Geek Confessional: When Dreams Die Hard

Thanks to some theological musings prompted by the writings of C. S. Lewis, I had stumbled into a science fiction trilogy about a group of aliens on the hunt for grace. And I was bound and determined to get this thing published. I just had a feeling about it. This was a great story, the story of my heart. I wanted people to read it, to enjoy it, to let it stir their own thoughts and imaginations. So, with this dream in hand, I set off for the ACFW National Conference in Dallas, Texas.

I had never been to a writing conference before, so I was more than a little nervous about it. I knew that I would have the chance to pitch my story idea to an editor and agent. I also paid some extra money to attend an early bird session being taught by two veteran authors. Plus I also bought a critique session with an established Christian author. I was going to make the most of my time at ACFW.

And I had a good time. It was a lot of fun, meeting all sorts of different authors. It was also great to connect with a number of people who also wrote Christian speculative fiction like me. There were more of us than I realized. And while we were in the minority at the conference, we still banded together and encouraged each other. We were going to do amazing things and we just knew it. And I was convinced that my amazing journey was going to start at that very conference. So I walked into my first pitch session, confident that when I explained what my book was about, it would be snatched up immediately.

See, I had done my research. I had targeted the publishing house that had put out books by Kathy Tyers and other speculative fiction authors. So as I sat down with a man named Dave Long from Bethany House Publishing, I knew I was going to do fine. I introduced myself, mentioned that I was from the Twin Cities (Bethany House is headquartered there), and then launched into my pitch. Dave was very attentive, but when I said the word “aliens,” his eyes glazed over.

I faltered in my presentation and asked what was wrong. Dave explained to me that Bethany didn’t do those sorts of stories anymore. They hadn’t, not since a man named Steve Laube had left the company and opened his own agency.

I was heartbroken. I had thought I had found the perfect home for my books, but that door was shut for me. But all was not lost! As luck would have it, my agent appointment was with Steve Laube himself. Based on what I had heard, Steve was a big fan of sci fi and fantasy in general. Surely he would jump at my story idea and offer to represent me.

But I took a gamble when I sat down across from him. Earlier in the conference, there had been an agent panel and, at said panel, the agents were asked what the dumbest pitch they ever heard was. Steve explained that at one conference, an author pitched him an idea about flesh-eating frogs. When he tried to gently explain that there probably wasn’t much of a market in Christian fiction for a story like that, the poor author blurted out, “But it’s a love story!”

So when I sat down across from Steve and he asked me what my story was, I explained that I had written a romance novel about flesh-eating frogs.

With a perfect deadpan expression, Steve told me that it had been done already. We both chuckled, and I launched into my pitch. Aliens! Looking for salvation! One of them is stranded on Earth and is discovered in an archeological dig in northern Minnesota! It’s awesome!

Steve listened to the whole thing, and then said, “It’s sounds really interesting. Here’s why you’ll never sell it.”

He then point around the room at all the editors who were listening to pitches and explained to me that none of them would touch a story with aliens in it. The market just wasn’t there.

I left that meeting feeling rather dejected. I had worked on this story idea for years, and there was no market for it at all? I had been tweaking and honing it, getting positive feedback from all sorts of people. As a matter of fact, the authors that I met with at the conference were all excited about my story, saying that they hoped I did well with it. But I could never sell it? What was I going to do?

What did I do? Well, come back in two weeks, and I’ll tell you about some of the hardest and most vital advice I ever received on my writing journey.

Author @JohnWOtte shares the story of what happened at his first writing conference. Click To Tweet


  1. I’m not saying it’s aliens, but it’s aliens.

  2. Awesome perception from the experiences in your writing career. I’ve also been a member of ACFW for several years and put my Novel that I just self-published in one of their contests a couple years ago to receive reviews that made me question if any of the “judges” had even read the whole sample. Their points did make me question what they had said and I rewrote the sections for clarity. BREAKING THE SHACKLES isn’t for every reader, but I believe it will be for those readers that need something different in a way that regular traditional publishers won’t take a chance on since it’s ALL about the money in the industry for them after all. This Story is my PASSION, not just a paycheck. Still, getting a publisher like Steve Laube to take an interest would be very beneficial for any speculative writer. I sent my BREAKING to them but would have had to wait until this coming year for it to even be considered. Since time has become of the essence from my viewpoint, I chose to go Indie. It’s not the best path for some writers that can get an agent or house interested, but BREAKING is more along the lines with earlier pioneers such as C.S. Lewis and Christopher Stasheff. Mine just has the added dimension of…well…another world dimension that has Japanese Anime aspects to the action and Christianity as the Faith background. *shrugs* It’s different, but I honestly believe it will make a real difference for those that DARE to read it and accept the Truth within it, It’s PG-13 due to Fantasy violence and some uncomfortable situations, but there’s NO bad language or detailed content above the rating. I hope you take the time someday with my Novel and find even a slight bit of enjoyment with it since I’ve found much of that with FAILSTATE and HIVE. Looking forward to your next Novel and the next part of this Confessional. LUV YA BUNCHES IN JESUS WITH HUGS & PRAYERS!
    ~ TCK ~

  3. Great story. While I was an ACFW member for three years, I never attended their conference, but I did attend a couple of Indianapolis Christian writing conferences that included both fiction and non-fiction.

    One thing that impacted me at the first one was where they had a panel of agents and the like talking about fiction, and one of those agents said that if he read something and there was no dialog on the first page, he was done with it. That agent happened to be Steve Laube. And I have a hunch that he’ll probably pop back up in your series.

    One other item. I did read some speculative from Bethany House. This included the Firebird trilogy. I read one fantasy novel I couldn’t get into, but saw an ad for another fantasy series (tales of the Infinite by R. J. Larson), and that I enjoyed okay. But after the trilogy ended, the author had a follow-up series in the same fantasy world with a different publisher.

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