This time last week, I zipped through the air, high above the clouds winging my way home from Mount Hermon – my first Christian writing conference. I’ve attended two SCBWI conferences and the Erma Bombeck Conference, but the Mount Hermon conference has them all beat for atmosphere. Nestled among the tall redwoods with lush greenery, the setting envelops you, welcoming you, making you feel at home. Squeals of delight rang out the first day as those who had attended in the past met up with old friends.
I finally met many of my online friends face to face and what a joy it was! My roommate turned out to be Karen, a woman I’d corresponded with already, and we had an immediate rapport. Our cabin reminded me of the time I went to cheerleading camp – small but clean. No TV. No radio. And gasp! No wireless connection for my laptop. What would I do?
I’m sure those in charge set it up that way so we writers would get out of the cabin. Otherwise, I have a feeling we’d hunker down in the room reading or updating our blogs.
Because of my flight schedule, I went a day early. That night we feasted on a bountiful buffet. All week the conference center brought out trays laden with fantastic food. Karen and I attended a workshop on ‘pitching.’ Since I’d had only about two hours sleep the night before, I could barely keep my eyes open. I would later regret it that I couldn’t pay more attention. As it turns out, editors and agents like to hear you pitch your project. At that moment, all I could think of was how soon I could pitch my body into bed.
The next morning, refreshed and ready, I threw myself into the craziness of Mount Hermon. I met Mary DeMuth and Jeanne Damoff. We hugged like old friends. Mary is lovely, and Jeanne is a graceful wisp of a woman. Both made sure I ate at their tables – which was nice since they were both much in demand.
About this time, I started to notice the writers with a panicky look in their eyes, jaws set with determination, with plans to meet the right editors and agents. One woman actually stepped right in front of me to talk to an agent. I get downright nauseous at the thought of having to be so competitive.
That’s why it surprised even me when I made an appointment with an editor. Unless you’ve sent work ahead to be critiqued or considered, once you get there, Mount Hermon has no formal schedule for writers to meet the editors and agents. To make an appointment, all you have to do is ask. I heard two or three other people making appointments, and on a whim, made one myself. Almost immediately, I regretted my act of spontaneity. I didn’t have a complete proposal, and I’ve already admitted, slept through the workshop on pitching.
After tossing and turning all night and praying to God to let me know if canceling would be in His will, I concluded that if said editor crossed my path before my appointment, I would cancel. That morning, I slipped into the gift shop to buy a postcard for my husband (which made it to my house the same day I got home.) and in stepped the editor. What are the chances? I had my sign. Right? Wrong. I walked up and said, “I had an appointment…I mean, I have an appointment, and well…” Before I could say another word, the editor said, “No. You need to be there.” Something told me he’d had run-ins with many nervous authors before me.
For my major morning track, I chose to attend one taught by Cindy Kenney. As a children’s book author, it thrilled me to meet Cindy, a Veggie Tales author. Like a good groupie, I had my picture taken with her. And I took a fun, frantic workshop taught by Christine Tangvald, another children’s book author. I met with Jim Stafford, the editor for The Upper Room. He related how people in one village in Africa shared one copy, passing it around until everyone could read it. After taking his workshop, I feel better informed as to what he looks for in a devotional. What a blessing to minister to people all over the world!
So, what insights did I come away with? I found all of the agents and editors with whom I interacted to be more than willing to chat, exchange information, and make the writers feel at ease. We ate lunch and dinner with at least one member of the faculty at each table. Most of them made sure to talk with each person at the table, not letting the more aggressive writers dominate the conversation. Quite a feat.
All the previous interaction with friends on the internet affords an instant connection when we meet face to face, but as Christians, we have an even deeper ‘koinonia.’ That ‘same Spirit’ the Apostle Paul talks about (2 Corinthians 4:12-14) lives in us. I like to think it’s a glimpse of the fun we’ll have in heaven, when we meet all the people we’ve read about in the Bible. Perhaps some of the people to whom we’ve ministered with our writing will catch up with us on the streets of gold, too. While book sales, marketing plans, and proposals are all important to us now, in the end, the impact we’ve had in sharing Jesus Christ will be all that’s left.
I thank Cecil Murphey for giving me the impetus to fly cross-country to Mount Hermon. Randy Ingermanson wisely advises, “Think contacts, not contracts, when you go to a conference.” My plan included learning the ropes, networking, and getting to know what the agents and editors desire from authors. I ended the conference with a re-energized desire to write, and yes, even though I babbled through my ‘pitch,’ I came away with some encouragement. According to Chip MacGregor, I need to be a “writer with a good idea determined to put in the time required and express that idea in a coherent and entertaining manner.” More than ever I realize, I have much to learn and a lot of hard work ahead. I love it!