How a Writers Conference Changed My Writing Journey

A Guest Post by Shannon Vannatter

In 1999, I realized that story in my head since I was a teenager, could be a book. It poured out of my fingers and in a matter of three months, I wrote it, had my mother proof it, and polished it the best I knew how. Several people I told about the book suggested writers groups and conferences, but I figured why waste time learning how to write when I can just write.

In the next six months, I wrote a second book and received fifty-two rejection letters on the first manuscript. My third book was published by a Print on Demand publisher. At that time, it was a new industry and people didn’t shop online for books. Sales were dismal. I realize now, the novel was terribly written, unedited, over-priced, and still haunting me on my Amazon page.

This was about the time, I learned that the first book I wrote had been published by a different POD press without my knowledge or permission. We found a copyright lawyer who sent the publisher a cease and desist letter. The publisher e-mailed me to say that my book got lost in his system and was accidentally published. He called me everything but a nice lady, claimed he needed a heart transplant, and threatened to sue me for harassing a handicapped person. In the end, he stopped publishing the book, but never paid me royalties for the three books he sold. I got him taken out of the Christian Writers Market and sent a warning about him to Writer Beware. He promptly sent me more nasty e-mails.

I decided I needed to go a different route and learned there was another writer in the large fragrance company where I worked in the corporate offices. We became friends and she invited me to a local writers conference. I worked forty hours a week and my Saturdays were my only day to relax. I didn’t want to go. The only reason I did was because it fell on Labor Day weekend, so I could relax on Monday.

That conference changed my life. I learned a whole new language called craft and writing journey. I soaked everything up like a sponge and joined the group. A few months later, I joined a second group and learned even more. Neither group was Christian and none of the other members wrote the same genre as me. Eventually, I found a national Christian group online and joined it. I wanted to go to the conference so badly, but we couldn’t afford it.

In 2005, I learned that my grandmother had left me a savings bond. It was just enough for the Christian conference. I went and realized I still knew nothing about writing. I joined a critique group and started entering contests that offered feedback from published authors or editors. For the next three years, God made a way for me to go to the national conference along with two to three local ones.

Finally, in September 2008 at the Christian conference, I took a self-editing class and it was like the scales fell from my eyes. I knew what needed to go in a book and what didn’t. That afternoon, I had an appointment to pitch to an editor. Her eyes lit up and she asked for the full. I told her I’d taken a great class and wanted to apply what I’d learned to the manuscript. She said that was fine and to send it to her once I finished. The following January, I got my first contract for a three-book series.

All that to say, first of all, you’ve made the right decision to attend the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference. The class I’ll be teaching is “Cut the Fluff.” It’s a similar technique to the one that fixed my book all those years ago. I hope this conference changes your life, that you find encouragement, validation, and the class that drops the scales from your eyes and takes you to that next level in your journey.

So tell me about yourself. How many years have you been writing? What genre to you write? Is this your first conference?

Meet Shannon

Award-winning Shannon Taylor Vannatter writes contemporary Christian cowboy romance novels and has over a dozen published titles. It took her nine-and-a-half years to achieve traditional publication. She gleans fodder for her fiction in rural Arkansas where she spent her teenage summers working the concession stand with her rodeo-announcing dad and married a Texan who morphed into a pastor. Shannon is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and taught a novel-writing continuing education course at Arkansas State University along with countless sessions at conferences canvassing AR, MO, TN, TX, and GA. In her spare time, she loves hanging out with her husband and son, flea marketing, and doing crafts.

Shannon’s Workshop

Cut the Fluff

This class will cover seven integral elements for a great read, the purpose behind each element, and how to weave them together into meaningful scenes that create a riveting story. Writers will learn what is superfluous to the story and when to kill their darlings by implementing a great self-editing technique.

The Story Comes First

A Guest Post by Jean Matthew Hall

Thousands of writers write picture books for children. I do. Or, at least we try.

Great picture books are a seamless blend of evocative language and amazing art. They speak to us.

But those perfect words with exactly the right sounds aren’t primary.

Gorgeous or hilarious or cute illustrations aren’t primary.

The STORY itself is first, primary, everything! Without a story that speaks to a child’s heart a picture book falls flat.

So, what is a STORY? Let’s take a quick look at its working parts.

STORY must have a sympathetic main character. For picture books we almost always have only one. The reader must care about that person. And the author of a picture book must make that happen on the first page, first paragraph, first sentence usually.

That main character must have a problem, a need, or an overwhelming desire. It doesn’t have to be life-changing or universe-altering. But it does have to be critical to the main character.

The STORY must also have difficulties for the main character to overcome. Even in nonfiction picture books there must be problems and more problems for the reader to discover solutions or answers to the problems.

