Three years ago, it struck me that maybe I should stop going only to Christian conferences. In fact, when I first started writing I had never intended to go to Christian conferences at all! But I did because that’s what everyone said to do. Then I saw an ad somewhere for the DFW Writers Conference, and found that it was much more affordable than ACFW, and also always conveniently close! And it was early enough that I could get a great discount too.
I was nervous about going. During my forays to ACFW, I had been told the following things about secular writing conferences:
—Everyone’s always drunk. It’s all about drinking.
—Everyone, including the presenters, uses foul language all the time. It’s wall-to-wall F-words.
—Everyone is super-competitive and not supportive or encouraging at all.
—No one there is going to be interested in any form of Christian fiction or even “clean” fiction.
Still, I wanted to give it a try. That first time, my husband came with me and did some sightseeing in Dallas while I was at the conference.
What a pleasant surprise it was! There was a “cocktail party” in the evening, but that first year I didn’t go to it. The second year I did (they had plenty of soft drinks). I didn’t see anyone even close to being drunk. The drinking was not a big deal at all.
I heard very little offensive language. One of the presenters let a word slip once, and immediately apologized for being unprofessional. The other writers in attendance were likewise circumspect in their language—at least the ones I talked to.
The classes were fantastic, and the presenters were first-rate. This conference had a feature that was so incredibly educational, which they called the “gong show.” During the first part of the conference, aspiring writers anonymously submit their query letters into a basket. It’s totally voluntary. During the gong show, a bunch of agents line up on stage and there are a series of gongs and mallets in front of them. A guy with a wonderful “radio voice” starts reading a query from the pile and each time he gets to the point where one of the agents would stop reading, that agent bongs his gong. At the third gong, the man stops reading and the agents all explain why they lost interest. So helpful! (And often hilarious.)
I wasn’t worried about my fellow attendees being too competitive, because to be honest I couldn’t imagine them being worse than what I had experienced at ACFW—and they weren’t. Some were chatty, and some were not, but no one was unfriendly. The second year I went to a free workshop the month before the conference and met some people I could hang out with and they were very encouraging.
And unhelpful? I didn’t find that either. The second year I went, I drew a “lot” that gave me a chance to bring a writing problem before a panel of experts. I was struggling with the beginning of one of my stories. Not only did one of the agents on the panel request my proposal, but one of the fellow attendees offered to critique my first 50 pages and she gave me fabulous feedback. So helpful. And she did it out of the kindness of her heart.
Both years I went, I had serious interest from agents in my work, which unfortunately didn’t result in representation, but the reality is that I found more interest here than at any Christian conference I have attended. I love this conference and was sad I couldn’t afford to go this year. I hope I get to go again. I haven’t even got to three yet with this one!