Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Christian Fiction and Foreign Locations: Is the Issue Behind Us? ~ by Patricia Beal

Piazza Navona, Rome.
I've heard this a dozen times: "To sell Christian fiction in the United States, the story has to happen in the United States. It's the way the market is."

A friend who read my bio pointed out that maybe emphasizing my immigration story in the bio wasn't the wisest move because maybe editors would look past my foreign setting, but a foreign setting and a foreign author could make editors too nervous and make them back away. Again I heard, "It's the way the market is."

Is it the way the market is, or is it the way the market was? Is it possible that foreign settings are less of a problem now than they used to be?

In our blog group alone we have:

* Kara Isaac (New Zealand resident, native, and story - Howard).

* Marion Ueckermann (South Africa - Helsinki Sunrise, Oslo Overtures, Glasgow Grace - White Rose Publishing / Pelican Book Group).

* 12 authors of Whispers of Love set (3 from the group) hit the USA Today best sellers list last week with story settings ranging from the USA to Canada and South Africa to the Bahamas.

* Narelle Atkins (Australia): Harlequin/Love Inspired/Heartsong Presents. Debut + a six-book contract in February 2013 for two 3-book series of contemporary inspirational romances set in Australia with Aussie characters.

* Me (Brazilian born with story set partially in Germany) - Bling! / Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

I know there are others in the group. But I listed the people whose work I'm most familiar with--the ladies I see online almost daily.

Neuleiningen, Germany
Beyond the group we see Hillary Manton Lodge (WaterBrook & Multnomah) with stories that travel (kind of like mine) & Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson) with a story that travels to Italy (A Portrait of Emily Price coming out soon). And there are others.

I thought for sure the issue was mostly history and figured I would write this awesome victory dance piece for us, and we would all march together to our sunny happily ever after.

But in asking people's opinions for the piece, I was surprised to hear that agents feel like there's still a barrier.

Is there still a barrier?

What do you think? What has been your experience? And what about foreign settings could possibly be such a turn off for American Christian fiction readers?

Patricia Beal writes contemporary Christian fiction and is represented by Leslie Stobbe of the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. Her debut novel, A Season to Dance, comes out on May 9, 2017 (Bling! / Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas).

She’s a 2015 Genesis semi-finalist and First Impressions finalist. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Cincinnati in 1998 with a B.A. in English Literature and then worked as a public affairs officer for the U.S. Army for seven years. Now, after a 10-year break in service, she is an Army editor. She and her husband live in El Paso, Texas, with their two children.


  1. Patricia, one would think that agents in suggesting it is a barrier that there is one. Until a few foreign stories hit the big time in the heartland of Christian fiction it will continue to be a challenge. However, all in good time and I take great heart from the fact that there is an increase in foreign authors and their stories.

    I also think there's probably a difference between stories set in foreign shores, e.g., Kara & Narelle's versus those stories that are based in AMerica but with some foreign travel involved.

    Good post, Patricia.

    1. I think you're right. There probably is a difference between stories that travel and stories that are set 100% in foreign countries. There's probably a difference based on where the author lives, too. This seems like such silliness. I don't get the logic of it. It is good indeed to see an increase in diversity. I pray we see even more growth (and killer sales numbers!) in the future.

  2. I love books set in other countries. Julie Klassen and Sarah Ladd are two of my favorite authors. They both seem quite popular to me, or maybe they are just popular in my area.

    1. Hi, Tina. They are popular here in Texas, too. You're right. Maybe the issue is with debut authors more than with established authors who have steady sales numbers. I love books set in other countries, too. That makes this problem even more disturbing to me. Who are these people who don't like foreign settings and why?

  3. Thanks for this post, Patricia. I heard the same thing a few years ago when I started pitching my first manuscript. I was shocked. Are we Americans really that arrogant? Maybe. Most of us know only one language, right? I love to travel, and I love reading books set in faraway places. My agent finally found a home for Irish Encounter, a story partially set in Galway, Ireland, with Mantle Rock. Pelican Book Group has a line called Passport to Romance with several books set outside the US, so maybe the tide is turning. Go ARMY! Beat Navy!

    1. Hi! I still remember (somewhat vaguely) the year Army beat Navy... We do need a new win badly :/ Go Pelican! Glad your Irish Encounter found a good home. Maybe the mega houses will invest more on variety and diversity soon :)

    2. We're hoping this year's the year since my son is a Firstie at West Point--his last chance for a win while he's there!

    3. Oh wow! How exciting :) We have a guy at our church here outside Fort Bliss who graduated last year. He's an MP. I love the Army. I pray your son has a fantastic time--finishing West Point and serving. The hero of my second novel, The Song of the Desert Willow, is a West Pointer. I'm still editing the first draft. Do we like each other on Facebook? We should :) What an exciting year this will be for you and your family. “In my dreams I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country. Today marks my final roll call with you. But I want you to know that when I cross the river, my last conscious thoughts will be of the Corps, and the Corps, and the Corps.” —General Douglas MacArthur

  4. Hi Patricia, I'm sorry I'm chiming in late. I'm optimistic that foreign settings will become more popular in the US market and will be embraced by readers from around the world. Indie publishing has opened the door for authors to publish their niche genre stories, including foreign settings, that traditional publishers may not consider financially viable.

    The nationality of the main characters makes a difference, too. It has been easier for authors to sell foreign setting stories to traditional publishers when at least one of the main characters is from the US.

    Thanks for starting a helpful discussion, and it's great to read everyone's thoughts.

    1. Glad to see you here, Narelle. When I realized this problem is still a problem during the writing of the piece, I started looking forward to what you all had to say. We're kind of subject-matter experts here at ICFW ;) Thanks for sharing your ideas and for the tweet! Here's something that breaks my heart: Every year there is an international book fair in Frankfurt where publishers from all over the world show up to purchase foreign rights from other publishers. The smaller publishers who are investing more heavily on us, don't usually go. That's sad. I asked my agent to talk to my publisher and see if he's up to it. Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC) has great momentum right now and 20+ of the top 100 bestsellers in Christian contemporary fiction are LPC titles. I hope LPC goes to Frankfurt. There's a push. We're here. And we're not going anywhere. Right? :)

  5. I definitely hope it is changing as I love books set in various locations. And it's great to see that it's happening. I wrote two book set in Africa a few years ago and I did have to have the main characters be from the US. More recently, I was excited when LIS agreed to let me write my books in various international settings. It's been fun, but I know it isn't the norm for them, and again my main characters are from the US. My other publisher isn't interested in a foreign setting for my books. So let's hope it's changing!!

    1. Glad to hear you've found some success placing stories that have foreign settings and/or characters. I always hear good things about LIS, btw. I do think things are changing--even if not as fast as we would like them to. I shared this post on my Facebook author page, and another author commented there that with millennials becoming adults and having a say in the industry both as readers and as publishing professionals change is bound to happen and faster. Millennials are global thinkers for the most part. I replied to her saying: "I think so, too. My editor is very young, and loves travel and theater. I'm pretty certain this foreign location issue didn't cross her mind at all when she studied my project and decided to publish my book. Now we need good numbers. That would empower [people like] my agent to talk an editor past the issue when it comes up in the future..." Sorry for the copy/paste but my arm is about to fall off. I just turned in round 3 of developmental edits/round 1 of copyedits to my publisher. I worked faster than usual since my husband and kids have been out fishing for the past few days. Good to be done. Not good to be hurting :/ Thanks for stopping by, Lisa. I pray you get to write more international stories in the future. Aren't they fun? Oh, and all that lovely research :)