels like my sessions were worthy of their time and energy to attend. I’ve not counted my handouts but I believe I have close to 100 pages (no there wasn’t an extra zero there). The contents of my handouts are completely different than Book Proposals That Sell (which will be available in the conference bookstore). My oral presentations will be completely different from my book. It will be fun to see what happens during these sessions.
While I could potentially write something about The Writing Life, it will be difficult to find any time over the next few days. If you don’t hear anything from me for a few days. You’ll know the reason. I’m escaping the heat to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I hope to see some of you there.