ACFW Dos and Don’ts

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I’m on this list of folks blogging about the upcoming ACFW conference, which is one of the best, in case you didn’t catch that from any of the other bloggers. So, from an editor’s perspective, let me offer some dos and don’ts that apply to any conference you might attend as an aspiring author…

Do know why the name was changed from ACRW to ACFW. Okay, this one doesn’t apply to other conferences, but it makes a nice point. Sure there weren’t many guys at that first ACRW conference I attended, but also romance, like all genre fiction, is expanding into sub-genres and genres of their own. Literary fiction can and does fit in the romance category in both CBA (Christian Book Association) and ABA (American Book Association). The barriers are breaking down and this is a very good thing for you creative cats. Bad thing for sales folks who have to keep adjusting their pitches to buyer accounts, but it’s a sign of health and vigor. The new name is not just about letting guys play too.

Do get an agent to sit on a panel and use you as an example of a fresh, and engaging voice. It was at this same conference that a respected agent used Siri Mitchell as his example of what’s most important in evaluating fiction proposals: a distinctive, individual voice. I’ve known Siri for going on 5 years now and having that confirmed by an agent/editor (okay, it was Chip MacGregor) was absolutely a factor in getting her published. Don’t be coniving and crafty, but do be a crafter of unmistakably unique fiction.

Don’t simply go to the conference to be fed. I hear this often: “The singer / food / accommodations / teaching is so wonderful!” Well yes, but these are compliments for the organizers, and they need to hear them. When you’re with me, don’t gush. I’m not interested in your experience of the trappings. Would you be here if it was the worst, backwoods conference on the planet, just to deliver the proposal that’s going to put my publishing house on the map? Good. Let’s talk. Which leads me to,

Don’t be a sycophant. If you don’t have the definition memorized, please go do so now.

Don’t miss the point. On a panel, I recommended The Time Traveler’s Wife as the best book I’d read that year. In a rare moment of foresight, I included a warning that it might be offensive to some, but for months after that, I still heard about grumbling, “I can’t believe a Christian editor would recommend that book.” People, you have a responsibility to know what’s being written in the market. Most CBA editors are ABA readers. If you aren’t, that’s a serious handicap. Yes, do skip the sex/language/violence, but don’t misunderstand: you need to find out why an editor is recommending a book. That’s your ticket into his stable. # 6,

Do pay attention. Same conference where I first heard the term "hick-lit" mentioned by an author. Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of proposals, none of which could really be classified as hick-lit. But guess what’s coming out in a few months? That’s right, hick-lit. So pay attention and don’t be afraid to consider repackaging / reshaping your positioning of that story to target a new or cutting-edge genre. Sci-fi, vampire, space opera, adult fantasy, chick-lit-thriller (“chiller?”)—these things are all available in ABA and it’s only a matter of time before CBA houses are pubbing them. Editors are flirting with all of them now. Know your genre tags and be willing to adjust to fit. Which brings us to…

Don’t listen to amateurs. There is more slippery sludge thrown around by well-meaning Christian newbies than any of us can shake our fingers at. The blogging world has made this bad advice proliferate, and there’s far too much posturing and speculating that goes on in absense of good data and some honest humility. Pride and ego can get the best of anyone—believe me, I know. Moving on,

Don’t tell me your entire story. Just stick to the P’s: Pitch, Package, Platform. PITCH: Give me the essence in as few words as possible. (caveat: “Aliens meets Blue Like Jazz” is not helpful. “Philip K. Dick meets Don Miller” is better, but explain that genre with a more specific comparison like, “Kathy Tyers meets Siri Mitchell.” Now I’m getting the picture.) PACKAGE: Tell me about series potential, any foreword or endorsements you’ve got, good-sized* publicity and promo opportunities, which leads right into PLATFORM: How big and how wide is your network? Are you bringing any guaranteed pre-sales through your contacts in ministry, media, or miscellany (schools, churches, professional organizations, etc.) *target groups of 1000 or more.

