Geek Confessional: A Super Conference

Last time, I told y’all a story about the worst writing conference I ever attended. As much as it stung to go through, it did have an unforeseen benefit. My experience at that conference inspired me to sit down and create a superhero character named Failstate.

Actually, to be fair, my brothers-in-law, Chris and Joel, helped me do a lot of the heavy lifting. While I had a peripheral knowledge of superheroes, these two were regularly in the trenches. They both have extensive comic book collections and had been reading both Marvel and DC for years. When I started working on Failstate’s story, I relied on them to help me refine Failstate and Gauntlet’s powers. I bounced a lot of plot points off of them. They were some of the first to look through the manuscript and say that I might be onto something there.

But I also reached out to someone who would become a dear writing friend of mine, namely Jill Williamson. I don’t quite remember how Jill and I first connected. I know it was on-line, possibly through the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour. Whatever the case, I decided to take a risk and reach out to Jill and ask her to read my book, possibly for an endorsement. Jill was extremely gracious and agreed to take a look at it. And she seemed to enjoy it. As a matter of fact, she made kind of an important offer: if I went to the next ACFW Conference, she would introduce me to her agent (if I wanted).

Well, I was planning on going to ACFW again, and I was planning on pitching my story to at least two people: Jeff Gerke, the owner and publisher for the new Marcher Lord Press, and Steve Laube. At the last conference, I had pitched a book I called Numb to Steve. He ultimately wound up rejecting it (and he was right to do so; it wasn’t ready yet, and neither was I). He wound up sending me one of the nicest, most encouraging rejection letters I had ever received (I still have it; I sometimes pull it out and read it just for fun). So I figured I had to try again with him. But if Jill was willing to introduce me to her agent, hey, it would be good to have another chance.

So what could I learn about Jill’s agent? Well, she was new to the business, doing an apprenticeship of sorts under the infamous Chip MacGregor. But she was one of the few agents at ACFW open to speculative fiction. Her name was Amanda Luedeke and it looked like it might be worth a shot. So when the time came to register for the conference, I asked to be able to pitch to both Steve and Amanda.

Why not Jeff? Well, because I had met Jeff at previous conference and I had the honor of being his roommate that year.

When I arrived at the Conference (which, if memory serves, was in Indianapolis), I checked my appointment schedule. I had gotten my appointment with Steve. I hadn’t gotten my appointment with Amanda. So I called Jill and asked her, very politely, to make the introduction.

But before that could happen, I decided I had to pitch Failstate to Jeff first. I didn’t want to have that hanging over us for the rest of the conference. We wound up having lunch together before the conference actually got started. After making some small talk, he asked me what I had for him.

I pulled out my proposal and handed it over. And then I started counting pages.

See, here’s the thing I learned about Jeff over the years: he can usually tell if he likes things after reading only one page. If he reads past the first page, it’s a good thing.

He started reading. He got to the end of the first page. AND HE TURNED THE PAGE!

And then the next one. I could hardly believe it. He told me to send him the full manuscript after the conference was over.

So that was one pitch session done. Now I had to find Amanda.

I found Jill first. Here’s the thing about Jill: she tends to gather young writers around her. She has a great heart for other writers, and so she had a cloud of folks around her when I found her. We were all making introductions and chatting when Amanda emerged from a meeting. Jill pointed it out, and the herd of authors stampeded over to her.

Jill started making introductions, one by one. And I started reviewing my pitch. My story’s about a fledgling superhero who was competing on a reality TV show for a government license, but when one of his competitors is murdered, he goes on a very real quest for justice. Can he find the killer? Or will his lunk of a big brother ruin everything? I was primed, I was ready…

Except I wasn’t ready for what Jill did. This was her introduction of me: “This is John, and he’s written this great book about a superhero on a reality TV show…”

That’s right, she started pitching the book for me.

I stood there, paralyzed. What should I do? Should I interrupt? Take over? Amanda smiled and nodded. Then she turned to me, handed me her business card, and asked me to send her the first chapter of my book.

And that was it.

Now that wasn’t the last time I saw Amanda at the conference. We kept running into each other. And I had a decision to make: I could re-pitch my story and talk more about it. Or I could just chat with her and get to know her better as a person.

I chose the latter. And I’m glad that I did. As it turned out, that conference was Amanda’s first ACFW conference. I had been to…well, more than that (I honestly don’t remember. Four, maybe?). So I was able to  help show her the ropes and commiserate with her on some of the pitches she heard. We had some interests in common. By the end of the conference, I came to the conclusion that, even if she wasn’t going to be my agent, she would be a good friend to have.

