Why I Joined ACFW

 

Letter a pencil2

If you’re a Christian fiction writer, perhaps you’ve wondered if you should join American Christian Fiction Writers. Maybe you don’t know much about ACFW or wonder if the benefit would justify the membership fee. If so, perhaps my experience in this article can help you decide whether or not ACFW is a good fit for you.

I began writing for Christian publication just before the Christian fiction market exploded in the early 1980’s. I’ve seen great changes in the Christian publishing industry and attended some very helpful conferences for Christian writers such as Write to Publish, other ACW conferences, and the Writing for the Soul conference (which is no longer active.) In recent years I’ve taken note of American Christian Fiction Writers, their conference and their membership.

For several years I hesitated to join ACFW because I can only attend writers’ conferences during occasional furlough years to the States, and only if the conferences fall at the right time in a reasonable location for me. Without the conference discount in my favor, I questioned whether or not the initial fee would be worth it if I couldn’t attend a conference. (It costs $65 to join for your first year, and $45 to renew your subscription each year thereafter.) I heard good things about ACFW, but never had a clear understanding of how it could help me.

In December 2015 I finally joined ACFW. I have gained considerable benefit from a few things and I continue to discover more benefits all the time.  You might be helped in different areas, but I’ll share the ways ACFW has helped me.

{Don’t miss the one helpful hint I share with you at the end that will make the whole ACFW communication easier.}

Critique Group

All members can participate in the Scribes Critique Group whenever they want. Since I have moved from traditional publishing to self-publishing, I wanted input from other writers to make my book as strong as it could be. I wrestled with self-doubt and wondered if certain parts of my book were working. This group gave me objective opinions by Christian writers who were on my side, but honest about changes that needed to be made. It was this benefit which finally convinced me to join ACFW.

How does it work?

To join the critique group you need to join an orientation class that teaches you how to submit and receive critiques. This takes about an hour a day for five days.  If you have already learned to use track changes, that will make this process easier. When you have completed the course, you can submit and receive critiques.

(Don’t miss my helpful hint at the bottom.)

You have to critique two chapters from other writers in the group for every one critique you receive. Some “critters” are more experienced or thorough than others, but you get at least 3 critiques for each chapter you submit. Comparing critiques gives you a good idea of what is working and what isn’t.

You aren’t obligated to make any changes, but if several critters note the same problem in your chapter, you’ll probably want to make a change.

I submitted the first 5 chapters from Broken Windows, which I had already published in 2015. I felt  these chapters needed to be tighter and get into the action faster. Since I had self-published, I could easily change these chapters, which I did once it was critiqued. I also submitted the first five chapters for Deja Who?, the sequel. Since the first chapters of any book are especially important, I decided to have these early chapters critiqued.

I feel the critique process gave me many good responses that helped improve my books, but I didn’t choose to have the whole books critiqued. You are  only allowed to submit 2 chapters a week (or 2500-word portions.) I didn’t want to wait long enough for the whole books to be critiqued, but appreciated the help for the chapters I submitted.

If you’re worried about flooding your inbox with emails, don’t miss the helpful hint at the bottom.

Email Loop

This allows you to ask questions and make comments on the email loop, as well as read other questions and comments. You don’t have to read or comment on anything if you don’t want. The subject headings help you scan the topics quickly and read the helpful entries.

The loop covers topics like punctuation tips, where to find valuable research, information about writing topics and contests, when authors are looking for blogs from other writers, and all kinds writing subjects.

I’ve found many of these entries helpful, but don’t miss the helpful hint at the end that helps you keep your sanity.

Joining Groups

You can also join groups with ACFW. Most, if not all, of these groups use Facebook to interact.

Since I don’t live in America, I belong to ACFW Beyond the Borders. This allows me to interact with other authors who live outside of the US. I’ve even “met” a few who live in New Zealand.

I also belong to two review groups that allow me to post my books for review by readers who agree to give an honest review in exchange for a book. I can also ask for beta readers from one of these groups. I have no obligations to this group, but I can ask or give reviews or comments when I want.

I’m also tiptoeing into a couple of others groups. Though not all of these groups are exclusive to ACFW, I wouldn’t have found them without it.

Other Benefits

You can also take online writing courses with ACFW, attend the national conference, meet other Christian writers, and find places to promote your own books.

Check out more information about membership benefits here.

You can find me on Fiction Finder here.

