4 Ways Mad Max: Fury Road Can Inform Christian Fiction

On September 1st, 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road came out on BluRay/DVD. The only reason I didn’t camp out at Target to get a copy when the doors opened was because I forgot until 9pm that night. And also because I don’t like getting up early.

As I watched Fury Road yesterday (and again today), it hit me that this movie contains everything that Christian fiction (or fiction written by Christians) should have in it. This applies to all storytelling, actually, but since there’s ongoing debate on whether or not Christian films are any good, I’d like to submit that regardless of where you land in that discussion, we could all learn a few things from Fury Road.

  1. RUE.Fury Road does a lot of things well, but the first things I noticed when I saw the movie in theaters way back when it came out was that the film Resisted the Urge to Explain (RUE). Instead of explaining every facet of the storyworld and the characters’ history, Fury Road showed it to us.We get a brief introduction to the character of Mad Max Rockatansky (yes, that actually is his last name), but aside from that, we’re basically left to fend for ourselves. Fury Road doesn’t disappoint, either–the story world is shown so beautifully and so vividly that it doesn’t even matter that we don’t know all of the backstory.Fans of the Mad Max series may counter me by saying, “But there were three previous Mad Max movies. Those are Max’s backstory.”

    Actually, not really. Aside from lots of sand, some comparable filming styles, and the idea of killer-awesome vehicles chasing each other, there’s not a lot that’s the same. Tom Hardy’s Mad Max seems to have a past that is haunting him (via creepy flashbacks) that is unique to him and doesn’t cross over with Mel Gibson’s Mad Max, perhaps not even at all.

    The point here is this: it’s great storytelling to take us on a wild ride without info dumping all over us along the way. Let your readers/viewers experience the story world as your characters experience it, show instead of tell, and absolutely RUE until the story ends. Fury Road also includes…

  2. A plot that not only works but also it thrives because it is driven by character development.Fury Road begins with an exciting inciting incident, and it hardly ever lets up to give us breathing
    room. And when it does, it deeply develops its characters and its plot in the process.Take Furiosa (Charlize Theron) for example. Because of who she is, the plot moves forward the only way she knows how to make it move forward. We see her as a strong, hardcore character from the beginning, but by the middle of the movie, we learn that she has a dark past and that she’s looking for redemption, which is why she’s doing what she’s doing.The best part? We can infer all of that about her from two things: her actions up until that point, and her saying that one word: redemption. Her characterization is phenomenal.

    Then there’s Max. At the beginning, in what would count as a prologue, he says that all of his instincts have been reduced to one goal: survive. That one line (combined with all of his actions) builds his character. And then, when he finally decides to help Furiosa, we see him completely change his approach. Does he still want to survive? Of course. Is it his only goal? Not anymore.

    Because Max decides to help and not just go his own way, he serves as the primary reason why Act III even happens. It’s Max who goes to Furiosa and says “we should do this instead of this” (paraphrased to avoid spoilers). She reluctantly agrees, and then they drive straight into the movie’s incredible (and very Mad Max-appropriate) climax.

    I could go on and on about Nux, the wives, and even about Immortan Joe (the villain, who is complex and awesome and weird), but it’s better for you to see the movie and assess these things for yourself. The next thing Fury Road has that Christian creatives could learn from is…

  3. A great message that isn’t conveyed through preaching.At its core, Fury Road is so much more than a fantastic action movie. It, like most great stories, has a theme that is vital to the plot because the characters have different (and thus conflicting) opinions on its veracity. That theme? People are people, not things, not property.Now feminists have interpreted this to mean that women are not things or property, and they’re right. But it’s made clear that this also applies to others throughout the movies as well. Immortan Joe calls his unborn (male) child his “property,” but it’s clear that the other side doesn’t share that view. His wives, who are trying to escape him, insist that they’re not his property, and by extension, neither are his unborn children.Immortan Joe is perhaps the best example of a megalomaniac in cinema history (he’s certainly one of the more obvious candidates, anyway). Given his success in that vein, it’s natural for him to view others as property since he rules the known world, more or less.

