Thursday, September 30, 2010

What They Don't Tell You About the ACFW Conference

I came back from the ACFW conference in Indy bound and determined not to write about my observations of the conference. I figured fellow Hoosier Ink bloggers would have already covered that territory. They have, and I've enjoyed every posting for their unique insights. Hoosiers rock! However, I can’t resist sharing my insights. If you couldn’t attend this year, maybe you experienced a greater blessing for staying home, as Nikki Studebaker Barcus shared in her post. Rest assured, you will be there in God’s timing – the time when you’re ready, and He’s paved the way. This year was my first conference, and it was, in a word, spectacular. Next year? Who knows…one at a time.

My situation in attending the ACFW was unique in that I already have a book contract (but am still in the “not published” category), and don’t have an agent. I went into the conference with no expectations other than to meet, greet, absorb and glean. I didn’t think I was nervous, but my nerves surfaced in the form of a major reflux attack (also a first) after eating the bacon at the Saturday morning breakfast (hugs to Millie for guarding my things and taking care of me, Beth V. for praying with me, and Darren - I should have given you that bacon). I figured my day could only get better from there. Oh, it did…and how.

The entire cost of the conference was justified when I met for a pre-arranged lunch with a multi-published author. I met her at the author signing table, and she “happened” to be speaking with the internet product rep from CBD (Christian Book Distributors) at the time. We used to live down the road from CBD in Peabody, MA. I struck up a conversation with this woman, and we talked CBD, Red Sox and all things Massachusetts. That paved the way. Then I told her, “I have my first book coming out with a new, small publisher.” Then the hard-hitting question: “How can I get my publisher - and my book - in your fiction catalog?” She smiled, handed me her card and said, “Get in contact with me after the conference, and we’ll work together with your publisher to get you in the catalog.” I’d heard you have to jump through hoops, but turns out, it’s not that hard. But the Lord put me literally where He wanted me at that point in time. That’s God’s providence, my friends. If you don’t know, CBD is one of the biggest online retailers of Christian fiction on the planet. This is huge in terms of marketing my book and could put my publisher on the proverbial map.

A couple of hours later, my 15-minute appointment with Angie Breidenbach somehow extended to nearly 50 minutes. She had tons of ideas for me in terms of marketing, even for my next book which isn’t contracted – yet. Then I had a longer-than-expected mentoring appointment with Lena Nelson Dooley and she advised me on various aspects of getting an agent and contract negotiation. Instead of going to a keynote session, I ended up having a 45-minute private conversation with a published author who shared great insights pertinent to my genre. Those extended meetings took me out of scheduled events, but they were invaluable. And that’s why you buy the conference materials. Sure, I missed valuable teaching sessions, but I learned more from those one-on-one meetings, and know the Lord helped orchestrate those incredible moments at the right time in my writing journey. And, I must say that praising Him by singing in Rachael’s choir was one of the highlights of the conference for this singer.

One of the sweetest moments occurred on Saturday night. I sat next to a woman from Hershey, PA, at Steve Laube's agent panel. Afterwards, we chatted and discovered we both write contemporary romance. I mentioned that I'd sent an e-mail to someone on the ACFW first-timers loop to welcome her since not many on that loop shared our genre. Her eyes lit up. "Were you the one who wrote and said you had a Hershey bar with almonds sitting beside the computer as you wrote to me?" Yes, that would be me. She said, "I prayed I'd somehow meet you here!" Next evening, I walked back to my hotel with a big bag of Hershey bars. Life's little unexpected treats are often the best. Another woman tapped me on the shoulder that evening and thanked me for the room at the Hyatt, telling me how it blessed her life. I gave up the room due to the generosity of another Indiana writer sharing her room at another hotel down the street, and it blessed my life immeasurably. Seeing the Lord work in unique and marvelous ways is so exciting, isn’t it?

So, what they don’t tell you about the ACFW? Some of the biggest blessings come even when you falter (the reflux attack); step out in faith (talking with the CBD rep, connecting with others on the ACFW loops before meeting in person at the conference); expect a little and receive a lot in return (the unexpected, extended one-on-one meetings); accept a blessing (the hotel room down the street), and share a blessing (the room at the Hyatt and singing in the conference choir). Our Lord is so great there’s nothing He can’t do. He can literally move mountains. If it’s your turn to attend the ACFW conference next year, He’ll pave the way to make it happen and you'll be there. In the meantime, keep writing, keep praying and trust Him to guide you every step of the way. Blessings to you! Matthew 5:16


  1. Joann, so nice to hear that your first conference was a winner, in several different ways. Everyone's blessings are different, but I'm glad for yours!

  2. What a GREAT testimony about your first ACFW conf, JoAnn! And so cleverly written! You should submit it to Afictionado (if you haven't already) or to the Christian Communicator. Your words will plant a seed or light a spark in those God wants to attend next year. . . :-)

  3. I am anticipating my first ACFW conference. God blessed you in a huge way. Congratulations

  4. Well, that was fun! I'm so glad you shared your experience at ACFW. God met you everywhere you turned!