Tips for that first writer's conference

I have received a couple of messages today that reminded me how close the ACFW Conference is! Unfortunately, I will not be attending this year. :( I will miss the Revell author dinner. :( :( And I will miss the fun of seeing so many people I rarely see in person but know through online groups and past conferences. For those of you who are attending - have a wonderful time! For first time attendees or those new to the writing/publishing world, I want to give you some encouragement. This conference is superbly run and a wonderful way to connect with editors, agents, published authors, and authors-in-training. Whether you are a veteran or newbie, there is something for you.

The first conference I ever attended was the ACFW Conference in Kansas City. I think we had around 200 people in attendance, and Karen Kingsbury was the keynote speaker. I had joined ACFW (ACRW at the time) the year before and was pretty familiar with many of the people (through ACFW's online email loop). I was not prepared, however, for the overwhelming feeling I experienced. I was completely out of my comfort zone, and that first night I slept two hours. The rest of the night I wrestled/argued with God as to why I should go home! And truly, if I could have hopped a plane and run away, back to my family, I would have.

Of course, two hours of sleep makes one emotional, so I was fairly weepy the next day! But I found out I wasn't the only new, not-yet-published writer who felt the same way. That is why I wanted to write this post - for those of you who might have the same fears. The conference has changed a lot since that first one, and ACFW has grown tremendously! Last year at the ACFW Conference in St. Louis, we had far more than 200 people. I can't recall the exact number, but I'm pretty sure it was over 700. Probably more. But whatever the number, there were a lot of people there! And for an introvert like me, crowds can be somewhat intimidating - even if people know your name. How much more so when you are new!

So here are some tips that might make your conference experience less overwhelming!

  • Prepare well ahead of time. Plan which outfits you will wear which days. Pack smart and leave room in your suitcase for books you will want to purchase.
  • Practice your pitch until you can say it with confidence. (It should be one sentence.)
  • Know your story well enough that you could easily explain it. (Practice in front of your pets, your spouse, a mirror, or whoever will humor you and listen.)
  • Don't feel like you have to attend every class you signed up for.
  • Get enough rest. It is great fun to stay up late and hang out with people, but if you need downtime, take it.
  • Be gracious enough to allow others to speak, but not so timid that you never take your turn.
  • Be kind to yourself. Don't over think things. Forgive the slights of others as you hope they will forgive you; consider them unintentional.
  • Pack your smile. I never leave home without certain grooming items, but no makeup or hair product can replace a smile. Wrinkles even disappear when you wear one! :)
  • Spend time with the Lord. Whether you visit the prayer room or spend time listening to the Word as you walk the treadmill, find time to talk to God. Conferences are places of high expectations. Those expectations may be met in wonderful ways. They may also be dashed with terrible lows. Tell God how you feel. Even if no one else is listening, He cares.

My first conference was in 2001, I think - or whatever year that first conference was held. (My how time flies!) That one taught me to stick it out even when I wanted to leave. God assured me in that sleepless time of wrestling with His will, that He wanted me there. So I stayed. In 2006, (the year I really didn't want to attend) I won the Genesis contest and was on top of the world! That was one of my best conference experiences, though the wait to hear who won was rather nerve-wracking! In 2009, my husband and son went with me. Michal was up for a Carol Award in the Debut author category. I had such high hopes! And a memorized speech. But didn't get to give it. That conference taught me not to think too highly of myself or my abilities!

Whether the conference experience was good or not quite what I'd hoped, I have never come away without learning something. God has used each one to mold me, to shape my character, to refine my rougher spots. And I am forever in that place of learning. He knows exactly what we need, whether it be encouragement to keep going, confirmation that we are on the right path, or disappointment to show us we're not ready. We're not quite there yet. Publishing doesn't mean we have arrived at some spiritual high place. It is just a journey some of us take to fulfill the work He's given us.

My prayer for you is that you will attend this year's writer's conference(s) with a seeking heart. An attitude of humility and willingness to be taught. A graciousness that accepts those things that don't go quite how you'd hoped. An ability to forgive those who slight you but probably didn't mean to. And love for your fellow writers. And if you are new to such an experience, look for other people with those "deer-in-the-headlights" expressions and say "hi!" Make friends with those who look lost and you suddenly won't be so alone.

And go in God's grace. I wish I could join you!