    But Furiosa dares to challenge both his claim that he owns his wives and his children and those who serve him. Their conflicting views speak to the theme of the movie clearly.

    But unlike so much Christian entertainment, there isn’t a “well, I guess Immortan Joe was wrong” moment at the end of the story, nor was there an “I told you people weren’t property” reminder. Instead the story’s outcome speaks for itself, and it speaks to the theme.

    No one is converted at the end (and Nux, who —spoiler alert– changes sides midway through —end spoiler– doesn’t necessarily hold any set view on “people-as-property,” so I don’t think he counts anyway). No one NEEDS to be converted. The story resolves a different way. As a result, nothing in Fury Road feels forced or artificial like so much of Christian fiction (or preachy fiction of any kind) does.

    The final key feature that defines Fury Road is that it’s…

  4. A wild, entertaining ride that leaves you satisfied at the end.Fury Road is easily one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. The lines are clear as to who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. The plot is solid and has a natural ebb and flow. The character development is amazing. The graphics and action and acting and pyrotechnics and dialogue are all marvelous. When all of these elements combine and are done right (as they are in Fury Road), the result is an amazing movie that has huge rewatching potential.

    Come on, admit it. This looks incredible.

    I found it wildly entertaining, emotionally inspiring, and a LOT of fun. If your fiction, Christian or otherwise, isn’t entertaining, then why bother making it? What other purpose does fiction serve other than to entertain? Here’s how I’d break this down:

    If your goal is to tell a great story that conveys a deeper message, then focus on doing things in that order of priority: make the story great, then enhance threads of the message in your revision process.

    If your goal is to convey a deeper message by using a story, then again you’ve established a set of priorities: focus on clearly conveying the message, and then use a story to illustrate that message. Just know that if you choose this option that you might be better off writing a sermon or giving a lecture than writing a book or making a movie.

    In closing, Mad Max: Fury Road is unquestionably a learning tool for aspiring storytellers, Christian or otherwise. It’s rated R (for good reason) but if you can tolerate the R-rated material, it’s well worth watching for both its entertainment and educational value, plus its great message about the value of a person.

Posted in Editing, Movies, Speculative Fiction, Storytelling Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Reasons to Hire an Editor

A friend of mine recently posted 5 issues he had with hiring an editor to help him hone his writing in response to this admittedly sardonic post by my good friend and colleague Avily Jerome. His concerns are valid, but rooted in what I would consider either faulty information, skewed perception, or bad experiences with editors in the past.

Here are his concerns:

1. Some people who are trying to make a living as professional editors are terrible writers. They have no idea what “good” looks like.

2. Some other editors are good writers, who will try to take what you wrote and force it into 
their style. When it doesn’t have to be.

3. You as a writer generally cannot be sure about an editor until you hire him or her. Chances are as good as not, you just flushed your money down the toilet.

4. Don’t you have any friends or associates that can read your work for you and give you honest feedback? (Please don’t tell me you have to pay someone to be your friend…)

5. Learn to self-edit. Not that you don’t have blind spots, but once your friends help you identify them and you learn to look out for them, you’ll become a better writer.

Here are 5 answers to those concerns and reasons TO hire an editor:

1. Some of us actually do know what we’re doing and happen to be excellent writers as well. Folks like Jeff Gerke and Lindsay Franklin come to mind. (Speaking of writing, sign up for my author newsletter and get a FREE download of my award-winning novel, Blood for Blood!)

The trick here is that you need to vet potential editors just as you would if you were hiring a graphic designer for a book cover, an accountant to help you with your taxes, or a teenager to work at your McDonald’s franchise. Do your research, and you won’t get conned.

2. Some editors who are good writers can not only help you fix and enhance your writing on a mechanics level but they can also help you develop your voice as opposed to injecting their own in place of yours. A good editor works with your content and helps to shape and refine it–not rewrite it for you (unless you’re specifically paying them to do that). As with number one, you want to do your homework and pick an editor who actually knows the difference.

