All posts by Erin Unger

Items You Won’t Think to Bring to a Writers’ Conference

As you all know according to my blog about Writers’ Conference series, I went to my first conference recently. Being new at it, I didn’t know for sure what should be brought along. The obvious things were packed. I even posted on the regional ACFW Facebook page to ask general questions. I got some great answers, and set to work preparing for my four day trip.

I’m one of those over preparers. You know, the ones that have the husband asking if the kitchen sink is tied to the roof of the van. I made my lists and checked it not twice but three times. There were enough clothes to last eight days instead of four. Extra shoes and flip-flops rested on the pocket of my suitcase. Notebooks and folders filled my laptop bag.

What I didn’t count on was the empty slate of a dorm. It was sixth grade camp all over again. I even had to climb over bed rails to get in my bed. There wasn’t even an old bar of soap to wash my hands with. You can imagine how upset I was that me, the one ready for anything in a moment’s notice, hadn’t considered there’d be no hand soap.

Later that day at dinner, I met some fabulous people and I realized I hadn’t considered bringing business cards. It was a loss of opportunity to network with other writers. While I passed their cards down the line at the table, I had nothing to give with my personal information. One more thing forgotten.

On the second day it poured. And I mean poured. Before I left, everything in my mind was a sunny picture of perfection. I hadn’t counted on rain: i.e. no umbrella. The cafeteria was on one end and the chapel and classrooms were on the other. I was ready to pull my hair out and weep like one of the best paid Jewish mourners there was. What was I to do with my laptop bag and my papers? What about my hair and outfit? I had three appointments that day. Yet another item never considered.

It’s the small things that get you in the end. I learned a lot in those four days. Conferences can be in all kinds of settings: hotels, camps, colleges. It could rain or be sunny, hot or cold. If you’re on your way to a conference, here’s a quick list of extra things to consider bringing:

  • Hand soap
  • Towels/hand towels/wash cloths
  • Umbrella
  • An extra pillow/blanket
  • Extra notebooks and folders to help organize papers
  • A rainproof bag for important papers
  • Comfortable shoes if you’ll be traversing a long walk throughout the day
  • A bag on wheels. You’d be surprised how many things you’ll want to carry along from workshop to workshop, and they can get very heavy.
  • Business cards
  • An extension cord in case you want to take notes with your laptop and there’s no close plug
  • A sweater for fluctuating temperatures
  • Your manuscript and proposal on a flash drive in case you need to print more copies  

Be over prepared. In the end you may not need everything, but you’ll be so glad you had these items on hand when the unknown happens.

Should You Research Agents Before a Conference?

My phone alarm sounded as I sat in a workshop at a conference. Time to head down to the main level for my appointment with an agent. My hands shook, palms sweating. I turned to my friend to give her the knowing look. Yes, the one that says, “I’m going to the slaughter house, a.k.a the appointment room. Pray for me.”

I was in a hurry. Two things had to happen before I ‘hovered’ near the agent’s table to wait my turn. First, I had to make sure my dress was straight and there was nothing in my teeth. Then, I needed to read over the quick cheat sheet I’d made on each agent I had an appointment with.

I only had three minutes left before I must be in the room. When I whipped out the paper, I glanced over it. Funny how my mind didn’t want to take in the bit of information. My nerves eroded that part of my brain. I read over the list twice. Still nothing solid stayed in my head. Shoving the paper back in my bag, I hurried to the line.

The agent’s previous appointment stood and gave me a hopeful smile before leaving. When I sat, questions raced through my mind. What genre do they deal with? What company are they working for? Where did they work in the past? What didn’t was the answers to all those questions. I froze. I couldn’t even remember my pitch I’d worked on tirelessly.

My voice caught in my throat before a shaky remark came out. “You work with Young Adult, mid-grade level, but I saw that you’re interested in some adult fiction?”

Her answer, “Actually, I work with non-fiction. But yes, I am looking for some adult fiction.”

That was it. I’d done it. Now she’d think I didn’t know a thing about her, which meant I didn’t care enough to research, which meant she didn’t care enough to give me a contract.

Don’t let this happen to you. All the research you’ve done has a good chance of fleeing from your mind the moment you stand face to face with the agents you dream of working with.

Our brain can do amazing things when we’re at ease. It’s the times we’re stressed, over tired, or very nervous that it poops out on us. When that fight or flight reaction kicks in, have the ground work so cemented in, you won’t have to think too hard to say the precise words you meant to say.

Here’s 3 things to remember:

  • Research: Check out the agent’s website, their agency’s website, and the bio page the conference puts on their site. Knowing the genres they work with is of utmost importance. 
  • Memorize: Break out your old school days thinking cap and memorize, memorize, memorize.
  • Plan: Keep a cheat sheet with you and check it before you meet the agent or editor in case you’re too nervous to remember all the things you need to know about them.

In the end, what agents will remember about you, other than your amazing pitch, is the time you invested in them.

REJECTION: WILL YOU CRUMBLE OR GROW?

Agents are amazing people. They hold our work, indeed it feels like our life, in their hands. With a few clicks on the keyboard, they can send us jumping out of our seats and leaping over buildings. Or they can set us at our deepest point of despair in the basement of our hearts. So many times I question my Savior. “Why God,” I ask, “did you make them so? They are on a pedestal I can’t reach. Will I ever be good enough in their eyes?”

As I sit in my chair, I hear the voice that speaks in its quietest form to my soul. “You do not write for them. They are only a tool I use to help you along. You write for me.”

I shudder at the sound of the Spirit.

He continues. “Accept their rejection as a time to grow and learn.”

“But they’ve discarded my work. So many hours, even years, I spent on it.”

“Grow and learn.”

My head shakes. “How can I? I’ve denied family and friends and time for this dream. And it has come to nothing.”

“Trust me. I have a plan for you.”

I want to say it’s too hard, I can’t go on.

“I will give you strength. I will guide you to the right one for you. Just keep writing. Keep working. You’re doing it for me.”

Tears wet my cheeks. I can’t give up the purpose I am called to do. I must move forward. “Yes, Spirit. Help me to keep going. Encourage me.”

“I will.”

That day will come when we get the email or call, but only if we yield to the Spirit to grow and learn and improve. We must do this work of writing with all our might. Continue the work in season and out of season to be worthy of the call. And, we must remember we’re doing this for our Savior.