First Time Preparation Packet
Welcome to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference!
Are you attending the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference for the first time? Are you returning after a long break? Perhaps you’ve attended before but are submitting to editors and agents for the first time. This page is for you!
If you read interviews with Christian authors, or the acknowledgments in their books, you will discover that many of them mention the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. How exciting it is that you are preparing to attend workshops that once inspired some of your favorite novelists and nonfiction writers! You will grow, learn, and be inspired in ways that only God fully knows right now, so you want to be prepared. This packet is full of information that will help you get ready.
If, after reading this packet and the First-Timer FAQs, you still have questions, please feel free to contact Jeanette Hanscome (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For questions about housing and registration, call the Mount Hermon office (831-335-4466).
How to Prepare for the Conference
Writers conferences are exciting, but they can also be overwhelming. You will benefit from going prepared.
1. Read the conference website. Do this first! It is full of valuable information, including…
- Workshop Descriptions
- Faculty bios
- Important dates
- Forms for shuttle service and putting books on consignment in the conference bookstore (if you are a published author)
- Important instructions for preparing and sending pre-submitted manuscripts
- What this year’s editors and agents are looking for
- Information about housing and registration
- The online printable “binder” of workshop outlines (available a couple of weeks prior to the conference)
2. Check out our Facebook page and visit it often. Look for our weekly Pre-conference Preparation Tips, starting the first week in February.
3. Tell your friends (and of course your family) that you are going. Ask them to pray as you prepare and while you’re there.
4. Set your goals for the conference. Are you just going to learn and soak up all you can, or do you have a manuscript to pitch? Do you want to pre-submit a manuscript for critique or editor review, or be part of one of the Morning Mentoring Clinics? Are you also attending the Pre-conference Boost Clinic? Going with a plan will limit frustrations and help you focus and get even more excited. (See “Tips for Setting Realistic Goals” below.)
5. Connect with others who are attending. Announce on Facebook that you are going to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. You might be surprised by how many friends say, “I’m going too!”
6. Pray. Ask God to guide you as you make decisions about pre-submitting manuscripts, choose workshops, prepare to meet new people, and step out of your comfort zone.
7. Decide which Major Morning Workshop you want to take. You don’t need to sign up ahead of time (unless you want a Morning Mentoring Clinic), but choosing your track will provide a sense of direction. If you can’t decide, wait until you arrive and ask a faculty member for guidance. You are allowed to switch tracks, if the one you choose isn’t what you expected.
8. Get plenty of rest. This is a long conference filled with activity and information, so you don’t want to arrive tired. If at all possible, free up your schedule a bit during the week leading up to the conference so you can pack, get adequate sleep (especially if you’re traveling), and take care of last-minute details.
9. Plan ahead to…
Be brave. No matter how shy you are, be willing to step out of your comfort zone, whether that means meeting with an editor, introducing yourself to the writers sitting beside you at breakfast, or asking a member of the Critique Team for feedback on your writing.
Pace yourself. You will want to schedule some downtime during the conference so you don’t get too overloaded. This is especially true if you also attend the Pre-Conference! Every workshop is recorded, so you can skip one to take a nap or a walk, spend time with God, or have some alone time (especially if you’re an introvert). If at all possible, schedule a post-conference recuperation day, even if that means stopping to take a walk on the beach before heading home on Tuesday morning. You will need time to come down from the mountaintop.
10. Download the workshop outlines from the online Conference Binder when it becomes available. Then print the whole thing or only the outlines for workshops you want to attend, or download it onto your laptop.
Suggestions for Those With Physical Limitations & Restrictions
If you have a physical limitation or disability that requires extra consideration (for example, if it would be difficult for you to have a room that requires a long walk) let the Registrar in the Mount Hermon office know before you arrive. Be clear if you need a room that is downstairs or close to where most of the activity takes place. Ask for help during the conference. You will be surrounded by kind people who are eager to assist.
Know your limits. If you need to take more breaks or go to bed early, do it.
If you have dietary restrictions, you might need to bring at least some of your own food. Talk to someone in the registration office about how to handle this.
What to Bring
Comfortable shoes – Mount Hermon is hilly and you will do a lot of walking. Heels are not recommended.
Business cards – Not only will you want these in case an editor asks for one, but they come in handy when exchanging contact information with new writer friends. Only include information that you want shared (for example, name, e-mail address, and a website/blog if you have one).
Flashlight – Some of the paths are extremely dark at night.
