Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Part 1: Australasian Christian fiction - What's happening???

I must confess: I haven’t been around the ACW site much since about December 20. Apart from the preparation for Christmas and then the day itself, we’ve had people staying, three birthdays, a funeral and our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Yes, just a little bit hectic :)

I knew I had this blogpost to write and I’d been thinking about it long and hard. And then I read Rose’s post from only a few days ago: ‘Aussie authors – what more can we do?’ (Read it here) The very topic I’d been thinking about. I’m in total agreeance with Rose – first and foremost, we pray.

A few months ago at a writers’ retreat we were discussing the future of Christian fiction in Australasia. I must admit, we were all feeling quite concerned about it. Another Christian press had announced they weren’t publishing anything in 2015 and the discussion went from there.

This has been a hard post to write. Let me pre-empt the following paragraphs by saying that these are my personal thoughts and not quotes from my fellow retreaters. My opinions, no matter how carefully I put them, will more than likely step on toes. Having said that, I’m very interested in hearing other points of view and understand if you disagree with me.

To me, it seems we’re still in the pioneering stage here in Australasia, and we all know pioneering isn’t for sissies! A pioneer is a leader and a trailblazer, characteristics which require guts and sheer hard work. As a writer, we need to develop those traits. We can’t afford to quit or shy away when the going gets tough. The writers I know consistently display those qualities. So why is it so hard for the majority of us to enjoy success in the field we’re so passionate about?

I realise success is measured in many different ways, but if we’re talking sales, and I'm limiting this to print copies for now, then let’s face it: for most of us, our books aren’t exactly flying off the shelves.

The bottom line appears to be this: Christian fiction readers from Down Under are buying significantly more books from the USA than books by Australian and New Zealand authors. But as Professor Julius Sumner Miller used to say, ‘Why is it so?'

Ok, here it comes ... deep breath ... I wish I could sugar coat it but I can't ...

I think that Christian fiction readers are choosing to buy from North America rather than Australia and New Zealand because the standard of writing is higher from overseas. 



I’ve probably just lost a bunch of friends. But please note: I’m not saying we’re rubbish, not by a long shot! I repeat: we are good writers ... but we can be better. 

We have authors who have done very well over the years, laid a solid foundation for the rest of us, authors whom I admire and respect. But there has been a shift. Overseas books are more accessible than ever and they're the ones readers are choosing. I'm just trying to figure out why.

Readers are smart. Readers are discerning. They know good writing when they see it and that's what they will buy.They have their favourite authors who continue to produce the goods and have earned their readers' trust. I want us to be in that group!

Courtney Milan, a former lawyer, now a New York Times and USA best-selling historical romance author, was asked what readers could do to show their support. She replied, 'How can you support me? Honestly, that's not your job. Right? Your job is to read my books if you want to read them. If you don't want to read them then don't.'

What do you think about that? Brave words? Careless words? Personally, they make me more determined than ever to become a better writer. I really want people to want to read my books!

I should point out I've had my reader hat on while writing this, not just my author one. I love to read, always have, both in the general and Christian markets. My observations aren't just out of a hole in my head, as a former teacher of mine use to put it.

Currently, the top five fiction bestsellers in Koorong are:

The Harbinger, by Jonathan Cahn.
A Lineage of Grace, by Francine Rivers
Bridge to Haven, by Francine Rivers
Steadfast Heart, by Tracie Petersen
The Last Bride, by Beverley Lewis.

With the exception of Jonathan Cahn, the other three American authors are multi-published (Tracie Petersen has over 100 titles to her name) and have been writing for decades. There's a theme here - it all takes time. Time to hone our craft, build a readership and establish our names. Remember that ad on TV? 'It won't happen overnight but it will happen!'

Most writers I know work hard to improve by attending workshops and conferences, listening to their critique partners and/or editors, swallowing their pride as they make changes. All because they want to make the most of their talents. We will get there.

So be encouraged, my fellow writers. Let's keep on praying and supporting one another for as long as it takes. You're a wonderful bunch. 

Right, I’m off to duck for cover. 













About Andrea Grigg

Andrea writes contemporary romance. Her second novel Too Pretty was released in August 2014 by Rhiza Press. Her first novel A Simple Mistake was a finalist in the 2012 CALEB Awards.

Andrea would love to hear from you via her website or Facebook page:
http://www.andreagrigg.com/
https://www.facebook.com/author.andreagrigg







110 comments:

  1. I think another reason Australian books aren't so widely read is also accessibility. I was perusing the fiction shelves in Koorong Hobart the other day, and it all seemed to be American. I imagine that they buy from trade catalogues, and they stock what's popular in most places - big names, big sales. I was disappointed, as I'm connected via Facebook with many Christian writers I'd love to support, even if I could do such a simple thing as turn their books so the covers were facing out. But no.
    Now I'm a net-savvy Kindle-reading Amazon customer, but many of my friends aren't, they're people who walk into Koorong because it's there, and choose a book from what they see. No Aussie books means no Aussie sales. I'm angry at this, and disappointed, and frustrated.
    How do we change this?

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    1. Hi Megan. This doesn't happen exclusively at Koorong (see Narelle's comment below). I think the simple solution is to ask. The more the demand the better. Spread the word! Thanks for your comment and support :)

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    2. I live in Geelong and our local Christian book shop closed a number of years ago. One of the biggest problems I had when I first discovered Christian fiction in the mid 1990's was that the shop in Geelong at the time never promoted Aussie authors. In fact, the only reason I knew such authors existed was because Meredith Resce is a personal friend and she lived in Geelong at the time! She used to have to plead to have her books in the store. So yes, visibility of Aussie authors in the stores is a big issue. But an even bigger one is not everyone has a Christian book store they can pop into and browse around in. Big shout out to Jeff Townsend in Orange who I know promotes Aussie authors and writers of fiction. *clapping loudly*.
      The fact is, I've never been to Koorong or Word in Melbourne and am unlikely to do so....so how will I ever hear of Aussie authors unless they promote themselves in a different manner.

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    3. Good point, Nicki. While a Christian bookstore is often the first port of call for those who wish to read Christian fiction, it obviously isn't always! There's also the internet.

      Promotion occurs in other ways though, ie. speaking engagements, book launches, school visits, social media. All of it requires effort and doesn't have immediate results. A bit like the effort we put into our small children ;)

      Yes, definitely a big shout out to Jeff Townsend. He's a wonderful advocate of Christian writing.

      Thanks for commenting, Nicki :)

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  2. Megan, I've found you have to hunt around to find Australian-produced books on the shelves of all our book stores, Christian or otherwise. Koorong and the other book stores are running a business and they will stock the books they believe their customers are most likely to buy. They need to run a profitable business by providing stock that meets their customer's needs. It's an economic reality that the big name authors will have the majority of the shelf space. A few years ago there were a larger number of Australian Christian fiction print books on the shelves of the Christian book stores. We no longer have a local publisher with an exclusively Christian fiction imprint, and this means there are less traditionally published Australian Christian fiction books available in the stores.

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    1. I so agree with this, Narelle. I've now been published by an Australian publisher as well as an USA one for all my previous successful books, so as a writer know the differences. It was great having a "local" publisher in Sydney and much easier to communicate with but I am not happy with the results of their end products. I have to add that book sellers also know the publishers that have built up trust with readers over the years. Our publishers here are much smaller businesses so cannot afford all the editing processes etc well established and profitable overseas publishers can. Our Aussie publishers simply need to persevere so they too can keep improving the quality -- of the editing especially. I only realised after my first book was published in Australia how "spoilt" I had been by the editing process for my other books by Barbour Publishing and also Hrlequin. This has meant as a writer I may best be served to actually find good editors and pay them myself for any future books offered to publishers - especially that particular one. Unfortunately that is expensive and not what most of us writers can afford either. Thank you so much for your comments, Andrea. I personally want to support our Aussie publishers and pray that continues to be possible. That means much prayer, hard work and perseverance to keep writing "better".

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    2. My reply disappeared! I was saying I was lucky too, to be published with my first books in 1991, and particularly found Openbook wonderful to work with on editing. We discussed the issues, big and small. They respected my views but showed me when I was wrong or if it violated their house policy. It was a privilege.

