4 Facts Writer’s Conference Faculty Wish Attendees Knew

This past weekend, Lisa and I served as faculty at Write! Canada, Canada’s largest and best writer’s conference for writers who are Christian. Coming out, I thought you might benefit from a peek at the top 4 facts writer’s conference faculty wish attendees knew.

Canadian writer's conference(1) We can tell from a 15 minute appointment who is going to succeed and who is going to fail.

You probably think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. It’s that obvious.

So what are some of the factors signaling success in a person’s future?

  • a willingness to learn and work hard
  • questions showing an understanding of what I said
  • the ability to tell me what you need my help with (or the acknowledgment you’re just starting out and aren’t even sure what your first step should be)
  • evidence you did your research ahead of time (if you booked an appointment with me randomly, that’s not a good sign)

What makes these so important?

Hard work and teachability trump talent every day.

Asking questions (or taking notes) shows that you’re listening, digesting, and are likely to apply what you’ve learned later.

If you know what you need my help with, you know your weaknesses. Recognizing them is the first step in fixing them.

Researching my background and areas of expertise wasn’t difficult. It was all posted on the wall right above the appointment sign-up sheet. If you signed up with me randomly, it’s a warning sign you’ll also query agents and editors randomly.

We hope that the ones we see potential in will contact us later, even if only to tell us how things are going. I felt invested in some of the people I met this weekend, and even if I never hear from them again, I’ll be here, behind the scenes, rooting for them to succeed.

(2) There’s nothing in it for us. We don’t even get paid to be there.

Although we get a small amount for any critiques we do before the conference, it’s not enough to cover the time we spend on the critiques, let alone our time at the conference. And we don’t get paid to come to the conference (in fact, we pay to come–albeit with a discount). We also don’t have our lodging or travel expenses paid for. Monetarily, this weekend was a loss for me.

The point to take away from this is that we’ve got nothing to gain from the advice we give you. The one and only goal of our advice is to help you succeed. Take what we say seriously. We’re there because we’re experienced professionals.

(3) Our days are longer than yours.

Faculty members put in 14 hour days. On Friday alone, Lisa and I put in 17 hours, including teaching a class, an impromptu workshop, almost 4 hours of one-on-one appointments with attendees, a working lunch, a working supper, informal meetings . . . you get the picture. And unlike attendees, we can’t just take off for an hour to rest.

We were happy to do it. We hope to do it again. But it’s exhausting to always be “on.”

So what? (Yup, I could hear you asking that.)

If at any point it felt like we were brushing you off, ignoring you, belittling you, or didn’t want to talk to you, the truth is we were just tired. And since we’re human, exhaustion affects us negatively. Know that we were trying our best, and don’t take it personally.

(4) We find it overwhelming (and flattering) that everyone knows who we are.

I’m really not cool enough to be that well known. In fact, I’m geeky and clumsy and boring more often than I care to admit. (If you don’t believe me, just ask my family.)

At Write! Canada, people I’d never met knew me by sight. Few happenings in my life have been as humbling.

To all the Girls With Pens readers we met this weekend at Write! Canada—thank you. Thank you for introducing yourselves to us. Thank you for telling us how much you’re enjoying this blog.

You have no idea how much we enjoyed hearing from you and meeting you. At a time when we were wondering if this blog is worth it, if it’s doing any good, you proved to us that it is.

Now it’s your turn. What do you wish writer’s conference faculty would remember about attendees? What have you sometimes wished you could say to a faculty member?



17 comments on “4 Facts Writer’s Conference Faculty Wish Attendees Knew

  1. Marcy,
    First of all I think you are right on in what you say in your post. This is the first conference where I really heard – “Do it”. I l have loved coming to the conference to be a part of the wider circle of Christ, who write. I have been there as participant and as staff. I know the work that is done and for that reason appreciate more what the faculty put into this conference. But this year was different. I heard “don’t fear (Grace Fox); don’t think now, take the road (Oswald Chambers); and try (John Maxwell). I am inspired and ready to move forward.

    God gave me the job as Intercessor – for writers. I take my job seriously as well.

    I love the energy that God gives to those who work for Him. I love seeing how all the faculty put out more than 100% – remembering, I hope, that God was part of that.

