CAFE: A gathering place. A place of refreshment.

Thirsty for the latest releases in Christian fiction? Ready for a peek into the world of publishing and writing conferences? Hungry for spiritual and real-life nourishment? Pull up a seat; you're in the right place, and I'm so glad you've stopped by.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Whether this is your first conference or your twentieth, you have before you an opportunity to connect with people you’ve never known before or renew acquaintances with familiar faces and old friends. It’s all good. None of my ACFW conferences have been the same, but the one thing they’ve all had in common is meeting fascinating, dear people you’ll want to stay in touch with for life.

1. Beginnings. It all begins the moment you walk into the hotel lobby. Chances are there will be other attendees milling about trying to get their bearings. Almost at once you will begin connecting faces with names you’ve heard on the loop or via blogs. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself or strike up a conversation. Some starter questions for you: “I’ve read your books and love your writing.” “Are you with ACFW? What do you write?” “Where’s the registration table?” Chances are you will see these “first” faces many times over the next few days and will welcome a friendly smile. Once introduced, call people by name—it will make you both feel connected.

2. Meals. Several of the meal tables are hosted by agents and editors. If possible, find one that’s on your list of “dream agents” or an editor from a publishing house that you’re interested in. Generally you’ll get a chance to tell a little about yourself and meet other people with similar tastes. This is a good time to share biz cards with those at your table and do some important networking.

3. Appointments. Whether you’re having a paid critique or meeting with editors and agents, this is a great opportunity to present yourself as professional, willing to listen to what an expert says, and perhaps make a connection that will further your career in ways you never anticipated. These are probably the most fear-inducing encounters you will have. You can reduce the I’m-afraid-I-will-swallow-my-tongue jitters by being well-prepared with your pitch, praying before your appointment or asking a friend to pray with you. Then, just do it. Same rules apply as above: Ask questions. Call the author/editor/agent by name. Smile. Thank them for their time. The first time may be the hardest, but even veteran writers stutter and get sweaty palms.

4. Major tracks and workshops. The primary reason for these is, of course, to learn more about writing, but don’t be afraid to strike up conversations with those around you. If you’ve attended the same session, it’s likely you have a lot in common. Ask questions of the speakers. The old adage, “There are no stupid questions,” applies here. Others may have wondered the same thing.

5. Prayer room. This may be the single most important connection you make—the one with God. He will hear your cries of frustration, rejoice with you when good news comes, and calm your spirit. There are volunteers in the prayer room available to pray with you, but you may also choose to be alone for a quiet time of reflection.

6. Spontaneous prayer encounters. You don’t have to go to the prayer room to connect with the throne of grace. I’ve had several opportunities to pray with people while waiting for appointments, at mealtimes, during casual encounters. Praying with another person forges connections in meaningful ways that mere chit-chat doesn’t.

7. Volunteer. There are many opportunities to connect through giving a bit of your time. It can be as simple as collecting meal tickets at the door or working at the registration desk or something that requires more time: the bookstore, helping at the appointment desk, being a workshop introducer. There are many possibilities. If you’ve not signed up to volunteer this year, pay attention to what others are doing and promise yourself that next year you’ll do one or more of the jobs. The rewards are endless. Giving back is an excellent way to connect with conferees, speakers, and authors. You’ll be glad you offered.

8. Keep your antennae up. One of my favorite parts of a conference is being aware of people around me—the writer who looks lost or is sitting alone at a table. Smile. Ask if you can join him/her. Strike up a conversation: “You look nice in that sweater.” “What sessions are you attending this afternoon?” “Wow! You’re from Idaho. I’ve always wanted to visit your state.” You may have reached out to someone who is lonely or afraid, perhaps frustrated and who knows? You may have found a new BFF.

9. Reconnecting. One of the joys of ACFW conferences is meeting people again. And again. And again. Catch up on what’s going on in your lives—recent contracts, getting an agent, frustrations, new babies, yada, yada. I love this part of the conference. Lobbies, restaurants, even the bar (which was also the snack area in Minneapolis) are great for more casual conversations, whether pre-conference, during break times, or late-late at night. Old and new friends and faculty alike mingle for fun connections.

10. Divine Appointments. These are snippets that happen without planning or intention. There’s no way to prepare for these special encounters that may change your life or be just the boost you needed to make this your most meaningful conference to date. You might have a sudden Eureka moment about a writing concept you’ve been wrestling with. Or receive a word of encouragement at the perfect time. Be open. Expect to be surprised. And awed.

BONUS: Taking stock after the conference.
It’s always a bittersweet moment when the last strains of the conference waft through the air. I like to keep a list of new friends I’ve met and hopefully have exchanged business cards with. When I get home, I send a quick email to let them know I enjoyed our time together.

