I’ve attended so many writers conferences over the years that I’ve lost count. The earliest ones were back in the 1980s when I was writing children’s and YA stories and had joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Oh, those were the days! Meeting favorite authors in person and hanging out with the editors I hoped to write for someday . . . talk about starstruck!
Things didn’t change much several years later when, after transitioning from children’s writing to romance and women’s fiction, I joined American Christian Fiction Writers (it was American Christian Romance Writers back then). It was both thrilling and inspiring to sit in workshops taught by the very authors whose success I wanted to emulate, or to find myself in the same elevator with the editor or agent I was targeting—and shaking in my shoes at the very thought of sitting down with said agent or editor during the dreaded pitch appointment!
Yes, in those early years of attending conferences, I was a sponge, soaking up every drop of information on craft and marketing while basking in the reflected glow of all those writing professionals I admired so much. Not to mention I bought books like crazy, not just on the writing craft but every novel I could get my hands on by my favorite authors—autographed, of course! I’ll never forget arriving at the airport following my first Mount Hermon conference and frantically repacking all those books I’d bought because my luggage was too heavy!
Fast-forward several years. Now that I’m a published author myself, the way I approach a writers conference is a little different. While I can still glean many helpful pointers from craft workshops, I look for classes that go beyond the basics. I’m also much more interested in workshop topics like marketing, industry updates, independent publishing, social media, and time management.
Plus, a huge draw is spending time with my Seeker sisters and so many other writer friends I usually never see except at conferences. Also, it’s the one time during the year I can sit down for an uninterrupted face-to-face conversation with my agent.
So, for those of you who couldn’t make it to ACFW in Nashville last month, here’s a recap of my conference experience. (Since workshop recordings can be ordered directly from ACFW, I won’t be covering specific content.)
Tuesday, August 23.
- Climbed in the car with Project Guy for the 8-hour drive to Nashville.
- Arrived around 3 p.m., greeted in hotel lobby by Seeker Debby and friends Patti Jo (CatMom) and Darlene, also just arriving. Patti Jo gave me one of the yummy Georgia peaches she’d brought!
- Checked into hotel, unpacked, generally got organized.
- Joined Seekers Janet, Debby, Mary, Ruthy, and Julie for dinner and Seeker business meeting at a nearby restaurant.
- Crashed early. It’s been a long day!
Wednesday, August 24
- Breakfast with Project Guy in our room (we brought juice, milk, & cereal from home—yay for in-room fridges and Keurigs!).
- Carpooled with other Seekers over to the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat. Spent a fun day mingling with authors and enthusiastic readers.
- Returned to hotel. Met Seekers & friends at a barbecue restaurant and enjoyed some Texas-style smoked brisket—yum! (Have I mentioned how hard it is to find “real” barbecue in the Carolinas?)
- I heard a Seeker or two had late-evening publisher/agent meetings or mingled in the lobby after dinner, but for me it was another (relatively) early night.
|Authors in their genre attire at CFRR,|
seen again at the ACFW genre dinner
Thursday, August 25
- Breakfast with Project Guy in our room.
- Project Guy and I met Seekers Janet, Mary, and Debby in lobby (plus Janet’s & Mary’s hubbies) for an excursion to The Hermitage, the historic Nashville home of Andrew Jackson. Toured the house and grounds, then lunch in the café.
- Returned to hotel. Sorted through ACFW registration packet. Freshened up for 3:00 opening session.
- Enjoyed worship time led by Rachel Hauck, then an inspiring keynote by Ted Dekker.
- Short break, then the genre dinner. Ogled all the interesting genre-specific attire many writers arrived in—ATF agents, cowboys/girls, Victorian-era ladies, cops, medieval damsels, and so many others . . . plus a high percentage of “ordinary” writers like me who didn’t dress for the occasion.
- Attended two Spotlight sessions. I chose Bethany House and Gilead Publishing.
- More mingling in the lobby (for some of us, anyway).
|Myra, Debby, Janet, & Mary |
with docent at The Hermitage
Friday, August 26
- Up early to head downstairs for the Zone Breakfast, where conference attendees had the opportunity to meet with others from their region of the country/globe and possibly form new writer friendships or locate an ACFW chapter near them.
- Began continuing education class. I attended Jim Rubart’s “Using the Power of Innovation to Revolutionize Your Career.”
- Break for lunch, followed by Ted Dekker’s second keynote address. Thought-provoking, very spiritual, worth getting the recording if you’re interested.
- Returned to continuing education class and tried to stay awake after eating too much at lunch.
- Dinner on our own and a chance for writers to dine out with their editors, agents, etc. I attended the Love Inspired author/editor gathering, held in a private area of one of the hotel restaurants. We chatted, ate, mingled, ate, took a group photo, ate . . . What more can I say?
