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ACFW Conference Appointments: Ashley Clark

Remember that high school feeling of getting caught talking in class? Maybe it wasn’t your fault. Maybe your friend in the seat beside you wanted to cheat, and you were actually saying, “No, I will not give you my answers,” but all the teacher heard was your mumbling, and next thing you knew, you were rambling on and on in some kind of ill-formed explanation of your merit.

Now imagine a line of authors feeling that exact same way–fidgeting their hands, grasping their one sheets, and considering breaking out super-sized bags of dark chocolate, the Christian version of taking shots. Maybe that’s not so hard for you to imagine. Maybe you’ve been one of those authors.

But is that the way it has to be?
Last year, I interviewed the now-retired Etta Wilson for my conference tour blog. Something she said about new authors struck me, and I still think about it often: “Believe in your work and be kind. We’re all in this together, and the writing and publishing of wonderful reading is a high calling for all of us.”
What if instead of panicking over our 30 second pitches as if we’re being graded, we stepped outside ourselves and remembered that ultimately we’re all in this together? How would the landscape of appointments change? Because really, editors and agents want to buy quality fiction just as much (or more) than you want to sell it.
One moment in particular at last year’s conference changed the entire experience for me, and in some ways, it even changed the way I look at writing. That moment was when Colleen Coble introduced me to Ami McConnell, and Ami hugged me. Hugged me.
Now, you might not understand the dynamic implications of this. See, Ami has edited almost every one of my favorite books, and I had to restrain myself from gushing so I didn’t sound like a suck-up. She probably thought nothing of hugging me, but to me it made all the difference. When I attended my appointment with her the next day, I wasn’t so scared anymore. Did she say my book was the best she’d ever seen and that she wanted to buy it immediately? No. She said I wasn’t ready yet. And you know what? I wasn’t. I realize that now. But I still came away from the appointment excited because of her encouragement.
So if my personal anecdotes aren’t enough, here are several myths I think we should debunk in striving toward professional relationships:
1) Editors and agents are monsters.
They are people too. Be nice, and don’t treat them like a one-dimensional way to get your written words disseminated. As an instructor, I know all too well how it feels when people simply want something out of you.
2) Editors and agents want to see you fail.
Actually, they want to see you succeed. Why do you think they chose this profession? Most editors and agents love the idea of finding great new talent.
3) Editors and agents are going to be mean.
At conferences like ACFW, rarely are editors and agents ever going to be unkind. Be prepared that they might offer constructive feedback, but that’s only to help you grow.
4) Editors and agents enjoy being stalked.
Okay, so most of you don’t actually believe this one, but I thought it still worth mentioning. Do not follow your favorite editor back to his or her room in hopes you’ll get to pitch. It’s perfectly fine to approach that person in a normal setting, but don’t creep them out. If you do this, don’t be surprised to see other editors running away from you.
5) Editors and agents will forget you.
I’ve saved the biggest point for last. Editors and agents have very good memories. Just because someone doesn’t request your manuscript during this conference–and most won’t–does not mean he or she will forget about you. In fact, the opposite is usually true, so that street goes both ways. Throw a fit, and that’s what you’ll be remembered by. Be gracious, and when you have another project to pitch next year, you’ll be remembered by your kindness and willingness to cooperate, which can get you far.
When all is said and done, though, just remember that you are passionate about your story and your characters. Let that passion shine through, and with some determination, you’re sure to eventually find a good match for your work.
Learn more about Ashley Clark at her blog.
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