I pulled onto the Turner Turnpike and merged with traffic heading from Oklahoma City to Tulsa. Beside me, Cheri Fuller writhed in guilt. “I shouldn’t be going! Melanie, why are we going to this conference? What good will it do us?”
Those were valid questions, but I didn’t pretend to have the answers. I’d never been to a writer’s conference before. Cheri and I had met earlier that year when we both signed up for a writing class and critique group taught by Kathryn Fanning.
The whole process of starting a new career had been intimidating to me. A registered nurse, I’d spent the past 20 years as a coronary care nurse. I’d left a great job with a substantial salary to follow my dream of becoming a writer.
Cheri had done the same thing, leaving a long, successful career as an educator. Each week we showed up for class with our polished manuscripts in hand. On our break from class, our conversation never varied.
Cheri peered at me over the frames of her cute red glasses. Eyebrows furrowed, she said, “Melanie, do you think anyone will ever buy what we write?”
Intimidated, I answered, “How would I know?”
Kathryn Fanning was an impressive author and writing instructor, speaking all over the nation. There were things we would never do in her class. We would never show up with something written that we couldn’t submit. For instance, before we wrote anything we had to decide on a topic, study the markets and find who was looking for what we wanted to write. Before reading our story, we had to tell the class who we would be submitting it to, how many words they wanted, if it was to be in first person or third person.
Another thing Kathryn insisted on was that we attend any writer’s conference within driving distance. She was speaking at the Professionalism in Writing conference in Tulsa, and she expected to see us there.
However, in an unfortunate accident, just before we left Cheri’s young daughter broke her ankle. When I arrived to pick her up, Cheri told me she wasn’t going. Cheri’s husband Holmes carried her suitcase to my car despite her arguments. “I’ve got this,” he said in his calm, quiet way. “You need to go.”
During that conference, Cheri had lunch with a group of women, none of whom she knew. One woman asked that everyone go around the table and share what they were writing. When Cheri explained the book she was writing, the woman said, “I’ll take it.”
“Excuse me?” Cheri asked.
“I want to buy your book.” The woman was an acquisitions editor for a publishing house. Yes, Cheri sold her book, Homelife: The Key to Your Child’s Success in School at that conference.
I hadn’t written a book, but I had a burning desire to write for Guideposts. Each year, the conference hosted an editor from Guideposts to teach us. I sold an article to them that first year. The following year, I sold another. The third year I attended that conference, I won the national Guideposts Writing Contest.
Cheri and I continued to study and work our craft. We both sold a lot of magazine articles. While Cheri sold books under her own name, I ghosted books for other people.
Why? Because I was an introvert. I didn’t want to be in the public eye. I enjoyed sitting home doing what I loved to do while someone else did book signings, radio and television interviews. That worked well until I found a book of my own burning a hole in my heart. Over time, it clawed its way out of me and onto paper.
Now what? I hadn’t published books under my own name.
Flash forward and Cheri’s books were flying off the bookstore shelves faster than pancakes being flipped off the griddle at IHOP. She was very successful. Her name had become known far beyond the boundaries of the US. While I was sitting home at my computer, Cheri was jetting off to speak in different countries all over the world.
While Cheri wasn’t the Queen of Everything, she was, without a doubt, the Queen of selling Book Proposals. The joke in writers’ circles at the time was that Cheri Fuller could write and sell book proposals for books she didn’t even want to write. That was good humor, but I must admit there was a hint of truth to it.
I’ve never met anyone better.
My unpublished manuscript was a travesty to Cheri. She made it her mission in life to help me get that book A Healing Touch: The Power of Prayer published. The first thing she did was work editorial magic on my manuscript.
Then she put me to work writing my first book proposal. I found it easier to write the book than write a 50-word synopsis. Harder still, the 25-word summary. “Now write it in 10 words,” Cher ordered. I’d already gone through the Writer’s Market Guide and made a list of publishers where my book might fit. I’d sent out query letters and proposals. Finding the right fit between a writer and publisher felt a lot like dating.
“Memorize each of your pitches,” Cheri said. “Be prepared to pitch to editors because we’re going to the Christian Booksellers Convention. It’s in Anaheim, California this year.”
During that convention, Cheri made me get up early. She knew editors would be roaming around in meetings and having breakfast. Each time she saw an acquisitions editor, she introduced me and I pitched my book. They all asked to see my proposal.
Okay, let me backtrack and be very honest. Cheri wasn’t hunting down acquisition editors. They were stalking her. Everyone wanted the next book written by Cheri Fuller. They were willing to listen to my pitches to curry her favor. Just saying.
The following year, we attended the Christian bookseller’s convention in Denver. “Cheri, how will I know which publisher is the one?” I asked.
“Notice how each publisher has shelves filled with their titles?” she said. “Go to each one. Look at their titles. Dream big. Which one has the books you’d love to have beside yours on the shelf?”
When I got to Whitaker House and looked at their titles, I knew. Whitaker House was the one for me. They bought that book and four more.
Cheri and I started our writing career more than 30 years ago. We still enjoy the work, enjoy our friendship and support one another. She has been the kind of friend who pushed me into new levels of publishing. What a treasure.
That’s the thing about finding your writing community through writer’s conferences. You never know who you’ll meet. One of my writer friends from Guideposts told me that for several years she’d attended a large, national conference on the west coast. She befriended a young man who was close to being a starving artist. He wrote fiction and Christian fiction wasn’t selling at the time. They became friends and she encouraged him not to give up. Then one year when she arrived at the conference, he was the keynote speaker.
His name? Frank Peretti.
When you attend your next conference, be sure to introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you.