    Continue on with your encouraging blog – we read; we learn; we grow.

    “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10).

    I also blog at http://underthecoverofprayer.wordpress.com

    Many blessings and hugs to both of you,

    • It was so nice to see you at the conference this year, Jan. I’m glad you went away encouraged. (I’m not surprised that you did if you took something hosted by Grace Fox. She’s an incredible woman who truly cares for others.)

      May God bless you for your intercessory work.


  2. Smiling. 🙂

    Glad you and Lisa could make it – and that you have seen the “other side.”

    By the way, you actually can take some time off and attend some classes, etc. That’s why your schedule allows you to put X’s on it.

    Your comments – especially the first point – are dead-on.

    • Very true. One thing I loved so much about teaching at Write! Canada was that they allowed us the option to set aside some time to go to a class ourselves if we wanted. 🙂

      Lisa and I both crossed off some times pre-conference, but we ended up taking whiteout to them at the conference to make more room for people to see us. Having spent so many years on the attendee side, we remember what it’s like to want an appointment with someone and not be able to get it. (And Swordfish generously offered us some CDs in exchange for the right to tape our class, so we’ll get to hear the classes and workshops we missed anyway.) In the end, I think it was a win-win situation for everyone involved.


  3. I was also faculty this time at W!C.

    There are two things that always shock me when I come. The first is that there are so many writers who come unprepared when they are trying to sell their story or book to editors and agents. The second is learning that many writers fail to follow up and send materials that agents and editors requested.

    These things baffle my mind. If I could give advice to attendees, it would be: Treat your appointments as you would an important job interview. Be prepared. Be business like. Accept criticism with grace. Ask relevant questions. And, most importantly, follow up by sending or email any material requested.


  4. As a first time attendee of the conference, I found the whole thing somewhat overwhelming! What I personally think would be helpful for those who are new to the whole thing is for the faculty to remember what they felt like when they were new to writing, and to season their comments with grace, and understanding. Perhaps not everyone will ‘make it’ in pursuit of their goals in writing, but sometimes first impressions are not always accurate. For instance, it is easy to make an assumption that someone who ‘randomly made an appointment’ did no research on the faculty, but this may not be the truth… as in my own case, actually. I DID research the faculty and made appointments prior to the event, but when I got to the conference, they had not received my email and set up my appointments. So I had to set them up again at the conference! Furthermore, one of the faculty I had scheduled an appointment with was sick and unable to make it to the conference, so I had to make another appointment randomly, although I did research prior to the event, which made it easier to determine who I would request an appointment with! Just some food for thought! But thanks for offering your insight from ‘the other side’, as I greatly appreciate knowing that information and that you and Lisa want ‘to share the things you wish you had known.’ That information is valuable to those in the early stages of their writing! I must admit… I am curious to know what your thoughts on my interview with you were! lol!!
    Thanks again! I really appreciated all the advice you had to offer me!

    God bless,
    Katie Meilleur

    • Haha. Your appointment was my last one for the weekend, and was an excellent way to finish. You were friendly; you let me know at the beginning where you stood, what your long-term goals were, and what you were looking to know; you took notes; and you asked thoughtful questions. I couldn’t have asked for more.

      And I think you just proved my point for me. You did your research before the conference on what faculty would be there, so no appointment you made would be considered “random” 🙂 A random appointment maker is also entirely different from someone who accidentally forgets my name or mixes up what I do with someone else (we all get flustered and overwhelmed after all), someone who wants to know more about what I do, or someone who forgets their question when they sit down (or maybe didn’t even have a question but hoped I could help them get started). I’ve done all three of those things at some point despite doing my research. Some people at conferences also don’t get an appointment with the person they originally requested.

      Thanks for reminding everyone of a first-timer’s position. If I forget to season my comments with grace and understanding, I hope that someone calls me out on it.

      Marcy 🙂

  5. Katie, of course there are exceptions to these observations. Even though we’ve been to Write! Canada many times, we experienced the confusion and anxiety of being first timers when we went to the Mount Hermon Conference in California this past April. We’ve spent far more time on the attendee side of this equation – but if we made these observations so quickly, think what editors and agents who go to several conferences every year see? Something to think about. We’re glad we were able to help. Keep writing!

