6 Reasons I’m Attending Realm Makers in 2015

Disclaimer: I am on the operating board of Realm Makers and have been an avid supporter of both Realm Makers and ACFW in my time as an author. This blog post represents my opinion and my opinion only unless otherwise stated. This post is not written on behalf of ACFW, Realm Makers, or anyone but me. So if you want to throw stones, throw them solely at me.

 

When I first got serious about my writing career, I attended the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference in Denver, CO, and it changed everything I thought I knew about my writing, all in very good ways. It was so transformative that I literally rewrote the entire opening to my first novel while I waited inside the Denver airport overnight.

At the time, a few publishers and agents at the ACFW conference were looking for what I wrote: speculative action/adventure. Unfortunately, the publishers whom ACFW has recruited since 2009 have wanted to acquire less and less speculative fiction, and this year there were hardly any publishers present who even wanted to consider spec fic.

My last experience with ACFW this past September (2014) was not ideal. I spent a lot of money to get there, get a hotel room, and attend the conference (over $1,000). If you know me, you know I’m not a shy person. I networked the daylights out of that conference just like I do at every conference I attend.

But this year, not even my extreme networking justified the cost of attending. I basically gave ACFW $600 to not attend any classes (many of them weren’t anything I was interested in or had already attended similar classes before), to eat mediocre hotel food, and to attend an awards banquet that lasted too long. (In fairness, it was shorter than last year, and I have to acknowledge they’re improving their fluidity.)

So it’s time for a change. I can do much, much more good with my $1,000+ investment at a conference like Realm Makers (RM) which specializes in promoting, improving, and sharing speculative fiction with the world through the development and training of its conferees.

Realm Makers Logo

While ACFW is still a great organization for authors of romance, historical, suspense, and other genres, it’s time we stop pretending they’re interested in leading anything as far as spec fiction goes and commit to an organization who is not only emphatic about growing the genre of spec fic but is also well-set up to accomplish that goal. Here’s the truth of it, unfortunately:

 

Realm Makers believes in supporting and leading the way in Spec Fiction; ACFW does not.

 

RM is dedicated solely to the development and promulgation of speculative fiction (often from a Christian worldview). ACFW takes wants to promote Christian fiction on the whole as “The Voice of Christian Fiction.” There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it’s clear that certain genres are far better represented than others.

Keep in mind, I’ve attended the last 5 ACFW conferences. In that time, here’s what I’ve observed (and these are the 6 Reasons why I’m supporting RM from now on instead of ACFW):

1. ACFW has hosted almost no classes that place any sort of emphasis exclusively on speculative fiction.

The ones they do host are about topics that can apply to a variety of genres, like world-building. Again, that’s not a problem, necessarily—it just doesn’t promote specifically spec fic topics, so their educational content has limits on what is and isn’t valuable to attendees who have attended for multiple years. While I’ve basically exhausted my educational opportunities at ACFW, I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I can learn through the classes that RM is offering.

RM, however, hosts classes on a variety of topics specific to spec fic, the challenges with its marketing, creation, editing, and more. One of my favorite classes last year was Lisa Walker England’s explanation and exploration of the genre of Steampunk, which is a genre I really needed to learn more about. The best part about RM is that EVERY class emphasizes some way to improve your spec fiction or how to improve your approach to your genre, or marketing spec fic, etc.

2. ACFW’s lineup of featured editors willing to look at speculative fiction has dwindled to almost nothing over the last five years.

Again, I’ve attended ACFW for the last five years, so I’m saying this from firsthand experience. In 2009, I had opportunities to meet with a few different publishers who were interested in publishing speculative fiction. In 2014, I met with exactly zero publishers who were interested in spec fic.

That’s not my fault, either—I reached out to a bunch of publishers who wanted spec over the years…but this year I recall maybe two or three options, and one of them, Steve Laube from Enclave, wasn’t even listed as a spec publisher, just as an agent. The other option or two consisted of YA (Blink from Zondervan does spec fic), which is sort of a copout (yet it points to the future of where book publishing is headed, in my opinion—if young people are reading spec fic, what are they going to read when they get older?).

