The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference held in Nashville, Tenn. from August 25-28 saw optimism from publishers, writers, and agents. In recent years, sales of Christian fiction have dropped and publishers have trimmed their fiction lines, yet the feeling at ACFW was generally hopeful and excited.

“On our end it’s not doom and gloom in the industry; we are hearing excitement from authors and publishing professionals,” said Karli Jackson, associate acquisitions editor with Harper Collins Christian Publishing. “Authors seem energized and excited rather than intimidated by what they’re hearing.”

ACFW saw nearly 580 in attendance, up from last year, according to Cynthia Ruchti, professional relations liaison for ACFW. Bestselling author Ted Dekker was the keynote speaker for the three-day conference.

Much of the event is dedicated to one-on-one meetings between editors and prospective authors where books can be pitched and deals struck, but this year the attending authors seemed particularly focused on honing their craft in the various workshops.

Inspirational authors Cara Putman and Deborah Raney collaborated to teach a beginners class, as did former Thomas Nelson publisher Allen Arnold. Erin Healy, author and former editor of keynote speaker Dekker, structured her workshop around thinking like an editor. Bestselling indie author Hallee Bridgeman instructed new authors on how to self-publish. James Rubart, who would go on to win the Carol Award for Speculative Fiction and Mentor of the Year, explored techniques he uses to remain innovative.

In line with the larger focus on craft, Dekker delivered two well-received speeches where he considered what he called his “unfair advantage”—using the practice of writing in order to discover himself. “Write in a way that will change your actual life,” he encouraged. “The primary purpose for my writing is my own transformation.” Rubart and Dekker encapsulated the main thrust of this year’s conference: embrace innovation.

“ACFW and our authors are uniquely hope-filled in a publishing climate that isn’t always hope-filled,” Ruchti said. “Writing is such a solitary business. People come here to connect and learn about what is happening. There is only so much social media can do to make you feel connected.”

Chip MacGregor, agent with MacGregor Literary, has been at every ACFW since its beginning back in 2000. “Publishing professionals are a little guarded on the one hand, but on the other hand, Harlequin continues to grow its Love Inspired line and Gilead Publishing is starting up,” he said. “Everyone was rejoicing about that.”

At its Awards Gala, ACFW honored Janette Oke with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Jessica Kirkland of the Blythe Daniel Agency was named Agent of the Year and Stephanie Broene of Tyndale House Publishers was named Editor of the Year. Next year's conference is in Dallas, Sept. 21-24.

ACFW sponsors the Carol Awards, given to books published the previous year. This year’s winners:

Contemporary: The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert (WaterBrook Multnomah/Random House)

Historical: Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke (Tyndale)

Historical Romance: A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer (Bethany House/Baker)

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: The Aleppo Code by Terry Brennan (Kregel Publications)

Novella: A Bride for Bear from The Convenient Bride Collection by Erica Vetsch (Barbour Publishing)

Romance: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Beth Vogt (Howard/Simon & Schuster)

Romantic Suspense: No Place to Hide by Lynette Eason (Revell/Baker)

Short Novel: Covert Justice by Lynn Huggins Blackburn (Love Inspired/Harlequin)

Speculative: The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart (HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Young Adult: Dauntless by Dina L. Sleiman (Bethany House/Baker)

Debut Novel: The Calling of Ella McFarland by Linda Brooks Davis (Mountainview Books LLC)