by Jeanette Hanscome
“How is the conference going for you?” I asked Brenda (not her real name).
She slouched on the bench. I could tell she was about to cry. “I’m ready to go home.”
It was Saturday evening, a few hours after conferees got their pre-submitted manuscripts back—the notorious “low point” of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference.
I sat next to her. “What happened?” What a dumb question. Anyone who has attended more than one writers’ conference knows that tears plus “I’m ready to go home” equals only one thing.
Brenda wiped at her eyes and told me about the editor who’d rejected her manuscript, and the “very unkind” critique team member that she’d had an appointment with.
I couldn’t think of anyone on faculty who would purposely be unkind.
The longer we talked, the more obvious it became that Brenda had arrived at the conference with high expectation for how people would respond to her book, and they’d been shattered. This was her first conference, her first attempt at writing a book proposal, her first attempt at writing anything other than an occasional article for her church newsletter. She was so focused on those disappointing responses she couldn’t see that the critique team member actually liked her book idea and had helpful suggestions for how to improve it.
I pointed the compliments out to Brenda. “Please don’t go home.”
She sighed. “I’m not going anywhere. I already asked my husband to pick me up. He said no.”
I assured her, “Tomorrow will we better, I promise.” We prayed together then walked to dinner.
Things turned around for Brenda. An editor encouraged her to keep working on her proposal and submit it to him later. She realized how much she had to learn about writing and the publishing industry. She also discovered how eager the Mount Hermon faculty was to help her succeed.
When I remember Brenda, I wonder how different that day might have been if she’d arrived at the conference with realistic expectations.
- If she’d taken her experience level into consideration when setting goals.
- If she’d made her first conference more about learning than pitching.
- If she understood the purpose of a critique and what to expect from one.
- If she understood that rejection is part of the writing journey.
- If she knew why we really attend writers conference—that though some people find agents and publishers at Mount Hermon, we benefit most from the relationships, inspiration, honing our craft, and staying up-to-date on what’s going on in publishing.
The editor’s rejection still would’ve stung. She might have felt a little overwhelmed by her critique and cried over the disappointment. But “I’m ready to go home”? Probably not.
To be fair, more advanced writers do it too. We arrive at conferences expecting things to play out in a certain way, and if they don’t, we’re devastated.
- We expect that this will be the year when our dream agent finally signs us.
- Once we have one, we expect that every editor appointment will end with “Please have your agent send me a proposal. I can’t wait to take this to committee!”
- We expect to show up year after year with an impressive answer to “What are you working on right now?”
Like Brenda, we set ourselves up for a mid-conference “I want to go home” meltdown.
“Expectations are planned disappointments,” a close friend used to remind me. Does this mean we shouldn’t set goals or hope for good things to happen? Of course not. It just means that, before we head to a writers’ conference, it’s important to examine those goals and desires.
- Are they realistic?
- Do we have control over the outcome?
- Are we focused on learning and growing, or just our list of who we “need to meet with”?
- Have we done our part (writing a polished proposal and making sure the agent or editor we submit to is a good fit)?
- What’s our plan for if that agent or editor says no?
- Have we included connecting with friends, encouraging others, and spending time with God on our list?
As you prepare for Mount Hermon, how can you set yourself up for a great conference whether you go home with exciting news or not? In what area would you most like to grow? What might God’s goal be for you this year? Now would be a great time to ask Him!
Jeanette is leading a Pre-conference Mentoring Clinic, “Retreat to Get You Started.” In this mentoring clinic, attendees will have an opportunity to examine goals and expectations, find out how to best prepare for appointments and faculty interactions, and learn strategies for making the most of conference time. Pre-conference Mentoring Clinics are held April 1-3 and the number of participants for each clinic is limited. An application is required. The deadline for application submission is March 11. Check the webpage for details.
Jeanette Hanscome is the author of five books, including Suddenly Single Mom: 52 Messages of Hope, Grace, and Promise. She is also a speaker, writers workshop leader, and mom of a teenager and an adult son. She spends some of her free time singing at church and in a local chorus. jeanettehanscome.com