ACFW Conference — Dallas Debriefing 2012

by Mike Duran · 64 comments

As much as I criticize the ACFW and Christian fiction in general, please know that it’s because I have a heart for Christian writers. There are so many great people in our industry! If anything, the four days I spent in Dallas at the annual ACFW conference reminded me how many genuine, wonderful Christian writers there are out there, and how important our industry is and can be. No, it didn’t eliminate my questions (as you’ll see). But it was fun to make new connections and helpful to put faces and voices on the gravatars. It reinforced what a vibrant community the Christian fiction industry is.

With that, here’s some random observations and thoughts culled from the conference.

All the beautiful people! Ready for some name dropping? Here’s a sampling of some of the folks I fraternized with: Grace Bridges of Splashdown Books, who wore tiger slippers and a Star Trek uniform (not at the same time, of course), author and editor Ramona Richards, spec author Marc Schooley, who shared one of the two most memorable stories I heard at the conference, Randy Ingermanson, YA author Jill Williamson, whose table I had the pleasure of sitting at for the awards banquet, Dineen Miller, Jim Rubart, the delightful Katie Ganshert (who hits like a girl), Caleb Jennings Breakey who, like me, loves the Church and publicly admits it (and won the Genesis award in the Speculative Fiction category), Dave Long, Senior Acquisitions Editor for Bethany House Publishers who sat next to me one lunch session and endured an endless stream of questions from me (sorry, Dave), Morgan Busse, long-time blog-follower Jason Joyner, Michael Ehret, Brenda Anderson, latest Books & Such client Brandy Vallance (who also won the Genesis award in the historical category), Rosslyn Elliot (who won TWO awards for Best Debut Novel and Long Historical), Shannon McNearCathiLyn Dyck, who I seemed to bump into every other turn, devotional writer Donna Pyle, another Books & Such client who confessed that I’m not nearly as intimidating in person as I seem online, Bonnie Calhoun, who seemed to suggest that my profile pic flatters me (snort!), Meg Moseley, Ane Mulligan, one of my early mentors who received a two-book contract at the conference (Way to go, Ane!), and literary agent Steve Laube, who surprised me by saying he reads my stuff and graciously spent a half-hour discussing industry related topics. And there were many, many others.

There were some VERY good workshops this year. At the top of my list would be Davis Bunn‘s two-day workshop on postmodern story structure. Bunn serves as Writer-In-Residence at Regent’s Park College, Oxford University, and has recently been named Lecturer in Oxford’s new creative writing program. Bunn’s sessions were dense, somewhat academic, and riveting. Wow! Now this — THIS — is the type of topic every Christian writer should contemplate. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised to find something this meaty being taught at a Christian writers conference and hope it continues. There were two agent panels. I attended the one with my agent, Rachelle Gardner. They fielded questions and, as these things go, there’s usually oodles of inside inights one can acquire. Another neat workshop was the Q&A session with Allen Arnold, former Senior Vice-President and Fiction Publisher at Thomas Nelson. Also, Fiction By the Numbers by ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) President, Mark Kuyper, was fascinating (especially if you love graphs and charts and statistics about what sells and what doesn’t). Props to the ACFW conference staff for putting together some great workshops this year.

The demographics at the ACFW conference perfectly represented the demographics of their market. This is something that bugs the crap out of me and, when I say it, can seem hateful and chauvinistic and a lot of things it’s not. I’m estimating, mind you. But from my standpoint, 30-55 year-old white women comprised at least half, but more like two-thirds, of the attendees. Yes, this is the target market for the CBA / ECPA. But it gives the conference the feel of, I dunno, a mid-western homemakers convention. I could probably count the number of African Americans on one hand. Men are a rarity as well, perhaps 15%-20% of the crowd. And Speculative Fiction writers, maybe a 5-10% sliver who always seem to sit on the fringes of the banquet hall and enjoy themselves. Question: Are we happy with this rather narrow demographic sampling?