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  3. Andrea, you've not lost me as a friend. ;-)

    I sat in on a session by Courtney Milan on self publishing last year at the RWA conference in San Antonio. The woman knows what she's talking about. Authors serve the reader, not the other way around. Let's continue to strive towards better writing... and better writing, and even better writing. :-)

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    1. I'm with you Dotti! Thanks for commenting :)

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    2. Readers will keep reading our books if we write them well.

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  4. Good post Andrea as a smart reader (I like that) I have to say I do prefer the American books. While there are a few Australian books I really loved I would not be able to put an Aussie book in my top reads. We have a local Christian Bookshop which I volunteer at. We do have a lot of Australian books there but they do not sell well. We tend to have older books and some of the books which I have read just are not up to the quality of the American books. We tend to replace some of the books that sell but then the replacements sit on the shelves.

    When it comes to Koorong I have seen the Aussie books in both Melbourne and Adelaide but I have seen them reduced in the bargain bins because they are not selling and books do have a shelf life. Part of the reason is what Andrea said they are not to the quality of the American books. Some of the reasons are the covers are not as good, the genre is not stated and the book blurb doesn't catch the readers attention. For me if the cover doesn't grab me I often will not read the blurb but if I do and there is no genre clearly stated I often pass it over.

    I am not reading like I use to so when I do read I want to read good books that I like so will go to the authors I know and trust or publishers I trust. Its one reason I like the books by Aussies like Mary Hawkins and Narelle Atkins they write or have written for lines I enjoy.

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    1. Thank you for your honesty, Jenny. Your examples illustrate what we both suspect. Onward and upward, I say :)

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    2. Just read this after posting to Narelle's comment. We are of like mind on this, Jenny and thank you for your comment.

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  5. Thanks Andrea, There is hope. There are a few I have read and loved I remember reading Carol Prestons Book Mary's Guardian I think it was and loved it and for me it was up with the American books. But there is a YA book I read and had to for a contest which had promise but if half the book was left out it would have been a great book.

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  6. I don't think you have to really duck for cover, Andrea :) This is a good discussion you've raised.

    I'm not sure we can cite writing quality as a main reason for our lack of sales. Production quality and advertising expenditure have a big role too. Our Aussie Christian publishers have been doing a fantastic job with their limited resources, but they simply haven't had anywhere near the same budget to play around with as American publishers, particularly the 'Big 5'. Even smaller American publishers have had the same problem as Aussie publishers for this same reason. There's an understandable connection in people's minds that a lot of gloss and publicity go hand in hand with a wonderful story. As the top 5 USA publishers are good at choosing manuscripts they think will sell and spare no expense in anything from editorial staff onward, this seems to be justified. I'm sure we all trust that a story published by Bethany House or Thomas Nelson is bound to be pretty good.

    Yet so many of our Aussies stories are great too. I've read many prairie romances from the US, and find Carol Preston's stories about colonial Australia just as interesting and well-written. And last year I read a book which enjoyed a lot of time in the spotlight, followed by your "Too Pretty" and preferred yours by far. In 2011 my 'Picking up the Pieces' won first place in an overseas book award which was won by a Karen Kingsbury novel the following year. I never found out how much of a high profile the International Book Awards have, but thought it proved a point that Aussie books must have some merit. I guess I'm trying to say there might be far more too it than simply improving the quality of our writing, while these other economic and positional drawbacks remain in place.

    I've been saying the same as you about us being pioneers for 15 years, since my first novel was published, and authors such as Meredith and Mary have been around for even longer. I agree with you that this pioneering stage may be a matter of decades rather than a few years. Looking at our position on the globe reinforces what a huge job it is, alone in our corner of the Pacific as we are. I was at a conference once in which a speaker gave her opinion that American audiences tend to be very inward looking and patriotic. I've noticed similar things on TV shows in which random people on the street are asked about Australia, and mistake it for Austria! It's not easy to promote our books to people who either don't have us on their radar at all or think we're full of dusty red roads and kangaroos. Having said that, I don't wish to cause offense either, as I've found many Americans to be very gracious and fascinated with our part of the world.

    I agree with you that we should always be on a quest to improve our writing and get better all the time, but perhaps we shouldn't get our hopes up that this will make all the difference.

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    1. Hi Paula - thanks for your well thought out reply! Yes, I agree, there are many variables in play,and there are good Aussie stories out there (thanks for the big tick for TP), but overall to me, the quality of writing is the biggest factor. Next time, in Part 2, I'd like to suggest an idea. It's a little bit out there and would take time but you never know ...

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    2. Me too - it's only half formed :)

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  7. Andrea - good on you for writing this post and making yourself vulnerable by expressing your opinions. Are O/S novels better quality than we from Down Under? Maybe, maybe not. I read very little Aussie Christian fiction mainly because a lot of it is romance. Well that's my perception.

    I happen to have bought a lot of this group's novels but when push comes to shove I'll grab a speculative/thriller type from the TBR pile. However, one of my reading goals for 2015 is to read some of these novels as I'm keen to support the tribe.

    I think economic realities play a part - we're a population of 22 million vs America's 300 million. Just like we have a few standard out actors, a few standout Aussie movies, a few whatever in whatever field you want (except cricket), I wonder if this all plays a part.

    We're also a generation that's grown up with American TV/movies, etc which have ingrained themselves in us. I know many people (I'm not one) who don't really enjoy watching Aussie movies because of our Australianness.

    Andrea - your post is very encouraging. We need to keep on keeping on and holding tight to the Lord. He knows what He's doing. Yes, wouldn't we all like to sell more novels? Absolutely. But let's keep enjoying the process. It's fascinating to think that we've created something (a novel) that may hang around for years and year and years, even if it only sold a few. Wonderful legacy to leave behind.

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    1. Hi Ian - thanks for your thoughts.

      I agree about the economic realities but to me that's even more reason to become outstanding writers not just good ones. Even the Kiwi cricket team does well and just look at the All Blacks! lol.

      Like you, I read more general fiction than Christian. In that arena, Aussies are as good as anyone. Christian fiction just needs more time to get there. I have no doubt that it will.

      Love your point about enjoying the process. It's very encouraging to look back and see how far we've come. Give us another decade or so and then watch out Christendom!

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    2. At least we reign in cricket!!

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    3. Haha Meredith. I tell you, I get torn! I'm an All Blacks fan but love the Aussie cricket and rugby league teams. My son (born here) is more Kiwi than I am and is disgusted when I don't go for my home country's team. Bit of a digression but never mind ;)

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    4. Let's just say the Kiwis have a fairly good record in cricket too.

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    5. Ian, I remember you read Dead Man's Journey and gave it a good review on Amazon. You might also enjoy The Celtic Stone by Nick Hawkes - it has some romance, but that's definitely the subplot. Nick's second and third books are even better ...

      And look out for The Kindgom of the Air when it releases (the 2014 CALEB Unpublished winner). It pitches a South African serving as a pilot in the German Air Force against an English intelligence officer in World War Two. Excellent!

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    6. Great seeing the Black Caps doing well in cricket. I reckon next summer's test series could be a real beauty. Fingers crossed we have an Aussie/Kiwi final in the World Cup coming up.

      But back to the discussion I wonder if an opportunity exists re: tapping a niche that is particularly Australasian. I was reading an article in the Australian last week about "rural romance" and how big it was in secular fiction here? If this is popular, perhaps there's an opportunity for tapping that market of secular readers. Okay … that gets back to another big question on "how" … so I'll just tiptoe out the door now.

      Iola, yes, I've got The Celtic Stone staring down at me from my bookshelf. Do let us know when The Kingdom of the Air releases.

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  8. Andrea, I absolutely agree. Many of the general market writers I follow (to get their marketing ideas) have dozens of books out, and that's how they are making money. Hugh Howey became a breakout success with Wool - his seventh book (I think. Might have been his tenth).

    I would also suggest that this isn't just an Aussie problem. When I lived in England I tried to find English Christian authors. I found very few, and some of the ones I did find ... again, the writing simply wasn't up to standard.

    However, your main point is valid: the USA drives the Christian fiction genre, and that's the standard we have to meet.

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    1. Hi Iola -

      Writing a quality series is definitely the way to go. I'm going to mention that in Part 2.

