10 Tips for a 1st-Time Conferee

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan

Someone recently said they were about to go to their first ACFW conference and they asked for advice. As a conference veteran—I’ve attended close to two dozen—I offer the following:

1. Don’t be terrified. I promise you’ll love it. Look for names you recognize. Don’t be embarrassed to look at name tags. ACFW gives you Zone (regional) stickers to add to your name tag to help recognize other zone members. If you’ve been active on their e-loop, you’ll likely recognize names. Look for your favorite authors.

2. Volunteer.
If you can, go a day early and volunteer to help stuff packets or work the registration table. That gives you a few friends right from the start. At my first ACFW conference, I stuffed conference bags with Mike Ehret and we became friends. More amazing, we still are. We recently published a novella collection together.

3. Don’t push yourself. If you start to feel overloaded, skip a class or a general session. Do something else or take a nap. There is no way you’ll remember all the information you hear. You can always get the MP3 of that class later. My mantra is: if you take away one golden nugget of learning that moves your work to the next level, it was worth it.

4. If you’re feeling lost or overwhelmed, find someone else who looks like they are, too. Reach out to that person. After all, you know how they feel.By befriending them, you’ll find you no longer feel so lost.

5. If you plan to pitch to an agent or editor, practice at home and with friends. Covenant with a couple of pals who will call you at random unplanned hours and ask, “Tell me about your book.” Do that until you stop swallowing your tongue or stuttering.

6. Remember, agents and editors are people, too.
They are there to find the next great book. It might be yours! So use lunch and dinner to pitch at the tables, but don’t monopolize the conversation. Practice until you can deliver your pitch in 30 seconds. Then close your mouth. If you babble on for a long time and don’t give anyone else a chance, the editor/agent will think you do that in your writing, too. A good byword is: Less is more.

7. Networking is as big a part of conference as the classes and pitch sessions.
That’s how I met my critique partner, Lisa (Elizabeth) Ludwig. We met at the ACFW conference and have been writing buddies ever since. That was back in 2005 in Nashville.

8. Warning: Never …I repeat…never follow an agent or editor into the restroom to pitch! Elevators are okay, after all they can’t escape if they’ve already pushed their floor button. But the restrooms are off limits. And don’t think it never happened. Just ask Steve Laube or Chip MacGregor.

9. Expectations: Most of all, don’t set wild expectations. You will NOT be handed a contract at breakfast. Sorry to burst your bubble. It usually takes 3 or 4 books written before you’re ready.

10. Belong:(especially if you’re a fairly new writer) simply sit back and enjoy being among people who actually “get you.” After all, we’re not “normals.”

See y’all there!


Life in Chapel Springs
Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.