It was pretty amazing how many people “know me” through my blog. At least a dozen (probably more like two dozen) people introduced themselves to say they read my blog. Most of them also described themselves as “lurkers.” Very encouraging. Not the lurking part, the reading part. It’s a reminder that the time I spend here isn’t always a complete waste.

Michael Hyatt was okay. Sorry, but his presentations just seemed like rehashed leadership-related stuff. Don’t get me wrong, Hyatt (former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers) is a guy to follow and he’s cutting-edge with some of his platform-building, leadership, social networking related discussions. I just found his presentations oddly flat. (And his final anecdote about “Coal Walking” with Tony Robbins didn’t do any favors for my overall impressions.) Maybe it was because he never really explored what was a very, very big topic of discussion among my circle of friends: HarperCollins’ buyout of TN and Zondervan and what impact that could ultimately have on the Christian book industry. Now that’s a topic Hyatt could probably do justice to.

E-books have absolutely rocked the publishing industry. Okay. So this goes without saying. But it seemed like every other discussion and presentation referenced how much digital readers and reading has impacted what publishers are doing.

There’s a very real division between the “Old Guard” and “New Guard.” Let me give you an example. I attended a workshop with Allen Arnold, former fiction acquisitions editor for Thomas Nelson. Really, it was just one long Q&A session, so the conversation went everywhere. I’d estimate maybe fifty-plus attendees. Being it was an open forum and Mr. Arnold has commented on this blog, I took the opportunity to ask about the ever thorny language guidelines and what I perceive as a need for more realism in Christian fiction. It lead to a much longer discussion with other attendees chiming in, mostly in agreement. Until one gentleman, visibly shaken, made an impassioned plea that we should not be apologizing for Christian fiction. We are writing some of the best books on the planet, he said, and we have the message the world needs to hear. It was a clear counter to the point I’d raised and, unlike my question, received a polite round of applause. Just a reminder that there is a very real polarization when it comes to discussing what Christian fiction should be.

Christian publishers have absolutely no idea what to do with speculative fiction. Or YA. Both are a very thin slice of the industry pie and often a marketing headache. A couple examples. Randy Ingermanson was one of the first authors to write speculative Christian fiction (some novels over a decade ago). He admitted he was planning to edit the books and re-introduce them into the general market. Why? Because spec-fic doesn’t sell well in the CBA. Another example: During the agent panel I attended, the question arose about YA lit and the agents’ response was sort of meh. In fact, Rachelle mentioned that one of her teenage daughter’s all-time favorite series was Lisa Bergren’s River of Time (the first which won the 2012 Christy Award for best YA) which was later dropped by Cook… before the series ended. Her daughter was heartbroken. Bergren has since self-published the remainder of the series through CreateSpace. It’s a sad reminder of how orphaned those who write genres other than Romance or Historicals really are.

Finally,  my pitches went really good! I think I’ve learned a lot since my crash and burn pitches of 2006. Of course, I didn’t have a lot of hopes that The Ghost Box, an Urban Fantasy with Christian undertones, would interest many. Which could be one reason why I was more comfortable — my expectations were LOW. Interestingly enough, Rachelle pitched my project to an editor who seemed very interested, requested the m/s (which is 2/3 complete) and, thus, I must scoot because I’ve got a proposal and detailed synopsis to begin working on.

Anyway, there’s a lot more. I’ll blog in detail about a couple other things this week. But now I’ve got tons of follow-up to do and new folks to Friend. And I’ll begin debating whether I should attend next year’s conference. Either way, I had a blast!

Heather Day Gilbert September 24, 2012 at 9:02 AM

SOOO interesting to get your take on things, Mike. I was watching the live ACFW feed (because I have no life) and I kept wondering if THE TELLING would be up for the SpecFic award (not till next year, perhaps?).

