Tuesday, April 4, 2017

International Christian Fiction ~ We've Come a Long Way

By Narelle Atkins

I was recently chatting online with Valerie Comer about how the publishing world has changed and evolved during the last decade.

Back in 2007

Ten years ago I was an unpublished writer on the contest circuit. The vast majority of fiction writers were seeking traditional publishing contracts. Literary agents and acquisition editors at traditional publishing houses often talked about their large manuscript slush piles. Only a tiny portion of the manuscripts that crossed their desks were contracted. Becoming a contest finalist was one way a writer could skip the slush pile and place their manuscript at the top of the reading pile on an editor or agent's desk.

International Christian fiction books were often considered a risky financial proposition. I heard editors from traditional publishing houses talk at conferences about how Christian fiction with foreign settings didn't sell as well as US settings. 

A contest judge in 2007 wrote the following feedback on one of my contest entries:

"If she is an Aussie, you’re going to have a harder time with American publishers. I only bring this up as a published author who loves foreign settings, but knows the resistance of the CBA. Your main characters need to be American. There are exceptions, yes, but overall, this is the situation right now."

Seven years later my contest entry with new title Her Tycoon Hero became my fourth release from Harlequin's Heartsong Presents line. But the contest judge was right: In 2007 it was almost impossible for a debut author to sell a book with international characters and settings to a traditional publisher in the Christian fiction market. 

Fast forward to 2017

We've seen massive market disruptions in the publishing industry over the last decade. Independent publishing and the rise in popularity of ebooks have changed the face of publishing. 

The market barriers that existed in 2007 have fallen away. Authors can publish and sell their books directly to readers using distributors eg. Amazon, and effectively create their own publishing small business. Authors can contract services eg. editing, book covers, book formatting, or DIY. Authors have the option to traditional publish or indie publish or both (hybrid publishing). 

In recent weeks we've celebrated the success of one of our own. Kara Isaac is a double Rita finalist for her debut book, Close to You, set in New Zealand. The Ritas are a prestigious romance book award judged by published author members of Romance Writers of America. We're thrilled for Kara and excited to see an international Christian fiction title final in the Best First Book and Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements categories.

Our International Christian Fiction Writers blog was launched in November 2009. In the last eight and a half years our blog members have published more than 140 books set in more than 30 countries. At least 100 of those books are set outside the US in what is considered a foreign or international setting. Many of the recent releases are independently published. 

Our blog was started by a group of writers who connected in ACFW's Beyond the Border's Zone group. We started with a dream and a vision to see our international Christian fiction stories published and reaching our target audience of readers. 

It's a blessing to see the hopes, prayers, and dreams of our group members bearing fruit. Hopes and dreams that may have seemed almost impossible when we started our blog. My prayer is we'll continue to be inspired and encouraged to write for His glory.   

A fun loving Aussie girl at heart, NARELLE ATKINS was born and raised on the beautiful northern beaches in Sydney, Australia. She has settled in Canberra with her husband and children. A lifelong romance reader, she found the perfect genre to write when she discovered inspirational romance. Narelle's contemporary stories of faith and romance are set in Australia.

Twitter: @NarelleAtkins https://twitter.com/NarelleAtkins


  1. Thanks Narelle. Yes such a lot of changes. Maybe international authors are coming up with a different twist to plots etc. Surely where we come from does have some influence to our work. Anyway we have more chances for publication now.

    1. Hi Rita, I agree, our different cultural backgrounds and life experiences influence our writing. The market changes and indie publishing have given us the opportunity to publish our books with international settings that may be too niche for the larger publishers.

  2. Great post, Narelle. Love seeing all these changes too. The future looks bright :)

    1. Hi Patricia, yes, I agree, the future is bright and full of possibilities. :)

  3. Love the reminder of how internationally set fiction is being read more! And 140 books by this group of bloggers! Absolutely fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Lisa, The vast number of internationally set books is staggering, especially when we consider our starting point. I'm more than happy to share encouraging stats!

  4. Narelle, great to reflect on how so much has changed in 10 years. Crazy to think there will be even more changes in the future at an even faster rate. And yes, how exciting to see so many novels published with international flavours, culminating in Kara's book being selected as a finalist which is really significant. Yay Kara.

    Then we have our awards in last year's Genesis competition - yay for Iola and Jeb. Won't be long before we have a non-American finalist in the Carols too.

    Thanks for such an encouraging post.

    1. Hi Ian, The pace of change is fast and writers need to adapt to the new ways of doing things. I love how writers now have choices when it comes to how they publish their books. I hope unpublished writers will continue to enter contests like the Genesis to get feedback on their work and improve the quality of their writing. The challenge many writers now face is how to determine whether or not their book is ready for publication.

  5. Fabulous blog, Narelle, and such a great reminder and encouragement. I know my readers love the international settings and can't wait to see where I'll take them next.

    Congrats, Kara...amazing achievement!