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The Writers Conference – Make it a Life-Changing Event!

by Sue Brower
Zondervan, Inc.

I have just returned from a great week at Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. Alton Gansky and his team provided an experience that I know changed the lives of many writers. We had writers from beginners to bestsellers, those that write 500 word blogs to those that write 100,000 word novels. What we all had in common was our love of writing and our desire to improve our craft. I say “our” because I learned something from every person I spoke with at the conference.

As we approach the ACFW conference in Dallas in September, I would like to encourage as many of you who can, to go. But before you walk into that hotel, take the time to set goals, strategies and tasks for the whole weekend. Here are few do’s and don’ts:

• DO look at your writing as a career, professionalism speaks volumes

• DO choose workshops and seminars that help you achieve your goal. If you have not finished at least one manuscript, focus on craft.

• DO ask questions of faculty, fellow writers, and established authors.

• DO be on time! If you have an appointment, don’t make them wait, and don’t take more than your scheduled time.

• DO research the publishers and agents that you have appointments with. Find out what they are looking for!

• DO let someone know if you are unable to make an appointment. There is always someone waiting to take your place.

• DO introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. It’s as simple as asking “what kind of fiction to you write?” “Where are you from?” “Is this your first conference?”

• DO bring chocolate and comfortable shoes.

• DON’T dominate the conversation at lunch and dinner if you are with a faculty member that everyone wants to talk to.

• DON’T go to editor and agent appointments unprepared.

• DON’T hide in your room between sessions. Socialize! Network! Meet new friends!

• DON’T overschedule yourself. You can’t go to every workshop, so look at those that will help you take the next step towards publication.

• DON’T pitch your book to an editor or agent in: the restroom, the elevator, standing in line waiting to go in for meals, or on the last day when he/she is checking out of the hotel.

• DON’T be afraid. Editors and agents don’t bite…except maybe Chip MacGregor!

Oh and my most memorable conference moment? I was recently at a conference where all of the faculty was introduced after dinner (and in my case, after traveling all day) and we were all pretty worn out. My first appointment was a lovely older lady, Southern to be sure. She shook my hand and gently reassured me “My you clean up well!” And that, my friends, is probably NOT the best way to open your editor or agent appointment.

So how do you approach going to writers conferences? Are you looking for network opportunities or to improve your craft? Or are you just hoping to find new friends with a common interest in writing fiction? No matter what your goal is, a little planning can go a long way towards making this a life-changing experience. See you in Dallas!


Sue Brower is Executive Editor at Zondervan. Prior to taking on this role, Sue was Sr. Director of Marketing for Fiction and Inspirational product for over thirteen years. Fiction is business as well as pleasure for Sue as she is an avid reader of both inspirational and mainstream novels.

Sue is on the Advisory Board for the Christy Awards and a member of ACE (Academy of Christian Editors. She was also awarded the 2010 ACFW Editor of the Year Award. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with husband, Todd, and “kidz”, Pepper, Ollie and Shep.

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11 Responses to The Writers Conference – Make it a Life-Changing Event!

  1. Marcia Lee says:

    My husband and I have recently moved to Kingsport, TN and are looking for Christian Writer’s conferences in this area. Can someone give me some addresses so I can get on mailing lists? I just missed the one at Blue Ridge and still can’t find an address. Please help!

  2. Thank you for great counsel, Sue! So many amazing things happen at the ACFW conference. Year after year, it grows in breadth and depth, a truly unique and focused experience. Some are dreaming, some hoping, some wishing, some planning, and some praying to come to the ACFW conference in September. May the path be cleared on all fronts so they can participate in this all fiction/all the time exceptional conference and meet some of the industry’s best agents and editors…like you!

  3. Sue, I enjoyed reading your dos and don’ts for writer’s conferences. Great summary! And Amen to what Cynthia said. I’ve seen God do AMAZING things at ACFW. The agents and editors are kind, caring, and approachable. I once attended a writer’s conference that was NOT Christian, and I got a completely different feeling; I didn’t have a chance to talk with editors and agents. At ACFW you can even eat meals with them! The friendships and memories will last a lifetime. Be sure to exchange business cards, and write little memos on the back to remember who gave them to you. God bless!

  4. Sue Brower says:

    Marcia,
    Blue Ridge information can be found at http://www.brcwc.com. You can also Google “Ridgecrest” because that’s the name of the conference center. It’s just outside Ashville, NC.

    There is also a writers conference at Montrose–just google that name. I believe it is also in NC. Ii am not aware of any in TN, but if you google “Christian Writers conferences” you should find quite a few around the country,

  5. Great advice that we all should follow for our next writers conference. Marcia, the link to Blue Ridge conference is: http://www.brmcwc.com
    It is an awesome conference, you would love it!

  6. Marcia Lee says:

    Thank you for your suggestions about writer’s conferences in this area. I’m following up on them and have found at least two I plan to attend in the next year. I’ve had six books published (Bethany House, Beacon Hill and Emerald Books…Marcia Mitchell) but have been out of the writing game for a number of years. However now, under my new name, I have two books ready to present, one each of fiction and non-fiction. I’m looking forward to meeting and mixing with other authors again.

  7. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to attend Blue Ridge and to share your advice here on the ACFW blog. I am posting the link to Facebook, also, particularly for our ACFW MidAtlantic Zone members who may be attending conferences in the near future.

    I attended the last two ACFW conferences but am not going this year (unless God urges me otherwise!) Am attending Philly where I hope to meet with more of the writers in our zone.

  8. Camille Eide says:

    I’ll miss ACFW this year since my daughter is getting married in Sept, but my writer heart will be there. Thank you for the advice. Oregon Christian Writers outs on a fantastic 4 day summer conferene here in Oregon which I hope to attend. (They know Chip very well there and he’s not allowed to bite.)

    What I love about Christian writing conferences is the spirit of God at work and the ministry I see, even amongst strangers. Getting acquainted with other authors allows us the opportunity to pray for someone else’s needs (aka nerves) and to minister to someone else. (Which helps us take some of the focus off ourselves!) Praying for the agent or editor you are preparing to meet is an added bonus, and helps make those meetings go smoothly.

    One more don’t: Don’t be surprised to find editors and agents are actually wonderful (normal) people. I sat at Sue’s table at the 2010 ACFW conference and was so blessed by how graciously she showed genuine interest in each person at that table. Thank you, Sue!

  9. Thanks so much, Sue, for your great advice. New attendees and experienced can learn from your sage advice. After being in the business for a number of years, I found myself seeking new representation last year — the first time — and I felt like a newbee, nervous, unsure, confused. But as would have it, the Lord stepped in, put me in the right place at the right time, and solved my problem. We are all blessed to have counsel from people like you and the ultimate guidance from our Lord. Blessings, and see you in Dallas.

  10. Ashley Clark says:

    I especially liked the point in the middle… “DO bring chocolate!” Ha! In the case of an emergency, there’s always the gift shop. Last year’s hotel carried Godiva!