Christian fiction remains an attractive market to many publishing houses, with several of them expanding their presence or jumping in for the first time. But with the cranky economy, the shifting landscape of retail outlets, and the ever-finicky reader, houses looking to play in the competitive category say they must have a sharp focus and a clear plan.

Rookie Success

Abingdon Publishing entered the Christian fiction market in fall 2009 and quickly exceeded its expectations. Says associate publisher Pamela Clement, who joined the Abingdon team in January after stints at Thomas Nelson and FaithWords, "[Abingdon] has been very market savvy. They looked at the kind of books that are working and were careful to select for the initial roll out mostly new voices that wrote well and could grow."

Much of that growth has been in series, something the house remains devoted to developing. New this spring are The Glory of Green: The Green Series #3 by Judy Christie (Mar.), A Time to Heal: Quilts of Lancaster County #2 by Barbara Cameron (Mar.).

But there is room for the stand-alone title, too, like Sweet Baklava by Debby Mayne (Mar.). "I don't think that one or the other is driving the publishing program for us," Clement says. One key to the house's success, she says, is its fiction's unflinching appraisal of contemporary issues: she cites last year's Walking on Broken Glass, a first novel by Christa Allan, which looked at addiction and grief. "Our books are about Christians living in the real world and living with real world social and family issues," says Clement. Also key is a dedication to fresh packaging. "We have upscale covers for all our trade paper that make promises the interiors follow through on," says Clement. Abingdon plans to release approximately two dozen new titles a season.

Mining Out-of-Print Gold

Hendrickson Publishers enters the Christian fiction market for the first time this spring—with a caveat. "We determined that there are already so many players that we could spend a lot of time and money to rank maybe 25th in the Christian fiction world," says Rick Brown, publisher. "Then we looked at what we do well, which is reprints."

Hendrickson is working with former editors from some heavyweight publishing houses to cull the best out-of-print titles. First up are Nana's Gift and the Red Geranium by Janette Oke and The Story Jar by Deborah Bedford and Robin Lee Hatcher, both April releases. Next are the one-volume The Napoleon of Notting Hill and The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton (June), and Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women by George MacDonald (June).

Successful reprints require excellent packaging, Brown says, and all these titles feature new, original cover art; some have new four-color interior illustrations.

Joining Forces

Guideposts had a major reorganization of its inspirational fiction when it acquired Ellie Claire and its Summerside Press line last November. Ellie Claire's president, Carlton Garborg, is now senior v-p at Guideposts and is overseeing fiction, which will maintain two separate imprints. "We feel we can reach more customers with distinct brands and increase our shelf space," Garborg says.

Summerside Press's Love Finds You series has topped more than a million units sold. "We typically see 30,000 to 50,000 units of every title we release in that series, and it continues to grow," Garborg says. Among the new titles are Love Finds You in Tombstone, Arizona by Miralee Ferrell (Feb.), and Camelot, Tennessee by Janice Hanna (Feb.). New in Summerside's series titled after popular songs are Love Letters in the Sand by Diann Hunt (June) and Unforgettable by Trish Perry (Mar.). Summerside will launch a new western series this fall called American Tapestries. The imprint's Signature line features stand-alone titles by both new and well-known authors, such as Bodie and Brock Thoene.

Guideposts typically markets its fiction through direct-to-consumer lines, then repackages the most successful for retail. Its Tales from Grace Chapel Inn series has also hit the million mark, and new at retail are Never Give Up: Tales from Grace Chapel Inn and Keeping the Faith: Tales from Grace Chapel Inn, both by Pam Hanson and Barbara Andrews (Feb.). Garborg will work closely with Guideposts v-p and editorial director David Morris to repackage Guideposts fiction. They will also place Summerside's titles in Guideposts's direct-to-consumer catalogues, Web sites, and e-blasts.