Monday, September 29, 2008

My take on the writers conferences: RWA vs. ACFW

After attending the recent American Christian Fiction Writers conference in Minneapolis, I was joined by my husband and one of our sons for a few days of sightseeing and visiting relatives in Minnesota. We returned home late Thursday night, but I haven't blogged until now because I've been a little under the weather. Those of you who have been waiting patiently for a new post have my warmest thanks.

ACFW was a wonderful experience. A first-time attender, I was asked repeatedly how that conference compares to the annual Romance Writers of America conference, which I have been attending since 2002, when I sold my first book.

My answer is that RWA has been far more useful to me for networking, gleaning industry news, and picking up tips on how to promote my books and run my home-based writing business more efficiently. The focus at ACFW seems to be on fellowship, encouragement, and writing better. While ACFW delivered on the first two promises in spades, I am not an auditory learner, and I have no patience for sitting through lectures which include a lot of material I already know, so I was uninterested in the workshops on how to become a better writer.

I don't attend how-to-write workshops at RWA, either. But in addition to offering far more workshops than ACFW, RWA covers a much broader range of topics. While I saw only a couple of ACFW workshops on the actual business of writing, at RWA I can always count on picking up new information on things like internet promotion, negotiating book contracts, and figuring federal taxes as a writer. (A confirmed do-it-yourselfer, I have neither a webmaster, a literary agent, nor an accountant).

The fellowship at ACFW was lovely, and a nice feature of the conference is that it includes daily opportunities for corporate worship. But I felt a little left out at a conference that seemed to continually stress following the call to spread the gospel of Christ through writing quality Christian fiction.

I respect and applaud the people who write primarily for that reason, but I am not one of them. Perhaps one day I will be called by God to join their number, but for now I am simply writing wholesome romance novels for my entertainment and yours. If anyone finds spiritual lessons in my books, that's the Lord's doing, not mine. Of course I'm thrilled when I hear He has used my writing to speak to readers' hearts--but the reason my books contain spiritual truths is not that I'm trying to teach lessons. I simply happen to view the world from a Christian perspective, and that comes out in what I write.

RWA has been more useful to me than ACFW because when it comes to writing fiction, I identify more with romance novelists of all stripes than with Christians who write novels in order to promote the gospel. Hey, I'm a conservative, evangelical, Bible-reading Christian--and if you haven't picked up on that, then you haven't read any of my books. But my books aren't sermons with a little romance thrown in to make the lessons more palatable. They're just entertaining love stories about Christian men and women.

I have said before that one big conference a year is really enough for me. So while I met a lot of new friends at the ACFW conference and came away feeling refreshed and ready to get back to work, next summer I will again be attending the RWA conference.

One final note: I can't tell you how tickled I was every time I introduced myself to someone at the ACFW conference and was told, Oh, I read your blog! "No rules," right?

Right. Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the perspective. I'm not real clear on RWA, exactly. Is that primarily a secular writing organization or Christian based?

I am glad to hear your take on both. I have been hearing more about the RWA and what it has to offer. But I'm draw to ACFW because of it's Christian focus; however, my writing is a little edgy for the CBA, that's for sure.....So, we'll see where God leads me in all this:-)

Thanks again for your perspective!

Brenda Coulter said...

Romance Writers of America is a secular organization that welcomes writers of every subgenre of romance.

I should have pointed out that the RWA conference is about four times the size of ACFW.

I'd like to see people who have attended one or both conferences share their perspectives here. I can tell you that some of my friends think I'm nuts for preferring RWA to ACFW.

Robin Bayne said...

I've been to a variety of regional RWA conferences, but not to any ACFW ones (mainly because of the distance they are held from Maryland.) Thanks for the input on the differences.

Janny said...

I went to several RWA conferences over the years, including one at which I won a Golden Heart. :-)And it is true that for networking and learning purposes, RWA probably beats ACFW hands down. BUT...and this is an important BUT...which one you're going to consider worth the money may well depend on what your focus is.

As far as ACFW goes, I'm with you in that I'm not in this business as a ministry. I'm writing to tell good stories, period, end of sentence. That is enough of a "mission" to keep me more than busy enough and challenged enough, and I, too, am uncomfortable with people endlessly going on about how "God gave me these stories" or "We write to bring people to Jesus." Sorry, but I simply don't do my stories as sermons with a little plot wrapped around them, and if I try to do that, it fails miserably. So I'm firmly in the camp that writes for the glory of God--but not to convey any messages. I hate "message" or "issue" books--I totally agree that if a reader gets a message out of my book, it's between the reader and God, but I'm not putting it there "hoping they'll find it."

The sad other side of the coin is that, in a secular organization like RWA--maybe especially like RWA--there are minefields all over the place. You want to write wholesome fiction? Good luck on getting respect from RWA for it. To be blunt, in many cases, RWA's claim of being supportive of the wide variety of romance is--and has for some years been--a crock.

If you doubt this, just watch the expressions on people's faces when you start mentioning writing sweet romance, or that your characters don't engage in explicit sex on the page, or such. They may not say anything out loud--although I've been subjected to frequent ridicule to my face as well!--but the pitying condescension they'll give you is thick enough to cut with a knife. It's been that way for years, to some degree, but it's getting worse and worse with the increase in sleaze that RWA is now willing--indeed, eager--to recognize and baptize as "romance." The natural and logical fallout from this downward slide is a corresponding lack of respect for anything "clean", and for those of us who create same.

It was at least ten years ago that I was hearing, in actual RWA conference workshops, slams about "little old ladies in the Bible belt" who were "the only ones reading" sweet romance anymore. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true now--but as far as RWA goes, lip service to the contrary, respect and support only goes one way.

Some of us have stayed in RWA as "salt and light," trying to be faithful Christian witnesses to an organization and culture that sorely needs them. But after the way I was treated when my "controversial" letter hit the RWR in 2006--treatment that, in fact, violated what RWA claims are its own standards of conduct both in the RWR and in the membership itself--I threw in the towel. I can get abuse anywhere...I don't need it from a writers' organization that claims to "support" me--but only as long as I faithfully mouth the going party line and "go along."

Your experience with RWA may be better; I trust it is. Mine wasn't bad, for a long time, but there's only so much "making allowances" I was able to do. Finally,last year--after almost 20 years in the group--I left RWA, and my blood pressure's been the better for it. :-)

My take,

Brenda Coulter said... is true that for networking and learning purposes, RWA probably beats ACFW hands down. BUT...and this is an important BUT...which one you're going to consider worth the money may well depend on what your focus is.

Exactly, Janny. I'm not trying to steer anyone away from ACFW or toward RWA. I posted this because I have been asked by many people how I would compare the conferences.

As for the "meanies" at RWA, I have found RWA to be a microcosm of the world. Some RWA members support those of us who write inspirational romance while others ridicule our work. And still others don't care about us one way or another. I don't expect RWA, a secular organization, to be run by Christian principles, and I don't expect its members to behave in Christlike ways. I make friends where and when I can, and for the rest, whenever anyone belittles my subgenre, I just remind myself that RWA accepts all kinds of romance writers, even those who screech about "tolerance" but don't trouble themselves to show it to others.