what acfw conference taught me {about literary agents}


Lit. agent panel featuring Karen Ball, Dan Balow, Tamela Hancock Murray, Chip MacGregor, and Nicole Resciniti (Photo by Betsy St. Amant)

I have yet to write a conference recap because I simply don’t know how to describe such a magical weekend. It gave me the chance to be around 600-plus people who *get* me.

Only, it’s a lot less fifteen-year-old-girl than that sounds.

So this is where I’m going to start, because I had really great experiences with the agents I met. Here’s what I learned about them and from them.

Agents are really, really informative. 

Many literary agents maintain blogs with helpful posts for pre-published authors and seasoned industry professionals alike. They range from author-agent etiquette, pitching pointers, industry trends, marketing tips, and more. You can learn a lot about the industry by keeping up with these blog posts and also get a sense about an agent’s strengths based on their content–all without ever stepping foot at a writers’ conference. I would have been a goner and looked (even more) like a total newb if I wouldn’t have had these valuable resources when prepping my pitching materials for conference.

Moral of the story: Read up!

But agents are real people.

With real feelings, real preferences, and real schedules. I went into conference like a sponge. My mind was filled with said blog posts, the kinds of authors these agents represent, and lists of work they were looking for. But it was strange seeing the proverbial men (and women) behind the curtain. The first night, they did a big agent panel with blind questions from the audience, and I loved seeing their different personalities. I made it a point to introduce myself to the agents I’d be pitching to in a no-pitch-zone manner to take the edge off. (It helped me SO much.)

Then after the panel, some of my friends and I ran into the founder of one of the biggest agencies in the business at the bottom of an escalator. I thanked him for giving his time, planning to move along, but he ended up asking us about our books. It turned into a substantial, thirty-minute conversation about his experiences from other conferences, the craziest pitches he’s ever heard, and various tidbits about the book industry in general. That he would take the time to chat meant the world to us and made us feel so much better going into our pitches.

So, what did I learn? Agents deserve genuine conversation and respect for their time. Even though agent appointments at conferences are essentially like speed dating and these professionals have the potential to hold so much of your future in their hands, they are real people who don’t deserve to be blindly accosted or info-dumped. I witnessed this happen to agents on multiple occasions–and I felt violated for them!

Moral of the story: Don’t go into an appointment or meeting without doing your research. Don’t be pushy. And don’t be a robot. Breathe.

Agents value boldness. And solid writing. 

Based on my personal experience and my friends’ experiences, the general consensus is that agents like you to stand out from others. They want you to be intelligent about your story and where it belongs in the industry. They want to see your passion and confidence in your work.

But they want that to translate to the page, too. Even if you nail your pitch and earn an agent’s invested conversation, they are ultimately concerned with the writing. That’s what will be most memorable for them. But on the bright side, if you somewhat flub your pitch but have a brilliant manuscript, there’s hope for you!

Moral of the story: Be bold, but professional. And definitely don’t be creepy. Make sure your writing is strong enough that it speaks for itself. 

An agent can look great on paper, but has to have passion for your project. 

Even if an agent has so much to offer, a great track record of sales, and a personality that really clicks with you, he or she has to be right for your project. The benefits and statistics may look great on paper, but unless that agent takes ownership and resonates with you and your work, it won’t be the ideal match.

Sometimes it’s really true that your work is fantastic, but just not the right fit for a particular agent. If you’re currently in that stage of your career and this happens to you, don’t let it get you down. Just continue looking for the right one because trying to force it or settle for the wrong one won’t do you any favors. And that goes the same for the other side of the coin, too. Don’t settle on the first agent who offers you a contract if you have an inkling of hesitation for some reason. 

Moral of the story: Sometimes you might not have “chemistry” with an agent. But settling doesn’t help anyone.

Agents are game-changers for your writing. 

And not just because they can help you land a contract. They know what works and doesn’t work in the industry. What readers want, what editors want. What sells. They have the spidey sense for those kinds of things. During one of my appointments, an agent asked me a single question that ended up changing a significant backstory thread in my book. I’d hesitated going that direction, but after hearing her reasoning and feeling it out for myself, I’ve fallen completely head over heels for this storyline and feel my characters have more dimension with a few simple tweaks.

Though you have to use discernment and go with your gut in every decision about your work, a teachable spirit goes a long way when working with an agent. It can really take your stories to the next level.

Moral of the story: You won’t get far if you’re not willing to accept a little direction or constructive criticism. And trust your agent. He or she wants to make your book the absolute best it can be.

