Why I Joined ACFW

 

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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Christian writers such as Write to Publish, other ACW conferences, and the Writing for the Soul conference (which is no longer active.)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.

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