June 30, 2018
Is there a need for new writing conferences?
This is a question that sometimes arises when writers gather. The day before Publishing in Color debuted on June 19th a writing friend posted a similar question on Facebook. I didn’t respond because of time, but mostly because I anticipated this new conference for ethnic writers would illustrate my usual multi-part answer:
- Yes, new conferences are needed, particularly those that address the needs of marginalized writers.
- Yes, new conferences are needed, especially regional events that are more affordable, and shorter in duration.
- Yes, new conferences are needed because some have become bastions of elitism where new and emerging writers are thrust into a sink-or-swim environment where they, naturally, sink.
I heard about Publishing in Color from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s Rush to Press newsletter. Excited I rushed to the Conference website for more details. I didn’t know the host, Brian Allain. But, I did know some of the faculty, individuals with solid reputations in Christian publishing. Their participation assured me the event would be Christ-centered, professional, welcoming and delightful, so I promoted it heavily on Facebook and Twitter, through email, and text.
After registering, I also had an opportunity to interact via email with Brian after a Latina writing friend questioned whether she’d be welcome at the first event designed to reach African American spiritual writers. I assured her she would be, but emailed Brian. He confirmed my response. More so, he slightly tweaked the Conference website and social media descriptions to help alleviate confusion. That spoke volumes!
WHY I ATTENDED
I attended out of curiosity – and hope. I was curious whether some of the publishing reps really were ready to embrace more ethnic writing. I hoped they were.
As I geared up for attending, I mulled Matthew 11:1-6. In the passage John the Baptist was in prison and heard about Jesus’ deeds. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (v. 3)
Jesus’ answer encouraged a review of evidence – including things seen and heard – during His ministry. At different points in my life, God has given me of this Scripture to remind me that evidence exists to prove God’s hand in specific situations.
With this passage uppermost in my mind, I went to the conference with one goal: to hear and see what this event could offer ethnic writers.
CHRONICLING THE UNFORGETTABLE
So what did I see and hear?
Following are just a few unforgettable sights and sounds from the event. Note: here, I don’t mention every keynote, but they were all spectacular. Most of the workshop speakers I heard also did a phenomenal job of providing timely, useful content.
Hope. Comments shared with me and overheard reverberated with hope. I heard many share about their “AHA” moments of knowing that they, too, could actually do what God called them to. I had mine during the tail-end of Sophfronia Scott’s Tuesday morning keynote that opened the Conference.
I penned the following prayer while listening:
Father, thank you for your provision, for your love, caring enough about us to pave the way for this event.
Dr. Frank Thomas followed with a keynote dubbed “I Write to Stay Sane” in which he shared relatable reasons why writing helps him stay sane/process personal and societal situations. It was practical, humorous, and filled with hope.
Joy. The writing life is often plagued with fear, frustration, and self-doubts. Finding joy on the journey can be difficult, but not impossible. That’s the inspiring message Sophfronia delivered in her Wednesday keynote dubbed “Can You Dance Like Michelle Obama?: The Importance of Everyday Joy.” Her joy was palpable as she shared, but it was also transferrable, dancing from aisle to aisle. As she spoke I journaled:
Thank you for joy, that you gave back to me after someone stole it.
Remind me daily.
Thank you for your help on/in my quest for joy.
Singing. Editor Joyce Dinkins of Our Daily Bread joked that following Sophfronia’s message would be difficult, but she made it look really easy. She led us in prayer and singing. By the time we finished spontaneous shared praise, applause, and laughter sprung out, providing rich soil for our hearts to receive Joyce’s keynote on “The Face of Christian Publishing.”
Her encouraging, motivating message was filled with current statistical information concerning the state of the industry, and the spending power of the African American market. Her heart for God and message made me flip to the page in my journal where I wrote the following prayer the day before in her “Wow Writing” workshop:
God, please help us to have a heart that is connected to you! We don’t want to wow by mere words, but by Your heart. Work through us God.
Crying. Okay, those were my tears I heard as I was moved by Joyce’s message, but I was not the only one. Leaving the keynote, I ran into an online writer friend, journalist Jacqueline J. Holness, and we left sharing why we were so moved to tears. Like me, she has been writing for years and agreed that Joyce’s message was a gift from God.
Laughter. Laughter ran free and clear throughout both days, and heard in keynotes and sessions; during one-on-one editor-writer appointments; in hallways, during breaks, and even in the Ladies’ Room. Laughter abounded in my hotel room that I shared with writer Karynthia Phillips, a sorority sister I met online through AWSA. I was so thrilled to finally meet her at the conference. She’s a gifted writer who has a couple exciting book projects to shop. (Photos courtesy of Karynthia; grateful for permission to use them.)
Discouragement. At any conference, writers – especially writers of color – will hear the myriad reasons they are not ready to publish, especially books. A main one is platform; another is lack of a literary agent. Those are industry facts, but sometimes when shared they are laced with such discouragement that it seems that only an elite (non-ethnic) group of writers will ever realize their dreams. Suffice it to say that these were not the only discouraging remarks shared, but again they were less than the overall positive vibe to the conference.
Grumbling: Will everyone who attended receive a contract from an editor there? Of course not, and that’s typical of every writers conference. Hence, I wasn’t surprised by grumbling I heard about rejected ideas or projects.
SHARING SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Heart full as the conference winded down, I had a chance to speak with host Brian Allain, and thank him for his vision and commitment. I also shared with him the Scripture focus for my attending.
He physically backed away from me, modestly exclaiming that he and the conference could not compare with ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus. We both laughed at his reaction, but I explained that I wasn’t making true parallels, just noting that John was in doubt and Jesus provided tangible evidence.
Similarly, again, I came to the event seeking tangible evidence that: 1) some in Christian publishing really wanted to see a shift in the color spectrum of literary works, and 2) editors were enthusiastic about working with ethnic writers to get those works in print.
For two days, I received the visual and auditory proof. Indeed, it soon became clear from things I saw and heard that there is genuine interest in publishing more ethnic voices. My hope is that those voices will be elevated from the created page to the printed sooner than later!
And I hope that more publishers will see and hear about the types of ideas and projects being shared and created and be motivated – compelled, even – to get involved and send their staffs to future Publishing in Color events with the sole purpose of facilitating the publication of works by an increased number of ethnic writers.
Lisa A. Crayton is an award-winning freelance writer, multi-published author, conference speaker…and more. She loves helping writers, and challenging them to achieve their goals and dreams! Meet her at the Montrose Christian Writers Conference. Connect with her on Facebook.