Christian fiction publishing professionals and aspiring writers gathered virtually at the Evangelical Christian Publisher Association (ECPA)'s Art of Writing conference to discuss inclusion and diversity, the power of story, the current market, and more. The conference, held Thursdays from Oct. 8-Nov. 12 this year, connects authors and writers to publishers and agents to learn about trends, challenges, and changes in the category. Stan Jantz, director of ECPA, told PW of Christian fiction: “The research and writing is getting better and better. We’re seeing more books bridging into the general market, which I see as an opening for Christian fiction.”

The event kicked off with an online conversation titled “The Power of Story to Change Hearts and Mind” featuring authors William Kent Krueger and Lisa Wingate. Another panel, “Authors Helping Authors: Tips for Cross-Promotional Strategies,” featured author and literary agent Rachel McMillan, CEO of Author Media Thomas Umstattd, and Baker Book House fiction buyer Chris Jager.

Referring to the increased level of online interaction due to Covid-19 related closures and social distancing restrictions, McMillan urged authors to “think beyond the CBA book world” when engaging with audiences via social media. “We have more opportunity to connect with other authors and readers as never before.”

Another webinar, “Conversations on Diversity & Inclusion in Christian Fiction,” included Jevon Bolden, CEO of the publishing consulting firm Embolden Media; authors Tasha Jun and Rachel Kang; and Jamie Lapeyrolerie, senior marketing manager of WaterBrook & Multnomah, who discussed a range of topics including how to support authors of color, writing characters who represent diverse backgrounds, and writing about issues related to race.

Describing how to support authors of color, all panelists agreed: everyone listening should buy their books, and encourage others to do the same.

“When you buy their books you are saying, ‘I believe in your books and want to financially support you.’ When there is a collective demand for books by particular authors or in particular subgenres, this pushes publishers to publish more of them,” Kang said.

Further, when including people of color in novels, writers must avoid stereotypes such as having Black characters “from the hood,” using ethnic names or descriptions that can be degrading, or having the one brown person in a book tied to criminality, according to the panelists. Bolden suggested that authors not only read fiction or nonfiction, but also take courses and workshops on literary criticism.

Marking the end of the Art of Writing conference, the Christy Awards took place on Nov. 12, recognizing nine winners during a ceremony viewed by nearly 400 attendees. Eight publishers were represented among the 2020 winners, with two published by Tyndale Fiction and two independently (or self) published. The Young Adult winner, The Means That Make Us Strangers by Christine Kindberg, was published by her Bellflower Press and the Contemporary Romance winner, Now and Then and Always by Melissa Tagg, by her Larkspur Press.

“The fact that two winners were independently published shows that indie publishing is gaining ground in terms of quality of book production and quality of the writing,” said Jantz. “Indie publishing is healthy for the book industry in general. Traditional publishers are never short of talented authors, but there are also authors out there who have other options, who don’t have to rely on traditional publishers.”

Book of the Year went to Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes (Bethany). Click here to see a complete list of the 2020 Christy Award winners.