Friday, January 9, 2015

Men at ACFW--Do They Exist?

Casey here: I am thrilled to host my friend and up and coming writer, Andrew Swearingen on the blog here today. Earlier last year, there was a debate on the ACFW loop about men and their presence or lack thereof at the ACFW conference. And it got me to thinking--do we exclude men and their company at our conference or within our writing circles and community? Here's some interesting food for thought. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 

Last September I attended my first writer's conference, with ACFW, the American Christian Fiction Writers.

It was a great experience all around. I loved getting to meet other writers (published or otherwise) and I had plenty of opportunities to talk about my book with agents and editors.

In the weeks after the conference there was a conversation on the ACFW e-mail loop about “Men at
ACFW”. I've worked with the audio video team at the ACFW conference the last few years, so I knew that the organization was made up of mostly women. I thought maybe guys made up maybe ¼ of the conference demographic. Nope. It's more like 15%. One man felt ostracized during the large group sessions, feeling out of place. After all, this used to be American Christian Romance Writers. So the question came up, is there a place for the Y chromosome in ACFW?

For my part, I didn't feel left out in any way. It's true, as a single guy in my 20's, I definitely stood out among the ACFW crowd, but I knew that would be the case going in.

If anything, the hard part was engaging with such a large crowd. However, when the rubber hit the road, we were all writers and we all had plenty to talk about. Most everyone I spoke with was friendly and excited to talk about their book.

(If I can be very honest, I think my history of putting my foot in my mouth has helped me get over my fear of looking foolish.)

But just for sake of argument, let me list the ways that it was difficult being in the “male minority” at ACFW.

1.) It's awkward being the only guy at a table full of women.
2.) It's awkward being a 20-year-old guy at a table full of middle aged women.
3.) It's awkward walking into dinner in a group of all women. (You may have noticed a pattern here. I won't belabor the point.)
4.) Lot of pictures taken of me and with a bunch of women. (some guys would love this, but that's another issue).
5.) Being the default picture taker when the ladies see a photo op.
6.) Telling a female writer that you write Sci-fi and she replies “Oh that's so cute. My 5-year-old son loves Star Wars.”
7.) I had no idea who Lauraine Snelling was (still don't).
8.) Having nothing to contribute when the “Romance Moms” start talking about their grandkids.
9.) Having to be very careful introducing when myself to young female writers (Give me a t-shirt that says “No really, I only want your phone number for networking purposes.”).
10.) Seriously though? There were so few male role models at the conference. I know they're there, but man, as far as speakers, I feel like we guys come away wanting more. I didn't really notice it until Allen Arnold, a speaker from Ransomed Heart Ministries, got up to lead the morning devotionals. Granted Allen is a fantastic speaker who knows how to address the hearts of artists, but his fatherly presence was such a breath of fresh air to me. (I will add the caveat that I am chronically bad at meeting with and talking to men I look up to, which may be part of why I felt so dry in that regard).

However, there are a few upsides of being in the male minority

1.) No lines at the restroom.
2.) Lots of excited women, telling you how glad they are to see more men.
3.) You know who your friends are. It's not like you get to pick and choose. When there are only so many men at the conference, you have little choice but to network with the few guys you meet with.
4.) Realizing that the women don't bite (most of them at least). Even with more and more men attending ACFW, we still need to interact with the other 85%. So this awkward Sci-fi writer needs to cross the aisle and make connections with a few women. And it's not even that bad. Despite the intimidation factor when trying to engage a pack of women, once the conversation starts, most of them are pretty easy to talk with.

5.) I learned to look at the genre, not the gender. Some of the most impactful story talks I had were with members of the fairer sex. And I'm willing to bet that I learned a thing or two from their feminine insight.
6.) Genre crossover. While we joke about the rival “clans” of writers, we can all learn a bit from each other. Some things won't change. Romance writers will always think Spec Writers are a little “out there”. Suspense writers will tell Romance writers to “pick up the pace” and ask “when will there be a dead body”? But we all have something that we can learn from one another. Romance writers can help spice up the romance between the swashbuckling hero and his damsel in distress. Suspense writers can help the Romance writers toss in a plot twist or two. (And we Spec writers can help all of you realize that whatever story issue you're having can easily be solved by the introduction of a Robot Apocalypse).
7.) Unique voice. Amid the season of female voices in a conference like ACFW, male voices are in short supply. It doesn't guarantee anything. You still need to have something that stands out, but it does give us guys a unique position to bargain from.
8.) ACFW Mom's. I have no fewer than 5 mom's in ACFW and it's fantastic. Sometimes after a rough agent appointment, a little hug from “Mom” can go a long way.
9.) Oh and did I mention that my protagonist is a 17-year-old girl? Yeah, female insight into the mind of a moody (telepathic) teen can be quite useful.
10.)  Realizing that maybe, just maybe, it the gender gap isn't as big of a deal as some people would like to make it out to be.

Would things maybe be easier if ACFW were even 30% male? Sure. I long for the day when there are more and more men writing in the Christian market. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” There is something unique that we men get when men can challenge and encourage one another in our endeavors. It has nothing to do with “the dominant sex”. There are ways that men can speak into one anothers lives that women just cannot (and vice versa).