      You're right. this definitely isn't confined to just Aussies (or Kiwis). Another thing I ran out of space to mention.

      As for the main point - maybe we just have to suck it up and determine to rise above?

      Thanks for your comments :)

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  9. Hi Andrea - Great post! You don't need to duck for cover, but I may have to after I write this. (Deep breath). First of all, I think we have some great Aussie Christian authors who've written books that can stand up with the best of them and I really want to support them. However, I sometimes feel 'put on the spot' when I read something I don't think is up to scratch. I want to support Aussie authors, but I don't want to give a book an endorsement or write a good review unless I feel I can wholeheartedly do that. Sometimes, I feel there's a subtle pressure to support Aussie authors regardless of the quality. While this might seem helpful (especially when these are people you've met at conferences and have friended on Facebook), it can do damage in the long run. If I give a book a four or five star rating, my integrity is on the line. If a friend of mine takes up my recommendation and then discovers the book is not up to par, they're unlikely to follow my recommendations in the future and may even get the impression that that particular book is indicative of other Aussie Christian novels. I hope I haven't offended anyone by this comment. As I said, I think we have some great Aussie Christian writers. But quality is key. I want to read and recommend a book because it's a great read and not because I'm friendly with the author or don't want to hurt the author's feelings. So although it may seem counter-intuitive, a good way to support Aussie authors is to write honest reviews that include less positive comments when warranted. I'm not talking about tearing something to shreds. If I really can't endorse a book, I don't review it. However, readers respond more to honest reviews than glowing reviews that lead them to buy a lacklustre book. Okay, now I'm ducking for cover.

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    1. No need for either Andrea or now you to duck, Nola! I completely agree with you both. I too have felt pressure to give good reviews of Aussie books. These last weeks while not able to be active have had more time to read and to attempt to do this. I still believe writing reviews means being prepared to learn 'how to" as much as writers need to learn "how to" cope with aspects of writing the book! I simply don't believe I have any real gifting to do this adequately and prefer not to review a book I have not enjoyed as much as I'd hoped to.

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    2. Nola - thank you for your honest thoughts. I know how you felt writing this; I tweaked my post until 1am this morning then woke at 6am and worried!

      'Sometimes, I feel there's a subtle pressure to support Aussie authors regardless of the quality.' I've experienced the same thing and I find it neither healthy or honest.

      Your comments on reviewing have encapsulated mine. In fact, I feel a post coming on ...we'll duck for cover together!

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    3. I find reviewing hard too, Mary. Just one of those things. I hear you! Thanks for stopping by :)

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    4. That is so true, Nola. I guess we as a fellowship of Aussie Authors are going to have to get honest with each other. I love to review others books, but find it difficult when I read something that just hasn't grabbed me at all. I probably just don't review it. I'm happy to give a 4 star, or perhaps a 3 star if the problems are editing, but I feel horrid saying harsh things about plot and character, so I usually don't say anything at all - a bit like Thumper. I will give an honest 2 star review if I don't know the author at all, and they live safely on another continent. Mmmm I sense a conundrum arising.

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    5. Nola I understand what you are saying and too have felt the subtle and not so subtle pressure to review and read Aussie books and review. There are a few I could not in good conscience review without a low star rating. People get to know reviewers and trust there judgement and that needs to be kept intact. Being the past year or so with health issues not being able to read as much I have been able to avoid some books I really didn't want to read but felt bad saying so to the author.

      I think we need to be able to read a book and put an honest review even if we think its only worth 3 stars. I will rarely leave a review up under 3 stars but to be honest I think I learn more from a 3 star review than all the glowing 5 star ones.

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    6. Well said Jenny! And again, I'm right with you Meredith. It's difficult. Like I said to Nola, I can feel another blog coming on ...

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    7. I think Aussie authors need to support one another, but not as a blanket policy. One thing I've watched in the mainstream is that the Rural Romance authors really support each other - promoting one another's books - reading them - reviewing them and that's something I see really missing in the Christian fiction genre.
      I'm not saying we give everyone a 4 or 5 star review willy nilly because there's no integrity in that. Like Meredith and Narelle have said, better to keep quiet if you don't like a book rather than feel the wrath of the author for being honest and giving it a 3 star or less review.
      But as Aussie Christian authors I think we SHOULD be reading one another's books and promoting them. Right now I'm actually reading Andrea Grigg's "Too Pretty". And I'm tweeting about it, I'm sharing it on Goodreads, Facebook - I'm telling people "hey, I'm reading this book and it's good - you should check it out"
      Now, if you can't read a book because of language or some other reason, that's truly ok, but I think you can still support your fellow authors anyway.
      For example, I belong to a writers group in Geelong. There are about 8 of us. One writes rural romance like me, another medical romance, also like me, two others write contemporary romance, one writes historical romance, one writes YA and one writes fantastical erotica. Now, I have no idea what fantastical erotica even is and I'm unlikely to EVER open the cover to find out and the author knows that. Just as she is unlikely to read my book! HOWEVER, the author is a friend and her work is worthy of being read - by someone - not by me. So I promote her book and in turn, she shares my book because you never know, stranger things have happened by one of her fantastical erotica readers might actually enjoy the change of reading a "sweet" romance! I don't happen to like historical fiction either, but I will promote the other girls' books because they deserve to have their talent recognised.
      As Christians I am of the opinion we should be loudly and vocally cheering one another on - especially publicall. And by this I mean reading each other's books - spreading the word loudly - recommending books, getting excited about covers and blurbs and release dates.
      Now of course this is all just my opinion but it's something I've noticed is very different between Christian and mainstream authors - the level of support.
      Come on Aussie authors - shout it from the rooftops - and even more so when the book is very very good!

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    8. Nola, I absolutely agree. I also feel my integrity (as a reader, reviewer, and freelance editor) is on the line if I give a high rating to a book with writing or editing issues.

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    9. I've shared this before but one very important way to help promote other Aussie authors is to mention their books to the sales persons - especially managers! - in bookshops. I've been appalled at the amount of sheer ignorance about which books on their shelves are written by Australian writers. Perhaps that problem is now not as bad as a few years ago when new publishers did put out our books so they were not known as being in Australia. This of course applies also to any Aussie or NZ author published by an overseas publisher.

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  10. Thanks, Andrea. I think you've had great courage to say this. Well done!

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  11. Andrea, well said. Nola, I agree with you and Mary that integrity in reviewing is essential. Writing critical reviews is not for the feint of heart because there can be negative consequences for the reviewer. There are authors who will perceive a review of 3 stars or less as unsupportive, irrespective of whether or not the content of the review has merit. This is one reason why I don't post critical reviews, the other being I don't usually read past the first few pages if the book doesn't hook me at the start.

    I also think that the concept of supporting other authors doesn't automatically translate to supporting their books by buying or reviewing them. I totally agree with Courtney Milan that it's not the reader's job to support authors, either. We all, authors and readers, buy and read the books that interest us, and often the country of origin isn't relevant to that decision making process.

    At the end of the day, excellent writing in a quality book that has a high level of editing and attention to detail, including great cover art, and is written for a specific target audience, is the best way forward. That can be done traditionally or independently. One small press that I've found reliable for producing quality Christian fiction is WhiteFire Publishing in the USA. Small presses and indie authors can produce excellent quality books that are just as good, or better, than the books from the larger publishers.

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    1. Hi Narelle: I agree - integrity is so important.

      Courtney Milan has a lot of worthwhile things to say, doesn't she?

      ''At the end of the day, excellent writing in a quality book that has a high level of editing and attention to detail, including great cover art, and is written for a specific target audience, is the best way forward.'' You've nailed it.

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    2. This Courtney sounds intelligent. Readers mostly read to escape and we don't like being pressured into buying certain books just cos we should Also Money comes into it. If I have $20 to spend I want to buy a book I really want to read not one that I am buying due to author pressure (infact its this sort of pressure that will also turn me off an author)

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    3. Narelle, you've touched on something really important here - writing and marketing your book to a specific target audience. Rather than just "Christian fiction". Readers want to know if they're getting Christian romance, Christian suspense, Christian historical.....

      And Jenny, another good point. $20 is quite simply too much to spend on a book. When e-books are available from really good, well known authors for as little as $4, sometimes less, why would I spend $20?

