ACFW Conference Day 1

Hello all! As promised, this begins the run-down of my time at the ACFW Conference in Nashville, TN.

I’ll try not to bore you with ALL the details, because a LOT happened. But I will give you the highlights.

I met up with my friends from our local ACFW Chapter early on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 24, and we headed out. My friend Ane, who was driving, and my critique group leader, Ruth, and I. We stopped a couple of hours away and picked up another member, Cindy.

The day was lovely, even though it had started out with rain. But as we drove, the skies cleared up. We stopped for lunch just outside of Chattanooga in a little town called Monteagle. And we had a great time in fellowship together and talking about writing on the way. I felt like the conference had already started as I was already learning so much!

We arrived in Nashville a little after 3pm Eastern time. Nashville is on Central time, so it was 2pm there. That was a little weird to get used to.

The conference was at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville. It was a beautiful building inside and out. My room was very nice!

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I didn’t have the best view as I looked down onto the building across the street, which I later learned was the Music City Center.

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After little sleep the night before, and a 6-hour trip, I was tired. So I took a quick nap before meeting up with Ruth and Cindy for supper in the hotel restaurant. It was nice, and we sat near the window, where we looked out on a beautiful old church building and could watch people passing by on the street.

The conference didn’t officially start until the next day, so we had the evening off. We walked around the hotel, getting familiar with the surroundings, and visited the conference registration table to get registered.

We got cool nametags to hang around our necks. Each person had a unique set of ribbons. Mine had brown for the “First Time Attendees,” a peach colored one for our “zone” – which is the Southeast Zone. And I had a light blue one indicating that I was a contest Finalist.

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We also got a nice nice bag to carry our stuff in and an almost 50-page booklet with a map of the conference center, each day’s schedule of meetings and classes (and a description of each class), pictures of the conference staff, ACFW board, and the various editors, agents, and mentors available for appointments. Plus, lots of cool features, like an interview with the keynote speaker, best-selling author Ted Dekker. And a feature on the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the legendary Janette Oke. Yep, THAT’S the kind of company I was in.

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Among the various ads for books and publishing houses, there was a list of this year’s Carol Awards nominees. The Carol Awards are for “recognition for quality fiction published in the previous calendar year.” So many great books were listed there.

And then there was the Genesis Award Finalists. How cool to see my name listed among those! And the First Impressions Winners. That contest takes place in the Fall and is for the first five pages of a manuscript.

There were also pictures of the winners from the 2015 Awards Gala and the list of other nominees for this year: Mentor of the Year, Editor of the Year, and Agent of the Year. And a list of the MANY conference volunteers! It takes a LOT of people to make something this big go so smoothly.

There was even a helpful section called, “Getting the Most from Your Conference Experience.” How thoughtful!

I got settled into my room and had a good night’s sleep, anticipating the next day when the conference would actually get started.

Happy News!

I’m back from the ACFW conference in Nashville, TN. What a whirlwind! I’m not sure if my head has stopped spinning yet. I’ll write more about my experiences there later, but first, I need to let you in on a secret. I couldn’t say anything about it until now.

Back in March, I entered an ACFW contest called “Genesis.” It’s for unpublished writers. I had to send in a brief synopsis and the first 15 pages of my manuscript. There were 10 categories, and my category was Romantic Suspense.

Why enter contests? There are a couple of reasons. One, you get great feedback. Your entry is judged by published authors. The judging is “blind,” meaning, you don’t know who the judges are, and they don’t know who you are. The advantage is that you get honest, unbiased responses to your writing.

Another reason is that if you make it to the latter rounds, you can get judged by editors and agents. This is a great way to get industry feedback. Is your story “marketable”? Would someone be interested enough to publish it?

Plus, being listed as a finalist gets your name out there. You get noticed by those in the industry.

And finally, it’s good practice. It gives you a reason to look at your work objectively and to polish it as best you can. To put in the effort to “put your best foot forward.”

So, I entered, hoping for some good feedback. And then I forgot about it. Went on about my business. Focused on getting ready for the Blue Ridge conference in May.

The week before I went to Blue Ridge, I got a phone call. It was on a Wednesday night. I was settled on the couch, eating supper and watching TV. I didn’t recognize the number but the caller left a message. So I listened. It was a lady from ACFW who was calling to tell me that I had made it past the first round of judging and was now a “semi-finalist!” Wow! I was blown away.

Honestly, I had forgotten about the contest. As I said, I was hoping for some good feedback, and that was pretty much it. I never thought I would be a semi-finalist. In fact, I had to go back to the contest website to understand what being a semi-finalist actually meant.

I was in the top 7 of the entrants in my category! I was instructed not to say anything on social media since the judging was “blind,” as I explained earlier. But I did call and text a few close friends, and my mom, of course. J

Our entries now went on to the next round of judges. If we made it past that round, they would let us know before June 15th, when they would announce the 3 finalists on their website. That was about 6 weeks away.

I put it out of my mind, concentrated on the Blue Ridge conference, went, and had a great time. But as June 15th got closer, my mind drifted back to the contest. I was sure I wouldn’t go any farther. After all, I was up against 6 other authors who had risen above the hundreds who had entered the contest. It was probably some strange fluke that I had even made it that far.

On June 14th, I hadn’t heard anything yet. So, I didn’t make it. No worries. I mean, I never even thought I would make it to the semi-finals. Even that was totally cool and unexpected. I left work that evening and went home, taught piano like usual, and then settled down in front of the TV to eat supper.

And then the phone rang.

With a shaking hand, I answered. The sweet voice of my coordinator came on to tell me that I was a finalist! Top 3 in my category! She instructed me that I would receive an email that night with my feedback from the first 2 rounds of judging, and that I would have 48 hours to make any changes to my entry and send it back to them.

I couldn’t believe it. I actually wished I hadn’t answered the phone so she would’ve left a message so that I could play it back again and again to make sure it was real. And that I really had heard her right.

I got my feedback, went through it, and decided what changes I needed to make. I updated my entry and sent it back in.

After that, there was nothing left to do. This round would go to 3 judges who were editors and/or agents. I wouldn’t hear anything else until they announced the winners at the Awards Gala during the conference in August.

This blog post is already getting so long, so I’m going to continue the story later as I recap each day of the conference. Tune in soon to hear the rest of the story!