I’ve been contemplating reworking my SpecFic novel, but I’ve wondered if it’d be worth the time. Well, the story is worth it, but would anyone want to pick it up? I’d also thought about writing a dystopian YA, which apparently is a no-sell category in the CBA right now. I’m always shocked at the almost complete disconnect of the CBA with the Christian readers who are hitting up the ABA to fill their reading needs.

Well, hoping to go next year, maybe I’ll meet you there. And kudos that Steve Laube is reading your blog. You’re one of the few who’s willing to bring CBA issues to the forefront in a meaningful way.

Mike Duran September 24, 2012 at 9:31 AM

Heather, my publisher submitted “The Resurrection” into the Spec category and it didn’t make the cut. I was pretty disappointed. Frankly, with what I’ve learned about the judging since then, I probably won’t even attempt to submit “The Telling” next year. I spoke to someone (I think it was Jill Williamson) who will be publishing a dystopian YA in the Christian market sometime soon. So I’m not sure the genre is completely hopeless.

Heather Day Gilbert September 24, 2012 at 11:08 AM

MIKE, you have to submit THE TELLING! It was outstanding SpecFic. It was UBER SPEC FIC! Sorry, I’m capping everything and using my exclamation points everywhere. Regardless, I don’t see why it wouldn’t win. Prose and plot were stellar.

Lynette Sowell September 24, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Yes, go for it! It all comes down to the reader and I would hope they have spec-fic lovers be the judges.

Marcia September 26, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Heather, ABA YA is WAY oversaturated with dystopian right now. I think we have to wait a few years for that cycle to come around again.

Heather Day Gilbert September 26, 2012 at 8:16 AM

I was speaking strictly of the CBA, actually. I hate band-wagon stuff, so I’d definitely want to do a different take. Honestly, even vampire romance looks edgy and new within the CBA. Even though that train chugged on out in the ABA a LOOOONG time ago.

Jessica Thomas September 24, 2012 at 9:20 AM

It’s sounds like a great time. I’ve enjoyed your pictures and reports.

I almost feel guilty…I’m smack dab in the “demographic” AND I’m from the Midwest. What can I say? I don’t knit or sew? (But my mom does and I would if I had time.) Perhaps those of us who are in the majority, but still feel a bit like “outsiders” because of our spec fic tastes can lure other majorities to the “dark side”. (Ha! Better think of a better name than the “dark side”!)

Just found out next year’s conference is 40 minutes southwest of me. I’m feeling lucky today! Oh…and regarding the CSFF blog tour this week, I tried not to let you off too easy. 😉

Mike Duran September 24, 2012 at 9:36 AM

Perhaps you can blaze a new demographic: White Midwest Homemaker who likes time travel, clones, and unicorns.

Heather Day Gilbert September 24, 2012 at 9:51 AM

I think there are plenty of white homemakers who are interested in the supernatural. When I put up chaps of my spec fic, I had women begging me to read more. I think it’s all in how you approach it. But don’t throw the proverbial baby (white married readers/writers) out w/the bathwater.

Jessica Thomas September 24, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Heh, or how about White Midwest Career Women with “Homemaker” Husbands (tagline: We Don’t Have Time to Knit and Our Husbands Don’t Want To.)


Well, I just answered my own question. This might be the real reason I feel a bit of an “outsider”.

Katherine Coble September 24, 2012 at 11:01 AM

Trust when I say that even those of us who knit and sew and stay at home feel like outsiders to a degree as well.

I’ve discovered in my long long time on this strange planet that most people feel like outsiders most of the time. Hence a tendency to gather in groups with a comforting familiarity. Which makes other people feel like outsiders…and thus the circle of inferiority continues.

Heather Day Gilbert September 24, 2012 at 11:08 AM

Well said, Katherine. Well said. We can even feel like outsiders when we look like insiders.

Jessica Thomas September 24, 2012 at 11:38 AM

Very true, and I was thinking that to myself earlier today, that I need to stop thinking of myself as an “outsider” (hence the quotes) because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and instead focus that energy on producing a good end product that speaks for itself.