- Social time with Seekers and friends in the hotel lobby until whenever. (For some of us, “whenever” comes a little earlier every year.) These evenings are a fun time for unwinding after a busy day, celebrating with friends who got manuscript requests at their editor/agent appointments, and just getting better acquainted.
|Love Inspired authors & editors at Friday night dinner|
Saturday, August 27
- Early breakfast with Project Guy in our room, then later joined Seekers Julie, Janet, Debby, Mary, and Pam, along with Seekervillager/editor/author Barbara Scott for “second breakfast” in the hotel restaurant. I actually skipped the first workshop of the day because sometimes there’s even more to be gained from informal conversations about the writing life with people who get it.
|Debby, Myra, Mary, Julie, Janet, Pam|
at "second breakfast" (for some of us)
- Attended 11:00 a.m. workshop given by agents Natasha Kern and Karen Solem, “How to Write for ABA While Keeping Your CBA Values: Part Two” (part one was actually presented at the 2015 ACFW conference).
- Lunch in the conference dining room. Ate too much again.
|Darlene, Janet, & Lyndee at lunch|
- One-hour appointment with my agent to discuss where my current projects stand, talk about my writing plans for the upcoming year, and just enjoy each other’s company. This is always a conference highlight for me!
- Attended 3:30 p.m. workshop “Extreme Survival Skills,” given by Dani Pettrey and Becky Wade. The perfect ending to the conference, with practical advice and inspiration for surviving and thriving on the writing journey.
- Returned to hotel room to start packing for the trip home tomorrow, then dressed for the gala.
- Met Seekers and friends downstairs and admired each other’s finery while waiting for the doors to open.
- Enjoyed a fabulous dinner and dessert (ate too much again!), then applauded as each of the Genesis and Carol Award winners were announced. (Watch the replay on YouTube here.)
- Debby, Janet, and I, along with Patti Jo and Darlene, popped in for a bit of socializing at a hotel restaurant/bar with Love Inspired editors Melissa Endlich and Tina James, plus several other LI authors. Debby high-fived the bodyguards escorting a bride’s bachelorette party, then nabbed Ted Dekker for a photo op. There may have been an incident involving Janet’s attempt to photograph a passing pedal vehicle.
- Returned to the hotel lobby for one last evening with Seekers and many of the new friends we made this week.
- Stayed up way later than I’m used to, fell into bed around midnight.
|Myra, Mary, Janet, Debby|
at the Awards Gala
Sunday, August 28
- Finished packing and hauled all our stuff down to the lobby. Gave a lot of hugs. Made the 8-hour drive home.
- Arrived to greetings from very excited doggies and began the weeklong attempt to catch up on sleep and return to some semblance of normal.
|Shadow & Poppy|
If you attended ACFW this year, how does your experience compare? What were the highlights? What, if anything, would you consider doing differently next year?
If you weren’t able to make it to the conference, what burning questions are you dying to ask?
Join the conversation for a chance to win one of two giveaways—print version of my latest release, Castles in the Clouds, or the audio version on CD. Just mention in your comment which drawing (either or both) you’d like to be entered in.
About Castles in the Clouds. Young and impressionable Larkspur Linwood, aspiring to become a teacher, mistakes a college professor’s interest for romantic love. When he offers her the chance to join his efforts serving at a mission a school in Kenya, she pictures herself bringing the light of knowledge to hundreds of African children eager to learn. But the menial tasks she’s assigned at the school aren’t so different from life on the farm where she grew up. Worse, her fragile heart is broken when she realizes her feelings for the charismatic professor are not returned. Miserable and deflated, she gives up and returns home.
Enter Professor Anson Schafer, whom she met briefly in Kenya. Partially blinded from an eye infection he contracted there, Professor Schafer cannot return to Africa. He has come to Lark’s college to recruit teachers for a more modest venture—the founding of schools here in the U.S. for those struggling through the Depression.
Still stinging from her experience in Kenya, Lark is reluctant to risk more disappointment, but she knows how great the need has become, and—although this isn’t yet the teaching career she’d envisioned—she finally agrees. As they work side by side, Lark begins to realize that the deepest satisfaction comes not so much from what you do, or where you do it, but from the attitude of your heart. She also slowly realizes that the gentle, determined Anson is the true love of her life.
Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Myra is a two-time finalist for the prestigious ACFW Carol Awards, and her Heartsong Presents romance Autumn Rains (November 2009) won RWA’s 2005 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript. Myra and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters who, along with their godly husbands, have huge hearts for ministry. Seven grandchildren take up another big chunk of Myra’s heart. Originally from Texas, the Johnsons moved to the Carolinas in 2011. They love the climate and scenery, but they may never get used to the pulled pork Carolinians call “barbecue”! The Johnsons share their home with two very pampered doggies who don’t always understand the meaning of “Mom’s trying to write.”