3. Good editors offer free test edits, have solid references and qualifications, and are forthcoming about the terms about their edits. While hiring an editor (or any professional, for that matter) is never a sure thing, you can always test an editor out beyond their references/qualifications, test edits, and terms by hiring them to do a shorter project before diving into a novel.

A flash fiction piece is a great test project and will cost you far less than what a novel would, and it will give you a solid indication of the editor’s capabilities. Given these filters in the editor-hiring process, you can be more assured that your money is not being wasted.

4. While friends and associates may be avid readers, they don’t necessarily have the training (technical or craft-wise) to help you improve your novel. Plus, they often lack objectivity because they know you and are more likely to say nice things rather than risk damaging your relationship with them.

Even fellow writers aren’t necessarily good editors/critiquers, so it’s valid to pay a professional (a real one whom you’ve vetted in advance) to give you honest, solid feedback on your work that helps you improve the quality of your story. Trained editors catch all sorts of mistakes and contradictions and notice areas that could be improved. Your great-aunt Selma may not.

5. While learning to self-edit is absolutely valuable, working with an editor on even a small project can totally improve your self-editing skills. Good editors help you identify those blind spots in your writing that ought to be improved or adjusted, and as a result you can learn to identify them as well.

A good editor is not just someone you hire to edit your manuscript and walk away–a good editor is your partner, your teacher, and hopefully, by the end of the project, your friend, if he/she’s done his/her job correctly. After all, that editor wants to edit your next project too.

A good editing experience is a transformative, learning experience. Ask any client who has been satisfied with an editor’s performance and they’re likely to tell you that they not only have a cleaner manuscript but they’re now also a better writer and self-editor as a result of the editing process.

A good edit often propels writers forward in their craft faster than anything else because they get individual, specialized attention for an extended period of time that they often can’t get at even the most thorough writers conference critique session, or from their critique group, or from their great aunt Selma.

Editors are essential in producing great fiction and great nonfiction 99% of the time (not an actual statistic, but I imagine it’s not far from the truth). Anyone who says otherwise must not have worked with a great editor yet. If that’s you, check me out. Give me a chance to impress you.

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Posted in Editing, Money, Speculative Fiction, Storytelling, Writing Tagged with: , , , , ,

5 Things Luc Besson Movies Teach Us About Writing

Do you know who Luc Besson is? If not, you should. He’s the mind behind great films like Leon: The Professional, Taken, and The Fifth Element.

^ This guy.

^ This guy.

Unfortunately, everything I’ve seen from him recently has been utter garbage. In the last few months I’ve watched Lucy (with Scarlett Johansson), Lockout, and this evening, Brick Mansions (one of the late Paul Walker‘s final movies), all of which reeked with poor storytelling.

I can’t say for sure that it’s entirely his fault, but Brick Mansions was mostly terrible, as were Lucy and Lockout. Taken 2 (also written by Luc) was mediocre and definitely a letdown compared to the first one. While I can’t pinpoint why his stories have tanked recently, the fact that he continues to get work suggests five key things that I think we authors/creative types can learn from:

1. If you start with a bang, people will give you lots and lots of chances. The Fifth Element, Taken, and Leon: The Professional are all solid films, and Luc deserves credit for those being good. Because of his early success with these films, people with money continue to fund and finance his stories, and they continue to get made into movies and television shows. Just look at Luc Besson’s IMDB page and you’ll see what I mean.

The takeaway here is to lead with your strongest work. If it meets with success, then you’ll have plenty of ground to stand on when it’s time for someone to publish or produce your next work. You’ll have something that you can point to for several years when you’re pitching to publishers or producers as evidence that you deserve another chance to create something great.

2. Get good at selling. Luc Besson must be a great salesman. He must. Why else would top actors like Liam Neeson, Jason Statham, and Scarlett Johansson sign on to work on his films? Why else would producers finance these films, despite many of his recent ones amounting to steaming piles of garbage?

Sidebar: You can say that I’m being unfair or that I’m jealous of his success. To that I challenge you to sit down, watch Brick Mansions, and explain to me why that’s a good movie on any level aside from some cool stunts. I could write an entire post on why it’s terrible, but in the end, that doesn’t matter because it’s a movie that got made. See #5 in this post for more info on my perspective.