Richard Mabry September 24, 2012 at 9:21 AM

Mike, Good to see you a few times at the conference, although we didn’t have enough opportunity to converse for me to make your list of names dropped. I don’t disagree with your description of the attendees make-up. The ACFW’s mission statement is: To promote Christian Fiction through developing the skills of its authors, educating them in the market, and serving as an advocate in the traditional publishing industry. The people who join, take part in the various loops and activities, and attend conference are those who find the organization ministers to them and fulfills their needs. I applaud your efforts to make ACFW more inclusive, and will be watching from the sidelines as you continue to fight for change.

Aaron Patterson September 24, 2012 at 9:31 AM


I had a few authors go and an agent I work with Chip. I have never been as I tend to be the over the top guy and I don’t think the “Christian” world knows what to do with StoneHouse or me for that matter. I like your post and it is still sad to see that the YA market and edgy stuff is so scary to most Christian publishers. If I can aid you in any way et me know.

Aaron Patterson September 24, 2012 at 9:33 AM

*let. Dang fat fingers…lol

sally apokedak September 24, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Yikes. I just went to your website. Great site. Great book covers.

Katherine Coble September 24, 2012 at 11:06 AM

This blog is forever wall-to-wall with commenters who are despairing of ever getting their Christian-oriented Spec Fic published or noticed.

This particular blog entry, people, is your rowboat, your helicopter, your national guard.


_ONE OF YOU NEEDS TO START YOUR OWN SPEC FAITH IMPRINT_ In this day and age of POD and ebooks there is little to no upfront cost to do so. Many of you already have the connections with agents and distributers to a degree.

I know many of you are political conservatives. I know you believe in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

I just don’t understand why…after about 2-3 years of reading here…that folks would rather bemoan the fact that someone else’s company doesn’t sell what you want them to sell and do not instead just start YOUR OWN COMPANY.

You want to see men at ACFW? Start a company that publishes men. Etc. Put your money and your time where your beliefs are. Either you have a valid point and a saleable product or the ACFW/CBA has been right all along and you don’t. May as well try. None of us are getting any younger.

Jessica Thomas September 24, 2012 at 11:36 AM

Katherine, I’ve slowly moved to the “independent small press” and “self publishing” side, and I’m quite content to be there now. I will say, I thought about self publishing, and to do it “right” I’d want to set myself up as a company, and yada yada yada, then I feel overwhelmed, then I tell myself, I don’t have time to do that while working a full time job and trying to get a writing career off the ground. I have all sorts of ideas, but not the time to turn them into reality. I suspect the time issue is a stickler for many others.

Katherine Coble September 24, 2012 at 11:38 AM

I think that now that ACFW has just ended it’s probably a very good time for people to start putting out feelers to see who would be interested in such a venture. Perhaps by next ACFW you could meet face to face and put together a cooperative house.

If I wrote Christian fiction at all I’d drive the train. Or shovel coal. or whatever. I just don’t do that type of writing.

Kessie September 24, 2012 at 12:17 PM

Well, there’s already people like Marcher Lord Press and Splashdown Books and Written Word. Small press booming away. Reading all of you guys’ accounts, I don’t think the ACFW would fit me very well. I don’t like to read many of their books at all. :-p

Katherine Coble September 24, 2012 at 12:47 PM

Exactly. Marcher Lord is doing well. Splashdown is doing well. Don’t know the Written Word brand.

It’s not at all like this is a new idea.

Jason Joyner September 24, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Very interesting challenge Kathleen. What an idea. Hmm.

Jennifer Dyer September 24, 2012 at 11:13 AM

It was fun to meet you face-to-face at the conference, and I learned so much from all the classes I attended. Thanks for your honest words and for working to make the industry better. 🙂
Hugs to all my fellow ACFW friends!

John Robinson September 24, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Great post, Mike; wish I could have been there to meet you. Quick true story: back in 2001 I was unpublished, unagented, and pitching the very first of my Joe Box novels to the CBA, and getting zero love. That’s when somebody, (it could have been Cec Murphey), told me in no uncertain terms, “hie thee to a conference, middle-aged man.” I did, and chose the one done at that time at Glorieta, NM.

