Or Why Attending a Writers Conference Can Help Your Career….
Or How I Became One of the First MWW Success Stories ….
By Jama Kehoe Bigger
I never pitched an agent. I never wrote a proposal. I never wrote a query. I never mailed the manuscript to the publisher. I never submitted any sample writing, any biography, any synopsis.
I never followed the professional protocols for turning a manuscript into a book.
And yet, one day I received a phone call from an editor at Fleming H. Revell publishers. An editor I had never met. A publishing house I had never submitted to.
“I love the first chapter and the chapter The Date, and we want to publish your manuscript,” he said.*
What? My manuscript? My untitled manuscript?
Not your typical path to publication.
But a pathway made possible because of my trips through Midwest Writers Workshop.
It was 1976 and I was a 20-year-old college student with a desire to write and an idea for a book, an English major at Ball State University. That summer, an (accidental?) bumping into a friend-of-a-friend, a casual conversation about writing, a mention of a writers’ conference (in my very city, at my very university), a leap of faith, a saying “yes” to a new adventure, all led to me sitting in a classroom in Ball State’s Carmichael Hall, listening to author and humorist Tom Mullen talk about writing for the inspirational marketplace.
I had found a mentor.
Life-changing. That’s what Midwest Writers was.
That class, that creative environment, that support and encouragement from faculty and committee and participants was like water and sunlight and nourishment. It made me grow.
I was hooked on the importance of a writers’ conference, the value of Midwest Writers Workshop. For the next few years, I registered and signed up for classes in nonfiction and poetry. I learned to be a better writer, listening, asking questions, taking notes. I kept growing.
I found writer-friends. And become part of the MWW community.
Then in 1979, the inspirational writing class I attended was taught by Floyd Thatcher, an editor with Word Publishing. He was friendly (just like Tom and all MWW faculty seemed to be!), offered keen advice on tightening my writing, and believed in my story.
Very rough first draft, which went on and on and on for pages before the “story” (action) began.
Eventually, after rewrites and rewrites, I summoned enough courage to mail my (unnamed) manuscript to him. When he called and said, “I was moved by your story, but it’s not quite what our company publishes,” I almost dropped the phone. Until I heard his next sentence. “But I hope you don’t mind, I mailed your manuscript to another editor I know.” Then I did drop the phone.
A few weeks later, Victor Oliver, editor at Fleming H. Revell, called.
I had found an editor.
And I had found a publisher.
And I became not just a writer, but an author.
This path of mine to publication, this walkway was created with stone after stone. Courage. Registering for the workshop. Courage. Asking for advice. Courage. Revising editing improving. Learning. Courage. Sending out my words. Courage and hope. My story.
Final (and published) revision of Chapter 1
Attending MWW was my right first step out of the sometimes secluded life of writing and into a community that was chock full of resources, connections, inspiration. And above all, friendships.
I could go on and on about the impact Midwest Writers had on me every year that I attended. After my book was published, I became a presenter, then a committee member, and then director. In some capacity, I’ve been part of MWW for 37 of its 40 years. MWW is part of who I am. And I am grateful.
What will your Midwest Writers story be?
(In the spirit of Literary Citizenship, get the book, read the book, review the book.)
* This call came two weeks before I got married. It was a very good summer!