Sometimes writers use words like RISK, or STAKES to describe those problems the main character must overcome. Because they need or want something badly enough to merit fighting and overcoming whatever to gain it. That’s what makes the reader root for, sympathetic with, the main character. It helps the reader to identify with that kid with the problems.

In picture books STORY also means that the main character learns from or changes because of the struggle to gain that something.

I advise others who want to create picture books – especially rhyming picture books – to write the STORY first. Don’t think about language. Don’t think about art. Don’t even think about marketing. Tell the STORY!

Then, you can go back and play with the language, make everything rhyme, eliminate enough words to leave the illustrator lots of room to work.

But write the STORY first!

No matter how amazing your rhyme or rhythm, how eloquent or hilarious your prose, the STORY comes first and foremost.

RHYMING PICTURE BOOKS SUGGESTED FOR STUDY:

Around Our Way on Neighbor’s Day by Tameka Fryer Brown

The Runaway Pumpkin by Kevin Lewis

Freedom in Congo Square by Carol Boston Weatherford

The Bear and Hare books by Emily Gravett

Board books by Jill Roman Lord

If Jesus Lived Inside My Heart, God Made You Just Right, If Jesus Walked Beside Me and more

Board books by Hannah Hall

You Nest Here With Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple

Nature’s Paintbox by Patricia Thomas

Meet Jean

Jean Matthew Hall lives in Louisville, Kentucky. She is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary. Her premier picture book is due to be released by Little Lamb Books in early 2019, to be followed by three more books in this Four Seasons series. Jean is a member of the SCBWI, Word Weavers International, and the Kentucky Christian Writers. She is also an AWSA Protégé. Jean is a former director of the Write2Ignite! Conference in Tigerville, SC. Her desire is to write stories, articles and poems that encourage young children and the caring adults in their lives. You can visit Jean at www.jeanmatthewhall.com, on Facebook at Jean Matthew Hall Author, and on Twitter @Jean_Hall.

Jean’s Workshop

Introduction to Writing for Young Children: Board Books, Picture Books, Early & Easy Readers

This workshop presents a bird’s eye view of writing for young children (birth through 7 years old). We will also take a look at some DOs and DON’Ts of writing for young children, and some must-have resources. A question and answer time is included.

Why a Writers Conference?

A Guest Post by Patricia Bradley

Are you one of those individuals who have people wandering around in your head? Maybe you even talk to them. Or maybe you have ideas floating in that gray matter that beg to be put on paper. And maybe no one in your family ‘gets’ you. Even your close friends sometime look at you like you’re from another planet.

Well, I have the perfect place for you. The Mid-South Christian Writers Conference will welcome you with open arms. We understand. We talk to the people in our heads, too. Some of us don’t have people we talk to, but we have these wonderful stories to tell about other people, or places and events. And some of us write devotionals. But rest assured, we want to help you take what’s in your head and put it on paper.

At MSCWC we have workshops that range from beginner to advanced to help you and encourage you in your writing journey. In addition, there will be editors, small press publishers, agents and mentors you can connect with to discuss your short and long range plans. And on Friday night, we have a Meet and Greet where you can mingle with the speakers and other writers.

For you fiction writers out there, Johnnie Alexander and I will have a workshop on deepening your characters. We’ll talk about things like writing emotions into your characters and how to make your characters come alive. And that’s just one of the workshops you’ll encounter at the conference.

So, make plans to attend the MidSouth Christian Writers Conference March 15-16, 2019. You will be glad you did.

Meet Patricia

Winner of an Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award in Suspense, Patricia Bradley lives in North Mississippi with her rescue kitty, Suzy. Her romantic suspense books include the Logan Point Series and the Memphis Cold Case Novels. She also has written sweet romances for Harlequin Heartwarming available as ebooks. Her workshops on writing include online courses with American Christian Fiction Writers and workshops at the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference in Collierville, TN, including one on Scrivener. When she has time, she likes to throw mud on a wheel and see what happens.

Patricia and Johnnie’s Workshop

Creating Characters with Personality and Pizzazz!

To write an unforgettable story, create memorable characters then deepen their emotional connection to your readers. We’ll share ideas for developing well-rounded characters using techniques such as Myers-Briggs Personality Types and “channeling” your character’s inner life. 

A Quarter Century of Stories

A Guest Post by Tracy Crump

Who would have thought the Chicken Soup for the Soul® series would be around for more than a quarter century? I doubt even Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen realized what they were starting when they published that first book in 1993.

Now, three hundred titles and hundreds of millions of books later, the company is taking on more projects and bringing out more new products than ever before under the leadership of Amy Newmark. What does this mean for you, our Mid-South Christian Writers Conference attendees?

Last year, I led a workshop on writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul, sharing as much of what I’ve learned in writing for them as I could fit into one hour. This year, Andi Lehman will join me on Friday afternoon of the conference to present our four-hour workshop on writing for this wonderful series.

