When the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) held its first convention in 2002, it attracted only 100 participants. This year the ACFW celebrated its tenth annual conference (Sept. 20–23) in Dallas with a record attendance of over 700 aspiring and published authors. That astonishing rise in numbers parallels the rapid growth of the genre’s popularity among readers over the past decade. It also reflects CF’s increasing diversity. First established to serve Christian romance writers, the organization now welcomes writers of all genres from suspense to speculative fiction.
Over the four well-organized and program-packed days, registrants attended sessions that spotlighted major CF houses from Abingdon to Zondervan, studied the craft of writing in workshops taught by such leading authors as Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Cindy Woodsmall, pitched their manuscripts to literary agents, and absorbed publishing insights and marketing tips from such industry professionals as Zondervan executive editor Sue Brower.
What are CF publishers looking for? The audience in Brower’s session, “Preparing for Your Career in Publishing,” learned that Amish fiction still has a big readership but that sales are slowing in a saturated market. Historical fiction (in both the CF and secular markets) continues to be a cash cow for publishers with the Edwardian era (1900–1920) especially hot thanks to Downton Abbey’s success. Suspense remains strong, with men’s suspense doing well in the ebook format.
And what are readers looking for? Books with hope, said Brower. “People are tired. They want feel-good books. Dark books with no redemption or hope are not moving. In suspense/thrillers, CF readers want justice. In historical romances, fans want adventure.” The conference culminated with the 2012 Awards Gala at which the winners of the Genesis Awards (for unpublished Christian writers) and the Carol Awards (honoring the “best of the best” in CF published the previous calendar year) were announced. Taking the prize for Debut Novel was Rosslyn Elliot’s historical Fairer than Morning (Thomas Nelson). The Best Mystery award went to Vannetta Chapman’s Falling to Pieces: A Shipshewana Amish Mystery (Zondervan), while Fallen Angel (B&H Fiction) by Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky was honored as the top thriller . For a full list of winners, see the ACFW website.