ACFW Conference

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!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 28 comments
Janna - June 29, 2011

Excellent article on the pros of ACFW Conference! I go every year and I don’t even write (for now anyway) and it is a highlight of my year!

CarolM - June 29, 2011

How fun! You were totally on my list for a paid critique, but budget literally allowed for the conference and that’s all :(. Ah well. It’ll be all good anyway :D.

Now to memorize that elevator pitch…

Kari - June 29, 2011

Love your story of becoming a published author! God is good! And, you rock! Ole for JJ!

Katers - June 29, 2011

haha Oh Ms. Jenny.. you’re so funny. Love it.

I would love to go to this (and because my amazing friend Sarah Sundin is going to be there!). Number 2 especially cracked me up. Maybe I can convince the Fiction Editor at work to kidnap you, store you in her carryon and bring you back to work for me for the summer! (New England is like the south in the summer.. humidity… you’d love it..) Though I suppose that wouldn’t be a great idea since Miller needs you (though he probably wouldn’t admit it)…

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Megan McGlover to report LIVE from ACFW?!

Jenny B Jones - June 29, 2011

Katers, going to New England is definitely on my to-do list. One day! And can you IMAGINE if Megan McGlover reported from ACFW? THAT made me laugh just thinking of it. Girl would find SOMETHING to get all worked up about.

Kari, ole for salsa. We should eat some sometime.

Carol, I’m glad you’ll be there! Hope to see you.

Janna, I’ve been blessed with your friendship through ACFW as well! One of the hardest working gals there. (Um, you. Not me.)

HopefulLeigh - June 29, 2011

I’ve never thought about going but I am writing my first novel right now. So maybe!

bookwyrm14 - June 29, 2011

I would absolutely LOVE, LOVE to come to ACFW (I have a manuscript collecting dust that I have been trying to get published for a LOOOONG while now) but I’m a minor. I can’t drive. Too much going on this summer to sneak away. 🙂 And so, there is no way I can go to Missouri, even for a good cause. 🙁

Jenny - June 29, 2011

For a couple years I have checked out the info. on this conference. Your posting addressed many of my reasons for not going. You answered questions I have had, & I didn’t even have to ask them! Who knows if I will ever actually attend, but I appreciate all you had to offer in this post very much!

Tonya - June 29, 2011

So fun! I’m seriously considering 2012

Clare - June 29, 2011

I would love to go to ACFW! It sounds like it would be such an amazing experience. But, unfortunately won’t be able to go this year, but maybe next year or so!
I love to write and hope to be an author with my own stories with snazzy looking covers sitting up there on a Barnes&Noble shelf. Sigh… maybe someday… 🙂

Rachel - June 29, 2011

Writing has always been in the back of my mind as something I’d love to do, and who knows? Maybe it’s in my future 🙂 Even though I’m still in high school, every time you talk about this conference I think about how amazing it would be to go. Hanging out with a bunch of crazy writes sounds like a blast 😀

christa - June 30, 2011

I get totally verklempt thinking about how I’d survive as a writer without having met you at my first ACFW conference.

Gina - June 30, 2011

Ummm, can I just say if I had heard your publication story BEFORE I met you, I might have HATED you!! Then again, if I had found ACFW ten years earlier BEFORE I had kids, I’m sure I could’ve topped your publication process by three months! You know I love you and I thought I was the tag-a-long for lunch!! ;)Can’t wait to see your spin on our road trip there!! It’s bound to be an adventure!!

Carrie - June 30, 2011

Hi Jenny, loved this! So fun to hear your publication story and how ACFW has played a part in that. I remember meeting you that first year. : )
See you in St. Louis!

Kelly - June 30, 2011

Sounds like fun!! I wish I could hear you speak, but I’m definitely a reader, and mot much of a writer.

Michelle Massaro - June 30, 2011

Jenny, you are just so cute! I would love to go to conference, wear my tiara, and stuff you in my suitcase for the trip home. (I’d also stick some M&M’s in there.)

Thanks for sharing your story one more time for those of us just now “meeting” you. I loved it!

Kelly - June 30, 2011

NOT**** hah

Sabrina - June 30, 2011

Goodness, you’re so fun. 🙂 The 2005 ACFW conference was my first too. And yet, I’m still working on it. Grrr… I’m going to be the bigger person here and not hate you.

Cara Putman and I drove down from Indiana and arrived in a downpour. We walked in squishing and dripping. Literally. What a trip. =) We too were very green.

As for the empty room, I’ve signed up for your dialogue class–seeing as how I suggested you teach it after reading Save the Date I felt it my duty to be there. 😉

Cara Putman - June 30, 2011

Sabrina, that was a crazy arrival. Definitely my most stellar entrance ever. Hello, Tracy Peterson. I look like a drowned rat! Yikes. So glad you’ll be at conference again this year. And great post, Jenny!

Christina (Berry) Tarabochia - June 30, 2011

That green stuff at lunch was asparagus. As was the green stuff at dinner, at breakfast, at lunch, and at dinner the next day! ;p

I’ll miss you all this year!

Connie K - June 30, 2011

I too discovered the joys of Christian fiction through that Billerbeck book. I will be a newbie at the conference. Cannot wait!

Camille Eide - June 30, 2011

GREAT POST, thank you. Looking forward to my 2nd ACFW conference and sponging up some good stuff. And I’m sorry but I will NOT be hugging you this year, Jenny. I thought I’d give you fair warning now so you’ll have plenty of time to begin easing your disappointment with chocolate or some other passable substitute. 😀

Blessings on your teaching gig, and thanks for sharing your totally unbelievable pubbing story.


Melissa - June 30, 2011

Ha! Christina Berry–I was wondering how Jenny could have missed that the green stuff was asparagus! Here’s hoping this year’s banquet department finds a sale on chocolate cake. I could handle that for 4 meals in a row. 🙂

Jessica - June 30, 2011

Woohoo! I’m going and since I LOVE your dialogue, I’m def. taking that class!!! Can’t wait. Thanks for the great post.
And Camille, I’m sorry to hear you’re witholding hugs from Jenny this year. Does that mean there’s more for me? *grin*

Lacie Nezbeth - June 30, 2011

Hi Jenny! What a great story. Love it! This year is my first ACFW conference so I’m so glad to have found your tips. I’ll be the nervous one sputtering on about McLintock (which, yes, I loved!). 🙂

I’m signed up for your dialog class and really looking forward to it. No need to pay the maids!

Can’t wait to meet you!

Sharon - June 30, 2011

i would lovee to hear you speak, but i guess i’m not really a writer. maybe for something more about your publication story.

Joy - June 30, 2011

It sounds awesome. As soon as I left your blog I went to go check out the site. I really want to go. It would help me so much. I hope I can get off work. 🙁

Rachelle Rea - July 1, 2011

Not this year, because I’m attending the SheSpeaks in NC and my pocketbook can only do one…but definitely in the future. Definitely ACFW.


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