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    4. Nicki, I was sort of meaning if I have $20 (like a gift voucher to spend) at the bookshop I want to get what is of best value to me. if its a choice of a couple of books from favour authors or just one dearer book I normally go the way that is most economical to me. I do buy Aussie authors but often when places like koorong have a special. My preference now is ebook as its easier to read for me with my head issues.

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  12. Hi Andrea, and all the other wonderful Australiasian fiction writers. Facts are facts, and we have to face them, as unpleasant as it is. I've had fiction titles in the Australian market for 17 years. For the first 6 years they sold like hot cakes - and I will happily admit they were not the best quality of writing or production. AT the time, the quality of writing in the US wasn't that great either, and I could cite a couple of extremely popular American authors whose writing made me want to gag. After 2005, the market deregluated, and big publishers could sell directly to the Aussie book chains. This was the first step down, and saw the floodgates open to large numbers of super cheap American produced product literally being dumped. Our prices couldn't compete, and no matter the quality of the writing, the big publishing houses had killer cover designs. Then enter the digital book, and crash, the whole house of cards came tumbling down. Now, quality of production, and cheapness of the product are the first port of call. From this emerge a class of Christian fiction writers who have really sharpened their skills, and there is some really excellent competition out there now that wasn't there before. I am pleased as a reader to read some really good, gritty prose - great characters, excellent plot, and just well written. It is something way beyond what any of us, American or Australian, were writing 15 years ago. So I've had to sharpen up, but it might be too late. I've gone back to old titles and re-written at least one. I have a bunch to re-write, but I've still got old stock to sell first, so it is the old version. Let me just say quite frankly, I think there are some brilliant writers here in Australia, but it is true, we have to work harder at our product. We can't go off half-cocked. We have to put the hard yards in to match up to the standard that is now being produced by some of the big houses and big names. Then comes the question of, is it all too late for us. Do Australian readers just by pass us now as a matter of a reputation already established. Is that really fair. Fair or not doesn't really have anything to do with it. I guess what you said first has to be the answer, Andrea. We have to pray that: if God has a purpose, He will also have a way. I've felt the discouragement of plummeting sales, and I know it must be worse for those of you who have enjoyed good sales in the past, who haven't yet made a name in the market. I apologise for setting out with sub-standard product in the past, and am doing my best to change that. I hope Australasian readers will give us all another shot. Good discussion, anyway, hey!

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    1. Awesome, Meredith! Wow. Thank you for your candour. I'm certainly not the only brave one here today.

      I don't think it is too late for us Down Under. We will never surrender, we will never give up ...

      Thank you again for your input. Much appreciated :)

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    2. "We have to pray that: if God has a purpose, He will also have a way."

      Well said.

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    3. Well said Meredith and good on you for being humble enough to admit you've had to sharpen that pencil and hone your skills, even after years of successful writing and publishing.
      Honestly, in the past I've read some really bad Australian Christian fiction, often self published and unedited (and I'm not referring to yours Meredith), and I can see why many Aussie readers have overlooked this little market. And of course American readers sadly wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. And why would they when they already have such great writers in their own country? Authors of mainstream romance have the same problem - getting their books into the American market. To break in, you have to be very very good.
      This is a big issue and I think everyone is taking a deep breath today and contemplating what Andrea has raised. I say good on her for opening the windows and doors and letting some fresh air breeze in.
      If Christian authors want to be noticed, then everything they do has to be excellent and sadly, it's not always that way which is probably why Australasian Christian fiction all gets lumped into the same category. As a complete baby newbie author I'm watching with one foot in the Christian camp and one foot well and truly outside and honestly, sometimes the Christian fiction genre just comes across as plain "daggy". Sorry if I've just offended everyone. And sorry for being such an opinionated newbie but I feel I need to tell it as it is. What we need is to set the bar high and aim for excellence. And I'm talking excellence in everything. From the books covers, to the editing, to the proof reading, to the blurbs, to the marketing, to our blogs, to our social media interaction.
      I want God to be glorified as much as the next person and we all know how much we cringe when we see Christians portrayed in the media already. I hate it when God comes across looking irrelevant and old fashioned. So let's stop daggy Christianity in regards to fiction it in it's tracks. It's never too late if we all raise the bar together.

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    4. Loud applause from me Nicki!

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    5. And let me throw another cat amongst the pigeons - Christian film. I have a heart to write and be involved with film production, and have been watching the emergence of the Christian film genre with interest. Just to make us all feel a little bit better about ourselves, I have watched a number of American Christian films that are ATROCIOUS! The characters are horrible, the music production is awful, the director of photography needs to be sacked, and just generally an embarrassment, and I've yelled at the screen saying much the same thing we are saying here. If you're going to do it, DO IT PROPERLY because the viewers won't give you a second chance!! I guess we are learning that lesson here in our quiet little writing world - Some American film producers are making a BIG mistake releasing such substandard product. I can forgive a low budget film if the screenplay is well written, and the characters are engaging, but that is not what I'm seeing on Foxtel. Having said that, I have also seen several really well written and produced Christian movies. Unfortunately, they are the exception, not the rule. GROAN, when are we going to learn. ANYWAYS - today's discussion is helpful for all of us Australasian Christian writers.

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    6. Hahaha, Meredith. Perhaps American Christian film is in the early pioneering stage? But you're absolutely right. We should do everything as well as we can. Mind you, it sometimes doesn't look terrible until later. There's going to be an awful lot of shock/horror laughter over the Twilight movies imho... it's not just in the Christian arena, is it?

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    7. Meredith, I agree about the "cringe" factor with some Christian movies. It doesn't do us any favours and is not what movie goers will line up to see. But then there are films like "Amazing Grace" that make you go "WOW". It shows that if there is a good story well told and well produced, the audience is there. If you build it, they will come :)

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    8. Thanks Andrea for calling the spade a shovel. I really want to support Aussie writers, but for the most part the output is either romance or fantasy, neither of which appeal to me, although I'm happy to buy them for my teenage grandchildren. For myself, I want multi-layered plots, depth of character development; writing that has literary grit. So far the only Aussie christian writer I have found who offers that is Tim Winton.

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    9. Hi Rhonda - there are some Tim Winton books I find wonderful and thoughtfully Christian. There are some I find repellent and almost anti-Christian in tone. But, yes, his characterisation is excellent.

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  13. Andrea - of course still friends, but I'm not sure I agree totally with your point even though most everyone else has joined into the chorus. So maybe I'm on my own here.

    I've really only discovered Australian Christian writers in the last 3 years - and I have to say, I've been thrilled by some really great books and authors. Yes, I've enjoyed some more than others but so far of the 10 or so Aussie Christian authors I've tried, I haven't read one that's terrible, I've enjoyed them all and some I've really loved. I can't say I'm an expert on American Christian fiction as most of my reading has been general market but those I have, haven't particularly grabbed me. For one thing, I'm not that interested in mid-west USA in 19th or early 20th century (sorry) or in books that are more or less stuck in the Christian bubble or aren't prepared to deal with real issues (though I know for many people that is the sort of book they like). Of the US Christian Sci-Fi authors I've read were a mixed bag in terms of quality, and I enjoyed Ian's Angelguard just as much as any of them. If I'm completely honest, then I'd say I haven't read an Aussie Christian book that matches -say - a book by Jodi Picoult - but then Christian publishers in Australia would probably never publish a book of the length and plot complexity of Jodi's books. I actually find Aussie fiction grittier and more real than US - and enjoy it for this reason (though I know others prefer their fiction more sanitized). My hunch is that there is range in both quality and also depth in US Christian fiction just as there is in Aussie Christian fiction. There are far more books in the US market & therefore more authors and more choice and it's easier to compare the best of the US against the rest of the aussie market; just as it easy to compare the best of the general market against the rest of the Christian market.