Don’t believe me? Check out their Editors page on their website: http://www.acfw.com/conference/appointments_editor
(Author’s note: When I originally posted this link, the 2014 editors were still listed on this site. Now they have been taken down, within hours of this post, actually.)

Almost every single one of those publishers read “not interested in Sci-fi/Fantasy.” Why would we as spec authors attend a conference where NO ONE wants to see our spec stories? I can no longer prove this since they took the page down, but trust me, I was at the conference. It was true.

On the contrary, RM’s list of editors will ALL accept spec fiction submissions because that’s the whole point of the conference. No more explanation needed.

3. ACFW’s lineup of featured agents willing to look at speculative fiction has shrunk over the last five years.

I hate to say it but it’s more or less the same story with the agents whom ACFW allows to take appointments at their conference as with the editors. Earlier on, this was better, but ACFW has moved away from showcasing agents who love and support and represent spec fic. Admittedly, the landscape is less bleak here than on their editors page. By my count (before ACFW took down the info on the page) a little less than half of the agents on-hand were actively seeking some sort of speculative fiction.

Refer to their website: http://www.acfw.com/conference/appointments_agent
(Author’s note: When I originally posted this link, the 2014 editors were still listed on this site. Now they have been taken down, within hours of this post, actually.)

Contrast that with RM where 100% of the agents in attendance are actively acquiring spec fiction clients, and you know where things stand. Even so, if ACFW is supposed to represent Christian fiction on the whole (which I think they do well about 80% of the time) and they aren’t bringing ANY spec fic publishers to their conference, then who are those agents supposed to pitch to on your behalf at the conference?

4. You (probably) won’t get kicked out of the RM costume party

I’ll admit, this part is a bit tongue-in-cheek. In 2012, in Dallas, two of my friends and I were asked to remove certain parts of our attire (we went in costume) before we could attend the ACFW awards banquet. I was wearing a sweet robot arm and an ACFW official told me that “security is freaking out” I needed to remove it before I could attend the banquet, even though I had already made it into the banquet hall.

Ben Arm 1

You can read more about the debacle here on Diane M. Graham’s blog.

ACFW both had some good reasons and some bad ones for asking me to comply, and at the time I tried to hold my head up high and cooperate because I didn’t want to make trouble. I also have to give them credit because they created a costume party specifically as a result of this happening, and that happens at the conference every year.

Politics of robot arms aside, and regardless of whatever their reasons for their actions, you won’t get kicked out of a RM party because you’re wearing a costume. There’s basically no chance of that happening at RM.

(In fairness, read this post by Mike Duran as a counter-balance. I agree with almost everything he says–except the costume part, of course, because at RM it’s not only allowed, it’s encouraged.)

5. ACFW refuses to recognize publishers of anything shorter than novella-length fiction.

ACFW’s broad-spectrum approach to Christian publishing is surprisingly focused when it comes to what kinds of publishers they officially recognize. Their classes and content are geared almost exclusively toward novel-writing, and they don’t allow editors of magazines or comparable publications to take pitches at their conference.

The irony here is that many ACFW classes suggest that authors get shorter works published as a means to build their platforms, yet ACFW does not endorse or recognize any publishers or publications (like Splickety) that could help those authors accomplish that very important step in platform-building.

Admittedly, this personally dismays me as being an ACFW-recognized publisher would allow Splickety more exposure to qualified authors from ACFW. I imagine many other publications—fiction, nonfiction, speculative or otherwise—would agree with me. What’s worse is that Splickety runs three magazines, and only one of them is speculative. One of them is romance, and ACFW, formerly known as the American Christian Romance Writers, is brimming with hopeful romance authors who would undoubtedly write us some great fiction.

