Sara Ella’s ACFW 2016 Recap

September 9th, 2016

Every year I count the days until ACFW comes around, and every year it goes by way too fast. But the good thing is, I know next year will be even better Why? Because coming off my third and best year yet, I know it only goes uphill from here. ACFW 2016 was a blast. From the food to the fellowship to the fabulous authors and teachers, I know this year’s conference will be an experience I won’t soon forget.


Me with MG author Elizabeth VanTassel. We spent time praying and catching up in the lobby as everyone arrived.

Day 1: Wednesday

The lobby of the Onmi Hotel and Resort in Nashville buzzes with excitement. Old friends embrace while new friends swap genres and business cards. Everyone’s just getting in from someplace or other and there isn’t a person in sight who isn’t starving. If you’ve been to ACFW before you know the food is always exquisite, but for the Wednesday arrivals dinner is on your own. It’s a great time to have intimate conversations with a few close friends or go out with a group of your author besties. Even if you’re a first-timer there’s sure to be a seat for you at someone’s table.

Day 2: Thursday

While the early birds attend session with NYC literary agent Donald Maass, I’m sitting at the registration table just itching to welcome newbies to their first conference. That look of, “Am I in the right place and will anyone help me?” is just a memory for me, but most lifers are more than happy to not only point a newbie in the right direction, but go above and beyond to invite them to lunch or walk them to orientation. This is what I love about ACFW—because whether you’ve attended for ten years or never before, everyone is family. There are no cliques or cool people tables. Because as MC Brandilyn Collins so kindly reminds us each year, we are weird. All of us. The normals don’t understand (so try not to scare them when you see them in the elevators).

When at last the keynote address rolls around, it’s former CEO of Thomas Nelson who takes the stage. Allen Arnold introduces longtime friend Ted Dekker and the crowd cheers (fangirls?) for this awesome author of all things odd and otherworldy. And boy does Ted have some wisdom to share. He talks about changing your perception (sound effects included) and what it truly means to forgive. He shares about an overweight woman who began to shed pounds when she at last forgave the boys who attacked her as a child. I don’t know about everyone else, but my eyes were far from dry after hearing Ted speak.

And finally, the moment I always anticipate, the genre dinner! Not everyone dresses up, but those who do have a ball. This year’s costume was Belle from Once Upon a Time. I had the privilege of sitting with my fabulous agent Jim Hart (who I might mention was a finalist for Agent of the Year). Afterward I snapped pics with the lovely Elizabeth Newsome (a.k.a. Rey), Elizabeth VanTassel (dressed as the evil character from her MG series), and Patricia Beal (who always comes as a beautiful ballerina.)

Me with agent Jim Hart of Hartline Literary

Me with agent Jim Hart of Hartline Literary


Me and Elizabeth Newsom (a.k.a Rey)

With MG writer Elizabeth VanTassel

With MG writer Elizabeth VanTassel

With Ballerina, Patricia Beal

With Ballerina, Patricia Beal

With all the excitement I was nearly late to the event of the evening—the HarperCollins Christian Publishing Panel.

Yes, okay, I’m a bit biased as this is my publisher, but seriously guys, this team is all that and a bag of dark chocolate M&Ms. Daisy Hutton shared some fiscal year news in which romance was the leading category for books published. This includes The New York Times bestseller The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck. Amanda Bostic followed up with some info on what HCCP looks for in their authors. She shared how HCCP isn’t just a publishing team, it’s a family. As one of their authors I can tell you that rings 100% true. Finally, Marketing Director Paul Fisher talked about the TNZFiction website and how HCCP is doing their best to keep up with the ever evolving world of social media.


Yes, that’s my novel Unblemished up there on the HCCP screen. Eeep!

Day 3: Friday

It’s continuing education session day and I’m more than excited to hear Allen Arnold talk about the Two Creative Realms: The Orphan Realm and the Freedom Realm. This man is a gem, and if ya’ll ever get a chance to meet him please do so. He’ll welcome you with a huge smile and open arms. And maybe even a notebook with a message from the Creator Himself. That’s right, Allen began his session with a twist. After going through an airport fiasco to bring two suitcases worth of notebooks to Nashville, Allen gave one to each attendee. And here’s the twist: he spent days listening to his Creator and writing a unique and individual message in each notebook. As the microphone was passed around the room, authors shared how their special messages touched them—how they hit home or spoke to their hearts. No one returned to the afternoon half of the session without tissues in hand. Allen’s message was powerful and every author came away changed.

Day 4: Saturday

Now normally Saturday would be a day full of workshops. I, along with a few others, were more content to just chill, brainstorming or networking or simply visiting on the last day of the conference. I spent an hour monitoring pitch sessions (which is so super fun when your editor Becky Monds is in the room you’re in charge of), and then it was on to the Soul Care panel given by Mary Weber, Katherine Reay, Allen, Arnold and Kristy Cambron. The seasoned authors talked about caring for the body, spirit, and soul, along with how important community is in the writing world. We can’t neglect any of these things. Not only do we need to take care of our bodies by staying healthy and exercising, but we need time in the Word and time with our people. This author thing isn’t a solitary business. We need support. And we need to make sure we’re making time to support others in this crazy busy life.

It was a dream to spend so much time with my editor Becky Monds. This woman is the frosting on my cake.

It was a dream to spend so much time with my editor Becky Monds. This woman is the frosting on my cake.

The Awards Gala Saturday evening is the event of the week and everyone is always dressed in their finest. And for me and author Rhonda Starnes, our finest means sporting our favorite pair of Converse sneakers. The food was delectable and the company even more so. No one is a loser at the Awards Gala—everyone rejoices with the winners. The amazing Jim Rubart took home two awards (Mentor of the Year and the Carol for the Speculative category). The awards were wrapped up by the debut Carol winner Linda Brooks Davis. Linda’s speech was a hoot and left the audience rolling. I mean our entire table was literally in a fit of laughing tears. We all decided we hope Linda wins an award every year just so we can hear her give a speech.

Me and Rhonda Starnes in our Converse.

Me and Rhonda Starnes in our Converse.

With tears and hugs and late-night conversations at the hotel bar, we’re always reluctant to leave our fellow weirdos behind and return home to the land of normal. But we’ll be back next year. 2017 can’t come fast enough. #commencecountdown

{More about Sara Ella}

sara-ella-hr-24Once upon a time, SARA ELLA dreamed she would marry a prince (just call her Mrs. Charming) and live in a castle (aka The Plaza Hotel). Though her fairy tale didn’t quite turn out as planned, she did work for Disney—that was an enchanted moment of its own. Now she spends her days throwing living room dance parties for her two princesses, and conquering realms of her own imaginings.

When she’s not on deadline, Sara Ella can most often be found fangirling on Twitter,Instagram, or her YouTube channel. She may or may not be obsessed with a certain pirate from Once Upon a Time, and she has a serious condition known as “Coffee Snob-itis.” She believes “Happily Ever After is Never Far Away” for those who put their faith in the King of kings.

Learn more at

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