Monday, January 11, 2010

Planning to Pitch Your Writing Project to an Editor or Agent? Follow These Guidelines

By John Vonhof
2010 FCWC faculty

Sixteen years ago I went to my first writers’ conference. I was a rookie. I had my proposal and a sample chapter – such as they were. I had studied the list of speakers and knew who wrote what and who I wanted to talk to.

Looking back, I thought I had done my homework. I’m an analytical person, thinking things through and trying to plan ahead. I had a book idea. It was good. At least I thought so. But I went home with rejections. Deflated.

I returned year after year and kept learning. Having attended more than 36 conferences as participant and speaker, I’d like to share a few thoughts on planning for a conference.

At every conference, I talk to writers who are frustrated because they can’t interest an editor in their idea. Just like I was when I attended my first conference.

Let’s start with your writing idea. Whether it’s for a book or article, it must be the best you can do. Maybe you think it’s your best. But until you have studied the craft of writing and received feedback from others, it’s probably not your best. Here’s where critique groups come in. Join one if you can (on-line or face-to-face) and learn from the feedback of others. And don’t forget to read a book about writing in your genre.

The same goes for your proposal or query letter. It’s your responsibility to know how to write them. If you haven’t read a book about queries or proposals, take the time to do so and then implement what you learn. You have the opportunity to submit proposals, queries, articles, and sample chapters to the faculty. You want them to be professional.

How about your idea? Have you identified its audience? Is it large enough to make the publisher money through book or magazine sales? Publishing is a business and while we love our ideas, they have to stand on their own merits. Too small a market makes it hard for publishers to earn back expenses. An over done idea will be a hard sell. An idea whose time has come and gone will receive no support.

On the other had, an idea that has been thoroughly explored and vetted, an audience identified as well as how to reach them, is timely, has been written as close to perfect as possible, and is a good match for the publisher to whom it is being pitched, has a better chance of catching an editor’s interest.

Did you catch that last point – a good match for the publisher? Billie does a great job of getting publishers, editors and agents to the conference. Look over the faculty list and do your due diligence to learn what they publish. Spend a few hours exploring their Web sites to see what type of books they publish, or if a magazine, what articles they use. Find several that might be a good match for your writing. Your pre-conference submissions should go to these individuals.

Then at the conference, meet them and get feedback on your submission. Remember that the faculty at the conference is a small representation of the much larger Christian publishing industry. While you may not find a home for your writing at the conference, you will learn a lot to help you polish your work and this will help you submit to other publishers after the conference.

I love to talk to writers about their writing interests. Many are well thought out and with patience and perseverance, they will be published. Unfortunately, many others are not. When you decide to go to a writers’ conference, you need to make a plan that will not only help you be successful, but also the editors to whom you pitch your ideas.

If you want to learn what came out of my first ideas and rejections, ask me at the conference. It may inspire you. I took those rejections and turned them into a positive outcome.

John Vonhof writes for Christian and secular markets. He is the author of self published and mainstream books, with articles in print and on the web. He is an expert on finding ideas and writing for niche markets. His niche book, Fixing Your Feet, is going to a 5th edition in 2011 while his book on The Pastoral Search Journey is being released in early 2010 in a 2nd edition.

John is the owner of, a Web site to help writers get the most out of attending a writers’ conference.


  1. It's funny how sometimes God lines things up for you with the issues you are facing or concerning your heart. I was going over conference material from last year and reviewing this neat postcard sized info from John Vonholf called Writers Conference Guidelines ( The next day I found this blog on the Florida Christian Writer's Conference Facebook. Then I decided after my regular devotions this morning I would read some writer's material from The Christian Communicator, since Lin Johnson is going to be there and The Christian Communicator was the first magazine to ever publish something I wrote. But before I did that I read The Upper Room for today and it described some of my feelings, perfectly about feeling nervous with the upcoming event: I am so blessed to be able to connect with these writers and to enjoy so much more along with gleaning, learning and enjoying the lasting benefits of FCWC. John, your website is a valuable source for all writers, but especially someone like me, who needs all the help she can get. Thank you so much and many blessings!

  2. One of the best benefits of a conference is the value that all the speakers bring. We each have our area of expertise - as do many of the attendees. Come prepared to learn. As you attend the workshops, talk to speakers and other conferees, you will be blessed many times over. And, you will bless others. I can't wait to meet all of you.


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