I have spent the last several weeks in eager anticipation of the Florida Christian Writers Conference. The conference is over now--I attended for only one day as my schedule didn't allow for the entire event. But I knew, from my experience last year, just one day can be invaluable.
This year proved as enlightening as last year. But in a very different way.
Last year, I sat mostly through classes that taught about the writing craft. Bryan Davis leads a teen track on fiction writing, and I learned a tremendous amount in a mere two hours. It completely transformed my first chapters. I also took classes from agents and editors who shed light on life on the other side of the publishing desk. I made friends, and left with a sense of total belonging in the writing world.
This year, I sat in the Saturday morning session of Randall Ingermanson's marketing class. Lots of good info in that. I will definitely be revamping my website a bit now :). I took no real classes on craft--not because I don't believe I have room to grow, but rather because I have continuing resources that provide that and I wanted opportunities to meet agents and editors.
I chose classes that I thought would help me understand what agents and editors want. Well, those classes did, but not in the way I expected them to.
What I learned is that there is basically little to no room for YA fantasy in the Christian market. I knew that was true to a certain level, but the conference reinforced it. I learned also, that I don't fit in with the typical Christian fiction writer. Don't get me wrong--everyone was very nice. But everything was geared to traditional Christian writing--Bible studies, romance, etc. Even the class I took on gritty writing, was actually focused on writing strong characters, not books with edgy content.
I had the opportunity to have my first chapter read by one agent and one editor. I will not say who they are. The editor loved my chapter, but her particular publishing house is not acquiring YA fantasy right now. Her comments did, however, boost my confidence and reaffirm that my work is at a publishable level.
The agent who reviewed my chapter said it was well-written, but her comments basically boiled down to "change it from a fantasy to a teen romance." I'm quite sure she was trying to direct me to write what sells, but had I the least bit of interest in teen romance I would have written that in the first place. She also said my story had "no spiritual value."
Alas, I was the punker sitting at the nerd table again. These are people I share a soul with, but I felt seriously like an odd duck.
So, I have come to the conclusion I need to separate my two personas. I love writing personal essays--have I mentioned I've sold SEVEN so far?--and I can continue to do that in the Christian market for sure. God even confirmed that for me, I believe--when I got home I was welcomed by two checks in the mail for the last three essays I sold! Yeah, we went out to dinner last night :).
But, I'm shifting my book queries to the secular market. After all, my novels are stories, and don't deal directly with Christianity. I happen to like authors like C.S. Lewis who write their novels for the sake of story. His message runs deep to those who see it, but nowhere does he even mention Christianity.
So, here I am again--standing between the two tables. I am who I am, folks.