Christian Retailing

Record attendance for 'exploding' fiction market event Print Email
Written by Staff   
Tuesday, 19 October 2010 11:29 AM America/New_York

Category pioneer Carol Johnson honored by writers' group for her work in 'generating shelf space'



There was a party atmosphere when more than 600 people gathered to focus on Christian publishing's hot category in Indianapolis, but it wasn't all play.

Best-selling authors, agents and leading editors passed on advice in 50 workshops for aspiring writers at the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACF) annual conference, Sept. 17-20. Themed "Serving Him in Word and Deed," the event offered classes on topics from writing basics and self-editing to marketing and publishing business essentials.

The record attendance—up 20% despite the continuing economic challenges—came in the wake of news of increased sales for inspirational fiction and widespread general media interest in the genre that now ranges from Amish romance to murder mysteries.

The turnout was evidence that "Christian fiction is exploding," said James Rubart, a faculty member whose debut novel, Rooms (B&H Books/B&H Publishing Group), has reached around 60,000 copies since its release in April. "The category is growing. There's an interest for it and more and more people have a desire to write this kind of book."

Agent Steve Laube, another workshop leader, agreed. Despite the fact that some publishers were being cautious about launching new authors because of the economy, "it is a very viable industry and there are a lot of people who want to express themselves in story form," he said.

ACFW President Cynthia Ruchti noted that since its founding 10 years ago, the organization had grown from a handful of members to around 2,200, about a quarter of whom were published writers. Members released 20-25 new titles a month, she added.

Coble_ColleenAmong 150 or so published authors at the event was Colleen Coble, CEO of ACFW who has written more than 40 books. "There is just something about being able to encourage the newbies," she said. "I wrote for seven years before getting published and didn't know another writer when I started."

In his keynote address, Tim Downs, author of the "bug man" mystery series for Thomas Nelson, reminded attendees that "a third of the entire teaching of Jesus comes in the form of a story." Fiction was powerful "because we experience life as a story ... stories give structure and meaning to the small details of life."

Among a small minority of men at the event was Roger Bruner, a retired information technology specialist whose first young adult books are due to be released by Barbour Publishing next year. At his third ACFW conference—whose awards include several for unpublished writers—Bruner said he appreciated the sense of fellowship and the lack of competitiveness. "Everybody cheers as much, no matter the winner."

The conference's concluding gala night featured a standing ovation for the woman credited with ushering in the new era for the category. Attendees rose to applaud longtime Bethany House Editor Carol Johnson as she received the organization's first Lifetime Achievement Award.

The honor was presented by author Janette Oke, whose Love Comes Softly was an unsolicited manuscript Johnson championed for publication in 1979. That book "generated shelf space for our titles," Ruchti said.

Prizes were presented in 15 categories at the closing banquet, renamed this year The Carol Awards in honor of Johnson's years of service. Steeple Hill and Thomas Nelson were among the big winners, while retired pastor Dan Walsh's debut title, The Unfinished Gift (Revell/Baker Publishing Group), garnered two top awards.

Contemporary Novella: The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren (Tyndale House Publishers); Historical Novella: Christmas Bells for Dry Creek by Janet Tronstad (Steeple Hill); Short Contemporary: A Texas Ranger's Family by Mae Nunn (Steeple Hill); Short Contemporary Suspense: Evidence of Murder by Jill Elizabeth Nelson (Steeple Hill); Short Historical: The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh (Revell/Baker Publishing Group).

Young Adult: So Not Happening by Jenny B. Jones (Thomas Nelson); Long Contemporary: The Familiar Stranger by Christina Berry (Moody Publishers); Long Contemporary Romance: Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones (Thomas Nelson); Mystery: The Case of the Mystified M.D. by A.K. Arenz (Sheaf House); Suspense/Thriller: Intervention by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan).

Long Historical: Stealing Home by Allison Pittman (Multnomah Books); Long Historical Romance: Cowboy Christmas by Mary Connealy (Barbour Publishing); Speculative: Eternity Falls by Kirk Outerbridge (Marcher Lord Press); Women's: Never the Bride by Cheryl McKay and Rene Gutteridge (WaterBrook Books); Debut Author: Dan Walsh (The Unfinished Gift, Revell/Baker Publishing Group).

Other ACFW Awards: Mentor of the Year: Susan May Warren; Member Service Award: Fay Lamb; Editor of the Year: Sue Brower (Zondervan); Agent of the Year: Sandra Bishop (MacGregor Literary).