So this is where I am right now, priming my manuscript for agent requests. Hopefully I will return some time in the near future with more insight from the other side. But until then, happy writing and pitching!

Agents and agented authors, since you are more knowledgeable on this subject, what are some other pieces of advice you can offer yet-to-be-agented authors?

an extended (but never really complete) thank you

How do you possibly say “thank you” after a Genesis award? An extended speech, that’s how!

On Sunday night, I gave the glory to God for making me and everyone in that room about writing. That storytelling is just who we are!

I thanked Jef and Allie and our families because I couldn’t have done it without them. They took care of Allie and often picked up the slack for me, extending grace when I needed it the most. And Jef…wow. I don’t think there are words enough to express how grateful I am to have you as a teammate!

My critique partners Jaime Wright, Anne Love, and Kara Isaac for all of their input (and, as they know, for talking me off the ledge sometimes).

Kathleen Y’Barbo for convincing me to enter Genesis and for correcting me when I called myself an aspiring writer. “You’re a pre-published author,” she told me.

I thanked everyone in the ACFW for welcoming me with open arms. And that was very literal. They friended me on Facebook, answered my (many) questions (looking at you, Amy Leigh Simpson), became my critique partners, and even let me stand with them and exchange business cards with me in the Dallas airport before we ever even arrived in Indy.

If I hadn’t been having an out-of-body experience, I would have thanked the Genesis judges, who sacrificed their time and energy to provide meaningful feedback for us and make our writing stronger. I’m so going to pay this forward if I ever get the opportunity!

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I should have thanked my brilliant and beautiful co-finalists Lindsay Harrell and Sally Bradley for becoming my friends and sisters in the complex category that is contemporary fiction. We are so going to be celebrating debut novels together sometime soon.

Even my Tulsa coffee shops deserve huge thanks for fueling my late-night writing marathons and allowing me to close them down at least once a week so I can get my work done!

My best friends JT, Sarah Beals, Lindsey Reddick, and Amanda Morad for being beta readers, idea nurturers, and the first ones I ever allowed to read my story. And Meseidy Rivera for taking my headshot days before the competition closed and figuratively holding my hand as I hit Send sitting at her dining room table.

There are so many people I could thank. Someone I’m sure I’ll remember right after I click Publish. I’m still in awe that they called my name. Thrilled and so, so honored by each and every bit of the love and encouragement that’s come my way.

If I can do anything to give back, it’s to emphasize over and over again that whether you win Genesis or not, there’s so much beauty and fulfillment in squashing the lies and going after your dreams. In doing what God made you to do. All it takes is surrender, a little bravery, and lots of hard work that, most of the time, doesn’t even feel like work. 


I’d planned on recapping the ACFW conference in this post, but it’s already getting long. So I’ll share more of what my first manuscript is about instead since we were under wraps before conference! Here’s the bit I used to pitch Take Heart:

Being jobless and single can seem like the end of the world. But sometimes it’s just the beginning.

Spencer Brooks has always dreamed of how her storybook ending will unfold. Rewarding career. Picket fence. Husband who makes Prince Charming seem like a waste of perfectly good paper and ink.

But when life after college doesn’t turn out as planned, Spencer returns to the small Oklahoma town she promised she’d never call home again to draft a better blueprint for her future. So far, her best attempts have landed her back under her parents’ roof with an inbox empty of job leads, and her only relationship is with the mop and broom of the local coffee shop.

As Spencer attempts to stay out of her flawless cousin’s shadow and dodge her newly engaged ex-boyfriend, she must learn to surrender control and discover God’s plan for her life. Even if it looks nothing like her own.

Can Spencer learn to trust that only God can lead her to the life—and love—she’s always dreamed about?


You guys are the best!


conference prep, book two, and other september bits


People have been saying “See you at conference next week.” Ahhhhh! So exciting!

Among other adjectives.

Though things have been quiet on this front, there’s lots going on. So for those of you who aren’t in the middle of conference prep and finalizing last-minute details–or realizing you leave in one week and just beginning–here’s an update on what’s going on in my writing world.

For my finished manuscript, I’ve written a one-sheet, a page of vital details about my book for editors’ and agents’ quick reference. It’s currently in the hands of my graphic designer best friend, waiting to be whipped into a visually-stunning masterpiece {No pressure, LJ :)} Along with it, I still have to piece together my proposal, of which I essentially have all of the components written. My synopsis and first chapters have already been edited and subjected to the blood, sweat, and tears of my critique partners. Now it’s time for the final sweep!

