Keep Your Dream Alive

Avoiding Despair at a Writer’s Conference

Barbara ScottA Post by Barbara Scott

Many of you have attended—or will attend—a writer’s conference. Hundreds of authors will attend the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference this week in St. Louis, searching for someone who will publish their manuscript. Some will feel encouraged… but many of you may go through a phase of feeling overwhelmed or even discouraged.  You’ll get so much advice… hear so many success stories… and you may begin to think it will never happen for you. It’s just too hard. Don’t worry, this is normal!

I know of one author who wrote five or six manuscripts before she was offered a contract. She attended workshops at writers’ conferences and had appointments with agents and editors. She took their advice and applied it to her manuscripts. She persevered. She worked at her craft until someone recognized her talent. She is now the author of several published Christian historical romances.

Diamonds are rough, dirty rocks before a master jeweler makes the first cut. In a skilled hand, a gem finally emerges. You may be that polished stone ready to be set, or you may be someone who’s rushing the process. It takes time to develop your voice.  Attend those workshops, learn as much as you can, and take it home to begin processing and applying the information.

At the conference, you may have appointments with agents and editors. Do you want to succeed? Keep the appointment! Seems like a simple concept, and yet you can’t imagine how many people blow off their appointments. They start to feel unworthy, or not ready, or someone tells them they can’t pitch an agent if their manuscript isn’t finished. Listen, if you have an appointment, keep it. Use it to make a connection and get feedback.

And make those workshops “work” for you! If you’re sitting in a workshop that isn’t resonating, slip out the back and into another class. You plan and prepare for this once-a-year conference, marking the workshops you need to attend, but your plans should be flexible. You might have a chance meeting with one of your favorite authors in Starbucks.

During mealtimes sit at different tables and network with the people you meet. It’s an interesting phenomenon, but at every conference I’ve found that people of like interests will be drawn to sit together for a meal and conversation.

Join a group for coffee or sit in the lobby with a new friend. We always assume we’ve attended a conference for our own benefit, but wouldn’t it be great if you could encourage another writer who’s ready to give up the dream?

Year after year I hear the most amazing stories about how someone first came to be published. It might have been because they met an agent, editor, or another author in the hallway and struck up a conversation. I often ask experienced authors for recommendations of an up-and-coming writer.

One night at dinner an author told me his inspiring story about attending his first writers’ conference where he received a harsh critique of his work. Convinced that his desire to write boys’ books was nothing more than a pipedream, he left the critique room and strode down an empty hallway toward the outside door.

All that stood between him and the door to giving up his dream was one small woman—an agent who just happened to block his way. She encouraged him to continue writing, and he has now published several devotionals for boys, who are often neglected in the publishing world.

When you feel discouraged or depressed about whether you’ll ever be published and don’t know why you even went to the conference, remember these stories, and those of a thousand other authors. And please, don’t forget to keep your appointments.

Have you ever had a chance encounter with someone who helped fulfill your dreams?

  1. Just what I needed to read today. Thank you! I’ve heard it said that you have to write 7 novels before you get a good one. I’m sure that’s not always the case, but it’s nice to keep in mind that this is a long path and not one of instant gratification! Persevere persevere persevere!

  2. Thanks for the timely post, Barbara! Remember feeling overwhelmed and discouraged following my first conference. My critique partners have been a big help in keeping me focused and giving me valuable feedback. I’m now in the process of writing a proposal for my devotional/Bible study. I know the road may be long, but I’m thankful for every bit of encouragement along the way!

  3. Lenore Buth says:

    Good encouragement, Barbara. Thanks for giving us permission to slip out of a workshop that does not fit and find one that does. I’ve wondered about that a time or two.

    I liked your letter, too, especially your saying, “Life happens.” Yes, it does. But it always seems a lame excuse when citing that as a reason for breaks in one’s writing momentum.

    Even as we write about life, we also live it. If we forget that, I think we lose our realness–and it shows.

    As for chance encounters/Divine appointments, in the beginning of my writing career I went to some “how to write” workshops put on by our denomination. Uneventful. Then a year or so later I was offered a contract to write a book for hire for Concordia Publishing House. Over the years they published three more of my books, the last of which is in its fifth edition.

    That’s not bragging. That’s God at work–and I know it.