It takes a while to find your way around the extensive members only section of the ACFW website, but you can find help when you’re stuck. The spirit of ACFW is not competitive, but cooperative. You meet  a community of Christian authors there who understand people like you and want to help.

I can’t say if ACFW is a good fit for you. You can join and get nothing out of it. But membership does offer many benefits if you choose to use them. I have found my membership more helpful than I thought it would be, and plan to continue with it.

I did find out very quickly, however, that one helpful hint really helps you get started on a better foot. This is the tip I’ve been saving until last.

ACFW will work better for you if you have a separate email address for it. If you join a critique group, while you are giving and receiving critiques, you will be receiving many emails every day and it will drive you crazy if your ordinary email is bombarded with these. This separate address works well for the email loop too, so the email loop messages don’t get mixed up with your personal mail. Once you choose a separate address, you can sort the loop messages from the critique group messages. (They’ll tell you how.) That way, when you want to look at them they’re there, but otherwise they aren’t in your way.

I chose a gmail address for my ACFW mail, and that works well. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle, however, if I had used this separate address as soon as I registered.

Balancing Life and Ministry, Part Three: Ministry and Other Interests

Woman Juggling“I don’t know how you find time to write.” I usually cringe when I hear this comment. The person who says it may just mean, “Isn’t it great that you’re able to do this?” But in my mind I hear them saying, “You must be neglecting your ministry if you have time to publish books.”

As I said in part one, “People who work at salaried jobs can start at a certain time and quit at a certain time. The rest of their time is their own.” But ministry is never-ending. You can always think of more that could be done, maybe should be done. Does that mean you should never be able to pursue other interests?

Side ministries, hobbies, sports, and other interests can be a healthy part of ministry for a number of reasons.

  • Participating in groups in the community may help you develop relationships that can be helpful in ministry. My husband’s work in the local community patrol fits into this category.
  • Pursuing side interests give you a needed break from constantly obsessing about ministry.
  • People in ministry often give out continually, focusing on the needs and interests of others. In time this may drain them of needed emotional energy. Pursuing side interests often help them feed their own needs and keep them more contented in ministry.
  • God may want you to take part in a side ministry.

In my case, I felt God calling me to write for Christian publication before I felt his call to missions. For more than 35 years I have done both. Both in Taiwan and New Zealand, my missions ministry has always taken precedence over my writing ministry. During the years I was in language school and had two small children at home, I didn’t do much writing. Other years also left little time for this. But during most of that time I’ve been able to carve out time to write as well as work in our church planting ministry. If I had waited for leftover time to write, I would never have done much. If I had put my writing first, my church ministry could have suffered. So each year I had to go before the Lord and figure out how to balance the two.

On the one hand I felt God had gifted and called me to writing. I felt I would be disobedient if I didn’t serve the Lord in this way. On the other hand, it’s easy to feel guilty about the time spent writing because it could look like I’m neglecting my missions ministry. How do I balance that?

As I said in part two, our life situations often determine how much time we can spend in ministry as well as side pursuits. A missionary wife who home schools five kids at once will have to tackle ministry in a different way that a single woman missionary. In my case, my ministry situation allows me opportunity to write for several reasons.

  • Much of my work is done out of my home and I have great flexibility in my schedule.
  • My nest has been empty for 15 years. While I would like to spend more time with family, on the field I don’t need much time for family events and expectations.
  • Most of our national holidays on the field fall on Sundays, and since my husband is the pastor, we always work on these holidays. For eighteen years we haven’t had American co-workers and most of the American holidays don’t seem worth celebrating on our own.
  • While we are technically allowed 2-4 weeks for vacations, most of the time we’ve been on this field we haven’t had anyone to fill in for us on Sundays. As a result we do well to take 3 or 4 days vacation once or twice a year.
  • We live on an island and have seen most of the things close to us. We don’t really have access to a “cheap” vacation, like visiting families or friends, so we really can’t afford to take our full vacation time, even if we could schedule it.
  • During January, many of our ministries break for the summer, so my ministry demands are lightened considerably.
  • I don’t do much gardening and keep other hobbies to a minimum.
  • Though I am a fulltime missionary, I feel I can take time throughout the year that would be used by many people for days off, family time, holidays, and vacations for pursuing my writing ministry. Instead of using this time in chunks, I work time for writing into my schedule throughout the year.