But what about Steve? Well, my pitch with him went really well. At the appointment, we made some small talk, in which he revealed he remembered some personal details about my life (meaning he actually remembered me). I went through my formal pitch and handed over my proposal. Steve flipped through it (commenting on the fact that the story was in the first person point-of-view), and said that he’d want to see the full manuscript.

Holy cow! I could hardly believe it. Steve Laube wanted to see one of my manuscripts? The whole thing? Awesome!

Only there was a caveat. The manuscript was 100,000 words long. He thought that would be too long. He wanted me to cut 30,000 words from my manuscript and then he’d look at it.

That took me aback. Cut 30% of my story? Uhhhhh…. Okay.

This was easily the best writing conference I had ever experienced. Three solid leads: Jeff wanted to see the full manuscript. Amanda wanted the first chapter. And Steve wanted the full manuscript minus thirty percent.

So what happened? Well, you’ll have to come back in two weeks to find out what happened.


  1. I’m curious as to why your book needed to be cut that much. I know the industry doesn’t want really long manuscripts anymore due to the cost of printing longer novels. I’m wondering if the drop in sales for novels of 75,000 to 100,000 worded books has gotten even worse. Sherrilyn Kenyon has two novels that are over 1000 pages, but books in the same series are mostly under 400 pages per book. While I know sales in business is the keystone, whether Christian or Secular, I’m rather saddened to see the amount of a story being diminished on the possible basis of readers not seeming as interested anymore. The complexity of certain genres that have elements that are always central to the beauty of them needs to NOT be cut. As generations seem to be more digital-minded and less imagination-minded, it makes me weep for the future of the written word; whether printed, e-book, or even audio. As a writer, I refuse to “dumb-down” my stories just to reach all the readers a publisher would expect. It’s frustrating, and my books may not go as far as I’ve always dreamed because of it, but at least my books will be all that I can make them be to reach those readers the Lord gave me the stories to write for in the first place. I’m keeping the integrity of my writing and stories, and if that means I stay an Indie Writer for the rest of my life, then so be it. I have accepted constructive criticism and learned from it, but some of the things that make my stories be part of my heart also don’t seem to be wanted by the industry at all. Sorry to rant, but since I love FAILSTATE so much, I’m a bit irked as a reader about maybe missing something they had you take out that I would have loved even more! Now back to our regularly-scheduled program and forgive my stalwart reader/writer attitude of non-conforming individualism. I’m just a soon-to-be 45-year-old woman who knows what she LOVES to read and write…Always. LUV YA BUNCHES IN JESUS WITH HUGS & PRAYERS, WRITER PASTOR BRO!
    Tonja Condray Klein –

    • Allow me, a fellow Failstate fan, to interject. Tonja, you and I had the privilege of reading Failstate, and we’re looking at it as fans. Steve Laube is an agent who would get paid only if he sold the book, who at that point only saw the proposal. He probably felt he could sell a 70,000 word speculative fiction book easier than a 100,000.

      Another comment. As a writer, my hunch is that it’s easy to put more words than necessary in. I’d tend to trust a proven agent than my totally unbiased (yeah, right) point of view.

      • I’m not unbiased in the least, Jeffrey, and I know that *LOL* I agree with you on both points too. I just chose to respond honestly with support for John’s feelings at that moment since I’ve encountered a couple situations too. I can learn from mistakes I’ve made. I just refuse to remove the elements that are necessary for the story to be all it’s meant to be. Some may HATE my novel, and that’s fine. I wrote it for those who WILL LOVE IT. If someone is brave enough to read it and THEN review negatively, I will respect them and consider their points even if I can’t agree. I’ve had so-called professional feedback early on that led me to believe they NEVER even read the small part submitted. As someone who has read and edited for businesses, I know that I at least could properly give feedback and not ask questions that were answered if I had read the complete item. I applaud John for going forward and getting published with a company that has such a great reputation. I didn’t mean to demean Mr. Laube at all either, so if it sounded like that, I apologize. I’m just a nonconforming individualist that won’t stay trapped in any box for any reason. Thanks for replying to my post and “May Tenrai Daystar shine down on you with blessings beyond sublime dreams!” Tonja Condray Klein at

  2. John, I’m enjoying this series. It’s fun dealing with people I’ve heard at a couple of writing conferences. I told you I heard Steve Laube at a panel. And when I was in the ACFW, the first Indiana Chapter meeting I attended had Amanda Luedeke as the guest speaker, talking about branding.

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