Right off the top, let me apologize to Connie for changing the photographs. I couldn't get the ones she sent to work for the blog. But if you want to click here hopefully you can see a picture of Connie with her critique group, holding her letter of intent from Heartsong.
First Time Contract by Connie Stevens
Four months before the Denver conference in 2009, my finger hovered over the mouse and I uttered a prayer before clicking “Send”, winging my proposal off to my agent who in turn would send it to JoAnne Simmons at Heartsong Presents. Determined not to agonize over the proposal, I focused on other projects. Six weeks later, I received a phone call from my agent, Tamela Murray. We chatted about what I was working on and she made a few suggestions for me to consider. Then she said, “Someone was asking me if you were planning on going to the ACFW conference this year.” I told her I was and we talked for a few more minutes. After we hung up, I thought, “Who in the world would be asking Tamela if I was going to the conference?” The question drove me nuts for about three days, and then I just forgot about it.
On the first night of the conference at the opening session, I sat with my critique partners as Brandilyn’s traditional “Helloooo ACFW!!” rang out over the auditorium to kick off the proceedings. Just before the session closed, Becky Germany and JoAnne Simmons of Barbour Publishing took the stage. I twisted in my chair and said to my crit partners, “I just love it when they do this.” Becky announced the name of first time contract for a novella, and we all cheered for Rachael Phillips. JoAnne took the microphone and made a couple of comments about the manuscript she was about to contract. I couldn’t wait to see that joy on the face of the recipient.
The only thing I remember about making my way to the front was hugging a bunch of people, but I really can’t remember who I hugged until Tamela Murray stood there in front of me with her arms open. Some unseen force carried me to the stage where JoAnne placed an envelope in my trembling hands. I think I said something stupid like, “I need to go call my husband!” But whatever I said, it must have been at least halfway appropriate because JoAnne and Becky were both smiling.
At the time it didn’t occur to me to thank Barbour, or ACFW, or my agent, or my crit partners . . . I do remember “Thank You, Jesus” running through my head as tried to find my way back to my seat amid more hugs, more tears, more squeals, more congratulations. I did call my husband and woke him up, but with everyone’s excited screams, he couldn’t understand what I was saying, so I held the phone out to my crit partners and they all chorused, “Connie got a contract!!” Poor guy still didn’t know what was going on.
Later that evening and in the days to follow, reality began to seep in. Understanding of how vital ACFW’s influence was in my writing journey began to flood my awareness. Gratitude filled me as I thought of the way my agent and crit partners (whom I met through ACFW) pushed me to improve my writing and refused to let me give up. God used the Barbour editors to make my dream come true.
The morning of the third day of the conference, we were singing “While I’m Waiting” in the praise and worship session. It occurred to me that somewhere in that room of 500+ people there was a person who felt the same way I had the year before. “Is this truly God’s will? Am I supposed to be pursuing publication, or am I just following my own agenda? Will my time ever come?” That person’s “time” was next year, but he/she didn’t know it yet, so I started praying for that unknown person.
My prayer continued the next day, and the day after that, and after I went home. I discovered praying for this person whose name I did not know was a sweet privilege. For an entire year, I prayed for the recipients of “next year’s contracts” without knowing their identity. At the opening session of the 2010 conference, I cried when one of those contracts went to my dear friend, Rose McCauley. When I told her I’d been praying for her for an entire year without knowing it was her, she pounced on the idea. Rose has been praying for the recipients of the 2011 contracts since last year’s conference.
Whether our prayer is one of anticipation or gratitude, or even a petition for an unknown person, communication with our heavenly Father is the GPS that guides us on this crazy journey we refer to as publishing. Right now, there is an ACFW member who has clicked “Send” and is wondering, “When will happen for me?” Maybe this year is their time.
You can find Connie online at http://www.conniestevenswrites.com
PS I LOVE the idea of praying for the next recipient. :)
Please give a shout out to Connie, and thank you so much, Connie, for working under the uber-tight deadline I gave you, and for such a wonderful story!