Through some fluke, my second day there I found myself sharing a lunch table with a bunch of very high-profile CBA authors, and one well-known editor. The meal was going very well, with a lot of spirited discussion, when the editor put his fork down, gazed around, and laughed, “I just realized something. At one time or another, I’ve rejected everyone at this table!” We all chuckled, but I’ll have to admit mine was a bit forced, because I was included in that. I know the editor wasn’t trying to be rough, and I’ll admit I was churlish and thin-skinned, but zowie, it stung.

Since then I’ve finally broken that magic pinata with five novels out, but I’ll never forget that lunch! *G*

Mike Duran September 24, 2012 at 12:20 PM

John, it’s funny but Steve Laube was one of the first agents I sent my proposal to, and he rejected me. I remember, he gave “The Resurrection” a C+. Actually, it’s helped better prepare me for what’s ahead. And I hold zero animosity. I mean, even Steve Laube makes mistakes. 😉

Richard Mabry September 24, 2012 at 12:21 PM

John, Missed you by a year. I was at the same conference in 2003 (thanks to a kind-hearted editor who told me gently that I needed to learn how to write a book). Since then, turned down more times than a Holiday Inn bedspread, but it’s all been a learning experience.

Jason Joyner September 24, 2012 at 11:52 AM

Ha! Thanks for the name drop Mike.

Yes, I can attest that Mike is not as intimidating as he may seem on his blog. What I loved was his curiosity – he was always asking the tough questions and probing people’s opinions. That gave me insight to his blog’s success: Mike’s interested and not afraid to push (a steady push, not fighting) to get to the bottom of things.

He gave me a good-natured chiding when I confessed sitting at a table with mostly guys (a rarity) and they were singing the praises of clean Christian fiction (that sounds like I’m putting it down, I’m not), and I didn’t speak up.

On the men issue – guys that have been before told me a few years ago men could fill one-two tables at most. There were apparently a lot more men this year, but we still felt like islands in a large estrogen sea ;).

One other point – the spec fic writers there are grateful for what ACFW does through the conference, but there is frustration with the CBA and the lack of acceptance. Randy redoing his books to submit on the secular side is an example. There may be more movement in the future on this. It will be interesting to watch.

And thanks Mike for making me feel welcome and the good conversations. It was awesome to hang with you.

Mike Duran September 24, 2012 at 12:32 PM

Thanks, Jason. It was great meeting you. I think there were a few more men this year as opposed to the 2006 conference). Yeah, I love to ask questions and challenge someone’s conclusions. Even if I agree with them! I think it’s a medical condition w/out a name. I never did ask you how your pitches went. Did you meet with some editors?

Lynette Sowell September 24, 2012 at 1:58 PM

De-lurking alert! Ha ha!

I too thought Davis Bunn’s class was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. Meaty is a good word for it. I called it academic. I’m still trying to wrap my head around a lot of it and I completely understand what he referred to as the Postmodern story arc, if you will. But the more he talked, the more questions I had: How can we infuse this in our books to hook those types of readers and then offer them a carefully measured dose of faith?

As far as the demographic split, you’re right. Unfortunately for some and fortunately for others–it’s a commercial world out there, even though we talk about “writing for Jesus,” there’s also writing for the dollar. I’ve had one particular book in a series canceled not once, but three times–even after edits and advances and pre-marketing.

For reasons I won’t get into for time’s sake, I ended up getting my rights back to all three novels and along with others represented by the same agent, we released our books under our own independent “imprint” as ebooks. They’ve done very well this year and more than paid for my accomodations in Dallas with just one quarter’s earnings–and then some. I’m inclined to light a candle rather than curse the darkness and forge on ahead with more books eventually.

