2017 Summer Conference Coaching Classes

We are pleased to offer 10 morning coaching classes taught by some of the top editors, agents, and authors in Christian publishing. These in-depth classes meet for three consecutive mornings for a total of seven hours of instruction. You will spend each morning with your coach and the same classmates since each day builds on the preceding day(s). Note: Class caps vary and a few classes require early registration. Register early!

 Weaving Spiritual Themes into Fiction ~ Tessa Afshar, Fiction

Whether writing for the Christian or the general market, using spiritual themes as the underpinning of your writing can strengthen your stories and, more importantly, engage your readers in a profound, life-giving experience. The Bible addresses some of the most important struggles and needs of human existence: suffering, loneliness, fear, greed, death, rejection, discontentment, love, hope, and belonging. During this intensive class, we will examine some of these themes, the emotions attached to them, and ways of capturing them effectively with our writing.

Tessa Afshar

Tessa Afshar has received numerous awards and nominations since her first novel, Pearl in the Sand, won “New Author of the Year” by the Reader’s Choice Awards in 2011. World Magazine chose Harvest of Rubies as one of four notable books of 2012. Harvest of Gold won the prestigious 2014 Christy Award in the Historical Romance category. In the Field of Grace, based on the story of Ruth, was nominated for the Grace Award in 2015. Tessa was born in Iran to a nominally Muslim family and lived there for 14 years. She moved to England, where she fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her 20s changed the course of her life. She holds a master’s of divinity from Yale University, where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last 17 years in full-time Christian service in New England. For more information, visit www.tessaafshar.com/.


Children’s/YA Critique Group ~ Sally Apokedak, Premium class, Fiction and Nonfiction ($100 extra) Class limit: 12

If you want feedback on not only the technical aspects of your work but also on its marketability, this is the class for you. This class is open to writers working on children’s books (from picture book to young adult and everything in between). Each conferee will give and receive critiques on the first chapter or an entire picture book. We will look at the four areas that are vital for all who want to break into traditional publishing (or who want readers to love their self-published work):

  • voice
  • character (or author platform for nonfiction)
  • plot (or structure for nonfiction)
  • marketability (premise for fiction and felt need for nonfiction)

Preconference work required:

  • Send a first chapter of a novel or nonfiction book (up to 2,500 words) or an entire picture book (up to 1,000 words)  to an address that will be supplied by July 15, 2017.
  • Critique the work sent by the other 11 conferees.


Sally Apokedak, Associate Agent with Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency
Sally Apokedak

Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She has been studying, reviewing, and marketing children’s books, as well as giving writing instruction for 15 years. Before she became an agent, she managed the Kidz Book Buzz blog tour where she was privileged to work with three favorite authors: Jeanne DuPrau, Ingrid Law, and Shannon Hale. Now Sally represents her own award-winning authors, including Joyce Magnin, Hannah C. Hall, and Mark S. Waxman. Find out more at www.sally-apokedak.com.


Writing Historical Fiction for Contemporary Readers ~ Melanie Dobson, Fiction 

How do we engage today’s readers in historical fiction? This class will equip both novice and seasoned novelists with research tools, writing techniques, and essential fiction components to engage and inspire contemporary readers. Attendees should bring a synopsis of their novel-in-progress to class as we work together to develop passionate historical characters and compelling plots.


Melanie Dobson
Melanie Dobson

Writing historical fiction is really an excuse for Melanie Dobson to explore ghost towns, interview fascinating people, and spend hours reading old journals and books. Melanie is the award-winning author of 16 historical, romantic suspense, and time-slip novels. Three of her historical novels have won Carol Awards, including Chateau of Secrets, Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa, and The Silent Order. Currently she is writing historical and time-slip fiction set in Europe. More information about Melanie and her story can be found at www.melaniedobson.com.


Destined for Glory: Crafting Your Protagonist and His/Her Inner Journey ~ Jeff Gerke, Fiction

Jeff Gerke’s first fiction craft book for Writers Digest, Plot Versus Character: A balanced approach to writing great fiction, forms the basis for this course. In class, we will craft a major character (complete with essential attributes, backstory, and transformational arc) and then build a plot around that character—a plot that externalizes the character’s inner journey, moves with suspense, and has a reader-satisfying conclusion (using the three-act structure). Come in with an idea spark; leave with a fully imagined novel just begging to be written.


Jeff Gerke
Jeff Gerke

When you’re truly ready to make your fiction publishable, it’s time to call Jeff Gerke. Jeff trains novelists through his top-rated Udemy class “Write Your Best Fiction and Get It Published” and through his five books for Writers Digest: The Irresistible Novel, Plot Versus Character, The First 50 Pages, Write Your Novel in a Month, and The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction. He also teaches at many writers’ conferences each year and does freelance editing. He founded Marcher Lord Press, the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction, which he sold after an award-winning five-year run. Jeff is known for his canny book doctoring skills and his humorous and encouraging manner, which leaves writers feeling empowered. Find out more at www.jeffgerke.com.


Writing Great Devotionals—or How to Write Well in Any Genre ~ Susan King, Nonfiction

Every Christian writer should be writing devotionals, either as the main focus or in addition to other writing projects—first because it’s great writing discipline. In general, the shorter the piece, the harder it is to write. The practice of writing devotionals also provides great spiritual discipline. After all, connecting God’s Word to the experiences of our lives is what Christians should be doing every day. So why not learn how to write about this connection and get what you write published in The Upper Room—and in so doing reach millions of readers in more than 100 countries worldwide? In this class, we’ll cover specific dos and don’ts in writing devotionals and also provide detailed instruction in the elements of great style in any genre.