Do know something about what my publishing house pubs. Know the catalog and general sales figures, especially for books like your own.

Do get in a crit group with real writers. When you say you’re in a crit group with an author or promising amateur I recognize, it’s a big indication you’ll be an author I want to take more seriously. This is an alternative to getting a respected agent’s highest regard, though having both would probably make me fall out of my chair.

Do make me fall out of my chair. I really am a nice guy, but I have to be mean and nasty about this: a vast majority of the pitches I hear at conferences are throw-aways. I have a blog, I have a reputation, and if you’re pitching me without knowing anything about me, my house, or my publishing goals, you’re shooting yourself in the foot (ouch). Ego aside, the editor in the chair across from you is looking to see that you get it, you understand the situation, and you’re well-prepared. Do that, and you won’t have to quiver and freak out. Learn the criteria of a good proposal. Read the publishing trades (PW Religion, CBA Marketplace) and relevant editorial (Christian Communicator, Books and Culture) so you know what’s happening in the business you’re hoping to join. And it is a business.

Final note: This info is meant only as constructive criticism of a general nature. In no way is it a reflection on a single person or even ACFW members as a group. I believe ACFW is one of the premiere conferences for writers in the country, which means you have a tall order if you’re going to distinguish yourself in this distinguished crowd. Consider this some friendly preparation. :)

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17 thoughts on “ACFW Dos and Don’ts”

  1. Wow! That’s alot to digest. This will be my first ACFW conference and should we meet, which I hope we do, I will do my best not to be a sycophant (parasite). I looked it up. Can’t stand not knowing a new word.

  2. Just for the record, you weren’t the only one who recommended Time Traveler’s Wife! :-) And people must be afraid of me or something, because nobody ever gave me a hard time for recommending it. (BTW folks — Mick knows what he’s talking about. He knows his fiction and he knows the biz. Listen to him!)

  3. And on a side tangent, one of the meet-the-pros roundtables I’ll be conducting at Glorieta this year concerns “guy stuff” in the CBA. Hope I don’t find myself sitting at that big ol’ table all alone…

  4. Mick–I see that Shannon Hill will be at ACFW representing Waterbrook. Will you be there as well?
    Thanks for the advice–especially about avoiding being a suck-up. By the way, your kids are the most darling EVER!!! ;)

  5. I’m and “old hand” at ACFW conferences and still feel like an amateur when it comes to meeting with Important People like Mick or the other editors/agents who attend. I’ve been blogging about networking and learning so much about it in the process–now I’ll have to go back and add some more about it from what I learned here! Just when I though I had a handle on it! Can anyone ever become an expert at networking and pitching?

  6. I was at this same conference where the morph from ACRW to ACFW occured. It was there that I met Mick and played with his computer and then we joked about Left Behind. Thing is, I wasn’t even pitching my book to him. We just hit it off. He was a PK and so was I and we knew how to joke about it.
    I was actually the one who asked the question to the panel: What’s the best fiction book you’ve read this year and what would we learn from it? (Or something to that effect. I was inspired at the time after a couple questions from folks that were exactly what we’d been requested not to ask). Alomst all of the editors on the panel mentioned a book that wasn’t Christian fiction. While I think many there were stunned at this, I was pleased. It showed me that out Christian editors weren’t only reading what they were publishing. Neither were they reading what their neighbor was publishing. They were reading what, basically, they were competing against. Life of Pi, Catcher in the Rye, and Time Traveler’s wife were all mentioned as surprising excellent novels. It just went to show that we, the hopeful and future writers of Christian fiction, will always have something better to go up against. And I suppose that we shouldn’t spend so much time scratching our heads and trying to figure out why Gilbert Morris has 26,723 books pubished–but maybe why Dan Brown has sold more books that Morris and you can fit all of his published books in your backpack.

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