Today I want to put in my plug for a little something called the American Christian Writer’s conference. This year it is September 22-25 in St. Louis, MO. If you’re interested in writing Christian fiction, you should definitely consider going. Honestly, when I think of the many great classes I’ve sat through, I think even secular writers would love this event. It’s that beneficial.
I’ve told this story a few hundred times, but I owe my career to ACFW. My road to publication is a short one, filled with a series of God moments and God “coincidences” that finally led me to ACFW. The bare bones of it include: I moved to teach at a new school. I didn’t have a classroom. In constant bad mood as cart pusher. I taught in the room of a friend and my former mentoring teacher Erin (who I still acknowledge in every single book). Erin has library of Christian fiction. I see the cover of Billerbeck’s What a Girl Wants. It’s pink, therefore I must read. Love book. Go to Billerbeck’s website. See logo for ACFW. I check out site. Decide to join. Decide I will go to their conference that next fall. Rope Erin into going. We almost die on plane. I exaggerate, but the Lord’s Prayer was said. Aloud. There might’ve been some hand holding. Go to conference. Long story of more God moments….
And six months later I had a contract for In Between, my first book.
Here’s what I want you to know.
1. ACFW is for writers of all level. When I went in ’05, I had 2o pages of a book complete. I had never written/completed a book in my life. I sat down with an author for a paid critique (HIGHLY recommended-best 30 bucks I’ve ever spent), and she said, “You should query this. Get your proposal ready.” I’m not kidding, I asked her what a query was. What’s a proposal? So if your lack of experience or lack of writing progress is holding you back, don’t let it. My main goal that week was just to scout out the scene so I would be prepared next year. God had other plans. But I will say, even as green as I was, I probably learned over half of what I know of writing now from all that I soaked up at that conference. Be prepared to come back with a brain over-filled and squishy. By the way, that writer who critiqued my work was Kristin Billerbeck.
2. If you like to write fiction, you need to be around other weirdos like yourself. There is nothing like sitting at a table of people who get you, even if they’ve never met you. You will feel right at home.
3. Don’t be intimidated if you’re an introvert. When we’re talking groups larger than six, I am definitely an introvert. I do not enjoy crowds. The more people there are, the more I wonder if my room television gets Property Hunters. But yet I still enjoy ACFW. Yes, I come home completely drained-but in a good way! (My intake of M&Ms during this time could also be a contributing factor…) But the cool thing is, I’ve found you can’t go wrong with some safe conversation topics. Here are my stand-bys:
1. What do you write?
2. Where are you from? (You can also read this info on their name tag, but depending on where that thing sits on a chest…)
3. Are you pitching this week?
4. Have you had any appointments yet? How did it go?
5. What do you like to read?
6. Do you know what that green stuff was at lunch?
4. You will make life-long friends. Even if you’re not Mr. or Ms. Outgoing, you will come back with friends. (In your heart. Not like in your suitcase.) If you have any interest in a future in being published, writing friends are a must. I bonded with my good friend author Christa Allan at my second conference because we were both short. And teachers. And good Southern girls. Who occasionally needed muzzles for our wayward comments. Gina Conroy and I bonded over a lunch I was lucky enough to tag along for. We realized we only lived 2 hours apart. I sat in my friend Danica’s tax class one year and was her roomie the next. When I saw her break out her tiara and candy, I knew this was my type of friend.
5. Opportunities. At some of the meals you get the chance to sit with the editor or agent of your choice and talk to them about your book idea. If you are like me that first year (and actually every year since) and don’t want to “pitch,” you can just listen (the pitches of others are fascinating to listen to. Some people have it down to an art. I am not one of these people) or just talk to the editor/agent about the business in general. Or be wild and crazy and just talk to the editor/agent about something NOT writing related. That’s a welcome break for them. At dinner in ’05 I remember Karen Ball (then at Zondervan) talking to all of us at her table about John Wayne movies. (All I had to contribute was, “Um…I like McLintock.”)
6. I’ll be teaching! This is my second year to teach, and I’m totally excited. Last year was so fun, despite one class of insane technical issues. But I’m back and ready to redeem myself! I’ll be teaching a class on the Do’s and Don’ts of Dialog. Dialog writing is my favorite! I’m also teaching a session called “Fried Brains and Ham.” (That title was sent in as a joke…and they used it. I’m soooo professional…) That class will be about overcoming writer’s block and burnout. I’m going to TRY to get through that hour without recommending binge eating. My big fear (other than speaking with my pants unknowingly unzipped) is that I’ll be speaking to an empty room, so just another reason why I would love to see you there. (Otherwise, I’m totally paying some maids to come sit in on my sessions. “I’ll clean those last five rooms for you if you just want to step in that conference room on your left. No, I scrub a really mean toilet. It’s cool.”) I’m still trying to decide if I want to just straight teach OR if I will present my information in an interpretive ribbon dance to the tune of old Michael Bolton hits. (Probably depends if I can squeeze into the spandex unitard this year or not. Did not work out for me last year. I swear that thing shrinks every summer after my Community Pool Synchronized Swimming Demos…)
Registration is open. Pray about it. Consider it. And pack those bags!
See you there!
Learn more about Jenny B. Jones and her books here.