  6. I’ve seen it from all sides during my 23 years with the conference. Agree with most everything girls with pens say. Some comments:

    * Yes, absolutely, faculty taking appointments need to season their comments with grace and understanding and remember what it’s like to be a beginner. But the reality is, it’s very tiring taking back-to-back appointments every 15 minutes, keeping a smile plastered on one’s face, trying to look interested, talking in a noisy room, answering similar questions over and over—especially if the attendee doesn’t show evidence of being prepared or willingness to work hard. Fortunately, all my appointments and ms critiques went well. But as girls with pens said, we’re doing it out of the goodness of our hearts to help, because appointments are free and manuscript critiquers get a small honorarium that doesn’t cover our time, especially if we type up written comments or do some editing on the manuscript.

    * If faculty, especially agents or acquisitions editors who’ve been to dozens of conferences and spoken to 100s or 1000s of aspiring writers, frankly say they don’t see publication potential because the writing or the idea isn’t good enough, sometimes the writers get taken aback when they hear a “reality check.” A few cry, or complain afterwards that the faculty member was mean. To the best of my knowledge, a faculty member saying something so critical it’s out of line has rarely happened at Write! Canada; more often, reality stings.

    * Some conference attendees (especially beginning or aspiring writers) are spending too much time worried about booking and going to appointments –especially if they are marketing/sales related appointments–when their time would be better spent in class, learning everything they can, focused on learning how to improve the craft of writing and understand the business.

    Wendy Nelles
    Director Emerita, Write! Canada

  7. This post and all the comments have been extremely helpful. I especially appreciated ktmeilleur’s comments, and Wendy Nelles’s. As a first-time attendee I found myself just learning. I was a giant sponge–soaking everything up, and as a result, know I will be much better prepared for next year. I had my faculty appointments changed, and because there was so much going on, really didn’t have adequate time to re-direct my focus. Still, I found them extremely helpful, and even got a chance to speak to a faculty member I’d booked with (but was switched) in the lounge one evening.

    Thanks for posting this, and giving us insight–not only into what it’s like ‘behind the scenes’ for faculty members, but also into the incredible significance of these opportunities, and how to take the greatest advantage of them.

  8. Just want to say a heartfelt thank you to Marcy, Lisa & Wendy, as I had critique or faculty appointments with all of you, for your insight, direction, advice & wisdom! It was definitely very appreciated! I realize the time & energy you pour out at the conference as a benefit for those in attendance, and I assure you, your efforts have not gone unnoticed by both the attendees, as well as God, who I am sure is quite pleased by your sacrifice and service to him!

    God bless you all! Stay in touch!!


  9. This was a great post! Especially for those new to the conference scene. I had the privilege of sitting down with Marcy for a critique appointment and she gave me many tips. Better yet, she gave me a page of advice and info from this blog which is a staple as I start writing each day. The page is also great because as a new attendee I spent a lot of time nodding my head just trying to take things in. Now I can always look back if I doubt the information.
    I admit, I made faculty appointments and let the staff decide who they put me with since I really didn’t know as much as they did (even if there was a bio). All of my appointments went really well despite my deficiency. Next year I will be more focused.
    I really, really, really appreciate the time and effort that you put in. It made my first conference delightful! And your helpful words are still blessing me–thank you!!


    Karen deBlieck

  10. Although it’s been over a week, I want to thank Lisa for sharing your insight on blogging at my appointment.

    And thank you to Marcy for all the time and effort you spent on critiquing my short story–The Right Place. And for taking the time to speak with me at lunch on Saturday.

    I am devouring every word and suggestion you offered to ensure my story is stronger.

    I am truly grateful that you (Marcy) and Lisa have made available a wealth of information to new writers such as myself.

    Marcy, I will definitely be hiring you in the near future and I will be following your blog daily.

    All the best
    Tracy Campbell

    • Tracy,
      It was so nice to get to meet you and get to know you a little bit while at Write! Canada. I felt like I walked away with a new friend, and I hope you keep in touch.
      Marcy 🙂

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