So, what’s this conference all about anyway?

It’s the convergence of the American Christian Fiction Writers and friends in the industry. For family and friends who have been praying, here’s what I’ll be doing at conference:

  • Finally seeing my wonderful writing friends and critique partners in person. This is what I’m most excited about! PS: More and more people are participating in our pre-conference Mix and Mingle if you want to “meet” the lovelies who are going. I’m excited to see what happens when this bunch gets together. The stories I’ve heard are legendary!
  • Meeting some of my favorite authors…or standing in the corner trying to muster the nerve to talk to them. But most likely geeking out, speaking way too fast, and posting lots and lots of pictures on Facebook. In the words of the infamous Smalls, “Don’t be a goofus. Don’t be a goofus.” I’m trying to prepare myself now.
  • Discovering new favorite authors. There’s no hope whatsoever for my To-Be-Read pile.
  • Presenting my first manuscript to at least one editor and one agent, with whom I have scheduled appointments. Somehow I know God has other unscheduled, less scripted opportunities planned. People I know have met their agents at dinner, in the hallways, at the bar after conference activities are finished for the evening, etc. I’m told to expect the unexpected, which is a conundrum for my predisposition. But I’m working on it.
  • Attending classes led by published authors and industry pros. There are classes on writing, editing, marketing, working with agents. I’m excited to bust out my inner Hermione Granger where she’s actually useful 🙂
  • Finding out the results of the Genesis competition. There’s a gala next Sunday night where we will all be dressed to the nines and the Genesis finalists will be announced. To be honest, I already feel like a winner just for hitting send on that competition. It’s already brought me so many opportunities and connected me with wonderful new writing friends.
  • Praying for peace and God’s will over my friends’ work and my work. That God would press the override button on my goals and expectations and guide me in the right direction that will accomplish His will and give Him the glory.

Yes, this conference has the ability to shape the direction of my writing career. But first and foremost, it’s an opportunity to have fun and learn a lot about the craft and industry that I love!

And what of my second manuscript?

I can’t end this post without talking about my second manuscript. Though I never know how much detail to divulge about a story in this avenue, all I can say is that I’m really excited about it. I’ve had to pull myself away from it to make sure I’m preparing my pitches for my first manuscript.

The important details: the main character is a blogger suffering from PTSD, OCD, and a general desire to control everything because of a tragic accident that happened when she was in high school. Her life, work, church, etc. is all online where she can control everything, project a much more put-together version of herself–and hide behind her keyboard. That changes when her employer forces her to become a brand ambassador for a prominent restaurant family in town, specifically, to promote their party boy son’s new restaurant. The theme of the story is healing and that many aspects of growth involve a daily process or battle or decision. I love it!

Oh, one more thing? This is the actor I’d pick to play my main character’s love interest:

Happy September, friends! It’s going to be a good one!

What are your goals for this month? Any fun (or potentially bucket-list-fulfilling) plans?

a reminder about love and truth from Stasi Eldredge

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While my insanely curious nature leads me to devour fiction, I prefer to savor a good nonfiction work. Right now, I’m slowly going through Stasi Eldredge’s newest book, Becoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You. This book is speaking to me in a way that really lines up with my heart, if that makes sense.

Somehow I don’t think Stasi would mind if I shared some quotes from this morning’s reading. They’re good.

“We all have something that brings us to our knees. It isn’t something we would ever choose for ourselves or wish on anyone else, but we all have an area or ten in our lives that drives us to need God. We can’t free ourselves. We are weak, aware that something inside is broken and starving. It is a wonderful grace when we finally give up and fall down before the One who is strong…We were created to desperately need Jesus” (38).

The nature within us bends us in the direction of sin to satisfy this starvation. It’s a natural inclination. Then the world around us grabs us by the arms and enables us to give in. But have you noticed that, when we give in, the fix is only temporary? It’s only a matter of time before we’re back for more, covered with a relief that eventually washes away and makes us feel worse about ourselves.

Stasi encourages us to listen for the voice of God, for the whisper or shout of love and truth that fills us ’til we’re overflowing. To replace the pain and failures of the past and the lies about ourselves we’ve been conditioned to believe. She lists these verses as reminders of exactly what God thinks about us:

Romans 8:38-39 – You are deeply and completely loved.
I John 2:12 You are totally and completely forgiven.
II Cor. 5:21 When God sees you, he sees the righteousness of Jesus.
John 3:16 You mean the whole world to Him.
Song of Songs 4:1 He thinks you’re beautiful. Right now.
Romans 8:29 He is committed to your restoration.
Hebrews 13:5 You are not now, nor have you ever been alone.

