Christian fiction is rewriting its outlook. Editors, agents, and authors who attended the annual American Christian Fiction Writers conference held Sept. 13-15 in Indianapolis agreed that digital publishing is reshaping the category, shrinking the number of slots even while it multiplies opportunities to reach readers whatever and however they’re reading. “Fiction is the category most affected by the digital revolution,” said Dan Balow of the Steve Laube Agency.
The annual ACFW conference drew 578 attenders for a weekend of training, networking, pitching, and celebrating the winners of the Carol Awards. With 2,900 members, the fiction writers group continues to grow. But industry shifts have displaced veteran writers and editors. At Zondervan, where fiction has been affected by the purchase of Thomas Nelson by Harper Collins, Zondervan’s parent company, the position of executive editor Sue Brower was eliminated. The 25-year Zondervan veteran, who was named ACFW Editor of the Year in 2010 and was Karen Kingsbury’s editor, was handing out business cards for her new venture in editing and marketing. The recent restructuring of fiction at B&H eliminated the editorial position of Julie Gwinn, who was named 2013 editor of the year. (Gwinn recently joined Abingdon Press as a marketing manager.) Other authors said they had lost contracts. Suspense novelist Brandilyn Collins, who moved two years ago from Zondervan to B&H and whose Gone to Ground was a 2013 Carol finalist, said she would self-publish.
Other developments in the category were less seismic, reflecting changes in what readers want to see. Dave Long, senior acquisitions editor at Bethany House, said he was getting pitches for contemporary romance, even as historical fiction, a Bethany House staple, is softening as a genre. “Historical was hot for so long,” he said. Agents at a panel said that Regency and Edwardian period romances remain strong, owing to the perennial popularity of Jane Austen and the current vogue of the public television series Downton Abbey. Janet Kobobel Grant of Books & Such Literary Agency said the popularity of Amish romance contributed to overpublishing in Christian fiction. “What is occurring is a correction,” she said. E-books continue to alter ways of understanding, and doing, sales. Novelist Cynthia Hickey had three of her traditionally published cozy mysteries re-released as e-books through MacGregor Literary Agency, which represents her; she has sold 60,000 e-books, she said.
“The reader’s become a moving target,” said Andrea Doering, executive editor at Revell Books. “Finding the place where they’re buying is key.”
In a poignant note at the writers’ gathering, many industry professionals expressed sadness at the death on Sept. 10 of veteran agent Lee Hough of Alive Communications. Hough, who was 58, died of brain cancer. His clients included Brandilyn Collins, Terri Blackstock, Randy Singer, and Richard Stearns. Hough was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Christy awards ceremony in June. A celebration of life service is planned Sept. 28 in his home town of Fort Worth, Texas.