Shannon Taylor Vannatter – American Christian Fiction Writers

This post is a bit different than my usual. The only romance you’ll find is mine with the organization that led me to publication. Readers, this is a short account of my road to publication. Writers, listen up, you need to know about ACFW. Any comments will go into the drawing for an e-book download of Reinventing Leona by debut author, Lynne Gentry. I’ll return to real life romance with Lynne as my guest on August 17th: 

Writing my first book

Me and critique partners

In 2004, I was at a writing crossroads. I’d been writing for five years. I belonged to 2 local writing groups and moved mountains and babysitters to attend local conferences and workshops. My brain was on overload from learning, but I wasn’t learning anything specific to my genre.
So I googled it: Christian Romance Writers Conference. And stumbled upon American Christian Romance Writers. It was in Denver, Colorado that year and sounded like writer heaven. But too far and too expensive for my stay-at-home mom life and budget. Still, I dreamed of going some day.
Early the next year, I learned that my grandmother had left all her grandchildren a savings bond. I didn’t want to pay a bill with it or go shopping. Grandma’s money should go toward something really important.
The writing conference popped into my head. The savings bond was just enough to cover the registration. I googled it. By then the name had changed to American Christian Fiction Writers and would be in Nashville, Tennessee. Only six hours away and all we’d have to come up with would be gas, food, and lodging money.
My husband and I are both geography challenged. Neither of us can read a map. We usually traveled with family members, not on our own. We started talking about making the trip and I started dreaming. We mapquested a route and decided it was doable.
My husband put in for vacation time. Always supportive, he promised to drive me there and babysit while I learned. I registered, chose my editor and agent appointments, and made travel plans. I even got an appointment with Tracy Peterson, the acquisition editor for Heartsong Presents, where I’d already sent my proposal for my book. Since I hadn’t heard anything, I figured I could just sell the book to Tracy in person. No biggie.
A month before conference, I got a rejection letter from Heartsong Presents. I nose-dived into anguish for two days, then picked myself up, and decided I’d just convince Tracy in person. No biggie.
That September, we packed our three year old and my business casual clothing and headed for Nashville. I was certain that I’d come home with a contract if not a check. Maybe both. The trip went off without a hitch and our trusty mapquest map delivered us right at the conference hotel. When we walked in, I saw Tracy Peterson.
After I picked up my jaw from the floor, I saw a friendly looking woman and asked, “Is that Tracy Peterson.”
“I’ve got an appointment with her to pitch my book tomorrow.”
“Go talk to her.”
I smoothed a hand over my road-weary hairdo. “No, I look car-lagged. I’ll wait ’til tomorrow.”
The next morning, it hit me—I didn’t know a soul there. Feeling way out of my league, I found an empty table for breakfast. Friendly writers soon filled my table. Before the day was over, I saw the friendly woman from the lobby the night before and learned her name, Margaret Daley. It sounded familiar.
After the first workshop session, I realized I barely knew the basics about writing. My brain tried to process all the new information and keep up with everything I’d learned. By my appointment time with Tracy, I was on overload. The meeting didn’t go as I planned.
I recapped my story for her and asking why she’d rejected it. She told me there wasn’t enough conflict and then brainstormed with me on how to fix it. She even agreed to take another look at it if I upped the conflict.
By the time that awesome weekend was over, I’d boo hooed on my hubby because I didn’t get a contract, much less a check. But I was hooked and vowed to move mountains and babysitters to attend the conference annually.
After we got home, I googled Margaret Daley. She’d had forty or so books published at that time. Duh. I upped the conflict in my book and sent it off. It was rejected again. I realize now, my writing wasn’t at publishable level.
We attended in 2006 and 2007, both in Dallas. I got requests, followed by rejections both years. In 2008, I finally joined ACFW, took advantage of joining a critique group, and trolled the course archives, but the conference was in Minneapolis. Way too far and expensive, but I heard about the local zone group meeting in Little Rock. I attended the meeting twice that summer and met Linda Fulkerson. A few months later, out of the blue, she e-mailed asked if I wanted a ride to Minneapolis.
My parents and husband weren’t sure at all about me jumping in a car with a woman I’d met twice for a road trip to Minneapolis, plus a hotel stay with her. My dad took me to our designated meeting place. I guess she passed muster, he let me go.
I got to meet two of my critique partners, Brenda Anderson and Lorna Seilstad, and made real friends that year. For the first time, I attended the early bird session and took Marjorie Lawson’s EDITs class. It was like the scales fell from my eyes and I knew what went in a book and what didn’t. That class was the culmination of all the others and brought my writing to a publishable level.
By then, I’d upped my conflict and managed a meeting with JoAnne Simmons, acquisition editor at Heartsong Presents. I’ll never forget when her eyes lit up over my story. She requested the full. I went home and frantically used the techniques I’d learned in the EDITs class and sent the manuscript to JoAnne. In January, I got an offer.
Without ACFW, it’s highly possible that I wouldn’t be published. This year, I’ve come full circle—I’m teaching a marketing class at ACFW.
The conference is in St Louis, Missouri and kicks off September 22. Hope to see you there: If you’re interested in getting published in the inspirational market, check out ACFW:
Come back August 17th for debut author, Lynne Gentry’s real life romance.

8 Responses to “Shannon Taylor Vannatter – American Christian Fiction Writers”

  • Regina says:

    I love hearing your story, Shannon. It gives us all HOPE, just like being around you gives people hope!! I can’t wait to see you in St. Louis!! Hugs!

  • I wish I could be there in September to sit in on your class.

    Shannon, every time I get down about this writing journey, I just have to remember your never-quit attitude. You inspire me to keep pressing on. I’m so blessed to have you & Lorna as critique partners. You’ve both taught me so much.

  • Hey Regina,
    What a sweet thing to say. Looking forward to seeing you too. I’m so glad you’re bringing your hubby this year. I’ve really missed mine the last few years.

    Hey Brenda,
    I know I’ll have one student at least. Lorna signed up. It’s a good thing God gave me a never quit attitude. Otherwise, I would have quit by now.

  • Shannon, I know what you mean about ACFW. I owe them so much. Getting connected with you and Brenda has been one of the greatest blessings I’ve had as a writer.

  • V.V. Denman says:

    You give me hope! Thanks!

  • Shannon, I wish I had met you in Minneapolis! I agree that taking Margie Lawson’s EDITS class sure changed my writing.

    See you in St. Louis?

  • Lorna,
    Agreed. I always say God had a hand in forming our crit group.

    I’m so glad. I was at my most frustrated about my writing when it finally happened. My motto. I never said, if I get published. Always, when I get published. It helped through all the rejections. Over 200!

    You got the new contract from HP that year, didn’t you? I’ll be there. I’m teaching a class, so I better be.

  • Shannon, I second your love affair with ACFW and echo your urging for all Christian fiction writers to join today! My story is similar to yours except I googled Christian fiction writer’s conferences in 2002 and found the first national ACRW conference was in 3 weeks, so I joined and here I am today with my first fiction book being released September 1, 2011! Thanks for the memories! ps. don’t enter me in the drawing because I already have the book on my computer!

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