In this case, RM is also better, because they promote not only novel-length fiction but also anthologies, short stories, flash fiction, and even nonfiction and peripheral-type media like art, film, and more. It’s not just RM, either—I teach at 6-8 writers conferences every year, and almost all of them welcome magazines and other publications that accept short fiction submissions. This one is just weird to me, but ACFW hasn’t budged on it.

6. ACFW is super expensive; RM is not.

I’m a big believer in getting what you pay for. There was a time, probably the first two years I attended ACFW, where I really felt I got a solid return on my investment when I attended the conference. And when I say investment, I’m not kidding. Here’s a rough breakdown of what you can expect to pay to attend ACFW’s conference (and this rate includes some meals): http://www.acfw.com/conference/general_info

That’s a minimum of $540 to attend IF you’re a member. Here’s my personal breakdown of what it usually costs me to attend an ACFW conference:

 

Conference Fee:               $540.00

Registration fee:              $ 25.00

ACFW membership:       $ 45.00 (annual)

Hotel Room:                     $558.00 (split 2-4 ways, depending on roommates, for three nights)

Friday Night Dinner:      $15-20.00 (Not included in conference fee)

Transportation:               $200-400 (depends on conference location and driving vs. airfare)

Misc. expenses:               $50.00

 

At a minimum, I’m spending about $950.00 to attend the ACFW conference. I could go super cheap and maybe whittle it down to $800 or $850, but that means not staying at the conference hotel. There’s a minimum of $610 (Conference fee/tuition/AFCW membership) that won’t budge no matter what I do.

Let’s compare that to RM’s projected 2015 rates:

 

Conference Tuition:         $300.00 (includes meals this year)

Registration fee:               $ 25.00

Housing:                            $ 20.00/night (Figure on three nights)

Transportation:                $200-400 (depends on conference location and driving vs. airfare)

Misc. expenses:                $50.00

 

That’s a minimum of about $500 or so if you’re thrifty, or less if you want to sacrifice some things. The bottom line here is that RM, at its most expensive, is on-par with ACFW at its cheapest. No, RM isn’t taking over the Hyatt like ACFW does, but they’re providing content geared specifically toward you, the spec fic author. The ROI (return on investment) is considerably higher.

So as far as my money goes, I can save about $450-500 or more by just going to a conference that will actually help me continue to develop. That’s an extra $500 I can use to promote my book, or spend on developing a book cover, or that I can use to sponsor RM on behalf of Splickety.

It makes no sense for me to spend ANY money on a conference or an organization that is failing to represent my interests as a spec fic author. Why not invest it in an organization that will walk alongside me and help me get better at my craft, marketing, and everything else instead?

Realm Makers is that organization.

 

Conclusion

These are just some of my personal reasons for deciding not to give my money to ACFW anymore beyond my annual membership, and even that is just to keep in contact with my ACFW friends through ACFW-moderated channels.

I’ve expressed these frustrations (and more) to ACFW’s leadership in the past, and I’ve always been met with a blasé attitude or no response at all. I can’t fault them for focusing on their mission of being “The Voice of Christian Fiction,” but they’re really only serving as the voice of SOME of Christian fiction.

Speculative fic authors may be weird, but look around and tell me what you see in the movies and on TV right now. Christian publishing is notorious for following what the secular media does, and the secular media typically follows what Hollywood does.

Again look around you: we’ve got Marvel taking over the universe, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, DC Comics playing catch-up with Marvel, and a bunch of other spec fic movies in theaters right now (and for the foreseeable future). Network TV has shows like Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Agents of SHIELD, and pseudo spec fic shows like Castle and shows about spec fic lovers like The Big Bang Theory are doing very well.

But Christian publishing isn’t doing much to prepare for the eventual shift to nerddom that looms on the horizon. ACFW should be leading the charge into the weird, but they’re not. So I say we work with Realm Makers to lead the spec revolution in our world instead. Instead of waiting for ACFW to catch up, let’s follow RM into the bright, shining future that’s awaiting us. Who’s with me?

