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Lynette Sowell Advises You to Take a Time Out at Conference

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My ACFW conference memories began with the first unofficial regional conference back in 2000. About 25 writers gathered in one room in a small hotel in Houston. Since then, attendance has exploded to its current numbers. I’ve noticed as each ACFW conference has grown, the atmosphere has changed as well. Many writers are natural introverts and more comfortable typing than talking. The thought of being thrust into a setting of several hundred people might send some writers to hide in their rooms. I’ve thought of some helps for those who battle nerves.

1. Don’t be surprised if the conference is an emotional roller coaster. One night in Denver I found myself bawling in the corner of a hallway with a stream of people flowing by me. Part of me felt like, “Huh? Where is this coming from? What is WRONG with me?” I felt like “everyone” was having fun but me. See how self-ish we introverts can be?

Conference is an up-up-up high, high energy time. Remember this when you hop on that hotel shuttle. You’re excited to see friends. You remember the phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” You don’t want to miss a session. You want to go to the right room for your appointment. You want to know you don’t have lipstick on your teeth (or broccoli, if you’re a guy). You function on little sleep. There are a hundred people you want to see, and not enough time to see them. Highs and lows will happen. Brace yourself, and have a plan.

2. As a conference veteran, I’d suggest that you take a moment to get off the merry-go-round. Take a swim. Take a nap. Or better yet, head to the prayer room. Find someone to pray with you. I didn’t take my own advice one year and found myself burnt myself out. Don’t feel that you have to go to every session and say yes to every invitation to socialize.

If you feel like crying, or youʼre cranky, or you want to hide in your room–give yourself a time-out. Your emotions and your body will be glad you did. But don’t sequester yourself. Put on your game face and jump back into the happy crowd again.

3. Your writing career will most likely not rise and fall because of a single conference. Try to keep a balanced view. I would go between extremes. I might return home elated that an editor really seemed interested in my idea. I would remember stories about friends whose books sold as a result of meeting an editor at a conference. Months later, the interested editor would pass on my proposal.

Then at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, I’d have disappointing appointments where the editors just didn’t seem interested in my proposal. Or worse, when trying to sit at a particular agent’s table for a meal, I’d get there too late and all the seats would be taken. I’d feel like that poor crippled man in the New Testament who couldn’t climb into the pool in time to get healed. (Jesus ended up healing him, of course). So I’d lament my time spent at conference because “nothing happened.” One thing Iʼve realized is that the Lord has guided my steps through a series of connections, and those arose naturally, not because of my jockeying for position at a table.

4. Stop playing that unrealistic conference dream sequence in your mind. I believe a lot of our nerves arise not just from being introverts, but also from our expectations. You might have had it happen before. You imagine that you’ll walk into the room, and the light will shine down on your one-sheet. The editor or agent smiles and offers you a contract right away. Or even better, you’re trapped in an elevator with that one editor or agent you’ve wanted to meet, and they’ll hang on your words and youʼll find a new best friend. Force yourself to stop the internal movie projector and allow God to put people in your path. You’ll stress less by being flexible and submissive–things I must still remind myself to do.

5. A note on pitching. Relax, relax, relax. Don’t act like you’re standing on the editor’s doorstep at suppertime, apologizing while trying to sell them something. Don’t think you’ll help yourself by chugging three cups of coffee before your appointment. (This only makes you jittery. I know by painful past experience.) Practice your pitch out loud. Watch yourself in the mirror. Are you smiling? Do you look like you’re ready to pass out, or ? The first time I sat down across the table from an editor, I was ready to throw up. I didn’t. But I’ll tell you what helped me take the edge off those nerves. Editors and agents are our allies, and we have something in common with them that could lead to the start of a beautiful friendship. Well, a business relationship anyway. It’s something you should remind yourself about while you stand outside those conference room doors. It’s a very simple concept, really.

Editors and agents are book lovers. And guess what? We writers are, too.

Editors and agents care just as much about the story and the written word as you do. You have the opportunity to introduce yourself to them and tell them about your book in persontoo. I can also probably guarantee that most editors are excited to hear about your pitch. They’re looking for the next best seller. Maybe it’s yours! So kiss those nerves goodbye when you walk into that room.

So, remember: Plan. Pray. Prepare. Pack. Enjoy. Relax. And I’ll see you in Minneapolis. If your nerves are threatening to get the best of you, find me!

Lynette Sowell loves to spin adventures for the characters that emerge from story ideas in her head. She desires to take readers on an entertaining journey and hopes they catch a glimpse of God’s truth along the way. She is the author of three novels and four novellas, and served as a past secretary of American Christian Fiction Writers. Sheʼs Yankee by birth, Texan by choice, where she currently lives with her husband, two kids by love and marriage (what’s a step-kid?), and five cats who have their humans well-trained. She loves to read, travel, spend time with her family, and someday wants to have a green thumb. You can visit Lynette’s blog at, and her web site at

  1. Rachel permalink
    Wednesday, August 20, 2008 10:14 am

    Thanks, Lynnette. I needed that reminder to relax and trust in God’s care. Last year was my first conference, and I wasn’t even pitching anything, but boy were the stress levels high. By the way, I think I met you last year. I was sitting at your table when you got your award.


  2. Wednesday, August 20, 2008 10:40 am

    Sometimes I think it would be good if there were signs posted at the conference that said “It’s okay to take a break.” I don’t always remember until too late and I’m a wreck wondering what hit me.

    Thanks for the reminder, Lynette, and I look forward to meeting you next month. 🙂


  3. Wednesday, August 20, 2008 11:02 am

    Kaye, this was such a cool idea to run this series. I don’t know about everyone else, but I am SO psyched up for this conference… and I’m not even going! 🙂

    These are all great tips, Lynette. I’m a low energy introvert, who tends to take the conference buzz and bustle in stride. I’ve learned to be in the midst of it and enjoy it without over-engaging. I love to be around high energy people, simply to watch them. It’s very entertaining!

    I have no problem staying on the fringes, or seeking quiet time when I need it, and I’ve never felt as though I was missing out at any of the conferences I’ve attended due to periodic retreats into solitude. I never do the night owl stuff (because I’m a morning eagle!). I made the choice early to never consider it, knowing the lack of sleep would ruin everything else for me. I don’t enjoy life when I have to push through the days haggard and sleepy-eyed and mush-brained.

    Decide what your limitations are going in, and (as was stated) have a game plan to help you cope.


  4. Wednesday, August 20, 2008 11:35 am

    I’m with you on the emotional roller coaster! I always get that way when I’m tired, and because I’m coming from Pacific Time I’ll be extra sleepy with the 2-hour difference. Good reminder to get some rest before and during the conference.


  5. Wednesday, August 20, 2008 12:15 pm

    Rachel, I was in such a haze at the awards banquet last year, I barely remember everyone seated at the table. Lori, I wanna be more like you at conference. My high-strung artistic side sometimes tries to take over, which is why I have to learn to rein that in and relax. See you there, Erica! Four weeks, everyone! But no pressure.


  6. Wednesday, August 20, 2008 12:17 pm

    Again, something for me to remember for that “someday” conference. Thanks!


  7. Wednesday, August 20, 2008 3:31 pm

    Great Advice!!

    Another one while pitching (one that I’m trying to remember mysef): Remember to breath! Editors might not like your idea so much if you pass out…


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