By Emily H. Jeffries, @emilyhjeffries
At age 28, I quit my job as an upper school theology teacher to write books. For a decade, I had studied theology and gained teaching experience. After graduate school, I had landed the perfect teaching job with a small private school in my hometown. Then suddenly my heart was leading me elsewhere, to a profession I knew nothing about.
For months, I was a writing infant, just trying to string words together that made sense in an imagined world that could hold together. When the draft was finished, I toddled into the vast world of editing and story analysis. I’d hardly got my balance before the strain of platform building and query crafting completely overwhelmed me. I was frustrated with my lack of progress. I knew there was only so much I could teach myself, no matter how many Stephen King memoirs I read.
I needed professional guidance.
Attending the 2017 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference terrified me. First, because I couldn’t shake my high expectations for it. What if I returned home with nothing exciting to report? I’d have nothing to show for all the months I spent preparing, all the hours I holed up in the house memorizing pitches and scrutinizing first pages. I wanted to come home with a grand announcement or nothing at all. Most of all, I wanted to say, ‘An agent offered me representation.’
A large, well-oiled conference like BRMCWC certainly merits high expectations. But here’s what I wish I had understood: the most successful BRMCWC attendee is not the most determined. Determination often involves gritted teeth, clenched fists … a stubbornness that can frequently lead to deafness. Rather, God blesses abundantly those who are open to every gift, no matter how small.
Three simple, seemingly minor encounters fell into my lap at last year’s conference like the sower’s seeds, poised to grow and bear fruit:
- On the first day of the conference, I happened to walk to my room at the same time as the woman across the hall. We chatted amiably, and then agreed to go to supper together.
- As a student in Eva Marie Everson’s famed Fiction Practicum, I had just written a new beginning to my YA fantasy novel. Was it garbage? She said she loved it and she would keep reading. I tried to play it cool but I smiled so wide my ears shifted to make room.
- During a one-on-one critique with a literary agent, I was desperate for him to love the book. But you know what? He didn’t. He had a few technical qualms with it, and then suggested the new beginning be made a prologue.
These three encounters helped me immeasurably in securing a literary agent.
- That lady across the hall and I became fast friends. We both ended up winning Foundations Awards. She was already published, and knew several faculty members at BRMCWC. After the conference, we emailed, texted and chatted on the phone every week. That lovely, talented woman cheered me on when I wanted to give up. She told me to be patient when I was sure nothing would become of my career.
- That encouragement from Eva gave me the confidence I needed to take tough criticism and rejection from a literary agent. I had a secret, and that was that a well-respected editor and accomplished writer liked my stuff.
- Which meant that I was able to sift through the sting of rejection and focus on the advice I received: add a prologue. Every blog I had read warned a prologue would cast me into the dark caverns of Slush Pile Mountain.* But a stranger on the Internet hasn’t seen your words on the page.
It would be another four months before I was ready to re-submit my edited manuscript to an agent, and another two months before that agent would respond with a ‘Yes.’
We all could use a guiding hand. I’m grateful for BRMCWC, where I found that guidance in many forms. Now I have the great honor of working with yet another mentor, who I know will continue the work BRMCWC has begun in me. So always be on the lookout, and take advantage when your mentorship moments arise! You never know where the Holy Spirit is leading you.
*A good article on the controversy over prologues can be found here.
Emily H. Jeffries was once a middle school teacher until a handsome prince rescued her from boy farts and parent-teacher conferences so she could tend to their castle and weave tales. Her secret magical abilities are improv comedy, evading cardiovascular activity, and singing all of Les Miserables from memory. She is now represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency. Follow her adventures at www.emilyhjeffries.com. Or, connect with Emily via Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.