Umbrella in case it rains (it usually does at some point),
Notebook and pens
Money for the writers conference bookstore (they also take credit/debit cards) or in case you want something from the Fountain or the coffee cart in Central Lounge.
Folder or binder for workshop outlines and handouts that you’ll receive at the conference.
Laptop or tablet (if you want it).
Chargers for your laptop, phone, etc.
Dress is casual. You will do a lot of walking and sitting so you’ll want to be comfortable, but you will also want to feel confident and professional. Wear what brings out your best!
Layers are highly recommended as the weather tends to fluctuate.
Tips for Setting Realistic Goal
Shattered expectations probably cause more conference angst than anything else. It’s important to go with realistic goals in mind, even if you have some publishing credits. For example, editors cannot offer you a book contract right there under the redwoods, but an editor or agent might invite you to submit a full proposal or manuscript after the conference based on your pitch or submission. A door might open on the last day with someone you hadn’t planned to talk to. Sending a story in for a critique could result in the Critique Team member encouraging you to talk to one of the magazine editors. God might have some heart work to do in you before you’re ready to write that book. Be open to what He has in mind for you!
You will get the most out of the conference if you focus on…
- Learning and growing in the craft – Mount Hermon offers top-notch workshops and speakers, in addition to the opportunity to meet with editors. Plan to soak up all you can about the writing life, the publishing industry, and becoming an even better writer. If one of your goals is to meet with editors, be open to how you will grow and learn through how they respond to your work.
- Relationships – Do you wonder why so many of us return to this conference year after year? It’s because we’ve met some of our dearest friends, prayer warriors, and mentors at Mount Hermon and can’t wait to see them again. It is possible that someone you talk to casually this year will be your agent or editor five years from now, or become the friend you’ve been praying for. You will hear a lot about divine appointments. Be ready for them!
- Being open to God’s plan – It is very possible that His goal for the conference is different from your goal. His is always better. Ask Him to help you set aside your agenda so you can discover His.
When setting goals, keep in mind:
- Your experience level – If you are a beginner, it might be unrealistic to pitch a book idea to an editor, but maybe you have an article to submit to one of the magazines. If you did a lot of writing in the past and are picking it up again after a long break, you’ll need to keep in mind that you’re going into a very different publishing industry.
- How much you have actually written – If you present a book idea, the editor will ask how much you have finished.
- Your schedule before the conference – Do you have time to complete a book proposal or manuscript to pre-submit, or should you remove one thing from your plate and bring it with you?
- If you are truly ready to put a particular piece of writing out there – If you are writing about something deeply personal, you will be extra sensitive to how editors respond to it. Consider sending it for a critique first to test the waters.
- It is okay to keep your goals simple. Maybe going to a major conference where you don’t know anyone is a big step in itself. In this case, make it your goal to step out of your comfort zone, whatever that might look like for you (meeting as many new people as possible, asking for a critique, talking to an editor).
- It is okay to just go to learn and enjoy! Many conference veterans will tell you that their favorite years at Mount Hermon were those when they didn’t have anything to discuss with editors. Enjoy this opportunity to get away from your everyday routine and be saturated with all things writing-related.
- This is YOUR writing journey, not someone else’s. It is not unusual for conferees to arrive carrying the weight of someone else’s expectations—pressure to come home with the good news that will make the trip “worth the cost,” a promise to write a book, the need to find a new source of income after a job loss or retirement. Unfortunately, this pressure often comes through non-writers who don’t understand how the industry works. If this is you, ask God to release the burden and help you get the most out of this exciting step of faith.
Advance Manuscript Submission
Should I pre-submit a manuscript for critique or editor review?
How to Know
You may pre-submit up to two manuscripts for critique or editor review, free of charge. If you are considering submitting a manuscript and can’t decide if you want a critique or an editor review, here some things to consider:
- If you want feedback on your story’s strengths and weaknesses, choose a critique. Most editors will make comments, but they are only obligated to fill out the brief evaluation form. A Critique Team member will give you a thorough evaluation and usually meet with you one-on-one.
- If you feel confident that your story is ready for publication, submit it to an editor or agent (or two different editors, or one editor and one agent). If you get disappointing news, you can visit the Critique Team at the conference during the walk-in times.
- Since you are allowed two submissions, you might want to send one copy of your manuscript to an editor and the other for a critique. This will allow you to benefit from both.
- Don’t forget the magazine editors! Magazines are a great way to build your writing resume. If you don’t have a book in the works, consider submitting an article, devotion, or story.
- If you are just going to learn, or if you aren’t sure if your work is ready for a critique, there is no pressure to pre-submit anything. Bring one or two pieces of writing with you in case you have an opportunity to show it to someone.