Susan King

For more than 22 years, Associate Editor Susan King has been with The Upper Room magazine. Also, for more than 27 years she taught English and feature-writing classes at Lipscomb University, Biola University, and Abilene Christian University. Formerly, she served as writer, book editor, and radio-program producer/on-air talent for The Institute of Scriptural Psychology, wrote magazine features as a freelance writer, and functioned as a seminar facilitator in leadership and group dynamics. For more info, see http://devotional.upperroom.org/resources/writers-info.


Get Published Fast: The Art to Writing Great Articles ~ Ginger Kolbaba, Nonfiction

Do you dream of having millions of people around the world read your work? Do you long to have those same millions see your byline? How about wanting to make some quick-ish cash as well? You can when you write for magazines. Former editor of two national publications and author of more than 400 articles, Ginger Kolbaba brings her experience and knowledge to share tips on how to get your writing above the competition’s and beyond an editor’s slush pile. She’ll share what you need to know about queries, rewrites, repackaging and reselling your work, and contracts. She’ll discuss the differences between writing for print and digital, and how you can use magazines to boost your writing platform to lead toward other writing potentials (books).


Ginger Kolbaba

Ginger Kolbaba is an accomplished, award-winning author, editor, and speaker. She has written or contributed to more than 30 books, including Your Best Happily Ever After. In the publishing industry for more than two decades, Ginger is the former editor of Today’s Christian Woman magazine, Marriage Partnership magazine, and the founding editor of Kyria.com, all award-winning resources of Christianity Today. Four years ago, she started her own writing and editing business, in which she works with both major publishing houses and individuals. She acquires articles that focus on tweens, teens, adopted, or special needs for a national Christian parenting publication. You can visit her at www.gingerkolbaba.com, Facebook.com/gingerkolbaba, or Twitter @gingerkolbaba.


Imaginative Fiction Critique Class ~ James L. Rubart, (Eight students may take the Premier option for $100 extra) Class limit: 20

 Novelists who want to be traditionally published have probably heard agents and editors say, “Bring me something new, something different; bring me a story I haven’t seen before.” During this course, best-selling, award-winning author James L. Rubart will explain why so many people tell him, “Your stories are so unique!” He will share how he gets his ideas and teach you how you can come up with story ideas that make agents, editors, and readers say, “Tell me more!”

The first eight who sign up as premium class members (by July 15) will receive a review of their manuscript’s synopsis and first six pages as well as a half-hour, one-on-one coaching session during the conference, and the opportunity to review fellow premium students’ pages prior to the conference. Additional class members do not pay extra and will benefit from the valuable in-class instruction.


James L. Rubart

James L. Rubart thinks he’s still young enough to waterski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and he loves to send readers on journeys they’ll remember months after they finish one of his stories. He’s the best-selling, Christy Book of the Year, INSPY, and Romantic Times Book Reviews award-winning author of eight novels as well as a professional speaker. During the day, he runs his branding and marketing company, which helps businesses, authors, and publishers make more coin of the realm. More at www.jameslrubart.com.


Telling Your Story with Authenticity and Empathy ~ Bo Stern, Memoir

This interactive class will focus on how to bring authenticity and empathy to the story you are writing. You know your story will help others when it’s published, but first you must write it. Sometimes writing a memoir involves writing through a sorrow season. How do you tell your story in the most compelling way? What do you include and what do you leave out? What are the truths you’ve learned that you can share to encourage your reader? Bo Stern is the author of the memoir Beautiful Battlefields. She will draw from her personal experiences to help equip memoir writers to share their own stories.

Bo Stern

Bo Stern is a teaching pastor and writer who focuses on the strength that comes through suffering. Her books include Beautiful Battlefields, Ruthless: Knowing the God Who Fights for You, and When Holidays Hurt, which deal with her family’s journey through the Shadowlands as her husband, Steve, battled ALS, the disease that took his life in 2015. Her work has been featured in countless publications, including Huffington Post, Christianity Today, and Focus on the Family.




A Novel Career: for both indie and traditional authors at every stage of the writing journey ~ Susan May Warren, Fiction

So, you’ve written a book, even published it—congratulations! Now what? How do you turn that one book into a long-term career (one that pays the bills)? It’s all about looking at your passions and gifts, understanding your personality, and developing a vision, strategy and a plan for success—and creating tactics to make it happen!

In this hands-on class that gets down to the nuts and bolts of building a career, best-selling author Susan May Warren will walk you through discovering your passions and unique writing strengths. You will develop a vision, strategy, and plan for your writing career. We will cover both traditional publishing as well as indie publishing (and when to do either, or both!), how to grow as a writer and manage your time, marketing for the busy writer, working with your agent (and other options), building a reader base, and how to build a career suited uniquely to you and your goals. Susan will share practical tactics and insights she has gleaned during more than 15 years in the industry and 60 novels.

The class will cover:

  • The key to staying focused through the tides of trends
  • Why it’s important to know yourself
  • How to maximize your writing time
  • One powerful trick for growing your reader base
  • How to actually make a living as a writer


Susan May Warren

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel Academy. A USA-Today best-selling, Christy and RITA award-winning author of more than 50 novels with Tyndale, Barbour, Steeple Hill, Summerside Press, and Revell publishers, she is an eight-time Christy award finalist, a three-time RITA finalist, and a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol award. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at www.susanmaywarren.com.