Last-minute addition: To those of you who think I’m bashing ACFW, think again. I love ACFW. I owe what little success I’ve had to attending the last five ACFW conferences. But those conferences just don’t have nearly enough value to me anymore to justify the amount of money they’re asking of me. As such, I’m going with Realm Makers.

I’ve been heroically loyal to ACFW for the last five years. I even defended ACFW’s decision publicly when they asked us to remove our costumes at the 2012 banquet. I had hoped to see more changes in favor of spec fic authors, but it hasn’t happened. I still recommend ACFW for anyone wanting to learn the craft of writing in general, but if you want specific, genre-based teaching for spec fic, go to Realm Makers.

Have you had ACFW-related issues when it comes to your speculative fiction endeavors? Share them below, but be gracious; these are still our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if they aren’t playing ball with spec fic authors the way we want them to.

Alternatively, if you think I’m wrong, let me know where I’ve faltered. I’d love to engage anyone willing to discuss this (minus vitriol) in the comments section or on Facebook.

Posted in Money, Speculative Fiction Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
11 comments on “6 Reasons I’m Attending Realm Makers in 2015
  1. Excellent insights, Ben.

    I have similar feelings and observations about the situation at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. For the amount of money I’d spend, there aren’t a lot of editors or publishers there that I’d actually be looking to submit to or connect with.

    However, it appears that there are a few more spec fic features at MH than you found at ACFW. This year they actually have a major morning track on spec fic by Kathy Tyers. And they have a major morning mentoring track that includes James Scott Bell, who has some spec fic titles under a pen name. And usually Steve Laube is there, and I imagine he’ll be representing both his agency and Enclave Publishing (spec fic publisher, previously known as Marcher Lord Press, as you know). So, if there are any West Coast spec fic writers out there, Mount Hermon might still be of interest.

    Personally, I’m pursuing self-publishing for my current line-up of projects. So connecting with publishers isn’t high on the priority list. But connecting with other spec fic authors is very high, and Realm Makers is definitely where that’s at!

  2. My first conference experience was with the Florida Christian Writers Conference, and it was much like yours. A great place for mainstream authors, a not so great place for spec-fic authors. I’m not extroverted like you, Ben, but I forced myself to talk to editors and agents, and the second I mentioned “YA fantasy” that became the end of any and all conversations.

    The exception was the teen track, taught by Bryan Davis, who writes YA fantasy and taught teens who…you guessed it…ALL write fantasy. What you mention in this post about young writers all being into spec-fic is something I’ve noticed for a long time. I even taught a creative writing class for homeschoolers a couple years ago. In my class of 8 students, 7 were writing spec-fic. It is the genre of the future, and the CBA is shooting themselves in the foot.

    • Ben Wolf says:

      Kat, I’ll say it again: I LOVE FCWC. I’ve had a bit more success there in networking with editors interested fantasy and spec, but it’s hit or miss. No conference can (or should) do it all, so that’s why a conference like Realm Makers exists.

      • I didn’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t like FCWC. I learned a LOT about writing and met some great people. But one of the things I learned was that spec-fic was not something the CBA wanted, so I changed my focus. I’d still like to go to FCWC again, but right now I’m spending my conference money on Realm Makers ;).

  3. Gretchen Engel says:

    I had a fabulous time at the ACFW conference in Indianapolis. I sit between spec and YA. My writing group (The Scriblerians) has both spec/YA writers like me and some that are strictly YA. Eight of the nine of us attended. I also have ACFW friends in other genres. The socialization and networking made the conference worthwhile. Also, I had positive experiences with my editor and agent appointments. I am from near Indianapolis, so I spent a few days with my family.
    That said, I’m planning on going to Realm Makers this year if at all possible. Again, I’ll justify the cross-country flight from a small western town because St. Louis is not far from my family and I’ll pair it with a visit to them.
    As to the benefit of short stories, I’m with you on that. I have had one short story published and have another under contract. I tend to be a “long writer” so crafting streamlined stories have been a huge benefit to my writing aside from the publishing credits.

