Our Most Embarrassing Moments at a Writers Conference

Writers conferences are a great source of instruction, encouragement, and blessing to the writer, but they can also cause stress.  Writers know attending a conference can be crucial to their success.  They’re told that the agents and editors are the gatekeepers to publication and they usually have less than three minutes to get through the gate.

Shaking voices, trembling hands, and sweat-stained armpits prove writers are aware how  each encounter could fulfill or flounder publication dreams.

embarrassing moments

In the final countdown to the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal April 11-12, 2014,  with Davis Bunn, the proverbial butterflies have begun their migration to registrants.  To relieve pressure with laughter, NCWA members decided to share our worst conference experiences.




Ocieanna Fleiss
– An editor from a prominent Christian publisher told me to not be afraid to write a @#$% first draft. LOL! At my first writers conference EVER! I about lost it and the very sweet, conservative older lady sitting next to me almost fell off her chair.




Roberta Kehle –  I used to  pick up our speakers at the airport, but often got lost going to the hotel, usually when they needed to go to the bathroom and were in misery.  Another time I was trying to get a Starbucks for an agent and had a minor parking lot mishap. They quit asking my pick-up help. Wonder why? Hmm, this might scare off attendees.


sonjaSonja Anderson – My most embarrassing moment related to a writing conference came after the conference. I had the opportunity to submit a manuscript to an agent and an editor from the annual Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference in Seattle. After I wrote a query letter to the female editor from a fancy New York publishing house, I thought I’d save time and cut and paste the letter for the male agent from Chicago.

Big mistake! Imagine my great grief and embarrassment when I looked at the letter more carefully (after hitting “send,” of course, to the male agent ), and saw that I never removed the line about hoping that the rest of her PREGNANCY went well!
Needless to say, I never heard back from that agent. Sigh.


LynnetteLynnette Bonner – At an NCWA conference several years ago, I sat in on a pitch session with a big-name agent. She liked what she heard and requested that I send her a proposal after the conference. Later that same day she was chatting with Jim Rubart.

I needed to talk to Jim about something so I approached and was standing off to one side as they chatted. Jim turned to me and in his gregarious way said, “Hey! How’s your day gone? Did anyone request your stuff?”

And I replied that yeah, “Actually she requested that I send her a proposal.”

To which the agent jolted back and gasped, “I didn’t request a proposal from YOU!”

Jim did a double-take between the two of us as I said, “Well, actually you did.” She then apologized profusely and admitted she remembered me. Needless to say, I never sent her a proposal.


Mindy HeadshotMindy Peltier – After hearing how volunteering at a conference can impact your ability to get published, I arranged to meet two editors at the airport. They were from the two Christian publishers I dreamed of writing for some day.  I’d rehearsed a line I thought was clever and would prove my passion and need for writers conferences.

Feeling brave as I deftly merged into I-5 rush hour traffic,  I said, “Writers conferences have become counterproductive for me. I’m writing less…

One editor didn’t realize the airspace was meant to be a dramatic pause before my brilliant punch line.

He began defending conferences and instructed me on my need to attend and appreciate them.  I didn’t want to interrupt.  I merged into the carpool lane. The editor in the back seat added to the defense.

Shocked, I was convinced the misunderstanding had crash-dummied my  publication dreams.  I figured my name would be passed around the editors’ circle, along with the guy who tried to pitch his book at the urinal.  I couldn’t even finish my sentence.

The punch line he missed was “… because the more conferences I go to, the worse my writing becomes.

I was trying to cleverly reveal how conferences were impacting my writing life.  I was learning about writing, but on a larger scale, I was understanding how much more I needed to learn about writing and the publishing industry.

I’ve relived that agonizing moment over and over since then, and even in my dreams, I crash before the punch line.

Every year I attend and volunteer at several  writers conferences, and I’ve even taught at a few. But, they’re still counterproductive for me, because the more writers conferences I attend, the worse my writing becomes.

If an embarrassing moment at a writers conference occurs, don’t worry, it won’t affect your publication dreams.  All of the above writers were published after their  blunders.

Brush it off and move on, but only after you send the story to us.  We’d love to use in a blog post next year.