Whether you pre-submit a manuscript or not, we encourage you to take advantage of the Critique Team service during the conference, even to ask questions about the type of writing you want to do. This is your chance to have a professional author give you honest and valuable feedback.
What to Expect on the First Day
Hopefully, you will arrive early enough to unpack, settle in, and walk around the grounds before the conference is in full swing. Many people like to hang out in Common Grounds, which is a cozy lounge that has a coffee cart. That is a great place to meet fellow registrants or chat with your roommate. You can go to the Hospitality Center (Multi-purpose Room, under the Dining Hall) to get questions answered and meet some of the support staff.
If you have published books and plan to put them on consignment in the conference bookstore, be sure to check them in before you get too busy.
The main conference begins with lunch on Friday, followed by a First-Timers Orientation and Returners Reunion. Just follow the signs. If you don’t know where to go, ask a faculty member or one of our Conference Connections volunteers (identified by hearts on their nametags). Don’t be shy. This is a very friendly conference!
After the orientation/reunion, follow the pack to our Meet & Greet in the Fieldhouse, where you’ll have a chance to see, meet, and chat with faculty members and fellow conferees. If you’ve studied the faculty members’ bios on the website, the Editorial Needs of the agents and publishers, and the Freelancer Specialties of the authors and editors, and you’ve determined which ones would be a good fit for you to meet with, feel free to approach those individuals at the Meet & Greet to schedule an appointment.
If you walk into lunch or dinner feeling tired, discouraged, or like you need a break from trying to impress editors, join us at the table designated as a No-Pressure Zone. There you can relax, connect with others, and get the lift you need to go into the rest of your day.
How to Prepare a Pitch
- Start with the title, genre, audience, and what makes your book stand out as unique.
- What makes you especially qualified to write this book?
- Take time to practice your pitch with a friend so you will feel confident and prepared.
- If you’ve never pitched an idea to an editor before, or if it has been awhile, ask an experienced author or faculty member for help.
A pitch will also come in handy when approaching magazine editors with article ideas.
Riding Out Ups and Downs
You might be surprised by the ups and downs you experience even in your excitement.
Before the conference:
Anxieties and doubts are a natural part of heading into the unknown. No matter what your mind tells you….
You will not be the only one who feels clueless at times. (About half the registrants will be newbies.)
People will talk to you.
If God made it possible for you to register for the conference, you are supposed to go.
During the Conference:
Even conference veterans and faculty members hit a wall at some point. This is a fun, wonderful conference, but it can also be overwhelming and tiring, and Mount Hermon seems to be a place where God works on hearts in unique ways. If you have a low point (Saturday and Sunday are peak times for this), it will pass. Whatever you do, don’t go home, and don’t suffer in silence.
It’s normal! It’s easy to give into the “I’m the only one” lie.
I’m the only one who . . .
feels overwhelmed and lost.
doesn’t have an agent.
hasn’t published anything.
got a rejection today.
totally blew my pitch.
has been teary all evening.
feels like my brain is about to explode.
is questioning why I came
Share how you feel and you’ll discover that half the people around you either feel the same way, or did earlier in the day until they cried with a faculty member. We all have our moments, and we all feel better eventually, especially if we do one or more of the following:
- Find someone to talk to or pray with. Faculty members, critique team members, and conference veterans are great resources for this. Members of the prayer team will be available in the prayer chapel on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon, 1:30-5:00, to pray with you. Prayer request sheets will be available in Hospitality. Come by and fill one out and drop it in the designated box. Members of the prayer team will pray for those requests during the conference.
- Be honest about why you are struggling, even if it has nothing to do with writing or the conference (we all bring extra baggage with us). It is very possible that God brought you to this place for some healing or support.
- Skip a workshop if you are on information overload.
- Take a nap. Sometimes we’re just tired!
- Call your family. Being homesick tends to magnify our emotions.
- Take a walk.
- Get some coffee or a snack.
- Spend time with God. Go to the chapel or to your room, or find a quiet bench.
Keep in mind that God often does His greatest work after we’ve surrendered our disappointments, gotten some rest, or emptied a well of emotion.
Preparing to Meet with Editors, Agents, and Faculty
You will have many opportunities to talk to editors, agents, industry pros, and authors who are on faculty. For more details on how to connect with editors and agents, please read “First-Timers FAQs.”
Keep these things in mind as you prepare:
They are people just like you, with families, hobbies, pets, limitations, insecurities, and job stresses. They aren’t nearly as scary as their titles imply.
