Chip MacGregor

September 16, 2013

Confessions of a Conference Junkie



President of the award-winning literary site, Novel Rocket, Ane Mulligan writes Southern-fried fiction served with a tall, sweet iced tea. While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, she’s worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), business manager, drama director and writer. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). A three-time Genesis finalist, Ane is a published playwright and columnist. She resides in Suwanee, GA, with her artist husband and two very large dogs, and has just returned from the ACFW conference.

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

I’m Ane Mulligan, and I’m a conference junkie. I’ve attended thirteen writing conferences since 2004 and can’t wait to get to number fourteen.

Non-writers look aghast when they hear my conference tally and ask, “Didn’t the first one take?”

They don’t understand. No one but another conferenceholic would. After all, who gets a writer better than another writer? Who else hears voices in their head and has imaginary friends? Okay, yeah, the inmates of some hospitals and little kids — but so do fiction writers. And we fiction writers need each other.

Besides the camaraderie, I always come away from every conference with a golden nugget —something that takes my writing to the next level.

So what are golden nuggets? I’m glad you asked. Assuming you’ve applied what you learned from previous conferences, you may find you’re getting some repeat information when you attend conferences. That’s good confirmation that you’re growing as a writer.

Then right in the middle of a workshop, you get a zinger. One piece of information, one inside secret to great writing that will make your manuscript stand out from the slush pile. That, my friends, is a golden nugget. It can be a small or large writing tip or insight, but it is worth every penny you paid and every hour you spent in a crowded airport.

A few of my favorite golden nuggets have been:  Ron Benrey’s magic paragraphJames Scott Bell’s Q-factor , and the head from Angie Hunt’s plot skeleton. Actually I love the whole bony thing.

When we plunk down good money for a conference, it’s tempting to try to be in every class available. At my first one, the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (BRMCWC), I took so many classes filled with good teaching, my head spun. My head spins enough with the characters zipping around in there. I don’t need the overload. Now, I’m careful to schedule time for friends and networking.

There’s another important aspect of conferences. In today’s publishing world, there are few publishers you can cold-query. You need an agent or you attend a conference and get an appointment to pitch. If you missed out with your targeted agent or editor, never fear. Sit with them at lunch and pitch them your book idea over salad. After all, they came to the conference to find the next bestseller.

So hone your elevator pitch. Memorize it so you can recite it in your sleep. Know it so well your kids are rolling their eyes. Get it down cold, so when Ms. Editor asks you to tell her about your book, you don’t freeze.

But one word of caution—well, two really. Never follow an agent or editor into the restroom to pitch. Bad form. And never blow your nose on your one sheet.



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  • lisa michele says:

    I too am a conference junkie. Thanks for sharing your thoughs!

  • Denise Hisey says:

    I’ve only been to one, but I can see how it could get addicting!

    • Ane Mulligan says:

      They really are, Denise. I’ve never left one without at least 1 golden nugget of new knowledge that helped my writing.

  • JeanneTakenaka says:

    Ane, I loved your thoughts, and I was honored to spend a few minutes with you over the weekend before I pitched (actually picked her brain) to Sandra Bishop.
    I’ve only been to two ACFW’s, but I’ve been to four writer’s retreats in the three years I’ve been writing. May we always have a heart to learn, right?

    BTW, you soooo deserved your award. Congratulaions!

  • Robin Patchen says:

    Great advice, Ane. I understand that head-spinning thing. It takes me days to wind down after a conference, and only then can I go back and look at all my notes. Sometimes, it’s too much. I like the idea of planning time for friends.

    And congratulations on your contract!

  • Rick Barry says:

    Ane, I have a bone to pick with you about that plot skeleton. I’ll phone you about it next time I’m within 10 feet of you (private joke 🙂 )

  • Oh Ane! You know what they say about great minds … Just as you started mentioning elevators pitches I was thinking “just don’t follow them into the bathroom” :o). I wonder why that popped into both our heads ;o). One of the highlights of my conference experience last year was finally meeting Ane Mulligan in person after having received so many helpful answers from you to my questions on the ACFW loop. Couldn’t go this year, but hope to meet up with you again!

  • Pamela Meyers says:

    What wasn’t said on Ane’s bio because it was “in the can” and up for posting before the ACFW conference which just ended is that just before the conference opened her agent, Sandra Bishop of this agency, brought a contract for Ane’s debut novel, Chapel Springs Revival. Ane’s new publisher is Lighthouse of the Carolinas and her book will be out sometime next year. Also at our awards gala on Sunday night Ane was totally made speechless by winning the Volunteer Service Award. A very well-deserved honor. I’m blessed to have Ane as one of my best friends, mentor and fellow writer.

    Regarding conferences, I have never counted how many I’ve attended, but I began attending them in the late 90s and hope to never stop. I always learn things there that I can apply to either my writing or my writing career. There is nothing like meeting editors and agents face-to-face. I attend at least one every year.

  • Ron Estrada says:

    I followed Chip for hours. The man never uses the restroom. But I agree, Ane, the conference is really the only way to connect. Social media is great, but an hour of brainstorming with a few writers in a hotel lobby is worth its weight. I’ve only managed 5 conferences in ten years or so. Money, of course, is the issue. But I’m hoping to, at the very least, keep the ACFW as my annual pilgrimage. I attended one 8 years ago and this weekend was my second. Somehow the time gets away, especially with economic crashes, lay offs, kids going to college, etc. Now that we’re almost empty nesters, I’m hoping to pursue my craft a bit more. Hopefully you’ll meet me in St. Louis next year!

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