I know I am responsible before God to give myself fully to my missions ministry as well as pursuing my writing ministry as he leads. I’m responsible to our church, our mission board, and even the New Zealand government for working at my church ministry as a full time job. Of course, the hours spent can fluctuate greatly from month to month or week to week. But I have to satisfy my conscience that I am not neglecting my main ministry. At the same time, I need freedom to pursue my writing without feeling guilty. Generally speaking, no one questions me about this, but I want to do right before the Lord.

If you’re in full time ministry and are working to balance that ministry with other pursuits, you will have to work to find a good balance between the two. Here are some questions you might find helpful when you are considering adding a new interest to your life.

  • Is this something God wants me to take time to do?
  • Is this the right time in my life to pursue this interest or ministry?
  • How much time can I afford to use in this pursuit?
  • Does this pursuit hinder my ministry?
  • Does this pursuit make me resent my main ministry, or does it help me appreciate it?

Generally speaking, a side interest outside of ministry can be healthy and prolong your years of ministry—as long as you keep it in balance. Rest is also important. My next blog, by Pastor Maynard Belt, deals with that. May the Lord help you to find balance in your ministry this year.

 

[image courtesy of Lorelyn Medina/Deposit Photos.]

One more 2015 book by a conservative author

Last week I featured several fiction books that came out in 2015 by conservative Christian authors. This one came in late. Also, notice a correction at the end.

 

 

authorabigail priggeAbigail Prigge

Abigail  is a college student from Idaho’s Treasure Valley and the founder of A Time 2 Write. Her first novel “One Summer’s Desire” is inspired by her own adventures as a camp counselor. She also co-wrote the book “Charlotte’s Hope.” She is a writing coach with http://www.atime2write.com/p/home.html mentoring students in their creative and essay writing abilities. Abigail is a friend of my son-in-law.

authorCharlotteshopethecover! (3)Charlotte’s Hope

Charlotte is not thrilled with her father when he sends her and her two sisters to spend Christmas with relatives in Argentina. Little does she know of the adventure, danger, and espionage that await her and her sisters. Charlotte despairs that she will ever be able to mend her relationship with her father. Clara is convinced that she will never be able to marry the man of her dreams. Constance is determined to keep her beloved horse. Will Charlotte and her sisters escape the clutches of the outlaw gauchos trying to destroy them and their family? Will Charlotte be able to maintain her hope in the Lord in the midst of hopeless circumstances?

Correction from last week:

I got some of the details wrong for Adam Blumer last week. I apologize for that. This is how that description should read:

Adam Blumer and I have been friends for several years now, though, again, I’ve never met him in person. He doesn’t have a new book from 2015, but he’s working on a new novel called Drone. His novel The Tenth Plague is currently only in Kindle version, but the paperback will be out in May or June of 2016.

 

 

Christian Fiction from Conservative Authors

Still looking for Christmas gifts? What could be better than Christian fiction written by conservative Christian authors? This blog highlights several conservative Christian authors with books they’ve published during 2015. Consider these books great ways to meet new authors.

author rick-barry-low-resRick Barry - Lowest ResRick Barry

Though I’ve never met Rick Barry in person, we share this in common: Both of us have written extensively for Bob Jones University Press and Regular Baptist Press. This book is on my husband’s wish list for this year and the Kindle edition saves us lots of overseas postage. Why not consider this for the man in your life?

 author The Methuselah Project - Low ResThe Methuselah Project

by Rick Barry

Nazi scientists started many experiments. One never ended.

Roger Greene is a war hero. Raised in an orphanage, the only birthright he knows is the feeling that he was born to fly. Flying against the Axis Powers in World War II is everything he always dreamed–until the day he’s shot down and lands in the hands of the enemy.

When Allied bombs destroy both his prison and the mad genius experimenting on POWs, Roger survives. Within hours, his wounds miraculously heal, thanks to those experiments. The Methuselah Project is a success–but this ace is still not free. Seventy years later, Roger hasn’t aged a day, but he has nearly gone insane. This isn’t Captain America–just a lousy existence only made passable by a newfound faith. The Bible provides the only reliable anchor for Roger’s sanity and his soul. When he finally escapes, there’s no angelic promise or personal prophecy of deliverance, just confusion. It’s 2015–and the world has become an unrecognizable place.

Katherine Mueller–crack shot, genius, and real Southern Belle–offers to help him find his way home. Can he convince her of the truth of his crazy story? Can he continue to trust her when he finds out she works for the very organization he’s trying to flee?