Okay, so I could just type up the entire book–I love it and want you to love it that much. But I will leave you with this last thought.

“Though our pasts have shaped us, we are not our past. Though our failures and sin have had an effect on who we are, we are not defined by our failures or our sin. Though thought patterns and addictions have overwhelmed us, we are not overcome by them and we will never be overcome by them. Jesus has won our victory. Jesus is our victory” (43).

(Okay, two. But they’re related.)

“The holy work of God deep in our hearts as we have suffered and struggled and wept and longed to overcome is stunning beyond measure. You may not see the goodness yet, but you will. It comes when we see our lives through God’s eyes” (43).

I’m going to make it a goal to reflect on the truths in the Scriptures above and reflect on them often.

Even though there are real, raw, painful things in this world, even rooted deeply in our lives, it does wonders to remember that we are loved, covered, and victorious.

{book review} what writers can learn from Becky Wade

Welcome to my first book review! Well, my first since my college newspaper days when I injected these big literary words in some farfetched attempt to sound intellectual. All I can do when I look back on that period of my life is shake my head. Just no.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, it’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Becky Wade and her latest release, Undeniably Yours.

“Oh, you’re looking for a fun summer read? BECKY WADE!”

“Please allow me to interrupt your conversation to tell you that I loved that book, too!”

Yes, I’ve been that girl.

So, what can we learn from Becky Wade? Is it her engaging voice, page-turning action, and lovable characters? Yes, but that’s not what this is about.

This is about writing a stellar debut novel with glowing reviews. And then following it up with another that blows your debut out of the water. 

In my research and talking to other authors, today’s editors really like new writers to have at least two completed manuscripts because some authors will show so much promise and then turn out to be “one-hit wonders.” If you didn’t catch my drift earlier, Becky Wade is not a one-hit wonder.

I loved her debut, My Stubborn Heart. In fact, I accidentally bought it twice during a long reading hiatus because it jumped out to me on the bookstore shelf on two separate occasions. But when I won a copy of Undeniably Yours, I read it in an entire sitting–I couldn’t stand the suspense.

The book tells the story of Meg Cole, who inherits an oil empire after her father’s unexpected death, and the manager of her father’s racehorse farm, Bo Porter. Because it makes sense on paper, Meg wants to shut down Bo’s operations and extinguish his dreams. But she doesn’t count on him being smolderingly dreamy (hunky cowboy, anyone?) and he doesn’t count on developing a fierce protective instinct for her.

I’ll spare you the back flap copy rendition of the plot and just tell you that it’s the deeply layered characters that will keep you turning the pages, the perfectly-timed development of their romance that doesn’t seem predictable, and conflict and even suspense around every corner.

So, the moral of the story (I’m learning) is to follow your debut novel with an electrifying second. If you’re writing a series, don’t exhaust your bag of tricks with the first. Continue learning the craft, playing to your strengths and working hard on your weaknesses. Ask yourself how you can up the ante in your follow-up manuscripts and deliver unforgettable characters and page-turning conflict.

Because someday, it will be important that you reward the readership you built during your first book release so they’ll keep coming back for more!

what unpublished authors can learn from J.K. Rowling

I’ll make it no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series. So, of course, I was shocked when news leaked that Potter author J.K. Rowling had secretly released a who-dun-it mystery novel under a male pseudonym.

The book industry exploded. Every publishing authority had something to say about it on Twitter. Bloggers were quick to offer their two cents on the matter. J.K. Rowling had done a disservice to unpublished authors, some believed.

Not this unpublished author.

Of all of the words floating around on the internet, there were a few that immediately resonated with me. On her Robert Galbraith website, J.K. Rowling explains:

“As for the pseudonym, I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback. It was a fantastic experience and I only wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

The metaphorical concept of seasons is important to me. To be honest, I can lose perspective quickly if I don’t find little things to be grateful for in the midst of difficult or less-than-glamorous times in my life.

While I wouldn’t call this stage of my writing career less-than-glamorous or unenjoyable by any means, it can be easy for pre-published authors to focus so much on the future that they miss the fun and adventure that this stage of the game affords. There’s something about the self-discovery of carving a new path that you just can’t get back once you’re accountable to agents and editors and public expectation.