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2013 Workshops Revisited: “Character Dynamics: Bring ‘Em to Life” by Ocieana Fleiss

Missed a workshop at the conference? Lost your handouts? We’re here to help!

ocienna fleissAt NCWA’s Renewal Conference, Ocieanna presented the workshop: “Character Dynamics: Bring ‘Em to Life.”

Click here for the “Character Dynamics” handout.

Click here to order CDs from the conference.


Ocieanna Fleiss co-wrote two historical novels, Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana, and Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington. A freelance editor for more than 10 years, she also enjoys giving light-hearted advice to fiction writers in the Northwest Christian Author. Click here to visit her website.

“What to Do with Cliché Characters: Two Tips and a Twist” by Ocieanna Fleiss

Ocieana Fleiss will be conducting a workshop at NCWA’s Renewal Conference. See end of post for details.


ocienna fleissRecently a friend asked me how to handle cliché characters. What do you do when your story calls for a character, but you’ve met him too many times in novels before, like a mean boss, a frumpy best friend, an ignorant gold miner, a wizard, you know, the folks who show up in every book?

Good question.

First, the obvious. Dump the character. If you can get by without the wizard, banish him. Sometimes characters creep into our stories not because they fit, but because we feel obligated. All romances have frumpy best friends, so mine must need one too. Maybe your story does require one, but maybe not. Stop and evaluate the best friend’s purpose. Can the story survive without her? If it can, you might just want to break off the friendship. Sorry, honey, you’ve got to go!

Second, switch it up. Sometimes you can’t just nix the gal. In my book, Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, my protagonist works at an orphanage. So, of course, there’s a headmistress … Ding ding ding! A headmistress at an orphanage rings the cliché bell, doesn’t it?

A selfish, mean, ugly villainess immediately shoots to mind, along with images from Little Orphan Annie and The Little Princess. I couldn’t cut her, because she played a key role in the plot, so I intentionally made sure she wasn’t anything like Annie’s Miss Hanigan. Instead she’s kindhearted, yet dimwitted. She always wants to help, but ends up hurting those she loves despite her good intentions. A headmistress, with a twist.

There’s the key. A cliché character can stay if she must, but tweak her a bit. Can you think of how to mix up any other cliché characters? What if the wizard lost his powers and was forced to depend on his knowledge of botany instead? Or rather than an ignorant gold miner, he’s college-educated with a deep back story explaining why he’s mining for gold instead of teaching physics at a university.

Third—and perhaps most provocative—maybe you just have to keep your cliché character the way she is. Gasp! This makes me cringe a little because I’m the president of the anti-cliché society, but think of it this way. We all want to feel a sense of coming home when we read a novel. A familiar character is like having a friend guide us through the new world. Perhaps that’s why movies and books with characters we’ve all seen so many times do well. Star Wars, Twilight, and Harry Potter are obvious examples.

I recently watched Notting Hill again. The folks who put out this film also did Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually among others. Similar characters show up in all of these films. Very similar. Especially the quirky friends, the shy hero, and the distant, slightly mysterious, sought-after girl. Yet, maybe these films are popular partly because audiences know what to expect.

Of course if you let these cliché-types stay, it’s important to craft them carefully. Make your wizard, frumpy friend, or gold miner so pristinely believable your readers won’t even notice she’s met her before. I’m not saying to embrace clichés all the time—no way! But your readers may actually appreciate a few friends to cozy up to.


At NCWA’s Renewal Conference, Ocieanna will be conducting the workshop: “Character Dynamics: Bring ‘Em to Life.”

Ocieanna Fleiss co-wrote two historical novels, Love Finds You in Lonesome Prairie, Montana, and Love Finds You in Victory Heights, Washington. A freelance editor for more than 10 years, she also enjoys giving light-hearted advice to fiction writers in the Northwest Christian Author. Click here to visit her website.

Christian Fiction: Birth of a Genre

Christian Fiction has evolved through the years to take a prominent place in mainstream publishing. Fiction writers will want to read this article in the Library Journal written by Melanie C. Duncan.

These books are a sample of great selections by NCWA authors. Click on each book to purchase or know more about them.