While this blog isn’t an official publication of the Evangelical Press Association, most of our writers are EPA members. Several of us attended the 2023 convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this past April. Here are some highlights of our time together, as well as a few thoughts on why EPA is valuable to us.
What We Learned
Joyce Ellis: I was amazed at the number of editors who were actively “looking for” freelancers this year—many more than in the past. Perhaps it’s the downsizing of staff, the fact that they don’t have to pay freelancers as much (considering benefits), or maybe we’re just getting more visibility. Whatever the reason, I believe these are great times to be freelancing, and we need to knock confidently but wisely on any doors that seem even slightly ajar for us. (I’m preaching to myself and whoever else needs to hear this.)
By confidently, I mean that we need to trust that the God who gifted us is not pleased when we give in to our insecurities—so many freelancers have them—but follow where He leads. Case in point, Moses.
By wisely, I mean that we really need to study a magazine and make sure what we want to send them actually fits their style and needs. Case in point, Paul’s fitting his message to the audience.
Ann Byle: I was challenged by Keith Hammonds’ workshop “Hope with Teeth: Bringing Solutions Journalism into your Reporting.” It’s easy to report on the wrongs, but it’s a challenge to also offer ways to right those wrongs. I want to do that in my journalism work. I was also challenged by a number of the workshops on social media strategy and personal branding. This area is hard for me, as it is for many, but I was encouraged to realize that it’s possible and even a doable task.
Stephen R. Clark: In the sessions with Bob Smietana (“Reorganized Religion: The Reshaping of the American Church”) and Theresa Lynn Sidebotham (“Reporting on Misconduct Allegations and Findings Issues and Constraints”), as well as in the Plenary Forum with Naghmeh Abedini Panahi and Mariam Ibraheem (“Overcoming Domestic Abuse and Religious Oppression”), it is clear that pain and change is rampaging through American organized religion (aka, the church). Churches are facing truly new and daunting challenges. The same old same old won’t hold even a little any longer. As responsible writers, we need to educate ourselves on the issues being faced, and ensure that we are writing honestly in ways that can help churches move forward. Yes, we need to exhibit kindness and love, but not at the expense of truth and justice. What we write about, report on, and how we do this must aim at advancing the gospel of Jesus to bring healing and unity.
Ann-Margret Hovsepian: Ann Byle didn’t know I was going to write this but my favourite workshop this year was hers: “Articles to Books.” She gave us simple guidelines for listing our assests (such as old content, our subscribers list, years of research, interviews, and our own stories) and then brainstorming ways to repurpose them. I’ve been writing for nearly 30 years so Ann’s suggestions excited me. There is so much potential for future projects that don’t need me to start with a blank page!
Chris Maxwell: Much of the information inspired me to continue doing what I am already doing.
What We Enjoyed
Ann Byle: The convention was enjoyable in so many ways. Networking is always a big part of EPA, and this year was no different. I was able to connect with old friends and meet new friends in our freelance community. It’s always good to talk with fellow freelancers about writing and the freelance life we’ve all chosen to lead. Another highlight was the workshops. I learned something or was challenged by all that I attended. Also, Sight and Sound. I’m still processing the mind-boggling presentation “Moses.”
Stephen R. Clark: One of the highlights of being at the convention happened at Friday’s lunch. I happened to be sitting next to a person who works for an AG publication, Influence Magazine. His name was Steve. He asked me what year I graduated from Evangel College . When I told him he asked me if I knew Mike Lopez. Just before I answered, I noticed his last name on his name tag. He was Mike’s brother (who also later attended EC)! Mike and I were in the same dorm at EC and Mike was notorious for wandering the halls day and night playing “Stairway to Heaven” on his guitar. He was a good friend. We were both in the Chicago area in the 1980s and he and his wife babysat my son once or twice. Sadly, Mike passed away about 17 years ago. But it was really great chatting with his brother Steve and reminiscing about our days at EC. What’s also interesting is that I had just recently been thinking about Mike and what a fun guy he was. Small world!
Ann-Margret Hovsepian: The people I’ve gotten to know through EPA over the last two decades have become my third family (after my biological and church families) so, as much as I benefit from the workshops and am blessed by the speakers or worship, and as fun as the outings often are, the great big helping of icing on the cake is the fellowship. This year we met quite a few new freelancers (or people interested in freelancing) and it brought me joy to see their eyes light up as they made connections and discovered new possibilities.
Chris Maxwell: Conversations with writers and editors. Many have become friends to me through the years. The services, the sessions, the meals: Everything was enjoyable.
Ann Byle: There are so few places that Christian freelance writers can gather to commiserate, network, learn, and make connections for future writing work. EPA offers all of those things. The conference also opens up new opportunities for writing jobs and collaborations, as well as learning from fellow freelancers about their writing lives, challenges, and triumphs.
Ann-Margret Hovsepian: For years I said (and was quoted as saying): “I can’t afford not to go to EPA.” I’ve been a member of EPA for 20 years (and now a member of the board for one) and there is no way I could have written for so many wonderful publications if not for the connections I made with editors (and my first literary agent!) at the annual convention, especially in the earlier years when I didn’t know anyone yet and didn’t really know what I was doing. The low cost of membership and even the high cost of attending the convention (keeping in mind that it’s more expensive for me as a Canadian with travel and the exchange rate) have had an unbeatable return on investment.
Chris Maxwell: The EPA Convention is a wonderful place to meet people in the Christian writing world, to build relationships, to have conversations about article ideas, and to receive more writing assignments.