  4. Jim Trainor says:

    Great post. Heading out to ACFW tomorrow and this was exactly the pep talk I needed to hear. God bless.

  5. You’re right, Barbara. People are more important. I’m impressed with your priorities. The work will be there when you return.

  6. Hi everyone,

    I apologize that I wasn’t able to hop on my post and answer your questions on Monday. I hope some of you see this.

    I have been in Florida for five weeks now taking care of Sandie Bricker, a close friend and writer of romantic comedy.

    On Monday morning, Sandie and I got up at “dark-thirty” to make an hour and a half drive in morning rush hour traffic downtown to Tampa to her surgeon’s office to have her renal stent taken out. We almost lost Sandie during this ordeal when she was in the hospital for the third or fourth time a couple of weeks ago.

    We then sat in the doctor’s office for a half hour before she was called by the nurse, but her surgeon canceled the procedure because he was so concerned about more infection and complications.

    We were both bummed out because the procedure was rescheduled for this coming Friday at a medi-surgery center. I had planned to fly home the next morning. But that was not possible now. I cannot board a plane knowing my friend might have complications.

    I had bought flight insurance as a backup, but it didn’t cover our circumstance, so we had to rebook the flight. By that time it was 6 o’clock, and since Sandie is diabetic, she needed to eat and take her insulin.

    Okay, “so what” you might be thinking. Here’s the lesson for every writer. Life happens. Just because you have a deadline, the kids will still act out, a parent will be hospitalized, or a friend will have an accident, or a million other things will interrupt your planned day.

    But people are more important than all your best laid plans so take a deep breath and give yourself a break.

    That’s why I won’t be at ACFW. I’ll be with Sandie another week. Will I miss meeting all of you there? I would love to see you, but life happens. Yet I still received an offer from WordServe Literary to become their newest agent. Who knows what good things might be in store for you?


  7. Ginny Martyn says:

    Sometimes, especially in the conference setting, it’s easy to get lost. Everyone has the same dream of being published and there is always someone who is a better writer than you.

    It really hasn’t been publishing types, but, rather, people who notice talent who have encouraged me. In the past professors and editors took notice and asked me to write without being approached. I recently got a gig writing a small script based on a couple of my status updates. The guy who asked followed my updates, tweets and blog and thought I could write for him. So, for me living out my craft has been more beneficial than chasing the pack.

  8. Thank you, Barbara, for this post. I’ve been cramming my brain with book after book on writing for children for years, plus writing. I’ve been considered by a publisher and had notes from agents and editors. But I haven’t quite pushed past that barrier, and that is frustrating.

  9. What beautiful encouragment, Barbara. I so wish you were traveling to St. Louis this year. Would love meet you.

  10. Remya says:

    Thank you so much for the inspiring write up. It added lot more hope on my dream to publish my first book.

  11. Paul says:

    I had a number of surprise encounters at a conference I just attended. OK, it wasn’t a writers conference. It was a technical conference for my day job.

    I struck up a conversation with a vendor exhibitor based on the fact that he worked in Syracuse. I had spent 10 years in Syracuse, so I was curious about his business. After about 10 minutes or so of small talk, I discovered that he was doing work which was related to a project of mine. After about an hour with my new acquaintance and a colleague of his, I was beginning to completely re-imagine my project.

    Everyone goes to a conference with a mental list of whom they want to meet. I think we all need to be more open to serendipitous encounters. You never know who will be helpful.

  12. Hazel Keats says:

    Thank you for the inspiring post. It’s amazing how the first book can change your life but it’s the second and third where you see the improvement in your writing. You work out the dirt and grind the surface until your writing is clear, clean and true.

  13. Joanne Currence says:

    Thanks for those encouraging words! It just helps to hear that a few hundred times :- )

  14. June says:

    This was such a genuine, kind and thoughtful post. I had no idea so many people don’t follow through on their appointments.

    Thanks for the great words of encouragement. I knew you would be a great asset to WordServe!

  15. Great post. Thanks. And congrats on your new agent status!

  16. Barbara, you helped to keep the dream alive through your encouraging post with its excellent advice. The interest shown by one published writer I met at a conference and some contest entry feedback from an editor prevented me from giving up. Seekerville on the web is a fantastic place for unpubbed writers, too. The gals there are gems. They inspire me with confidence as I hold onto my dream. Something everyone needs while awaiting God’s timing. I’d love to attend the ACFW conference some day.

