ACFW Conference Recap – part 1

Last week I attended my first American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference in Dallas, Texas. I soon became aware that it’s probably the biggest Christian fiction writers’ conference, not only in America, but almost automatically as a result, the world.

This is based on 2 stats:

1. Almost 700 fiction writers were in attendance. Yes, fiction writers. There’s no non-fiction at this gig.
2. The number of agents (17) and editors (32) that attend. By all accounts there is no other Christian writing conference (in America) where more professionals turn up looking for new writers as well as offering their vast experience to many.

More on agents and editors later.

I hope you don’t mind but I will detail much of my experience, as it will give you a good insight into what actually went on at the conference. Do let me know in the comments below if you have any particular questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Fiona and I had been in the States for two weeks prior to the conference having had an incredible time in New York and Washington, DC. I boarded the plane for Dallas excited but also anxious, unsure of what to expect when I walk into the conference at 8.30am the following morning.

Day One

I had signed up for an early-bird “writing scenes” skills class. I hadn’t written anything for weeks and felt very unprepared for this session. Fortunately, when I walked into the large room there were already 100+ people sitting down. I was happy that I could easily slip into anonymity.

This class was just what I needed. It was hands-on doing exercises. It woke me up, reinvigorated me to start writing and got me in the mood for what was to follow.

Immediately prior to the official opening, they hold a session for all the “first-timers”. I entered the room of 150-odd people (I’m guessing), notice a guy sitting by himself on the end of a row (a favourite position of mine), introduce myself and sit down. Arthur is a Fort Worth local, so he didn’t have far to come, and had taken two days off from his teaching job to attend. I relax as Cara Putnam and Brandilyn Collins, our hosts, get things underway. The 45-minute session ends with a 15-minute get to know other first timers. We’re split by writing genre and are soon forming small huddles, swapping introductions and business cards. Arthur and I hang out and head off to the big auditorium for the kick-off.

We’re both comfortable having met a new friend. However, I’m not sure Arthur was so keen on the table I selected for us. Up front, right in the middle in front of the microphone. The front tables, in my experience, are the last to fill up and we had plenty to choose from.

We soon meet others and immediately my accent clearly differentiates me. It’s a wonderful icebreaker; both for those I meet and also myself. “Oh, I luuuve that accent. Where ya’ll from?”
I never tire of such an opening in such a group as it soon sets people at ease.

After the opening pleasantries, we listen to the first half of Mike Hyatt’s keynote address. I love this guy. He’s stepped out of a 30+ corporate career to become a full time writer and speaker. His material is extraordinary and listening to him is a real treat. I’ll write a separate post on some of my key takeouts of his 2 talks.

Worship

On the conclusion of Mike’s address, we spend some time in worship. ACFW has its own worship band, extremely capably led by Rachel Hauck. Rachel does a great job bringing the Spirit alive. I so love worship and am immediately appreciative that our day ends with focusing on the Lord. It’s very easy at gigs like this to become very “me” focused so surrendering to Jesus in worship both brings refreshment and renewed perspective.

We have dinner. I’m seated with some lovely ladies from Oklahoma, even though for the majority of the meal I thought they were Dallas locals. Cindy and Becky are so welcoming and gracious. Cindy, in fact, prophesied over me regarding Angelguard’s impact in America.

The first day doesn’t end with dinner. In fact there are two more sessions, both of which I found very useful:

1. Spotlight on Thomas Nelson – this gave me a good overview of how many novels they’re launching next year (around 50) and what they’re looking for.
2. Agent Panel – 9 agents answering questions from the floor. This was really useful for me as I got to see they’re human (ha!), very generous in sharing, and also little tidbits in what’s of particular interest to each. It was invaluable as the two agents I was scheduled to meet were both in this session.

My mind is already expanding rapidly with information. Day One is over. I do some prep for my appointments the next day.

Then bed. Mentally drained, little anxious about those appointments but also eager for what the morrow would bring.

I’ll take you through Day 2 tomorrow.

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