Anyhoo, that’s enough from me for now! ~~

Mike Duran September 24, 2012 at 2:08 PM

Hey, thanks for “de-lurking.” The beginning of a trend, methinks. Yes, Bunn’s class left me with a lot of questions. Unfortunately, I only had a chance to ask one, because I was in and out with appointments. Yeah, my self-pubbed e-book has actually done quite well. With a decent web presence, it seems to be wide open for authors. Anyway, thanks for introducing yourself at the conference, Lynette.

Lynette Sowell September 24, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Same here. I skipped out on the hero’s journey because I know that one.

I especially appreciated Davis’s perspective because he’s an ex-pat and definitely out of the Western (as in US/Canada) Christian “bubble” world. I love my bubble world and fellowship, I write a lot that the “bubble” loves, but I have more non-bubbly stuff that I’d like to tackle. One day, I say!

I’m particularly happy with Abingdon Press because of their willingness to take ideas that are a little off-center from traditional, and they let me write my take on a modern Gothic romance for their Quilts of Love series, which sounds so sweet, but my story isn’t that sweet…all the time.

Mike Duran September 24, 2012 at 2:22 PM

I met with Ramona Richards, who’s with Abingdon (I know you know this), and she seemed to convey the same thing about the publisher. She referenced a couple of titles that definitely weren’t standard. Looking forward to seeing how they do.

Heather Day Gilbert September 24, 2012 at 2:29 PM

I can’t tell you how much hope this gives me. Despite frequent posts about how publishers want stuff that is different, they generally seem to veer toward the same. Andy Scheer had an excellent post about this:

Hoping some llamas see the light of day with pubs like Abingdon!

Lynette Sowell September 24, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Good article, hooray for llamas! I hope they do, too.

Kat Heckenbach September 24, 2012 at 2:34 PM

Definitely true about spec-fic and YA in the CBA…and when you write YA spec-fic, it’s a double-whammy :). They tried, I think, to get on the bandwagon a few years back–“Hey, let’s offer the Christian alternative to Harry Potter!”–but it seems to be fizzling out. Oddly, I’m glad to hear YA isn’t doing well in the CBA because it makes me feel better about not having pushed that direction. (No snark intended :P.)

As for ebooks rocking things–I can see that would be a big topic of discussion. Although I heard that indie publishing–as in small press, not self-publishing–was rather absent as a topic.

Anyway, glad your pitches went well! And I enjoyed seeing all the awesome pictures posted all around FB of my fellow spec-fic authors out there!

Donna Pyle September 24, 2012 at 2:46 PM

Hey, thanks for the shout-out and affirmation that you’re not so scary. I agree with your demographics breakdown. This was my first ACFW conference, and the imbalance surprised me. There are MANY more male Christian fiction writers out there. Too busy to attend? Too much like spending time in a burning aviary?

The 2-day workshop I attended , “How to Market Your Fiction Like a Non-Fiction Pro” led by Jim Rubart, Kathi Lipp, Rachelle Gardner, and Dineen Miller, proved to be innovative and cutting edge. Attendees couldn’t write fast enough, including me.

At times, I sat on the fringes with the Spec/Fantasy writers and found the conversation delightful, engaging and thoughtful – particularly one bright 20-year old girl with blue streaked hair, tons of energy, and endless imagination. I gravitated to the fringes more often after that. Congrats on the great pitch! Blessings as you write.

Mike Duran September 24, 2012 at 3:03 PM

Oh, you’re talking about Emileigh Latham. Yes, she was very cool and enthusiastic.

Donna Pyle September 24, 2012 at 3:05 PM

YES! Emileigh and I are connected on FB now. Absolutely delightful!

Iola September 24, 2012 at 3:10 PM

Great summary. I’d really like to hear more about Davis Bunn’s workshop (hint hint). Having read Ann Tatlock’s Writing to a Post-Christian World (which Ane Mulligan and I both gave five-star reviews to), I’d be really interested in seeing how Christian fiction fits with post-modernism and how that influences story structure.

