I never did post last Wednesday (didn’t even have time for a rerun) because I was very busy at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. The trip was full of glimpses of the hand of God, even in how I got there, and I can’t wait to tell the story.
I didn’t think I would be able to go this year. I went two years ago, learned a lot, and made some friends who will always be kindred spirits no matter the distance. When I heard two of my friends were going back, I wanted to join them with all my heart, but we had moved recently and taken a hefty pay cut in relation to the new cost of living. I wanted to see my friends, and even more I knew I needed a jumpstart on my writing. I prayed that God would make a way, but I didn’t know if He would or not.
Then I received a letter from American Airlines saying that if I didn’t use my mileage, I would lose it in a month or so. I had no idea I had mileage, and I was shocked to see it was just enough to fly me in and out of Knoxville, allowing me the privilege of staying a few nights with friends before and after the conference. If I flew into Asheville, I would have to pay for extra nights in a hotel, which we couldn’t afford. We didn’t have the money for the conference itself, either, but my generous mom blessed me by covering a huge chunk of it (which she did two years ago, too, by the way). The rest we were able to pay for through a new job God had given me. I had a friend who was driving through Knoxville on her way to the conference, so she planned to pick me up, which cancelled the need for a rental car. Even better, my very good friend from Knoxville decided to join us! God definitely provided a way.
While I was there, I felt God leading me in a way that was clear to me. First, He encouraged me in many ways. You see, two years ago, I had several agents and a publisher at the conference tell me they wanted me to send a proposal for my Bible study, but when I finally sent it to them, I heard nothing. I thought that meant no. These same people or at least people from the same agency/publishing house were at the conference, and my friend encouraged me to ask them about it. I did, and they all said they just hadn’t gotten to it. They hadn’t said no at all, and they wanted me to pitch to them again. One of them said her boss had had a crazy year and the fact that he hadn’t gotten back to me was just a very understandable whoops. The fact that most looked a bit embarrassed when I asked and that it had been a slip on all their parts (due to much busyness) made me think God was telling me the timing just hadn’t been right.
A second way God encouraged me was by allowing me to win second place in the Bible study contest I had entered. I entered it in the same contest two years before and won third place, but I had improved it and hoped it could do better. The second place made me hope I was going in the right direction with it, but it also made me feel it could still be improved.
Third, I knew it would be important to find someone to mentor me in my pursuit of publishing, and there was a woman at the conference who I had met two years ago and who had won first place in the Bible study category that year. I looked up to her, but since I never saw her at lunch or dinner, I never got to talk to her. Two or three people separately told me I needed to get together with her, so when I saw her pass by, I got up the nerve to ask if she’d be willing to talk to me. She was, and did, and later agreed to be my mentor. In addition, many people mentored me at the conference itself.
Finding an agent is not easy, and without one, some publishing houses won’t even look at your work. A fourth way God encouraged me was by giving me an agent, a friend of mine from the conference two years ago, who was interested in representing me and sending my study out right away. I really respect this agent and know he would represent me well, so it was very tempting to take him up on the offer. I was encouraged when I had a few publishing houses interested in a proposal, as well. However, I didn’t end up signing with an agent or sending anything to a publisher because I feel clearly led by God not to do so at this time.
While I was at the conference, I was able to talk to a very experienced agent. (He had just received a lifetime achievement award the night before with an hour’s worth of accolades from outstanding authors he’s represented, including Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series.) I asked him his advice about my work. He told me I needed to pilot it in four different types of churches before trying to get it published. A friend of mine had already done this for me at my church in Knoxville, and within an hour or two, three different people *unsolicited* offered to pilot my study in their (very different types of) churches. What a blessing! I also talked to several other experienced agents who advised me to spend a year or two working on my platform or potential audience. After all, even if I have the best Bible study, if I don’t have anyone who knows about it, I won’t be able to sell it, and it will be useless. Social media and speaking, here I come (God, help me)!
God did all of this, guiding me in what to do with this Bible study I feel He gave me in the first place. He’s already used the study to teach me and a few friends, and if that’s all He wants to do with it, I’m satisfied. However, my prayer is that He will use it to show others a fuller picture of Jesus.