My point here is this: if you’re good at selling people, you can achieve greater levels of success than folks who are talented creative types but who can’t effectively market/share their work.

3. Don’t give up. Luc Besson keeps writing stuff, though I’m beginning to think he shouldn’t. He isn’t content to stop and rest on his laurels.

This is different than being able to highlight the good work he’s done in the past. While I’m sure he gets some residual income from some of his older movies, he’s clearly not done creating more content to be produced.

Is it all great? Certainly not. I think he’s getting worse as he goes along (though I haven’t seen Taken 3 yet), but he keeps writing/creating nonetheless. As should we all.

4. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Let’s face it–if his last three movies hadn’t sucked, I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about him. Luc Besson’s recent movies haven’t lived up to the standards he set with Taken, Leon: The Professional, and The Fifth Element.

Given his successes with these earlier movies, I’m not sure if he just doesn’t know how to structure a story or how to develop characters realistically. Maybe various directors’ or casting persons’ choices have skewed the quality of his more recent movies. It could be (and likely is) that a combination of multiple issues contributed to the mind-numbing disaster that is Brick Mansions or the confusing, poorly-executed-but-should-have-been-awesome Lucy.

As writers, all we can really do is control what we can control. We can control our stories as they come alive through our fingertips while typing at the keyboard. We can control how our characters behave (to an extent), how they interact with each other, and what they say. We can control the settings and the conflicts around them, and we can control how a story begins, develops, and ends.

We can’t always control how a producer/director/editor/publisher will take our story, mess with it, and turn it into something that doesn’t line up with what we originally envisioned and created. We can, however, throw a mighty fit when we feel that our work is being misrepresented or damaged by someone else’s involvement, just like how Alan Moore refused to see The Watchmen when it came out as a movie, despite being one of the original comic’s authors.

There’s always the option to not sell your work to people who intend to crucify it in some vain attempt to make it more appealing to the masses. Maybe that’s what Luc Besson should have done with some of these later movies–or maybe he just stopped writing quality material. It’s hard to say.

5. If he can accomplish this, how much more can you and I accomplish? I always take it as encouragement when some movie that never should have been made shows up on my Netflix cue. It’s even better when I watch them and realize that someone out there spent millions of dollars getting that terrible movie made.
Think of what that means for you and me, my fellow creative-types. If we can produce better quality stuff than these yahoos, it’s just a matter of time before we’re running the creative industry. Surely I can write a better, more cohesive story (click that link to download it for FREE by signing up for my author newsletter) than Luc Besson.

At the end of the day, the task of writing rests solely in the hands of the author. We may not all achieve success (followed by what I would classify as glaring failures) like Luc Besson has, but we can at least learn from his career and make adjustments to our own creative lives and processes to ensure that what we produce is high quality and worthwhile. That’s the approach I’m taking, anyway.

And yes, I will probably watch more Luc Besson movies, if for no other reason than I can shake my head at them and learn from their mistakes. Every movie, book, etc. is an opportunity to learn, after all.

Posted in Money, Movies, Speculative Fiction, Strategery Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 Outlandish Writing Goals for 2015

A few weeks ago Splickety published a blog post with my suggestions for 6 Things to Keep in Mind when Setting Goals. With that in mind, how could I not write a post sharing the ins and outs of my goals with all three of my readers?

If you want to know where I’m coming from with these goals and my approach, read Splickety’s blog post. Otherwise, without further adieu, here are my 2015 writing goals (and keep in mind this is all in addition to running Splickety and maintaining my professional editing career as well):

Ben Wolf’s 12 Outlandish Writing Goals for 2015IMG_1257

1. Edit/smooth out Lumen’s Call; re-edit Lumen’s Path – due January 31st
Anything from me that you see with the word “Lumen” in it relates to my YA Fantasy series. In 2014 I added about 25,000 words to book 1 of the series (Lumen’s Call), and at the encouragement of my literary agent, I started to add another significant character to the mix as well.

