How a non-writing-related non-fiction book helped me pitch a novel

The writer’s conference was terrific. The month leading up to it was, alas, not. Let me explain.

I was pitching an agent for the first time, so I wanted to spend most of February concentrating on developing my pitch and practicing it. I had cleared my writing schedule and tried to whittle down my personal obligations to the bare minimum. Then life happened. And the “bare minimum of distractions” became a multi-headed beast of stressors.

  • There was a lice epidemic at my daughters’ school. (Neither girl got it, but it was stressful dealing with the possibility.)
  • One child got in trouble at school—which has never happened before—and we had to do the tough parenting job of disciplining her (cancelling her upcoming birthday party) and dealing with why she’d made such a foolish choice.
  • I spent hours on the phone with the health insurance company, dealing with an issue from the last calendar year.

(That was the first week of February.)

  • My car battery died in the carpool line.
  • One child had an out-of-town field trip.
  • Her tennis uniform arrived two days before the first match, and the skirt turned out to be too large, which required last-minute alterations by my mother.
  • Our younger daughter had a slumber party at the house of a friend who had not been as lucky in the lice-epidemic as we were; by this time, she was back at school—her mom freaked out, just like I would’ve, and apparently washed the entire house—but I was still stressed at the possibility of . . . well, you know.

And there was cello practice. And tennis matches and practice.

And I was exhausted. Not the normal exhaustion from the above stresses, but the type that signals that something is wrong in my body. My iron levels were fine. My thyroid was fine. My allergies weren’t misbehaving. The doctors still aren’t certain what is wrong. And I was having insomnia.

It was the week of the conference before I wrote my pitch. A writer friend told me to practice on anyone who would stand still. “It’s better to sound silly now than when you’re with the agent,” he told me. So I practiced in the mirror, on the selfie-video function on my cell phone in the carpool line, and on my husband.

The day of the conference, I almost wimped out. I had to drive 1 ½ hours to Birmingham, and I’d had horrible insomnia the night before. Everything seemed to have conspired to distract me. What was the point of trying?

I went anyway.

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Wonderful book! Ya’ll, you really need to read this.

I’d been reading L.L. Martin’s book Positively Powerless, in which she seeks to show that “the power of positive thinking” isn’t true and to reconnect the Christian to our true source of power: Christ. It’s a terrific book, though it was sobering to realize how easily I fall into the trap of thinking that I am the source of my own power.

After that month, I wasn’t feeling positive, empowered, or even physically strong. Certainly not enough to talk to a literary agent about my novel. I was weak. I needed Jesus.

On the drive to Birmingham, I listened to Nichole Nordeman’s music. There was one song on her Woven & Spun cd that particularly struck me that morning. She sings about various points in her life and how Jesus was always there for her, from when she fell off her bike or won the softball game or had her heart broken or got married or had two kids screaming at two a.m. (Oh, did that resonate!) And all along, Jesus was there.

My pitch was at 10:40. By the time 10:20 came, I slipped from the main conference room and took refuge in a bathroom stall. I was sweaty, chilled, and terrified. There, between the stall door and the toilet, I leaned against the wall and had a little chat with God.

Normally, it would’ve been easy to cheer this:

Rah-rah-go-Laura-go, you can do this, girl!

Only I know that I can do the most unprofessional things possible; I’ve done them before. That wasn’t going to work, and after reading Martin’s book, I knew why: I needed to rely on the truth.

My little talk with God went something like this.

I need you. And I know you’re there. You were there for me during every depression, when I was anorexic and bulimic and manic and desperate, and you’re going to be there whether this ten minute meeting goes well or badly, whether I am coherent or babble or cry.

A verse came to mind.

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“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It wasn’t a positive power affirmation. It was a reminder that I was weak—only the weak need strength—and that the source of strength is Christ. And as Nordeman’s song reminded me, He is always there.

The meeting went well. The agent liked my novel premise and my next novel’s premise, too. She asked for a full manuscript of one and a synopsis of the second. In addition, two other agents read my first page and asked for partials. That was far, far more than I’d expected (although my writer friend says he wasn’t surprised.)

None of that is a guarantee that I’ll get an agent or get published. All three may say no. But I walked away with an even better guarantee: Christ will always be there for me. His strength is what I need, whether or not my novel is published. And that’s better than a book contract any day.

P.S.: I will blog about another aspect of the conference later, one that will be of particular interest to novelists. 

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18 thoughts on “How a non-writing-related non-fiction book helped me pitch a novel

  1. Thanks for sharing about my book! “It wasn’t a positive power affirmation. It was a reminder that I was weak—only the weak need strength—and that the source of strength is Christ. And as Nordeman’s song reminded me, He is always there.” — So well said! It is easy to make Phil 4:13 all about us – WE can do anything! No. We miss the point. The point is we need Christ. Great post and thanks for sharing about your crazy, stressful month and the importance of leaning on God’s provision.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your bathroom stall prayer is so good, Laura. The brokenness you relate in it is a testimony of what God has done in your life. It’s moments like that which help me remember that God is with me always, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your month went without a hitch. I am sure you know I’m kidding- wow. Good for you for going. You had a lot to juggle. The fact that you didn’t change your mind and back away from this opportunity means success. God bless you!

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    1. Thanks, Rose. This conference is the first one that was close to where I live and reasonably priced, so I really felt that I needed to go; I didn’t know when I’d get another opportunity like this! Thanks for reading.

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  4. Excellent post, Laura. And yes, I love that verse not because it makes me strong (I doubt anything will ever do that, but because I am weak and He is strong and He never fails. I will have to read that book myself. It would do me good. I know I need to begin to move on in my healing journey. I think I’m being tested right now, and even though I don’t feel like I’m doing great, I am actually coping better – much better – than I might have before I had EMDR, so… to God be the glory!

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  5. Loved reading this post, Laura. I was absolutely amazed at your strength and wistful of your faith.
    I’m so glad you were able to call upon it. I’m thrilled with the agents’ positive feedback!!! That’s fantastic!

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Dyane. It’s not always easy to have faith; I doubt a lot of things a lot of the time–I had a short bout of atheism in college–but God is faithful, even when I didn’t think I could have faith in him. I pray that will be true for you, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I finally got around to going back and reading this and wow! Such a good reminder. I don’t always feel like being positive (maybe this is the depression-prone person in me). But Christ is enough.

    Also congrats on the full and two partials!!! I didn’t know you’ve never pitched before. I’m glad you survived 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Liz! I’ve already received a nice rejection on one of the partials, but I’m fine with that. It was just nice to know that the book interested someone. Alabama is a bit of deadzone for writers’ conferences, and this was the first one that was within driving distance, at an affordable price, and overall do-able with the kids’ schedules that I’d found, so, yes, this was my first pitching experience. I don’t travel well, so it’s hard to find conferences that meet all my requirements. 🙂

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