    I think as writers we should always aspire to improve our fiction and to write the best we can. (I'm unpublished btw - so whatever the quality of my writing - it's not in the fire lining - yet.) Christian Aussie books are competing not just against US Christian market but the general market as well - particularly against the big name, master story tellers.That's true for all authors trying to break into the market. Is quality an issue - maybe, in some cases. To say quality is the only or even the main reason that Aussie Christian books don't sell in huge numbers seems a bit harsh. Especially when there are so many other factors in play - like the size of the market, the amount of resources that can go into publishing and promotion, the policies of booksellers and distributors, the discount dumping of US books are bargain basin prices, some lingering Aussie cultural cringe, the fact that the Christian market only caters for a small group of Christians (the majority of the Christians in the two book clubs I've been a member of don't read Christian fiction). Most Christians I know (that read fiction) seem totally unaware that there are Christian aussie authors & many have tried (US) Christian fiction and have no desire to try it again or are still stuck on reading Jeanette Oke and Francine Rivers.

    When there is a glass ceiling - one has to work harder and be better to break through it and gain recognition. Striving for quality is part of the solution. But I also think addressing issues of visibility, awareness, distribution, marketing and promotion are all part of that solution. Supporting each other, and cross promoting is vital - though I agree with Nola that we need to give honest reviews (not inflated ones). And I appreciate the hard work that people our veteran authors (Mary, Meredith, Paula) who have taken time to mentor and encourage others and like Annie Hamilton and the Omega's Caleb prize and Rochelle Manners who have worked hard to lift both the quality and the visibility of Aussie Christian fiction.

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    1. I agree with most of what you're saying Jeanette. Thank you for your insightful comments.

      Like you, I'm mostly a general fiction reader, and as I've commented on here somewhere else, the Aussies are up there with everyone else when it comes to that market.

      I still think the quality is the major issue, but those you've mentioned run close behind and always will. The reason I mention quality, is because the promotion, marketing, reviewing etc is being done by our authors. Everyone is doing what they can do get their work out there and yet there seems to be that glass ceiling.

      Again, like you, Jeanette, I didn't even know there were Aussie authors until a handful of years ago. My favourite genre is contemporary romance and I've read stacks of American Christian ones. I also have read many historicals, both from here and the States, simply because I wanted to do the research before I said something like this and had something solid to compare. This is why I still stand behind what I say; generally speaking, the standard is higher. And surely that's a major key to sales.

      There are many wonderful Australian pioneers who have gone before me, the ones you've mentioned, who've done a sterling job in getting us to where we are. But we can't stop and wonder why things aren't happening. Let's break through that glass ceiling!

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  14. I think it's definitely a case of business first, supporting authors second. Bookstores don't want to take risks. They want to stock books that bring in the crowds. Here in Brisbane, yet another independent bookstore, that as far as I knew, had a good following, is closing its doors. It was well known for supporting local authors. Bookstores can't take risks with books that their customers might not buy and the skill of the writing is rarely something the buying public is concerned about. Most of them buy whatever their friends have told them is good or new books by their favourite authors. This is why we are not being stocked. We don't have names. We don't have celebrity endorsement. Bookstores would be begging us for books if we had either of those things.

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    1. If people want a book they can request it from bookshops. Marketing to the shops is something both the author and publisher needs to do. As to the comment about the buying public not being concerned about the writing skill it is just that reason I won't buy some books from both authors here and overseas. Yes we do often buy what is recommended to us but equally if someone tells us a book is really bad we listen and will avoid it.

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    2. I know plenty of authors and publishers who market to bookstores and many times nothing comes of it. I have grown weary of going into bookstores asking for signings, for instance, because the majority will refuse point blank, or direct you to an email address, from which you will receive no replies.

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    3. The signings I've done have not been very successful. As you say, we're not celebrities. I do them simply to show my support - they can't say I haven't tried! Don't think I'll do any more for awhile though. I've gotten far more sales from going into schools and doing workshops than from signings.

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    4. Yes, I'm getting more from that too, Andrea.

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  15. Hi Lynne - I have to agree with the fact that business comes first. It makes sense. We run our own business, have done for the last 27 years so I get that.

    I still think that quality writing IS a factor people care about. Word of mouth recommendations work that way, even more so for the opposite.

    We will have have names, we will have celebrity endorsement in due time if the quality is there, just as in Christian music. It's had to go through the same process.

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    1. I think it's a factor for some, Andrea, for sure (it is for me! :-) ) But there are certainly poorly written books that are hugely popular so I don't think that's the only issue. Big publishers and their huge marketing budgets certainly don't help when your budget amounts to a scant few hundred dollars, if that.

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  16. Hi Andrea - I think this article on Christianity Today is relevant to the book industry, even though it talks about music: http://www.christianitytoday.com/peter-chin/2014/september/why-i-stopped-hating-christian-music.html
    As the coordinator of the CALEB Prize, I organise to send books to volunteers in independent bookstores for review. I've seen this as one way to make bookstores themselves more conscious of Aussie authors. However, one of the frequent comments I see on the review sheets, particularly of the books I consider high quality is: is this Christian?
    "Christian", I fear, is as much a genre (with all the expectations of what fits a genre) as any other. So, many Aussie authors today are writing 'neither fish nor fowl' - they are defying both Christian and secular market expectations. This is another strategic issue to add to the battle mix.

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    1. I have a feeling Annie that many of us don't quite know the expectations of the 'Christian' genre. It's very broad, and what one reader might accept as Christian, another won't. You just have to look at the comments here to see we all have different expectations. Some don't consider fiction as 'Christian' unless there's an evangelical message, regular church attendance, numerous mentions of prayer and several quotings of scripture. Others are content to read a book that simply has a Christian worldview. I'd be interested to know your thoughts here. How does one define such a genre? Like you said, is that part of our problem?

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    2. I think for general Christian bookstores, the evangelical message along with someone actually coming to Christ is the standard expectation for the genre. Exceptions occur, of course, such as when the book has a strong theme of forgiveness. But as a general rule the quoting of Scripture is seen as necessary - not just an allusion to the verse but the full thing with attribution.

      Christian worldview is problematical since most readers expect, by its name, that it will be explicitly Christian in outlook (just as they'd expect a Buddhist worldview book to be explicitly Buddhist in outlook). Yet many writers see Christian worldview as having nothing explicitly Christian about it but presenting a general morality. I have argued with several of these writers that, if a book is no different in its presentation of beauty and truth or good and evil to a neo-Platonist text, then it is not Christian worldview. Because beauty and truth can just as easily lead to Gnosticism as Christ. But this is way too deep an argument for here.

      Suffice it to say that the majority of readers who still frequent Christian bookstores expect an explicit Christian message with the conversion scene and relevant Bible verses. I'm sure there are many readers out there who are looking for something more realistic and true-to-life, but connecting with them is incredibly difficult.

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    3. I have to disagree to some of this as I know for me and other reader friends while we want a Christian story there doesn't have to be a conversion scene. There are people in the world and in books who are both Christians to begin with and in fact more than half books would be like that. Also we don't have to have bible verses quoted although having one referred to can be nice. I have to say its nice when they go out and pray before a meal that is what a lot of Christians do and When I am out with other Christians we say grace. There are some books that do over do it and from listening to readers from the church library and even at the bookstore they don't want the books that preach a sermon but they do want a Christian presence in the book.

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    4. I can't agree with everything you've said this time Annie :) I think a lot of Christian readers, and I've met a ton of them who think this way, are happy to read something with a Christian worldview and not all the 'requirements' mentioned. However, I'm very interested to find out more about this. Think I might create a survey ... watch this space!

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    5. watching and when you have the survey I will make sure I send reader friends to give there view.

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    6. If I think about the Christian novels I've read over the last five or ten years, I have noticed a change. In the 1990's, the novels were predominantly romance, and there was a definite requirement for both parties to be Scripture-quoting Christians (or the non-Christian to be converted by the end of the novel). There was also plenty of space for preachy author intrusions (thanks, Michael Phillips), and lots of telling.

      Move forward ten years to the 2000's, and there was deeper point of view, more interior monologue (and no headshopping!), and more showing, which led to more/better characterisation. I also started to see fewer novels with heavy Christian content, and some which were better described as "clean reads", with nothing except a lack of explicit sex to distinguish them from general market romance.

      As time moves on, I'm seeing more and more novels from CBA publishers that have little or no Christian content, and there's no clear branding for this. Some people call them "sweet", some call them "inspirational", while in Australia, Rhiza Press is calling their novels "family friendly". However, the novels are still written from a world view I'd describe as Christian, in that they have themes around unconditional love, forgiveness or similar.

