A crowded American Christian Fiction Writers conference Sept. 22-24 in St. Louis attested to the continuing robustness of the Christian fiction category. Attendance this year was 652, up 9 percent over last year; this is the group’s tenth annual conference. Writers and aspiring writers gathered for professional development, for meetings with editors and agents, for the annual Carol Awards for excellence, and for networking with fellow authors. Major evangelical Christian publishing houses were among the sponsors of the event, and their editors heard pitches for two days. The consensus?

More writers are agented and are more knowledgeable about general market novelists, two indicators of increasing quality.

As historical fiction continues to subdivide into distinct historical eras, World War II fiction continues to be popular.

Contemporary women’s fiction that is not romance is strengthening, even as historical remains the category leader.

Amish fiction is not going away anytime soon; Thomas Nelson v-p and fiction publisher Allen Arnold describes a market of “maturation, not saturation.” Zondervan is promoting interest in its Amish writers with a November author tour of Amish hot spots tied to the holidays.

YA will grow--Thomas Nelson is planning a 2012 campaign to educate retailers and others about Christian YA. Also poised for a growth spurt is the now-tiny niche of speculative fiction, aided by the rapid growth of e-books. Publisher Jeff Gehrke at Marcher Lord, which specializes in speculative fiction, said his e-books are outselling print six to one. Dave Long, senior acquisitions editor of fiction at Bethany House, said the house’s spring list would include speculative/fantasy titles intended to capitalize on e-book sales.

As at any other publishing-related event these days, e-books were the loudest buzz. “People just are reading in a different form,” said Margaret Daley, president of the 2,500-member group and author of 75 novels. Despite the sluggish economy and the game-change being rapidly brought about by e-books, Daley saw signs of vigor at the conference. “Publishers are asking for manuscripts,” she said. “I feel there’s a pretty upbeat atmosphere.”

At the awards banquet that concluded the conference, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary was named agent of the year. Andrea Doering, executive editor of Revell Books, was named editor of the year. Carol Awards, named after pioneering Christian fiction editor Carol Johnson, were given to authors in 15 categories. See a list of winners at http://www.acfw.com/carol/2011_winners. ACFW also recognized unpublished authors in nine categories in its Genesis contest.