Monday, September 26, 2011

Christian Fiction Writers Wherever They Are

St. Louis, Missouri, site of recent
ACFW conference
I avoided the American Christian Fiction Writers for years. It was originally called American Christian Romance Writers, and I am definitely not a romance writer. I write coming-of-age stories set mostly outside of America. But I am living in the States now and looking for a shot in the arm for my career. I have been assured that ACFW is not just romance anymore so this summer I took the plunge and joined.

I meet ICFW's Valerie Comer at
the recent ACFA conference.
There are regional chapters all over the country and even one for non-Americans headed by ICFW’s own Cathy West. My local chapter sponsored a retreat this summer where I met lots of writers, most of whom were not doing romance. I regret that family events and travel have kept me from getting to any regular chapter meetings yet. (Maybe October…) But when I do, I know I will have friends.

ACFW offers tutorials, on-line classes, links to recommended books on writing, and other resources. What I have found most valuable so far is the extensive e-mail network.

I admit I was put off by the main list that receives 60 to 100 messages per DAY! But there are also smaller genre lists that put you in contact with people writing books similar to yours. I signed up for both historical (because of my Glastonbury Tor) and young adult (my other published works) so I receive a much more manageable number of messages. G-mail lets me set up filters so they don’t crowd my in-box and I can sort through them at my convenience. The historical list has recently hosted discussions on the differences between historical and contemporary fiction, what readers expect from Regency novels, the difference between preachy and a meaningful theme, and which Bible translation to use to be understandable to modern readers while remaining culturally authentic. The YA group has less activity (so far mainly announcements of book giveaways or questions about the coming conference), but it is a place to network with potential endorsers or information sources.

My primary motivation for joining ACFW at this time was the annual conference held this week in St. Louis. That, too, is all organized on-line. There are bios of the editors and agents who will be present, summaries of workshops, schedules and (of course) an e-mail list for first timers. (That is on top of the e-mail list for new-comers to the organization that introduced me to the website, regional chapters, genre groups and how to use the lists without being overwhelmed.) The first-timers-at-conference list not only answers questions about what to wear, what to bring and where to go, it has also given us tips on what agents are looking for, what goes into a proposal and links to blogs on taking advantage of a conference experience. Cara Putman, the moderator, even critiqued our elevator pitches. (An elevator pitch is a one- or two-sentence summary of your novel, designed to hook the interest of an agent or editor in less time than it takes to go from one floor to the next in an elevator.) Not only were Cara’s suggestions on my pitch worthwhile, but reading other people’s pitches and their critique was also educational.

ACFW aims to be "the voice of Christian fiction." I am impressed with how they use technology that does not depend on physical proximity, something that allows for participation by writers all over the world. There was even an alternative conference running on-line last week for people who couldn’t physically make it to Saint Louis, Missouri. Participants might be anywhere from Australia to Zambia.

Author Rachel Hauck leads worship
The conference in Saint Louis this week has been bathed in prayer both before and during. The times ofworship have been awesome. Sunday morning an improvised choir sang Rachael Phillips' beautifularrangement of Fanny Crosby’s “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”, turning it into an author's prayer. "O Living Word, give me the words to tell your story to a dying world." Workshops are geared fordifferent levels of experience from novice to author of multiple published titles.I have met so many people. Some had names that were familiar from the Internetor book covers. Others were new. But the atmosphere has been one ofencouragement--we are in this together to make a difference for eternity—not oneof competition. We have exchanged business cards and plans to stay in touch inthe coming months.

Agent Natasha Kern talks about what
your agent should be doing for you.
Authors can signup for meetings with editors, agents, and/or mentors. Since my agent retired and I am lookingfor a new one, I chose several from among the list (on the internet) thatdescribed what kinds of manuscripts they were looking for. The experience israther like speed-dating. The agent sits at a small desk in a room with severalother agents. When it was my turn for my first meeting I went to the table andhad fifteen minutes to present my pitch and discuss it with the agent. Ithought I was trusting the Lord on this, but I admit my heart was not keeping its normal, regular pace when I went in. By the time I came out, it was. She was sonice! I felt like I had found a kindred spirit even if she doesn’t choose torepresent me.

The weekend wasextremely intense. By the end of it, I was exhausted, but wondering why I putoff joining ACFW for so long. Perhapsthis community and its resources would be useful to you in your writing journeywhether or not you are physically in America.


At ACFW LeAnne Hardy pitched a YA novel about a promising South African figure skater, scared to death that people at the rink will find out her parents have AIDS. You can find out more about her published books and travel adventures on her website and blog.


  1. Great post, Leanne. So glad you finally joined us! It was wonderful getting to know you a little better at the Beyond Borders zone table yesterday. In addition to the wonderful resources you've mentioned, there is a critique group, and book club, and upcoming will be a print magazine and more webinairs. I'm on digest for the main loop and find that to be an easy way to skim the subject headings of emails that I might wish to read or respond to.

  2. I agree with Sandra--the digest form of the main loop simplifies things for me, too. I've been a member for about five years now, and absolutely know I wouldn't have a contract today without that membership.

    It was great to meet you, Leanne and Sandra! (And so many others...650+ people attended.)

  3. Thank you, Sandra and Valerie. It was great to sit with you at the Beyond the Borders table. As you say, Valerie, there were so many people there! I had several on my list that I never made connections with since their phones didn't work in the U.S. Next time...

  4. Even though I live in South Africa, I joined ACFW and it's one of the best things I could have done for my writing.

    The members are friendly, helpful and a treasure trove of information for writers.

    I especially enjoy the excellent free online workshops

  5. LeAnne, it's great to hear you've discovered ACFW and their fabulous resources :)

  6. It was great to meet you, LeAnne! I love being a part of ACFW.