Granted, if Karen Kingsbury decided to jump on the Amish zombie romance ship, we’d probably still buy it. {Yes, that’s a thing. But no, that’s not the point.}

Whether I’m squeezing my story into a synopsis-sized hole (Sorry, lovely critique partners!), composing my elevator pitch that will hook, line, and blow everyone out of the water, or playing the waiting game with an editor or agent, I’m going to try to remember the shiny new feeling of honing the writing craft, learning the ropes of the industry, and you’d better believe it, going all fangirl on the big-time authors I’m going to meet at conference a month from now.

Because I believe someday my writing will give something unique back to readers, and I will own my rewarding responsibilities and enjoy that season, too. But I definitely don’t want to be the one saying “I wish it could have gone on a little longer.”

Unpublished authors, what have you enjoyed most about this *season*? Authors with a few books under your belt, what do you miss most?

the asterisk

Source: Flickr (Kerry Campbell)


He was finally at the top of his game–the top of the game. The place he’d worked his entire life to be. Every time his feet touched the diamond of dirt and chalk and grass, he was home. Every swing of the bat gave him power. Every record he set drove him further. Until the routine random screening found a little something in his blood. A little something that gave him extra. A little something that sent him tumbling from the top.

Now old and graying, he knows when his grandchildren ask him to tell them about his glory days, they won’t ask to see his name in the record books. For there next to his name will always be an asterisk.


The child lived to please her parents, longing for their pride, looking for approval in their eyes after every accomplishment. She grew into a woman who worked hard. Brilliant, beautiful.

But all she worked for was forfeited with one wrong decision, one lapse in judgment. One child that filled her with joy but branded her.

Even as she walked down the aisle toward a wonderful man who loved her, with her son beaming at his side, she wondered. Is there a condition to his love? An exception?

An asterisk?


Remember today: There are no ifs, ands, or buts attached to the love of Christ.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39)

We are His and He is ours. By His blood, we are blameless.

No asterisk attached.

{friday favorites} colorado, new releases, and more

By the time you read this, I will most likely be somewhere in the middle of Flat Plains Highway and Tumbleweed Lane. We’ve been in Colorado for the past week and are about to trade in 70-degree temps for the 100s and say goodbye to views like this:

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Without further ado, here are five favorites of this week:

1) The good thing about vacation is that I got to read a lot. Okay, maybe just a little more than usual. My favorite article I read this week was one my friend Katie shared on Twitter: How to talk to your daughter about her body by Sarah Koppelkam at Hope Ave. She hits the ball out of the park on this. Beautifully crafted, well-written. It resonated with me because the last thing I want is for this joyful, brilliant girl to inherit any self image issues.


2) On a related note, I saw this in place of the mirror at a Crested Butte ice cream parlour. 
photo 5I posted it on Instagram and will tell you the same thing: Don’t. Ever. Forget. It.

3) My friend Kathleen released her latest book, Millie’s Treasure, on August 1! I read the “prequel” to this novel and adored it, so I can’t wait to get my hands on this one. If you like historical romantic suspense with a “dash of steampunk,” be sure to check this series out.

4) I found this book in the NavPress bookstore in Colorado Springs and snapped it up right away. It’s the first nonfiction book I can remember purchasing in years, as sad as that is. Oh, Stasi Eldredge. She’s done it again. You might know her from a little book called Captivating. Let’s just say, in the first chapter of this book, I underlined more than I left clean and got choked up in a few parts. I will probably be posting more about the spiritual message of this book at a later time.

5) Last, but certainly not least. This video. “God Made a Dog.” Maybe it’s because I miss my Yellow Puppy a whole lot, but I loved this so much! Anyone who’s ever had a faithful canine companion will love this video.

Any fun favorites you stumbled upon this week?

{august goals}

**Thanks for all of the love on my New Adult blog post! The ACFW loop blew up with a lively email conversation on the topic a few days later, so it’s been fun and encouraging to see such a positive response to this genre.**



I can’t believe August will be here tomorrow. The eighth month of the year. And if the rest of this year is any indication, I’m pretty sure it’s going to fly!

Maybe it’s because it’s my birthday month and my last chance to make this age all it can be, but I’m setting some pretty big goals for myself in August.

I can do anything for a month, right?

My writing-related goals for August are:

  • Develop my pitch for my first manuscript
  • Polish my one-sheet copy
  • Complete NaNoWriMo to finish the bulk of my second manuscript

Yes, you read that correctly. If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is usually in November. But the goal is to write 50,000 words in a month, which works out to 1600-1700 words a day. I’d love to have something to show for this new idea at conference–I’m that excited about it!

I’ll update you when I figure out how I’m going to make this happen 🙂

Have you set any goals for August? Is anyone crazy enough to join me?