But networking, like so much of life, is not based on working with ideals. You take what you have and you make it work. We musn't get hung up on the “shoulda, woulda, coulda”. 
If more men come, then great. Fantastic. They'll be invaluable additions to the conference. But even if they don't, I'll still be glad to be a member and proud to call each and every one of those amazing folks family


A lover of all things Sci-fi, Andrew Swearingen writes Speculative fiction, usually involving swashbuckling super heroes, powerful starships, and the occasional killer robot. He works a “real job” for a landscaping company and serves in his church's kids program.


Amanda said...

What a great post! I love seeing the number of guys who attend ACFW grow every year. This past year some of them even had plans to swordfight in the lobby and offered swords to any interested parties. :) From editors and agents to bestselling authors and newer writers, ACFW has a fantastic group of very talented guys!

Betsy St. Amant said...

Thanks for sharing Andrew! And it totally wasn't awkward when I cornered you in the ACFW bookstore and demanded you buy my Cupcake book, right?!?? =P You gave great insight here and I hope this prompts other men to join our awesome organization. (and now I totally want to read your WIP and see how you do the voice of a 17 year old girl)

Anonymous said...

I had so much fun hanging out with you at ACFW, Andrew. It was great to have someone who could understand and give insight on Black Widow!

Emilie Hendryx said...

Ha! Andrew I love your whit and I am so happy to hear your thoughts about being a guy at ACFW! I think you hit the nail on the head (had to throw in a tool-related metaphor for ya, couldn't help it!) in points 5 & 6 of your "upsides". At the end of the day, it's about writing, not about your DNA. I may write Romantic Suspense, but I LOVE spec fiction and hope to write YA dystopian novels haha. No one likes to be put in a box - whether that's about your gender or your genre. I hope we do continue to see more men at the conference but more than that, I hope we can ban together with the common goal of improving our craft. At the end of the day, our excellence is for God's glory and nothing more :)

Bethany Macmanus said...

Thank you for posting, Andrew. It was a pleasure meeting you at conference. You are a wonderfully distinguished post of the ministry that is ACFW. And yes, I do often wonder when these romance writers will pick up the pace and let a body drop! Lol Or a killer robot...that's good too.

Ron Estrada said...

I think it's kind of fun being in the minority. And I never felt left out. I attended the conference in '05, and we were an even smaller minority. My wife joined me, now I think it was to defend her territory. We're getting a good genre mix now. Romance will always dominate in any general confernce. That reflects the market. If any of the men felt that they weren't catered to, I'm not sure what they were looking for.

Anonymous said...

This post was a breath of fresh air, Andrew.
Sounds like you had a wonderful time at ACFW and it was great to hear about your networking/socializing adventures and lessons learned therein. (Your lists & stories in this post cracked me up!)
(Weird question completely not writing related--but has anyone ever told you you look like Kristoff from Frozen?)
And see? You're not the only one who can stick a foot in their mouth. ;)

Casey said...

Haha! Meghan, so glad I'm not the only one who has thought that exact same thing. :-))

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Excellent post! Haven't been able to go to ACFW yet but hoping some year it will be a reality. As a female who likes talking guns and video games (and I know a few ACFW-gals who like guns too), just know the female side of the conference is probably pretty varied! And as you said, you can learn a lot, no matter which gender is speaking.

Pamela S. Meyers said...

Andrew, I loved your post. I don't recall meeting you in St. Louis, but I'm the woman who gave out the Genesis awards at the gala.

I have been in ACFW since nearly it's beginning. It was ACRW when I joined, and I remember when there were but two male members and those two were the only men who came to conference.

I didn't realize the number now is just 15 percent of the total attendee count. We would love to see more men join ACFW and come to conference. I'm willing to speculate that more than 15 percent of our members are men. They just don't all come to conference. I know of a few who are in my local chapter that fall into that category.

I hope you come back when we are in Dallas this year. I'd love to be one of your "moms" LOL.

Mary Vee said...

I noticed the increase number of men at the conference and the best part, their take away of some of the awards.

Great article, Andrew. I enjoyed brainstorming with you at the conference.

Anonymous said...

What a fun - and funny post!
Thanks for the insight into the male brain during ACFW.
You handled it well, my friend.
I'm trying to talk my 16 year old into coming with me some time in the near future. Most of his best friends are girls, so maybe he can handle it ;-)

Pepper Basham :-)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

What a fun post, Andrew. I don't think our paths crossed at ACFW this year, but I loved reading your lists and your insights. My husband is a list-maker too. :)

And, I'll try not to be a total "romance-mom" if a man sits at a table I'm at next year at the conference. :)

Well done!

Faith A. Colburn said...

I belong to the Nebraska Writer's Guild and, now that you mention it, we do seem to have a large majority of women in our midst. In fact, the numbers of men at our conferences are small enough that I wonder if they feel a little overwhelmed. I wonder why that is.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Grinned all the way through this post! Love having you as our Alley Cat bachelor, Opie! Good luck with those t-shirts. ;)

Steven Hutson said...

I’ve been told that Jim Bell once proposed “FHWARI” as a new acronym for the conference. That is, “Five Hundred Women and Randy Ingermanson.” Nonetheless, I attended last year for the first time, and returned home (relatively) unscathed.

Stacey said...

Great post, Andrew. It was nice meeting you at conference. :) Love reading your article!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all feedback everyone.

Can't tell you how much it means to get such a positive response from all of you.

Hopefully this won't be the last time I get to write for you wonderful folks.

Andrew Swearingen said...

Sorry. The comment from "Speculate That" was me. Still working this "tech-savvy" thing that us Millennials are supposed to be about.

Thanks again ladies and gents! God bless.