Between us, Andi and I have published two dozen stories in Chicken Soup books. Not only will we teach guidelines and techniques to help enhance your writing, we’ll conduct hands-on sessions to get you started on stories you can submit to Chicken Soup. Andi’s “Weaving Your Web” will show you how to generate story ideas and narrow them down to a publishable piece (attendees love Andi’s energetic teaching style). And I’ll help you “Dissect a Chicken.”

DISCLAIMER: No animals are harmed in the presentation of this workshop.

So join us Friday, March 15, from 1-5 p.m. for “Stirring the Pot: Writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul.” Then stay for Meet and Greet. Then come back on Saturday for the best conference around!

Meet Tracy

Tracy Crump has published two dozen stories in anthologies, including nineteen in Chicken Soup for the Soul. As co-director of Write Life Workshops, she conducts workshops and webinars on writing for the series, and her “How to Write for Chicken Soup for the Soul” course is one of Serious Writer Academy’s top sellers. Her articles and devotionals have appeared in national publications, and she edits The Write Life, a popular writers newsletter that includes story callouts. She is a freelance editor and proofreader for Farmer’s Almanac.Visit Tracy at TracyCrump.com or WriteLifeWorkshops.com.

Tracy and Andi’s Friday Session Workshop

Stirring the Pot: Writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul receives thousands of submissions but selects only 101 for each book. How can you increase the chances they’ll choose your story? Come learn what Chicken Soup wants, what they don’t want, and how you can stir up a winning Chicken Soup story.

2019 New Year’s Resolution

A Writer’s Resolution: Attend the Mid-South Christian Writers Conference.

(You know you want to!)

Register now!

Do You Plan Your Reading?

A Guest Post by Bob Hostetler

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, of course, I mean the annual celebration of our Lord’s nativity, which is rich with meaning and blessing for me and my family. I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Christmas.

But there’s something else that makes this time of year wonderful to me: the joyful preparation of a reading plan for the coming year, which I do every year in late December and early January. That plan becomes something like a syllabus that will allow me to derive maximum variety and benefit from my reading throughout the course of a year. My annual reading plan always includes:

  • a minimum of one biography;
  • at least one memoir;
  • a healthy dose of at least four classics (e.g., Pascal, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, etc.).
  • at least one history book;
  • several writing books;
  • at least two books by authors I’ve never read before;
  • a minimum of one poetry book;
  • a few books from my favorite authors, such as C.S. Lewis and Wendell Berry;
  • a minimum of two books in a new discipline or field of interest (e.g., logic, gardening, ethics, archaeology, etc.);
  • at least one children’s book, since I am still a child at heart and a great admirer of picture books and juvenile literature (and look forward to the release of my first children’s bookin February);
  • one or two selections from a short list of books I re-read every few years, some serious, some life-changing, some fanciful, from A. A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner to The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer.

Finally, for good measure, I require that at least one of the books on my list (in any category) must be what I call a “mule-choker,” a book of great heft, the intimidating sort of book I might not otherwise read, such as Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) or The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Shirer).

Usually, by the time December rolls around, I have quite a few titles already on my list, from reading book reviews or hearing recommendations from friends. Since I’m reading constantly, I don’t have to buy or borrow a book I’m interested in right away; I simply add it to my list for the coming year, and that way I don’t forget it or feel pressure to squeeze it in to my current stack.

My reading is not entirely void of spontaneity, however. The above list accounts for roughly twenty-five books; I often read four times that number during a given year. So, there’s ample opportunity to read a book on a whim or stay in a favorite genre. Nor do I carve my reading plan in granite; I’m free to substitute books, shift priorities, or even add whole categories. It’s my plan, after all, not the Ten Commandments.

And, while my writer’s annual reading plan is no talisman, it has delivered me from overdosing on one writer or genre, reading only the least challenging books, and that listless feeling of staring at my bookcase like a teenager standing before an open refrigerator, wondering, What do I want, what do I want?After all, the menu’s already been prepared; I need only place my order, and I’m ready for a readable feast.

How about you? Do you plan your reading? Or keep it spontaneous?

Note: This post also appeared on The Steve Laube Agency blog.

Meet Bob

Bob Hostetler is an award-winning author, literary agent, and speaker from southwestern Ohio. His fifty books, which include the award-winning Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door (co-authored with Josh McDowell) and The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional, have sold millions of copies. Bob is also the executive director of the Christian Writers Institute. He and his wife, the lovely Robin, have been married for forty years. They have two children and five grandchildren.

Bob’s Workshop

Writing for Teens

Our keynote speaker, a former editor of magazines for children and youth, presents the “Ten Commandments” of writing for teens.