      Five years ago I was against this trend, but I'm starting to better understand the purpose of these books. Non-Christians didn't want to read those "Bible-bashing" novels of the 1990's, but I can see seekers might just be interested in these newer Christian novels, because they have characters with real problems people can relate to.

      There will always be a place for the novels featuring exclusively Christian characters and aimed at the Christian reader, but there is also a place for novels by Christian authors but marketed towards non-Christians. It's the Great Commission in action in Christian publishing.

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    7. Excellent thoughts, Iola. As I was a newbie writer back in the 1980s I have seen these changes since then. I'd never even heard of "point of view" until several years ago or even "head-hopping" until a Zondervan editor pointed out to me what I was doing in that very first manuscript. I will forever be grateful to her for pointing out specific areas and then indicating she would look at a revised version. After about many, many rejections you can imagine my excitement. She did eventually accept it but then Zondervan closed that romance line so it had to wait more years and more revisions. I still call Search For Tomorrow my "apprenticeship" book. Trouble is, if we ever stop at that level instead of still learning, improving and keeping up with the needs, likes and dislikes of readers of the genre in our era - especially publishers of this day we live in - we will not succeed as writers. Above all, prayer and that close relationship with our Lord is essential to let HIM teach us in al things and show us HIS timing is perfect in all things..

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    8. I also have seen the transition from what I would call 'preachy' novels, to those that infer something greater, like forgiveness or trust, or kindness. I have worked the transition myself. My newest novel has gone back to more of what one would expect of a Christian novel - examining specifically Christian issues, but others I have written have no specific Christian content or reference. I guess I know that preaching to the choir is nice - for the choir - but I somehow want to get some sort of influence beyond the Christian Reader. Haven't quite succeeded in that yet, but am plugging away. Everything is up for scrutiny, and by the overwhelming response to this original blog by Andrea, I would say that there are a heap of us out there who are wrestling with all these questions on a regular basis. It's good to know that we are all thinking along the same lines, even if we might be coming up with different conclusions.

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    9. Meredith you may never know if one of your novels reaches someone outside the Christian reader. I have some of yours in our Church library and most of the readers are not Christian and they love the books cos they gave a good message and are clean. In fact a couple of non Christian's plugged the books to others who were asking about them and said these books are great cos they are clean and they have a good message that everyone should hear. I couldn't believe it when I heard some of the other things this lady said about the books as she swears like a trooper and never goes to church (they come to our friendship centre) but she was plugging the books better than I could have. I know some of yours are in the library here in town also and the librarian herself has said about Christian books that the public enjoy them because they are clean books. So your books maybe impacting people that you don't know about as many would not take the time to write to an author to let them know.

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    10. You're absolutely right Jenny. Love the way God puts books into people's hands, people who we would never have thought would be interested in reading a Christian novel.

      Meredith, I remember a couple of years ago praying about where my niche was, when I read something by one of the U.S. writers. Might have been Robin Jones Gunn but I'm not sure. She'd been talking to God, saying 'Why write for Christians? Isn't that preaching to the choir?' Straight away, the thought popped into her head, 'Yes, but the choir's still sick.' Oh, how that resonated with me! Reminded me that Christians need encouragement and hope as much as anyone. That's why I write what I do. And, like you, my books have ended up in non-believers hands with amazingly positive results. Sometimes I get distracted when writing by thinking, 'Now, how's that going to sound to a non-believer?' And then have to remind myself to focus on my target audience and let God take care of the rest. And He does!

      This has been a great thread, ladies. Your contributions have affirmed, encouraged and fortified me immensely. Thank you!

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    11. Write for who you're called to write for and let God take care of the rest.

      In saying that, remember that God will have called other people to write for a different audience, and we shouldn't look down on those writers (or the readers).

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  17. Well done Andrea for being so brave. I agree there are some quality issues with Australasian books but I've also seen huge improvements, which tells me we are willing to learn. Let's all keep a teachable spirit, and aim to market strategically and I'm sure the higher sales will follow

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    1. Great advice, Cat :) Thanks for commenting.

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  18. I agree with you, Andrea, but there is a part of me that thinks improvement is a given. To me it’s like saying we all need to breathe. We all need to improve. Even the best international authors will tell you they need to - and we all are - all the time. It goes back to being in the service of the Lord. He's about improvement and honing talents. I think it's a constant, no matter where you are.
    I know that doesn't mean we should make no effort and expect it to happen organically. I understand there needs to be refection and effort. I agree with your drawing attention to the issue – it’s a good thing, but this isn't the first time I've heard that Australian authors need to get better at their writing craft, and I don’t believe that the success of our industry rides on this one and only issue.
    I also don’t believe the issue of improvement is a completely individual thing – break it down any way you want to and it’s still the same issue whether you apply it to author, editor, publisher ……. on and on. And this is for international industries, as well as our own.
    The other issue I think goes hand in hand with the improvement argument is taste. Each individual reader likes what they like - writing style and storyline. Subjectiveness has a lot to do with creative work. For instance, I suspect if C.S Lewis wrote his Narnia series by today’s writing ‘rules’ he might have been beaten down with the ‘show don’t tell’ stick. If getting ‘better’ means we all have to write the same way, then there’s no way I’m signing up for that.
    So, I guess in summing up. I agree with you, but I also know that, for me, improvement is a continuous process that I can never be discouraged by, or let hold me back – and here’s the reason why – the Lord has never waited for me to improve before He has used me for His purpose – or blessed me in His love.

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    1. Hi there Rose. Thanks for your thoughts.

      Yes, I agree we all need to improve in whatever aspect of writing we're involved. Not sure if it's always a given. I still think there's an individual choice to be made there.

      Good point about C.S,Lewis. There have been so many changes over the year as to style, haven't there? Look at the controversy over the adverb 'rules'! However, I'm certainly not advocating we all write the same way. We each have our God-given voice and that's important.And in no way was I advocating the Lord can't use us until we've reached a certain level of skill nor am I saying He holds back His love until that point either. As you say, we each have individual stories to show that.

      Thanks again for your Friday post. Prayer for each other is essential.

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    2. Well - Isn't prayer the vital first step for a Christian author? And doesn't a step out in faith accompany this prayer?. So if we have humbled ourselves in prayer and stepped out in faith where does improvement come in this process? Yes - it must come. It WILL come, but how can we run before we walk? And why mull over the run before we envelop ourselves in the walk?

      First things FIRST.

      I know you are not advocating that the Lord cannot use us as we are - but isn't it His way that we first COME as we are? Warts and all. And because we are Christian authors, it SHOULD be a given that we improve. If we commit our work to the Lord and it is for His purpose, isn't He the one who leads our way? and that is always the way of improvement.

      I think I know what you are saying, and that is that we must choose the way of improvement, but Jesus is the master of that direction, not us.
      I'm not saying you don't have a very good point. I just think that it may be putting the cart before the horse. Before we go striving for improvement - we need to get united - and as Christians does that not come with prayer, faith, perseverance, and hope?

      Should we not hold off on talk of improvement and get united in prayer first?

      Just a few thoughts out-loud. :-)

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  19. Hi Rose, I like how you said, " To me it’s like saying we all need to breathe." I think we do strive for excellence - I know I do whether I achieve it or not. I've learnt a lot over the last 3 years and am sure I've still got heaps to learn. Perhaps lack of experience or ignorance can be an issue but surely most of us here want to publish the very best that we can. By the same token, I'm not going to wait until I'm perfect because then I'll never get started. Even the greats started somewhere.

    And I love your conclusion :) " the Lord has never waited for me to improve before He has used me for His purpose – or blessed me in His love."

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    2. Hi Jeanette,

      I am so, so, grateful that the Lord looks past my ignorance and inexperience and uses me anyway. And I bet you can find a LOT of other people who are also grateful for this fact.
      The Lord doesn't wait until we are accomplished at something - so why should we wait?
      Two things come to my mind:
      1. Kevin Spacey's recent Golden Globes acceptance speech where he said that he didn't have any idea what kind of hardware (awards) Robin Williams took 'home', but he would never forget Carpe Diem (one thing Robin Williams said in his entire career that mattered so much to so many - Kevin Spacey included. ONE THING HE SAID).
      2. AND - When I read something Mary Hawkins had written - that if the Lord used her writing to touch the life of ONE person only - it was worth it. (I hope you remember this, Mary - I couldn't find the original quote, but I'll never forget the feeling of encouragement it brought to me.)
      Sometimes it's only one thing in a whole career that matters, or one story, or one thing we say in our writing - are we prepared to accept this?
      This in no way negates what Andrea has said. Improvement is important -but what more important things come first?
      I've never taken one course in 'How to write', but I am eternally grateful for the opportunities to learn the things the Lord has placed in my path. And the people he has used to teach me so much. Maybe in the future I will complete a 'how to write' course, but I trust the Lord to lead me there first.