IMPORTANT: If you’ve met with an editor, agent, or special author either around the table or during an appointment, send them a thank you note. If you didn’t get an address, an email is okay, but nothing says “I appreciate you” like a handwritten note. The sooner you do this, the better so that person will be more likely to remember you.
Take some time when you get home to organize your notes, update your address book, and bask in the afterglow of the conference. Send your requested proposals or follow-up thank-yous. Kick off your shoes and begin dreaming about next year’s conference.

From June 15 until August 15, ACFW members are blogging about different aspects of the conference. You may follow the bloggers from the links below or go to the ACFW Conference Blog. This information may be just what you needed to prepare for your most successful conference ever.

June 15: Christa Allan: Evolving Conference Experiences

June 15: Ane Mulligan: A Few of My Favorite Things...

June 17: Margaret Daley: Enhancing Your Conference Experience Through Volunteering

June 18: Trish Perry: ACFW Conference Friendships at all stages of writing careers

June 21: Megan DiMaria: Finding restaurants at conference (visit often for multiple postings beginning June 21. Megan will be posting weekly so check back often for her eye on the best eateries and how to save money eating out as well as how to impress your business associates with excellent food.)

June 22: Michelle Shocklee: Help! I'm Shy! How to overcome a shy
personality at conference.

June 23: Dana Mentink: Navigating the conference waters

June 24: Tiffany Amber Stockton: Pitching with Success

June 27: Sharon Lavy: Prayer Room or here

June 30: Kathleen Fuller: Amish fiction, historical romance tracks

July 1st: Deborah Vogts: What You Can Expect at Conference.

July 2nd: Megan DiMaria: Dining Options in the Park Meadows Mall (Colorado's only retail resort!) Food Court (AKA Dining Hall)

July 3rd: Mindy Obenhaus: Conference Prep-Part 1

July 2-10: Amish Hearts: Group blog with various conference posts

July 5: Jeannie Campbell: Why I chose the ACFW conference: A newbie’s perspective

July 7th: Annette Irby: What It's All About

July 8th: Carla Stewart: Ten Ways to Connect at Conference

July 10th: Mindy Obenhaus: Conference Prep-Part 2

July 12-19 : Linda Kozar and the Internal MonoBlog- Group blog with various conference posts. (Each blogger will post at least once. One a day until the group blog has all had the opportunity to post.)

July 17th: Mindy Obenhaus: Conference Prep-Part 3

July 19: Tiffany Colter 1: Long-term return on investing in a writer’s conference (multiple posts)

July 22: Tiffany Colter 2: Investing in your professional development (multiple posts)

July 25-31: Writer’s Rest Group Blog: Trusting God to use conference (multiple posts, each blogger please post at least once. One a day until your group blog has all had the opportunity.)

July 28: Jennifer AlLee: The Value of Face-to-Face Networking in a Twitter & Facebook World

July 31: Angie Breidenbach: Confidence at Conference

Aug. 2: Deb Raney: "What if I Can't Come to the Conference?"

Aug. 3: Lena Nelson Dooley 1: Uplifting worship

Aug. 3-9: Writing By Faith Group blog: 6 authors, 1 great God.
Aug. 3rd is Belinda Peterson: Relax-You CAN Enjoy Those Editor and Agent Appointments
Aug. 4th is Mindy Obenhaus: "Making the Most of Your Conference Experience."
Aug. 5th is Angie Breidenbach: Professionalism 101
Aug. 6th is Missy Tippens: Introverts Can Act Extroverted--and no one needs to know.
Aug. 8th is Jennifer Hudson-Taylor: TBD
Aug. 9th is Christy LaShae-Smith: Don’t Waste Your Pre-Conference Time

Aug. 6: Cynthia Ructhi: "Novel Ideas--Connecting at the Table" (How to make the most of mealtime connections)

Aug. 7: Lena Nelson Dooley 2: Connecting with publishers

Aug 9: Ane Mulligan: A Few of My Favorite Things...

Aug 12: Jill Elizabeth Nelson: TBD

Aug. 13: Cynthia Ruchti: Dealing with Disappointment-What else might God have in mind?

Aug. 14: Maureen Lang: "After The Conference. What now?"

Aug 15: Cara Putman: First Timers and Calm Nerves


Erica Vetsch said...

Yay for conference! I can't wait to see you there. You and I had a rather serendipidous (sp?) first meeting at the ACFW Dallas conference that has resulted in a long-term friendship. :)

Counting the days till Denver!

carla stewart said...

Erica, You were one of the ones I had in mind when I wrote this - a forever friend. So many fun and industry connections await come September. I'm anxiously awaiting.

carla stewart said...

Obviously I haven't quite got the "craft" part of writing down yet. Await/awaiting in successive lines. Echo???