Thrown right into pulse-pounding action from the first page, readers will find themselves transported back in time to a believable, full-colored past, and then catapulted into the present once more. The historical back-and-forth adds a constantly moving element of suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Rick Barry is the author of the novels The Methuselah Project, Gunner’s Run,   Kiriath’s Quest, and over 200 articles and fiction stories. In addition to being a writer and World War II buff, his main role is Director of Church Planting ministries at BIEM, a Christian ministry active in Eastern Europe. He holds a degree in foreign languages, speaks Russian, and every summer he assists with children’s camps in Eastern Europe. He lives near Indianapolis with his wife Pam. Visit him at facebook.com/AuthorRickBarry, or on Twitter (@WriterRickBarry).

You can buy The Methuselah Project at Amazon or Kregel Books.

authorSusan Page Davis croppedSusan Davis

I’ve just met Susan Davis through another conservative Christian author. I just read and enjoyed The Charm Bracelet, a romance of hers that has also come out this year. The book featured here is a historical novel which might interest the sentimental female on your list.

author Outlaw Takes a BrideThe Outlaw Takes a Bride

By Susan Page Davis

Widow Sally Golding becomes a mail order bride in hopes of finding a happier marriage than her first and finally having children of her own. Johnny Paynter is accused of murdering his ranch foreman. With his pal Cam, he flees from Colorado to his brother’s ranch in Texas. On arriving, he finds that his brother, Mark, has been killed by outlaws. Cam convinces Johnny to bury his brother and lie low on the ranch. Everyone in town thinks Johnny is Mark, as they looked a lot alike and Mark was a quiet man who kept to himself. Then they learn that Mark has proposed to a mail-order bride, and Sally will arrive soon. Setting the record straight now would make Johnny look guilty of several crimes, so he keeps quiet—and winds up married to Sally. His guilt hangs over him, but he is sure God won’t talk to him now. Sally knows something is wrong, but Johnny won’t tell her what it is. When Johnny finally comes clean, Sally knows she loves him, but she isn’t sure their marriage can survive the strain—and then the outlaws return.

“Another original Western romance by Susan Page Davis. A trusting hero and a resourceful heroine find that a mail order bride–even for the wrong groom–can turn out right!” —Lyn Cote, author of the “Quaker Brides” series

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty published novels and novellas.  Her historical novels have won numerous awards, including the Carol Award, the Will Rogers Medallion for Western Fiction, and the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Contest. She has also been a finalist in the More than Magic Contest and Willa Literary Awards. Susan lives in western Kentucky with her husband and two youngest children. She’s the mother of six and grandmother of ten. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com

You can buy The Outlaw Takes a Bride at Amazon or Christianbook.com .

DEB 2013 bDeb Brammer

You didn’t expect me to leave myself out, did you? While most authors would rather write than promote their writing, promotion is part of their job. I’ve nearly finished the sequel to this cozy mystery which is Book One in the Keyhole Mysteries.

 Broken Windows cover thumbnailBroken Windows

by Deb Brammer

Jordan Axtell, an aspiring artist searching for a new beginning, escapes to Idaho. He hopes to put failure behind him and carve a respectable career out of the rock hard art community. But a black shadow girl with a red balloon warns him that his past refuses to stay where it belongs.

Strange things disappear and peculiar crimes point to Jordan’s guilt. Meanwhile, Alison distracts him from his goals. Zophie drives him crazy with her expectations and questions. A Bible Zone boy pulls at his heartstrings, and his roommate forces him to enter a new world of wheelchairs.

Has the most annoying graffiti artist on the planet followed Jordan to Idaho? Or is a copycat intentionally committing weird misdemeanors just to ruin his reputation? Jordan must find the identity of the perpetrator or lose his integrity as an artist. His new friends try to help, but with friends like his, his enemies can go on coffee break.

You can buy Broken Windows at Amazon.

Look for the sequel in 2016!

authorblumer_adam_portraitAdam Blumer

Adam Blumer and I have been friends for several years now, though, again, I’ve never met him in person. He doesn’t have a new book from 2015, but he’s working on a new novel called Drone. His novel The Tenth Plague is currently only in Kindle version, but the paperback will be out in May or June of 2016.

(My apologies to Adam. I didn’t have this information quite right in the original version. It has now been corrected.)

What is conservative?

Defining “conservative” is a tricky business, but since this is my blog, this is what I’ve come up with: My definition of conservative would include fundamental in theology and non-Charismatic. I would also expect distinctively Christian fiction as I define it in this article.