With those two major developments, Lumen’s Call needs serious updating and smoothing-out. One very thorough edit (including the addition of this new character) and a subsequent proofread/copy edit should do it.

Lumen’s Path is book 2 of the series. With the exception of possibly clarifying or tweaking a few things based on the changes to book 1, this should amount to little more than a read-through and some basic copy edits.

2. Finish writing The Rise of Lumen – due February 28th
This is book 3 (and the final book) of the series. I have approximately 25-30,000 words written in it, and most of what’s there is solid and can remain. Fortunately, I have a detailed outline for the rest of the book, and with some dedication (and a lighter month of freelance editing in February) I should have no problem knocking out the remainder of this book in one month.

3. Finish “Kid’s Book” – due March 15
Yes, you read that correctly. I’m doing a kid’s book. Its contents are thoroughly a secret, though, so I can’t tell you much more than that. This book launches in early April, so it needs to be done before by the 15h of March at the latest so I can order a print copy in time for what I intend to use it for (which is also a secret).

4. Brainstorm/Outline “Special Book” – due April 15th
Ah, another secret. This book, if I can execute it well, may literally be the best idea I’ve ever had, so I have only shared it with a select few trusted people. What’s more, it’s a series, so I’ve potentially got room for a lot of content if I can make a go of the first book.

Normally I’d only give myself two weeks or so to create a detailed-enough outline, but in this case I’m allowing myself a month because this book will need special attention so as to ensure my outline is exquisite in quality. A better outline will make for a better, stronger story (hopefully with fewer edits).

5. Write “Secret Book” – due June 30th
Now comes the actual writing of the secret book. Again, normally I’d only give myself about a month and a half, but I’m giving myself two and a half months to get this one right. I am more than capable of knocking this book out in that timeframe.

6. Finish “October Release Book” – due July 31st
This novel is another secret. Yes, I’m planning tireless a novel in October (at the beginning, not the end) like I did in 2014 with Blood for Blood (click the link to sign up for my newsletter and receive this novel for FREE), but I’m keeping the details closer to my chest until my agent and I begin to execute our plan to make this a reality.

Suffice it to say, I have about 30,000 words written in this book and at least another 60,000 more to write before it’s done. Maybe more. I’m really not sure.

7. Edit “Special Book” – due August 15th
I’m giving myself some time and space between the time I finish my secret project and when I start editing it so I can approach it with a clearer mind. Seeing as though I edit quickly and this project may only be 60,000 words long, I should be able to knock this out within a month.

8. Finalize edits on “October Release Book” – due September 15th
If I’m going to launch this book in October, I’ve got to do have it edited by September 15th. After that, it will go to a proofreader/copy editor, and then I’ll format it and publish it on or before October first.

9. Publish “October Release Book” – due October 1st
See #8 above.

10. Finalize first four outlines and prequel book for graphic novel series – due October 15th
This is an incredibly fun project. Again, the concept is unique and super cool, so I can’t divulge much, but I’m working on it with an incredible artist and a friend of mine who as of the date of this post is still in high school and wants to go into writing/comic book writing for his career.

Suffice it to say that this is going to be awesome when it’s done.

11. Write something for NaNoWriMo – due November 30th
This is pretty non-specific for me. I’m pretty sure I’ll be writing something, but on the off chance that something pops up or I run out of time on a previous project, November would make an excellent “catch-up” month for me. I’m not going to run out of ideas any time soon, so I’ll be busy one way or another.

12. Edit The Rise of Lumen – due December 31st
Talk about waiting awhile before I edit a project, huh? At 9 months later, I will have been away from the book long enough to have a very fresh perspective on it when I begin editing it for publication.

Conclusion
So those are my 2015 personal writing goals. Ambitious? Yes. But I’m from the school of thought that believes that big goals yield better results than small goals even if I don’t succeed in reaching all of them.

What are your 2015 goals? Professionally and personally? Figure them out and have someone keep you accountable to them. Then go forth and achieve them.

Posted in Editing, Money, Speculative Fiction, Storytelling, Strategery, Vampires Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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