  4. I can’t really make it to any conferences at all, but it appears RM would be a much better use of my time and resources if I could wangle one. I was only in ACFW for a year, but let my membership lapse after discovering some of the types of genre favoritism you cited. It just wasn’t worth it to me.

    That said, I have no desire to see them change. They serve their niche. I’m just not part of it. I have very little desire to be picked up by a CBA publisher. My pie-in-the-sky dreams lean more toward Tor and Baen.

    Enjoy the conference. I usually pore over the pictures all my friends take, so I’ll probably see you in them.

  5. As the director of a conference, I’d like to chime in.

    Here’s the deal, folks. It cost a LOT of money to throw a conference. A. LOT. Probably more than you can guess. Directors bring in those faculty members they know will draw the majority of the writers BECAUSE they have to make cost plus extra because if they don’t, there will be no future conference. FCWC does offer some sci-fi/fantasy, etc. outside of Bryan Davis. Not a lot, and–again–this is for obvious reasons. The majority of the folks who come are not sci-fi writers. It’s supply and demand.

    Let me give you an example. I have a favorite makeup line for blush. I found it, the first time, in a Walgreen’s! So, one day as my blush was getting low, I swung into another Walgreen’s to purchase more. “We don’t carry that line,” the gal told me.

    “But … I purchased it at a Walgreen’s the first time,” I said.

    “That’s a line popular with Hispanics,” she said. “We don’t have a large Hispanic population here so we don’t carry it here.”

    Makes sense (although I’m Irish…)

    I think this is why RM will do well for those who write sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Just like RWA focuses on romance. Although you may find some Romance/Sci-Fi, it’s not predominately what you’ll find.

    Kat, we never felt like you were the “odd man.” I can think of a few (not many, but a few) others who write sci-fi/fantasy who have attended FCWC. But I’m awfully glad you found Word Weavers! (For those who don’t know, Word Weavers International (www.Word-Weavers.com) owns Florida Christian Writers Conference.

    We do our best, but it’s really supply and demand … and cost.

  6. Dana Bell says:

    Good insights, Ben. I’ve stopped attending most of the local general writing conferences, granted they’re secular, in favor of the SF conventions, where the networking is better. Granted, I’m publishing in the secular rather than Christian world. Oddly enough my Christian Speculative, ‘God’s Gift’, was picked up by a small local publisher. The first question I got asked was, is the sequel done?

    This year I’m attending Superstars Writing Seminar, which is sponsored by local NY Times best selling author Kevin J. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta, and several others. I’m excited to go and the two I mentioned are happy I’m attending. Kevin keeps an eye on the local writers. My first introduction to him was my first autograph session. He looked over and said, ‘You’re on my Facebook.’ It’s also about an hour away, so that makes it very enticing.

    Realm Makers is on my list to attend, but not in 2015. Can’t swing it financially. Maybe next year depending on where it is.

  7. Ben, my experience with ACFW vs. Realm Makers is almost exactly like yours. ACFW is a great conference for learning about writing, but not for making spec-fic industry connections.

    I continue to be an ACFW member for the camaraderie in my local chapter, which has a disproportionate number of spec-fic writers. The ACFW organization has plenty more to offer writers generally, including an online critique group. But I won’t be attending the ACFW _conference_ any time soon, for all the reasons Ben cites.

  8. I’d been mulling on this topic too. Attended ACFW for the first time this year. Enjoyed it for sure, but found that it was not the geared towards Spec writers and definitely noticed the lack of agents and editor looking for the stuff I write.

    You’ve given me some more stuff to think on. Thanks Ben.

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  1. […] are those who, as Ben Wolf detailed in this post, and Mike Duran discusses here, feel as though the Spec-Fic genre is badly under-represented at the […]

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