The 2008 ACFW Conference Review

I just got back from the 2008 American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference, and my daughter Adele and I had a wonderful time.

The great thing is that we were able to be in the Twin Cities (MN) area, where I grew up and most of my extended family lives. Because of that, every time we had a few hours free we drove up to Brooklyn Park to visit my mother, who broke her foot the day before the conference. I consider it a privilege to have been able to help her out during this time.

Personally, I met with two agents, while my daughter met with three. I have one request for a proposal, and my daughter has two. This was excellent, especially considering three of those agents don’t generally represent fantasy.

But I find myself pausing.

The problem is that my writing is not quite up to snuff yet. That became clear when I met with Jeff Gerke for an excellent critique of my first two chapters. (Don’t forget to read his writing tips.) He said I was very close, but I needed minor tuning on my prologue (already done), and the introduction of my main character in Chapter 1 needs complete revamping.

So what was most missing at the conference? In all the teaching and advice we received at the conference, this was it: The encouragement to get professional editing.

Yes, it came out loud and clear to put your best foot forward, but I never heard anyone tell us unpublished writers to get professional editing before we submit a proposal.

I first heard about this through the website of WordServe Literary where they recommend this before contacting them. The strange thing is that when I went back to their website to get the exact link, that text had been removed! So I used Google to track it down, and found it on an old, now unlinked page. I don’t know if they have retracted that position, or if they got in the hotseat for recommending that authors spend money before they submit, but here is the important part of the text:

Consequently [for fiction], I strongly recommend that you do a number of things before you approach an editor or agent.

Typically, authors do these three things:

  • They write the entire manuscript and then rewrite and polish as best as they can do;
  • They go to a writer’s conference (some do) to get feedback;
  • They have their critique group offer feedback. (Perhaps a friend or relative reads it and says it’s good.)

These minimums will rarely cut it. When I ask about who has read your manuscript and the above is your response, I will likely not be willing to invest my time in reading your work. Sorry, but there are simply too many choices. But if you want to guarantee that I’ll consider your work, you MUST go the extra mile… make that two miles:

You should find someone who is also a new writer trying to get their book in front of an agent. You send them five to ten copies of your manuscript (they send you the same), and you have them find current readers in this genre from their church who will critique the manuscript. I would recommend you put an evaluation form (a 1 to 10, check the box type) after each chapter. Then a larger form at the end of the book. You’re asking about quality of writing, dialogue, characterization, setting, plot, did this chapter move you into the next, etc. You’ll begin to notice patterns that will help you fix any fatal flaws the manuscript might have. Each reader has a stamped self-addressed envelope to send the manuscript back to you.

After you do this, THEN you should find the $500 to $1,500 it will take to have the manuscript professionally edited. Not copyedited . . . content and copy edited. Some choices as to editors for novels are listed below. Each has their own expertise and experience (and pricing structures), so ask how many books in your genre they have edited, tell them the length of your work (in words), and ask for a firm price and what you will get for that price.

Some editors to consider include:

Jophen Baui:
Eileen Key: and
Kathy Ide:
Susan Lohrer:
Margie Vahter:

If you go the distance, your manuscript will have more of a chance of being taken seriously and considered for possible representation. Publishers and agents are looking for new voices, writers with skill, and good stories. But their time and the amount of slots open are few. To separate yourself from the pack, you must do all you can before you submit your work.

Once you have taken these steps, please email us a query.

Now I don’t know that this advice was never said at the conference, but I at least didn’t hear it.

For me, not only will I be rewriting before submitting (along with my already in progress cutting), but I am considering paying for professional editing. If I am serious about this, then I need to make sure that my best manuscript is put forward. This means taking seriously the above advice.

I don’t know which, if any, editor I will use, but I will give updates as I proceed.

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