  17. Thank you for such an encouraging post, Barbara! Many of us will cling to these words of wisdom later this week. 🙂

  18. Thank you so much for the info about how to get the most out of writer’s conferences. And may I just say that many of us are anxiously waiting until your email is able to receive queries!

  19. David Todd says:

    Beginning in 2003, I’ve been to seven conferences: 4 national, 2 regional, and 1 local. The first five of those left me totally depressed, as in each one some new hindrance to publication was revealed: no being published unless you can market, no being published unless you have a platform, you’ve gotta have a brand, no real market for my first genre, etc. The 15 minute appointments mostly made me feel great, but the teaching sessions I found depressing. Not all of them, but enough to dominate my feelings about the conference. Then, for the last two conferences (both national), I decided just to be there as a “conference veteran” and concentrate on helping new attenders and on networking. I had a great time at both of those conferences. Didn’t sell anything, didn’t have any better appointments or classes, so the difference must have been my outlook.

  20. Rita Gerlach says:


    I too have a story to tell, how God opened the door for me to be published, and how He put us together. It was an answer to prayer.

    I won’t be at ACFW this year, but I’ll be praying for the attendees to be encouraged to persevere in their callings as writers.


  21. TNeal says:

    Barbara, you offer encouraging words and sound advice as the ACFW conference begins this weekend. Those conferences have been fuel to stoke my writing fire. Too bad I won’t be attending this year.

    I had a marvelous conversation with Debbie Macomber when she was the keynote speaker two years ago. We just happened to be traveling in the same direction for a few minutes. In those moments, she offered gracious words and valuable counsel.–Tom

  22. Sarah Thomas says:

    I had a chance to hear one of my favorite Christian authors speak this past summer. I met her after the session and she said she noticed I raised my hand when she asked if there were any writer’s in the audience. I told her (and her editor, who was with her) a little about my book. She grabbed me by both arms, looked me in the eye and said, “I believe in you.” What a priceless gift and so generously given. Hoping I get to do the same one day!

  23. Shilpa says:

    Very encouraging post! It is easy to slip in to believing you would never get published especially when there are so many better writers around. Remembering the good stories helps. Thanks!

  24. GREAT advice! I’ve learned some GREAT things from appointments where, in the end, I was turned down. Sometimes just one little suggestion or piece of advice can make all the difference!

  25. TC Avey says:

    Praying for an encounter like that! I know at the right time it will happen.

  26. Brianna says:

    I am working hard to keep my dream alive. Attending a writers conference is just one small part of that dream. I am hoping that can happen sometime next year. In the meantime, I keep writing, keep reading, keep applying for residencies and keep trying to get publishing, all in the hope that just one person will take notice and give me the chance I so strongly desire.

  27. Welcome to WordServe and thanks for the great post.

    Are there specific conferences you would recommend for someone writing memoir that has a spiritual thread?

  28. I love this post!

    Just got back from a conference. Had a little meltdown Saturday morning after a critique with an author I really respect, but God moved my heart in a major way. What I learned at the conference this weekend was—be an encourager.

    Being a writer makes for a rollercoaster ride in the emotions department. Yes, I want to stretch and grow and in order to do that I need to be teachable. I can always improve my sentence structure, clarity, emotional impact and hook. But no matter how teachable my heart is, it still aches when someone criticizes or dismisses my work—constructively or otherwise.

    I am going to remember that next time I give a critique.

  29. Wow, thanks for this Barbara. I so appreciate the encouragement and optimism you offer here.

    And yes, I have benefitted from a chance encounter. A published author once left a kind comment on my blog. I started following her blog, and we exchanged a few emails. A few months later she graciously agreed to read part of my memoir manuscript, and after she read it, she offered to put in a good word for me with Rachelle. That was a major turning point, and I will be forever grateful to her for extending a hand to me.

  30. Loree Huebner says:

    A heaping tablespoon of inspiration.

    What a great way to start a Tuesday.

  31. Shain Brown says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. It helps hearing what others have to go through.

