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Five Conference Tips from a Veteran Attendee

by Vickie McDonough

After waiting all year for the ACFW conference to roll around again, it’s hard to believe that it is now only weeks away. The highlight of my year is attending the ACFW conference each September. I know I will learn more about the writing craft, but I also get to see the friends I’ve made over the years that I’ve attended and get connect with my agent and editors.

I’ve been blessed to have attended each of ACFW’s conferences, and I hope that I can share some tips with you that no one else has mentioned.

1. Get plenty of rest, even if you’re a social butterfly.

The conference only lasts a few days, but they are very long days, and your brain-and your body-will need a break from the grueling pace. If you’re totally exhausted, don’t be afraid to skip a session and take a nap. You can always purchase the recording of the session you missed.

2. Take time to make yourself aware of the food options at the Dallas hotel.

Food at this year’s hotel restaurants is expensive, and there is nothing else within walking distance. I checked the list of amenities on the hotel’s website and there are no microwaves, either. Take snacks that don’t have to be cooked: granola bars, trail mix, nuts, and fruit that you can eat if you don’t want to pay for a costly meal at the times that aren’t covered by your registration fee.

3. Prepare a One-sheet to hand out to editors and agents.

A one-sheet is basically an overview of you and the book you’re pitching. It should include your contact information, agent’s info if you have one, your writing credits, awards you have won, and information about the book you’re pitching. If you have room, include a picture of yourself. The purpose of the one-sheet is to help the editor/agent remember you and your book. Make it engaging and interesting but not cutesy-something that will help you stand out from all the other wannabes that the editor/agent talked with.

Kay Dacus has more excellent info about one-sheets on her website: http://kayedacus.com/2007/08/28/beyond-the-first-draft-the-pitch-sheet-and-one-sheet/

4. Prepare your elevator pitch & practice it.

My first ever pitch to an editor was a twelve-minute run-on sentence. Poor Jim Peterson finally laid his hand on my arm, eyes shut, and said: “Just send it to me.” Nerves can make you ramble so prepare in advance and make a good impression. Know what you want to say, and write it down, if you feel you need to. Keep your actual story pitch to below 50 words if you can. Twenty-five is even better. Don’t use character names. Instead use two descriptive words that portray your character: A cocky drifter, an embittered detective, a desperate spinster. Focus only on your main character’s goal, motivation, and conflict. I like to use what I call the When/But method (see highlighted blurb below).

I’m going to use my latest release, End of the Trail, as an example of how to write a pitch. If I were preparing a pitch for my one-sheet, I’d use this format:

End of the Trail
A 75,000 word historical romance set in 1896 Texas

When a cocky drifter wins a ranch in a card game, he knows it’s his chance to prove to his father that he has finally learned responsibility, but when he arrives at his new home, a spunky Texas cowgirl toting a rifle meets him on the porch. She claims the ranch is her inheritance. She’s not leaving-but neither is he.

If I were presenting this to an editor, I would do it this way:

“End of the Trail” is a historical romance set in 1890s Texas and is the story of a cocky drifter who wins a ranch in a card game, he knows it’s his chance to prove to his father that he has finally learned responsibility, but when he arrives at his new home, a spunky Texas cowgirl toting a rifle meets him on the porch. She claims the ranch is her inheritance. She’s not leaving-but neither is he.

There are many methods for writing a pitch, but this one has worked well for me.

5. Have fun at the conference. Don’t let the fact that you have upcoming editor/agent appointments make you so nervous that you can’t eat the delicious meals or enjoy yourself. It’s just one meeting-and that meeting is in the Lord’s hand. Do the best you can to pitch your book then let it go and trust that God will bring you a sale if it’s His will. Trusting God as your ultimate agent can take so much pressure off of you.

Enjoy yourself at the conference. Talk to strangers because you never know the bond that can form. I’ve made lifelong friends with some of the gals I’ve met at the conference-friends I later wrote books with. So, have fun, learn a lot, and I pray that God opens a door at this year’s conference for you.


Vickie McDonough is the award-winning author of 25 books and novellas. She is a past winner of ACFW’s Genesis Contest and a multiyear finalist in the Carol Awards. She has been an ACFW member for eleven years and is the ACFW treasurer. Vickie is the author of The Texas Boardinghouse Brides series and Long Trail Home (2012 Booksellers’ Best winner for Inspirational Fiction). Her latest book is
End of the Trail, the sixth book in the Texas Trails series.

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One Response to Five Conference Tips from a Veteran Attendee

  1. Pingback: Preparation for Conference. Are you ready? « Lucy Morgan-Jones