You will find them extremely accessible and friendly.
Every member of the Mount Hermon faculty has a heart for encouraging writers and wants to see you succeed.
Editors and agents know the business and make decisions based on that. If you receive a rejection, it is never as personal as it feels.
Don’t miss out on opportunities to make appointments with faculty members who are NOT editors or agents. For example, you might get a lot out of talking to your Major Morning Track instructor or a workshop leader.
You are not required to make appointments with editors or agents. If pitching is not on your list of goals, enjoy getting to know them as people during meals and when you attend their workshops.
Now, how should you prepare for an appointment?
Before the conference:
Read the Editorial Needs on the conference website so you submit to the correct person. You don’t want to send you historical romance to an agent who only represents non-fiction.
Follow the guidelines for preparing a manuscript or book proposal (found on the conference website) so when you send your submission, it will look professional.
Practice your pitch before the conference.
Study the website of every publisher or agent that you plan to pitch or submit to.
Make a list of who you would like to meet with, understanding that your list might change. (For example, an editor might need to cancel, or someone could suggest, “You should talk to . . .”)
At the conference:
Find someone to talk to or pray with. Faculty members are great resources for this. You can also look for one of the people with hearts on their nametags. These conference veterans are available to listen, pray, and offer encouragement.
Be confident and professional (even if you’re scared to death inside). Be the best version of yourself.
Follow the rules. If the conference director says, “No pitching during the Meet & Greet,” respect that. Listen for instructions on how to get your manuscript to an editor if you didn’t pre-submit. Don’t be the author who slips her manuscript under the bathroom stall door or onto her favorite editor’s dinner plate (apparently this really happens).
Be polite. Wait your turn. If you see an editor, agent, or other faculty member talking one-on-one with a registrant (or another faculty member) in the Fountain, in the coffee lounge, or on a shady bench, they are most likely having an appointment. Leave them alone and wait until later to approach the person you want to talk to.
Trust God to open and close doors. If an editor’s table is full, maybe you are supposed to sit somewhere else. If an agent turns down your manuscript, perhaps she wasn’t the right fit for you. It is completely okay to be disappointed, but also consider what might open up instead.
Meeting with God During the Conference
It is so easy to get caught up in the activity of the conference and forget to meet with the One who sent you in the first place. Make appointments with God a priority.
Get ready to have a life-changing experience!
Schedule time with Him into your day. Just like at home, if you don’t plan it, it won’t happen.
Visit the Prayer Chapel at least once. Members of the prayer team will be available in the chapel on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon, 1:30-5:00, to pray with you.
Attend the Morning Prayer & Praise sessions. These happen on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday mornings before breakfast and are a great way to start your day.
Attend the Palm Sunday service. It includes Communion, and is a perfect time for reflection as you go into the second half of the conference.
Plan ahead to skip one workshop or activity to pray, read your Bible, re-evaluate your dreams, and seek God’s wisdom and guidance.
This is an expensive conference! Is it really worth it? What does my tuition cover?
When you consider what you get for the price of registration, you will see that this conference is well worth the cost. It covers the following:
Three and a half days of workshops (Morning Mentoring Clinic groups require an additional fee)
The opportunity to pre-submit two manuscripts at no extra cost (most conferences charge for this service)
Free access to the Critique Team during the conference You will also have the chance to:
Learn from and be inspired by published authors, industry professionals, and keynote speakers
Connect with other writers
Pitch your ideas to editors and agents
Share meals with authors, editors, agents
Meet with God in a beautiful setting
Get feedback on your writing and ideas
Enjoy times of prayer and praise
Make new friends who share your passion
Note: If money is keeping you away, consider applying for a Campership. Asking for financial help is humbling, but a Campership just might be God’s way of fulfilling your desire. Call the Mount Hermon registration office for details on how to apply.
Do I need to sign up for workshops ahead of time?
Do I have to pre-submit a manuscript or bring writing to share?
The opportunity to pre-submit two short manuscripts for critique or editor review is a unique perk of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. (Please read the guidelines posted on the website for details about length, what to include, and how to get it to right person.) We definitely encourage registrants to take advantage of this. But it’s not a requirement. If you aren’t ready to show your work to an editor, consider submitting a story for a critique. You may also bring a piece of writing or two to the conference, to show to a Critique Team member during walk-in hours.
How can I connect with editors and agents during the conference?
This is probably the most common question. You will find that the editors and agents are extremely accessible and welcoming. There are several ways to connect with them.
