RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–For many alumni of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, its writing contest has been a jumping off point for career success.
Ray Blackston, for example, was a financial analyst who was among the winners in 2000. He now teaches at the conference and, since writing a successful trilogy of books about faith and the single life for Baker Books, he has a multi-book deal with Time Warner.
With more than 330 entries this year from unpublished writers in 11 categories ranging from lyrics to script writing to mystery novels, chances are good that a number of the winners and even some non-winners will get their work published.
But many of the writers who are asked at a conference to send their proposals to an agent or publisher don’t follow through, noted Ron and Janet Benrey, a husband-and-wife mystery writing duo who have led conference workshops for several years.
One obstacle that might prevent follow-up, they said, is that it would mean real deadlines and real work ahead for the aspiring writer.
While excellence is the primary quality publishers are looking for, follow-through is crucial, said Terry Whalen, fiction acquisitions editor for Howard Books, an imprint of Simon and Shuster.
“I also want to know whether you’ve finished your manuscript,” he said. “With first-time writers, we’ve all heard the horror stories of contracting a book, and the writer can’t finish.”
Tracy Leigh Brown of Arden, N.C., won the overall Award of Excellence from among all categories for her the “Hapless Camper” novel she is writing.
“This definitely gives me reason to keep my seat in the seat until I complete it. The plaque will hang near my computer,” Brown said.
Brown likes to call her idea “G.R.I.T.S. Lit” for Girls Raised In The South.
Unlike the “Chick Lit” subgenre of women’s fiction centering on a young single career woman in an urban setting,” Brown said Hapless Camper “is told in first person by Julie, a young, widowed no-career woman in a small town, Southern setting. She comes back to her hometown to bury her husband but unwittingly digs up a host of faith-shaking secrets about her marriage and her family.”
Brown, who works at an insurance agency in Hendersonville, N.C., said her proposal was well-received by one agent she met with at the conference who invited her to send it when complete.
“Once I finally got by myself to thank my Lord for this blessing, I cried and cried,” Brown said. “I still can’t believe that God gave me what my heart desired most.”