  32. Excellent advice and so true. I had almost decided to give up when I sent out one last desperate prayer and email. I asked God to show me if pursuing publication was something He wanted, not just what I wanted. I emailed author Colleen L. Reece (over 140+ titles and six million copies sold) and asked her if she would read my first 10 pages as a paid critique. After reading them, she emailed back and said she believed in my work and wanted to critique the entire novel for… FREE. I knew this was God’s answer and if I start to doubt, I have this to hold onto.
    Wish He’d been specific about the timing part though. 🙂
    Hope you all have a great conference this week!
    Thanks, Barbara. It’s great to see your posts here, I miss your Roving Editor blog.

  33. Pepper says:

    A word in due season, Sandra.
    Thank you. I think this post should be one I read both BEFORE and AFTER conference.

    You reminded me of my writing motto:
    God’s timing, my perseverance



  34. Angie Dicken says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Barbara. I had a wonderful encounter last year at ACFW. I was only able to attend for one day, and after the morning session I was feeling like I had made a huge mistake and I was just fooling myself into thinking I was a writer. Well, I sat in Starbucks, feeling sorry for myself, with my emotions clogging the back of my throat, and Patti Lacy and Pepper Basham breezed through the door, looked over at me, and invited me to have coffee with them. Well, if you’ve met Patti she is a wonderful encourager, and Pepper is such a beautiful person! They gave me a boost of confidence and I was able to attend the rest of the day standing a little taller. That was one of those divine appointments in my life. Later, Pepper looked me up and invited me to join a writer’s blog, which has pushed me to really dig deeper in the craft and learn a wealth of information over this year! God meets you at conferences…for sure!!

  35. Jillian Kent says:

    Hi Barbara!
    I’m headed out to St. Louis today. From the time I decided I wanted to write until my first contract was twenty years! I loved networking and learning and doing something just for me. Everything you say here is so important for those looking to publish. Make friends, be encouraged and be an encourager. I can’t tell you how much other writers have helped me along the way.The person you meet at Starbucks or sit with at lunch or the author teaching a class may be one of the first to endorse your debut novel. Don’t despair; bloom and grow and know you are in good company.

    • Diane Stortz says:


      You are a good encourager yourself! Proud to give you a Cincinnati send-off. Have a wonderful time at ACFW and let’s do lunch when you get back!


  36. Lanita says:

    Barbara, at the last writing conference I attended, I was hoping to find a publisher for my memoir. My prayer, however, was to find people I could help while there and let God work on whether or not my book should be published. I relished all the opportunities I had to serve people that week, and God came through on his part as well! So I really applaud your advice that we might just be there to help others.

  37. Barbara, Thanks for this heartening post. Yes, God has placed some wonderful helpers in my path as I struggled to learn the craft and eventually achieve publication. Of course, one of them is named Barbara Scott, and it’s a pleasure to welcome you to the WordServe team. Blessings, friend.

  38. Diana Dart says:

    Words of wisdom from a generous soul in the know. Thanks so much. Cheers to all attending the ACFW Con this week!

  39. Sherri says:

    I have been reading SUN STAND STILL: What happens when you dare to ask God for the impossible, by Steven Furtick, and reviewing it on my blog. The chapter I reviewed today is about just this thing – the waiting time between the prayer and the fulfillment of the promise. So hard, but so important. I needed to read that. If you would like to read the post, please visit

    It’s just a great reminder that God has a purpose and a time for fulfilling the dreams he has placed in our hearts AND that he is very present and very active in the between time. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

    We’ll be praying for all of you who are attending the conference this week.

  40. Erin says:

    Hi Barbara! And welcome to Word Serve… I’m so excited about your addition! This is great advice. Recently, I’ve been discouraged about not getting a second contract… my first came very easily and the second has been much harder. I’m trying to persevere but it gets discouraging.

  41. Lisa Jordan says:

    Fantastic post, Barbara. I love the nuggets of wisdom you’ve shared. Writers conference attendees experience so many emotions.

    Picking up one of Susan May Warren’s books in 2003 set the wheels in motion for the long path to my writing career.

  42. Wendy says:

    Hmm, let’s see, I had wonderful meetings with an agent and an editor last year who now agent together, and I’ve recently joined their agency. I’d say my dreams are looking alive and well. And I’m grateful for those meetings—the connections I made! So grateful and primed to pass on the encouragement.
    ~ Wendy

  43. carol brill says:

    thanks Barbara, great to be reminded that whether it’s at conferences, writing groups, over a cup of coffee with another writer or reading blogs, We need each other’s support.