Lara M. Van Hulzen September 24, 2012 at 5:52 PM

You know all you need to do, Mike, is write an Amish Romance from a man’s perspective. 😉 Or maybe an Amish Zombie Tale? Or an Amish Sc-Fi with a Steampunk twist?

Jennifer Major @Jjumping September 24, 2012 at 7:04 PM

Amish Romance from a man’s perspective?? Brilliant!!!

Jennifer Major @Jjumping September 24, 2012 at 7:12 PM

Now Michael. Let us tread lightly upon the women who stay home and keep the home fires from ruining the new drapes.
For, lo, it shall be a woman who will kick your butter when she wins for her Spec Fiction novel. Initials are HDG. And she says “hah” instead of “hi”.

BK Jackson (@BKJacksonAZ) September 24, 2012 at 9:39 PM

Well if men made up an estimated 15-20% of the crowd, then things are looking up. Because that’s a lot more then I’ve ever seen at a writers conference (the exception being WWA).

Merrie Destefano September 24, 2012 at 9:45 PM

So glad you had a good time at ACFW! I can’t wait to hear all the details at our next writer’s group meeting. =)

Brenda Anderson September 24, 2012 at 9:46 PM

Thanks for the mention, Mike! I enjoyed meeting you and so many others. The people are always what make it worthwhile.

Good analysis of the conference this year. Wish I’d have taken that Davis Bunn class. I’ll have to listen to it.

As for the number of male attendees, compared to other years I’ve attended, there seemed to be quite a few represented. And I constantly ran into spec fic people, one of them being my white Midwest homemaker blog partner who loves all things time travel, clones, unicorns, and vampires. I (a white Midwest homemaker) also enjoy a lot of spec fic, so that demographic is out there.

ACFW still seems too sweet for my tastes–I prefer meat in my fiction–but it is changing. It may be a small thing, but I was pleasantly surprised that Struecker/Gansky won the Carol Award for Fallen Angel in suspense/thriller. That is not your typical ACFW novel. One small step. Considering that ACFW began as American Christian Romance Writers 12 years ago, changing to ACFW in 2004, is that evolution is fast enough?

Meg Moseley September 25, 2012 at 7:52 AM

Mike, it was great to see you and to meet your wife. I wish I’d had more time to chat with both of you and with other people too. To me, the friendships are the best part of a conference.

I’m another new Davis Bunn fan. The guy is a deep thinker and a great teacher. I’ll be processing my notes for a long, long time.

Ane Mulligan September 25, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Thanks, Mike. It was such a joy to see you again and to share my big moment! It’s always fun to go back and see where we all came from and how far we’ve come. 🙂 You rock, my friend!!

Grace Bridges September 25, 2012 at 9:19 AM

Excellent summary, Mike. It was fantastic to meet you! And yes, I’ll be digesting Davis’s class for some time to come. It was a real highlight for me, as I move more towards targeting the mainstream with my own fiction – his advice hit right on that target.

Looking forward to seeing what else you have to say about it!

Jill September 25, 2012 at 10:25 AM

Please don’t disparage homemakers. Nobody respects or cares about them. Writing has been, for over 200 yrs now, a way for homemakers to garner respect for themselves, and, you know what? They’re good at it. Women are good at writing. Oh, yeah, I know, they still don’t win the most prestigious awards very often, but that’s all right. They’ve taken over the industry en masse, and especially so in Christian circles where you will probably find more women…..homemakers.

Okay, and can I just say I still feel enormous relief at not playing the publishing game any longer? No more caring what agents and editors think of me!! Whoopee! But I’m still cheering for you and your dystopian YA, however.

Heather Day Gilbert September 25, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Yes, I was just thinking that homeschooling is a relatively thankless “job”–you don’t even get teacher gifts at Christmas! “Such are the tales of the everyday housewife…” You can never know what’s going on in her head. And that’s the premise of my books. The church is great at preaching to non-married people who have lustful thoughts, but what about marrieds? Happens more than we admit.