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    3. And you have just encouraged me with your comments, Rose. However, those words you credited me with were the ones my wonderful, supportive husband told me more than once during those 13 years of rejections of my first manuscript when I was ready to simply give up. He also said, "If you believe this is really what you believe God wants you to do, it could be just for one person HE wants to bless or challenge through." That has always stuck with me and what I am still asking of the Lord all these years later. "Do YOU still want me to write another book and what do YOU want to happen with these two manuscripts I am currently battling with?" I am just so thankful the Lord knows each person's needs, each type of personality He wants to use to glorify Himself through our writings. The plaque beside me at this desk is the one I've had for over 50 years now and still need reminding of: "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." 1Cor 10:31. And yeah, I believe in using the powerful words of scripture in my books as much as I can. Couldn't resist even here! LOL.

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    4. Husbands often come up with great quotes don't they!! :-) My hubby does that too.
      In all this talk about improving our craft, (any YES YES - we all need to), I don't want anyone to undervalue the necessity of prayer and encouragement. Most of us would not have made a start without it.
      When I said I wanted to write something my husband ran out and bought me a laptop. When I was bogged down in the doldrums thinking my writing was doing nothing and getting nowhere, I read your words (or Ray's to be precise.)
      Your plaque holds a great word for all Christians, but very specifically for us authors. God bless you for your encouragement, Mary. My point was that it gave me far more of a push forward than any level of improvement ever did. :-) xo

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    5. We are so blessed to have supportive husbands, Rose. Being able to be used to bless and encourage each other in this way here we do owe so much to individuals and also writer groups who make this interaction with each other possible. I am so very, very grateful to them all.

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  20. Phew! I've read to the bottom! Great debate. I'm excited to see us talk frankly. It tells me we are growing up and being honest. The reality is... it is difficult to rise to the top of a readers pile! There must be hundreds of writers in the US that find the same difficulty.
    We are a small nation with a diverse range of tastes. I don't like many books for many reasons and I still find it difficult to find a good read...though if many of the Aussies authors I know know published a new book, Id be keen to grab it.
    Yes our quality can improve again and again. But my difficulty is that as a writer I don't want to have to please a conservative Christian market. It is a valid market but much of it is so escapist it nauseates me. So I write what I believe God wold have me write. Does it have bad language? I don't think so, but some would disagree. Is it contentious? Yes. But I believe it shows a mighty loving God in a new way. So i wait to see where it goes from here. I'd like to think that one day i can write books that my Christian friends (who only read secular) will like. It appears the storys come. My challenge is to get them sharp, improve my 'Show' and characterization.
    How to do this?
    1. Write, write, write. God tells me to. The prophets tell me too. I know the more i write the better my writing is....but life interupts. Sigh.
    2. Get help, training, critiques. Listen, learn, try again. Repeat.
    How can we help each other. We can betta read for each other, critique, comment, review before the book is published. We can help each other to be the best we can possibly be. Our top authors do this, both with their own books and then are willing to support we newbies.

    I am a published author because of extravagant assistance from Mary Hawkins, Annie Hamilton, & Rochelle Manners. Without them my story would never have been published and although not a best seller i know it has helped many many people. And that is why I write.

    But I'm pleased to see us grow up and take and honest look at ourselves. Lets stop moaning about how hard it is. If we are called, man up! Write, swallow the advice, learn, write, seek more criticism and write again.

    And as Paul says....Lets us not give up meeting together. Together we will become an Aussie flavour that will eventually be sort after.

    thanks Andrea for triggering a great debate.

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  21. I'm coming in late but have hugely enjoyed all these excellent points of view. I have an agent in the US and have also corresponded with several other agents who all mentioned that word, 'platform'. Without it they aren't keen. The following are a couple of comments:

    "You did receive some compliments regarding your writing style and uniqueness of story theme. There were concerns, however, about your lack of platform (we knew that was coming), but you're working on that, and I'm so proud of you for stretching your comfort zone." K Shumate.

    "The issue is that US publishers want authors who will do the majority of the publicity in the US themselves. I recognize that social media are all the rage and if you could prove significant sales of your first books via social media, I might get an e-book and POD publisher to tackle your story. Other than that, I cannot hold out much hope of finding you a publisher." Les Stobbe.

    So whether it's Aus or the US, publishers and agents want to know your work will sell. A real Catch 22 situation, eh? But as most of us agree,'we'll keep on writing & improving,' won't we?

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    1. Thanks for that, Rita. And yes, we'll keep on writing and improving. :)

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  22. Well, what an epic day this turned out to be! For those of you who were with me this morning, I just want you to know I did manage to get a decent cuppa and feed myself lunch. Oh, and I managed to hang out a couple of loads of washing too!

    My husband and I (forgive me for sounding like the Queen) were discussing all the different points of view raised today. Geoff then suggested I sum up what I've been saying by using a completely different example. And the example is ... Cricket! (I can hear some of you cheering from here!)

    Generally, we start playing in the backyard or at the beach. If we love it, we play for our local club as a junior. If we display talent and want to go to a higher level, we have to increase our commitment to the cause. This includes more training, coaching and improving fitness. Without these things, doors will not open. After that we attempt to work our way through the various representative levels. Of course, there is no guarantee of success, but we keep trying, each stage being more competitive than the last.

    Let's say our player is a Christian. He has a passion for cricket, the same as we do for writing. He believes he could become a top-level player and that God could use him to influence people in that sphere.

    If he just sits back and prays for God to open the door and doesn't become proactive in the development of his skills he is not going to reach his potential.

    Today, I have not been questioning the spiritual side of what we do. It's been more of a practical application, just like our cricketer. Everyone has the freedom to choose the level they want to attain. Not everyone is going to make it into the Australian team or write a best-seller. But my point today is that if we want to aim for a higher level, we have to work at it.

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  23. WOW! what a great discussion. I love how open and honest everyone has been here.
    I love that cricket analogy Andrea.
    I agree with so much of what is above.
    I believe getting better is only part of it - a very important part.
    Lets go with a 3 Ps...

    Prayer... praying for direction with our own writing and fervently praying for our fellow authors
    Praise... promote each other - authors in general and the books you love. (yes, many of you do and I love that!) Let us not grow weary in doing good - it's a good thing to lift others up.
    imProvement...(almost a P) as Andrea has written we really do need to continue to learn and grown in excellence in our craft.

    I'm looking forward to part 2 :D

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    1. Thanks for your encouraging thoughts Michelle :)

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    2. This is very cool, Michelle.
      I sure wouldn't have gotten to the imProvement part without first being enveloped in the Prayer and Praise first.

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  24. Oh my word!

    I've only just now been able to read this post and all the comments as the past few days I've been at my day job and focussed on that.

    So many wonderful discussions going on here! Where to begin? LOL

    I’ve written this up so it’s too long to post in a single comment, so will have to comment in parts.

    Firstly, I agree that Australia is still in the pioneering phase when it comes to producing quality Christian fiction. It's taking a different path to the US, but even theirs was decades long, and were not limited to the US alone.

    British classics include John Bunyon (Pilgrim's Progress), George MacDonald (The Maiden's Bequest), CS Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia), and JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings). American classics include Lew Wallace (Ben Hur), Charles Sheldon (In His Steps), Grace Livingston Hill (a pioneer of Christian romance), Catherine Marshall (Christy), and Marjorie Homes (Two From Galilee).