  44. This post couldn’t have been more timely for me. Thank you, Barbara!

  45. Thanks for that inspiring post! I’ve been going to a big annual writing conference here in Scotland for years and received so much encouragement through their competitions which I always tried to enter, mainly for the critique.

    My short stories started being published as a direct result of the conference. Although I’ve now moved on to full length fiction, I’m a judge myself in one of the short story comps next March!

  46. Consty says:

    Thanks for this advice,
    Interestingly, whenever I give up I read blogs on this website…lol.

  47. Fantastic advice. Now, if only there were writers conferences here I could go to…

  48. Taryn says:

    Oh my goodness. I want to marry you. Wait. I can’t. I’m already married and am definitely a woman. Hmmm. So can we please be related some other way? Ha. You can be in my writing family.

    This is a post I might need to print and place where I can see it regularly. The further along I go and the longer this process takes, the more disheartened I get. 95% of the time, I’m good, but for the other 5%, I need this like air or else I’d give up!

    Thank you so much! One day my own Divine Appointment will come, I have no doubt. In the meantime, your encouragement is so necessary.

  49. I connected with a writer at BlueRidge this spring. I had met her before but this year we connected. She taught me so much about editing and took me under her wing. She is determined to help me fly.

    Writers Conferences are where you learn you aren’t so different after all. Writers get you. It is so refreshing.

  50. Diane says:

    Just a reminder to me that in order to be a writer I don’t have to have an Internet connection. In fact it is a henderence!

  51. Camille Eide says:

    Thanks so much for the encouragement, Barbara.

    I’m heading for ACFW this week and am excited and even prepared for the kamikazee butterflies I always get when approaching publishing professionals or anytime I’m about to be “on the spot”.

    Question: for someone like me who has a really hard time memorizing carefully organized, important information, as in a novel pitch, and that difficulty made 100x worse by being “on the spot”, would you advise a writer to ask the editor to read two or three paragraphs about the book (in addition to the back cover copy type blurb on a one-sheet)if they aren’t at all confident they can do a fantastic job presenting the story?

    • Camille, if you don’t feel comfortable pitching your project, I never mind if an author asks me to read a one-sheet. I wish you all the best at ACFW!


  52. Donna Pyle says:

    There is so much truth in your post, Barbara. I attended my first national writer’s conference in February and was overwhelmed by the support that authors gave to one another. Each person I talked with (whether agents, editors, publishers or other authors) either poured into me what I needed or allowed me to hydrate them with encouragement. Keeping appointments and making intentional contacts opens up amazing opportunities to learn, grow, and make new friends. Thanks again for these great reminders.

  53. Anna Labno says:

    Hi Barbara,

    I’m going to the conference for the first time, and I don’t know what to expect.
    I have doubts. I was going to cancel my registration, but I have missed the deadline to do that.
    Maybe, it’s in God’s plan for me to be there. Maybe, I will be the person who is going to inspire other writers. Or I might be the one who is crying in the prayer room.
    We just never know what God has planned for us and what emotions we will experience.
    It will be a life lesson for me.
    I was hoping that maybe you will be there, so I can pitch to you. 🙂 I have heard all the good things about you as an agent from a group of my writing buddies.


    Anna Labno

    • Hi Anna, I so hope you’re on your way to ACFW. Rachelle had asked me to hop on and comment throughout the day, but while I’m taking care of Sandie Bricker, a good friend and one of Rachelle’s clients, I never know what will be happening here. 🙂 Sorry I didn’t answer you before this.


  54. Andrea Nell says:

    I met Susan May Warren at a Women’s retreat. It wasn’t even a writer’s event. We got to talking and I told her I like to write. That weekend changed my life.

    • TNeal says:

      Susie has a generous heart. She’s also quite the adventuresome person. My wife and I have known Susie and her family ever since our days in Russia. Ellen edits for Susie and Susie calls her “my secret weapon.” Susie has always been an impressive, gracious person even before her writing career took off. I’m neither surprised by her success or her generosity.–Tom

  55. What an awesome post! Thank you. Great advice!

  56. Encouraging blog post! Thanks!

  57. Such an inspiring post. Thank you. Just thank you.

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