Jill September 25, 2012 at 11:07 AM

Tell me about it. I’m doing it right now. Um, homeschooling, I should clarify–not having lustful thoughts, though my thoughts are kind of interesting……yeah, that one was fascinating. So was that one. 😉

Jennifer Major @Jjumping September 25, 2012 at 12:40 PM

Thank you Jill!! Say it!! The world still sees women who “stay home” as drudges with no aspirations whatsoever! Oh really?

“They’ve taken over the industry en masse, and especially so in Christian circles where you will probably find more women…..homemakers.”

Amen, Jill!

Mike Duran September 25, 2012 at 1:31 PM

Jill, I hope you don’t think I’m disparaging homemakers here. I’m absolutely not. Just commenting on what I think is a narrow demographic sampling of evangelicals.

Jill September 25, 2012 at 2:27 PM

Mike, I had a grin on my face when I wrote it. However, the demographics is an interesting subject because I think you’d find two different demographics: audience and writers. And the point I was attempting to make in my above comment is that women tend to be naturally good writers, and it doesn’t at all surprise me that women have deluged the publishing market. In the early days of novels, writing was one profession that was considered sort of acceptable for women (albeit, not 100%). So it doesn’t surprise me that, within the Christian culture that still concerns itself with proper female roles, you will find even more female authors than in the mainstream market. Women can write while homemaking. It seems to be a win-win situation for many intelligent Christian women. Now the audience demographic is a different story. Women are extraordinarily diverse in the types of books they will write, and you have only to peer into the mainstream market to discover this, but the Christian market demands less diversity–nonfiction and romance primarily. It’s my opinion that you’re dealing with two different issues regarding demographics.

Morgan L. Busse September 25, 2012 at 11:05 AM

Thanks for the shout out Mike! It was so nice to meet you 🙂 And it seems I missed out on a great class. Might have to get the cd’s…

Linda Clare September 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM

I read with interest your take on profanity in Christian fiction. My alter-ego, Miss Crankypants is looking for a few good words for her squeaky clean love scenes. And if you say SHIVERED WITH DELIGHT I’ll scream.

Lara M. Van Hulzen September 25, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Ha! That’s funny, Linda. 🙂

I’m going to hesitantly throw my hat in the ring here on the “homemaker” conversation. I am 39 years old with a daughter who is 14 and twin boys who are 12. I do not homeschool and I have not had a job outside of the home since my daughter was born. I’ve been writing.

I was at ACFW and I think understand what Mike was trying to say. It does seem like the market is saturated with women writers who fit a certain demographic. And I don’t think that’s a negative thing. Just a factual thing. And I had the same sense of frustration in terms of seeing that the conference was not more diverse. I was thrilled to see a (very, very small) group of young people who were there pitching their work. We need more of that. We need diversity.

And are men not as much of the ACFW crowd because men who are readers will only read men authors? Do men not read as much as women?

I’ll be honest. If you could answer for me why the Amish stories overtake the market I’d be grateful. I can’t wrap my head around that one at all. I think they’re nice stories but why do they sell so much? What’s the draw?

Sorry. Lots of questions. 🙂 Great discussion!!!

Katherine Coble September 26, 2012 at 7:06 AM

Being a Mennonite I’ve avoided most of the Amish fiction genre. I finally gave in and read one that was free on my Kindle.

False Nostalgia has always been a huge part of Christian Fiction. Before the spate of Amish books there was a veritable glut of pioneer woman-type novels. It’s a form of escapism that is seen to be “okay” in the cultural demographic that purchases Christian Fiction en masse. The Amish world (or should I say “Amish”?) allows authors to indulge in False Nostalgia–a fondness for something that we cannot remember because it never truly existed–while at the same time giving the backbone of melodramatic conflict. The mores of our present culture are such that you really don’t ever Risk All by Loving The Wrong Person. So in order to write a modern-seeming book while still having False Nostalgia and Melodrama readers and writers need look no further than “Amish” stories.

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