“Can we talk?”
Among the things that surprise ACFW conference attendees are these:
· It’s amazing how many writers consider themselves introverted.
· It’s amazing how noisy introverts can get when set loose at a writers’ conference.
Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk! We talk in the elevators, in the hallways, in the lobbies, in the classrooms, in the airport shuttle coming and going…
Meal settings provide some the most significant conversations at the ACFW conference. Editors and agents “host” tables and offer those seated with them an opportunity to ask questions or pitch their projects. Writer heaven!
Just like a meal prepared by a FoodNetwork star chef, mealtime conversations at the ACFW conference depend on taste, originality, and presentation.
Having participated in meal conversations at five ACFW conferences and several other writers’ conferences, I’ve collected a few insights that now guide and encourage me. You may also find them heartening.
1. Expect the unexpected. When the Lord intervenes, He shows up in unexpected ways. You may set your internal GPS to a certain editor’s table but find all the seats taken when you get there. If you’ve committed every moment of your conference experience to Him, you can skip over the jolt of disappointment. Many conference attendees testify that they found themselves unexpectedly seated in exactly the right place, though they didn’t know it at the time. At one conference meal, I thought friends were saving a place for me, but we had a slight miscommunication and there was no room left. I started a new table, alone. Soon, I was joined by a woman I’d longed to meet! We spent the entire mealtime engaged in a conversation that forged a friendship I would have missed out on if my own plans had worked out. Another year, I’d had to relinquish my editor appointment because of a volunteer duty that conflicted with the time. Rushing in late to the noon meal, I found the only place remaining in my area and slid in with a relieved sigh. Who was hosting the table? The editor I’d targeted for the appointment I’d had to surrender! I left the meal with an invitation to send my proposal.
2. Shine the spotlight on others. We’ve all felt the discomfort of a table conversation dominated by one person. If it’s the editor or agent hosting the table, count it all joy! You’re gaining valuable insights about the industry or the personality of that professional. As much as writers want and need to take advantage of every opportunity, ACFWers have another dynamic at work. We also long to honor the Lord whom we serve and obey His ideas about relationships. His Word urges us to defer to one another, to show overt kindness, to look out for the interests of others rather than just our own. During a table conversation at the conference, that might mean stepping back to let the spotlight shine on the writer next to you. It might mean promoting your friend’s project as well as your own. It might mean reserving something you want to say because it’s self-serving and puts others at a disadvantage. It’s a balancing act, as is most of the Christian life. We want to walk through doors when the Lord opens them without trampling on others to get there.
3. Take up a collection. If your definition of a successful table meal at the conference is limited to an invitation from the host editor for your book proposal, you may miss God’s specific design. Around the table will flow answers to your plot problems, a new marketing tip, a prayer need you’re especially gifted to help shoulder, the solution to a research dilemma, a contact, a friendship, a connection you may not need now but will in the future. Come to the table with an open heart and listening ear, and you’ll leave fully satisfied.
4. Consider it both a meal and a classroom. Watch how others respond to, “So, tell me about your book.” Note how you—a tablemate—feel if the writer is uncertain or takes off on a cumbersome dissertation. That’s how an editor will feel, too. Watch the patterns of those who give intriguing or well-thought-out responses. How quickly could they grab the table’s attention with their pitch? What made the pitch engaging? How did others at the table respond? What does that tell you about your own project? Even if the agent or editor talks about dogs or children or parasailing rather than fiction, did you learn something?
5. Keep singing. Silently. “Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored.”
Cynthia Ruchti serves as the current president of ACFW. Her debut novel–They Almost Always Come Home–releases in May 2010 with Abingdon Press. Her stories offer Hope that glows in the dark. www.cynthiaruchti.com