- Pre-submit a manuscript for editor/agent review. This will allow the editor or agent to see and evaluate your work. If it has potential, he/she will offer you an appointment time.
- Once you arrive at the conference, you may approach any editor or agent and request an appointment. Some might ask what you are working on before committing to the time; a few will want to wait until they’ve gotten through all of their pre-submitted manuscripts, but never be afraid to ask!
- Attend a workshop that the editor or agent is teaching. The content might tell you whether or not your work is a good fit. Wait until after the workshop to request an appointment.
- Starting on Friday evening, meal tables will be marked with the names of editors, agents, and faculty members during every lunch and dinner. If you want to connect with someone specific, try sitting at his/her table. Meals are great times to get to know editors as people.
Note: Before approaching an editor or agent with a pitch, be sure to read Editorial Needs (under Resources) on the conference website.
What is the Critique Team?
Each member of the Critique Team is a published author who has a heart for encouraging and guiding writers. You may submit a manuscript to the Critique Team before the conference or come in for a critique during the first-come-first-served walk-in times. They are available to offer feedback on your manuscripts, help you understand an editor’s comments, brainstorm, coach you on polishing your pitch before an editor appointment, or just listen if you get disappointing news and feel discouraged. No matter where you are on your writing journey, don’t miss out on this valuable service!
What is a pitch?
This is fancy writer talk for “sharing your book idea with an agent or editor in a concise and compelling way.” Editor appointments are only 15 minutes long, and you’ll have even less time if you happen to connect between workshops or during dinner and an editor says, “So, tell me about your project.” For more on preparing a pitch, see the “First-timers Information Packet.”
If you are a new writer and do not have a book idea yet, you might want to pitch an article idea to a magazine editor.
If you are a complete newbie and don’t feel ready to pitch anything, it’s completely okay! This is your year to listen and learn from those who present ideas during meals or in workshops.
What is the most valuable thing that I can expect to get out of the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference?
You might be surprised to discover that the answer to this question is not the connections (although it’s wonderful when they happen), or even all that you will learn (you’ll learn more than you can possibly absorb). Those who attend this amazing conference will tell you that they are the most thankful for the relationships that come out of it. Try not to get so caught up in making editor appointments that you miss out on appointments with new friends (registrants and faculty). These people might become treasured prayer partners and mentors long after the conference!
How can I best prepare for the conference?
Please see the First-timers’ Preparation Packet, which is full of tips and information. And peruse the entire Mount Hermon Christian Writers Website. More than once.
By Jeanette Hanscome, 2017 Faculty Member
What Some Former First-Timers Have to Say
“I will never forget my first impression of a Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. I kept thinking, I have found MY PEOPLE.” ~ Suzanne Peppers
“The first year I signed up to attend the Mount Hermon Writers Conference I was nervous. What if I’m not a ‘real’ writer? Would people notice? After all, there would be editors, agents, and established authors there. Yes, I was still scared to talk to those in the publishing industry, but their kind hearts and willing spirits to teach a newbie like me calmed my fears and opened up a world of possibilities. I’m glad I listened to that tug on my heart to attend Mount Hermon in 2006—and every year since—because it has changed my life!” ~ Sherry Kyle
“My first year at Mount Hermon I arrived terrified but left elated. The tracks and workshops offered phenomenal and practical teaching—I grew as a writer. The published authors, editors, and agents were friendly, approachable, and generous in doling out wisdom and advice—I grew as a professional. And I met fellow terrified newbies who have become some of my truest friends—they’ve caused me to grow as a person. Between the redwood-scented air and the Lord’s presence, Mount Hermon leads to growth!” ~ Sarah Sundin
“I arrived at the 1995 Mount Hermon Writers Conference not knowing anyone, filled with junior-high-ish fears of sitting alone at lunch, doing everything wrong, and getting lost (I have low vision). I am so thankful that I didn’t let those fears keep me home. By the end of the opening session, they had been erased. I met wonderful, creative, passionate, friendly people who are still dear friends. Submitting a story for a critique led to showing that same story to an editor who encouraged me to start submitting to her—I wrote for that magazine for over fifteen years. This conference is a gift that I thank God for.” ~ Jeanette Hanscome
“A writer as green as spring grasses, I arrived at the San Jose Airport, looked for the Mount Hermon Shuttle Sign, and began an adventure that has resulted in long-lasting relationships that deepened my spiritual roots and nourished me as a writer and speaker. Nearly 30 years and hundreds of publishing credits later, I still look forward to returning to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference every spring for a reunion, regrouping and renewal.” ~ Mona Hodgson