    Janette Oke's "Love Comes Softly" was published in 1979, and her blend of Christian romance with the prairie theme, which resonated well with fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, helped see Christian fiction suddenly take flight. Then less than a decade later, Frank Peretti's "This Present Darkness" and "Piercing the Darkness" was published, along with Bodie & Brock Thoene's "Zion" books. A few years later, Jan Karon's Mitford series took off - but not with any CBA publisher. Francine Rivers rewrote her novel "Redeeming Love" for the Christian market during this time. And then finally came the Left Behind series. This was the series that in some ways most likely helped to fund the rest of Christian fiction being published at the time. And at the same time, Amish fiction emerged, which still remains strong today.

    In 1998, I began a website that listed some Christian fiction as it was being published, called "Ellie's World of Christian Fiction". As I realised readers were finding it and liking what I was doing, I kept it up, and by 2000 I was releasing monthly lists of Christian fiction releases. Librarians also were using it to keep track of what was coming, rather than solely rely on the sales reps who visited them. In 2002, I renamed it "The Christian Fiction Site". In those days, publishers didn't have websites and the few who did, didn't list their catalogues. By 2007, when I could no longer spend time updating the site (due to having a full time job with a wholesale distributor of Christian books and gifts), the majority of publishers had websites and other sites like Family Fiction etc and Novel Crossing were established. You can still see how the site looked in early 2007 via the Wayback Machine here: http://web.archive.org/web/20070205095704/http://www.dancingword.net/christianfiction/index.html

    To be continued...

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    1. Part 2 of 3:

      Of course, as Meredith has already mentioned, during these years there was quite a robust system for bookstores in Australia and New Zealand to be able to sell books at prices similar to books produced in Australia and NZ. Publishers could only sell through distributors in each country, which helped keep things regulated, and bookstores were able to stay in business as they were able to make enough money on what they sold to keep their doors open. As soon as the market deregulated, publishers could sell directly to stores and bypass the distributors, so the US titles could then be sold cheaper than the Australasian titles. Then when the crash of 2007 happened, publishers in the US were struggling as bookstores all over the country were closing their doors, and they turned to offshore markets like ours to "dump" their product on. Bookstore chains like Koorong and Word in Australia and Manna in NZ were in the best position to benefit from this, and so that's how US book prices plummeted. Smaller bookstores couldn't compete with the bigger chains as they didn't have the means to bring in the cheaper titles at the same prices (buying in bulk assured the prices could remain low), and even the distributors who tried to bring the cheaper titles to the smaller stores couldn't compete with the bookstore chain prices without making little or no money to stay afloat. And that's when wholesale distributors could no longer remain in business (which is how my job came to an end). Just a few years later, the chains themselves are now competing with digital sales of eBooks. And with the recent rise of indie publishing, the "gateway" of traditional publishing, which meant that effort and expense could be concentrated on authors on a house's books to produce the best quality product, has diminished somewhat, as readers now have the ability to purchase a dozen titles on eBook instead of one quality paperback. The balance has definitely shifted in that regard. And to top it all off, the recession has meant that readers have less discretionary money to spend on things like books and gifts, which has put further strain on the entire retail industry.

      What hasn't changed, is that the reader still wants to read a good book. A well-written, sufficiently edited, thoroughly proofread, attractively-covered book. If the product is being produced, the challenge then comes in the marketing. Gone are the days when publishers had the budgets to promote as they used to. But also, GONE ARE THE DAYS WHEN THE MARKET WAS USA ONLY! The emergence of the internet, digital eBooks, and indie publishing has created a huge shift, yes, but it has OPENED THE DOORS for ANYONE in the world to write, publish or get published, and BE SEEN. This is where the challenge now lies.

      To be continued...

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    2. From the time of Love Comes Softly to the height of Left Behind's popularity is a span of at least 25 years. In that time, authors we now know and love now as being established, cut their teeth in this era and I know some who would rather have their earlier works disappear completely than have people reading them now, as they know their craft has been improved on in that time and only want to be offering up their best for readers. So with no longer working full time, I was able to re-establish The Christian Fiction Site and build on it once again... this time with a greater purpose - to not only promote the works of US, CBA-published authors, but to branch out and promote QUALITY novels by authors OUTSIDE the US, and not limited to CBA traditional publishers. By reinventing the format that made the first website so popular for almost 10 years, in showcasing monthly new releases, the audience on the site is growing. So this means that it won't be long before any author who wants to promote on the site will have their works seen by readers from all over the world. The majority are from the US, but if your book is available on Amazon, in Kindle or in print, you are not out of their reach, and thus their reach of influence. I'm seeing visitors now coming in from the UK and Europe as well.

      Jerry Jenkins, the author of the best-selling Left Behind series, has recently had to close down the Christian Writers Guild. In a letter to subscribers explaining the changes, he said this:
      "It has never been easier to get published, nor have there ever been as many avenues available for wannabe writers. Indeed, anybody can publish virtually anything virtually anywhere.

      While it may be more difficult than ever to crack a traditional publishing house where someone else takes all the risks and pays you for what you write, if you’re willing to pay, you can be published on demand, you can independently publish, you can cooperatively publish, you can publish hybrid, or you can publish online for next to nothing.

      The problem is, that doesn’t make you a writer. The cream still rises. Regardless of the fact that you can go from being unknown and unpublished today to having anything you want exposed to the world online tomorrow, it behooves you to learn the craft, hone your skills, polish your prose.

      In short, to be effective, you need to learn to write."

      https://mx126.infusionsoft.com/app/hostedEmail/19969318/cfc375e01a4e8bc0

      So don't despair. There is hope. If you can focus on honing your craft of storytelling, writing - or rewriting - your story to the best of your ability, developing your platform, making steps to ensure that it is published to the best of standards - traditional or indie - there are then ways to get it into the hands of readers on a GLOBAL scale. When the local bookstore cannot afford to stock a title that isn't moving or popular, that's where the challenge lies. Getting the word out. Getting reviewers reading your books and spreading the word. Word of mouth will see the good stories go on. I'm sure the classics of the 18th and 19th centuries never had big print runs. Yet they are still going. Just make your story worthy of living on for future generations. The publicity machine - in its ever changing form - will help do the rest.

      Then as Andrea already said like the Pantene ad "it won't happen overnight, but it will happen".

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    3. Excellent, Ellie. Thank you for sharing the history of Christian Fiction growth over the decades and also clarifying for me the problem of what some have called "dumping of books to Australian bookstore chains by US Publishers". I knew our government law changes had caused huge problems but not exactly how and why before now. Guess I was simply too busy writing? My first novels from Barbour's Heartsong Presents line were brought into Australia from 1993 on by an Australian distributor. Later books became much, much harder for readers across Australia to find in shops away from Metropolitan areas. Naturally, I was delighted when Koorong stocked my books but now it is clearer how the good and the bad all happened. I think in some ways, having books now available world-wide as e-books has benefitted writers but perhaps not other professionals in the world of books - especially distributors and local book shops. The fact remains that we must simply all keep improving in story lines as well as writing technique and promotion of our books. Until recent years, especially when living away from metropolitan areas, I hungered for regular connect and face to face fellowship with other Australian Christian novelists. My first contact with other Christian romance writers was online when the Faith Hope Love chapter of Romance Writers America commenced. Thanks to the internet, now in Australia also we can be richly blessed by being able to so easily get in contact with others writing similar books to our own. It is wonderful to be able to meet with fellow members of Christian Writer organisations face to face at special events, particularly the conferences of the last few years. Through them it is so much easier to know where and when we have opportunities to attend learning events like workshops and those weekend conferences. My sincere hope and prayer is that all Christian writers and those in this publishing industry will recognise we can never stop learning, never stop trying to make the stories God puts in our hearts the very greatest books we possibly can to reach out to the greatest numbers of readers we can so God can bring them His blessings, challenges and hours of enjoyment He knows they need.

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    4. Ellie, thank you for your informative, enlightening and encouraging post. Your contribution and support of Christian Fiction is enormous and I'm sure everyone here agrees with me. Thank you again, my friend. God bless you xo

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    5. Yes, the Heartsong Present line was in a different department of Barbour's as it was subscription based, and not trade based. So bookstores did not have access to the current releases or backlist. Barbour was one of the houses we represented here in NZ and the only times we saw the HP titles come through was when they reached the end of the line and we saw a bulk lot come through to sell cheaply to stores, which they could then sell as bargain books.

      Ultimately, stories have always been told. The medium has changed through the centuries, and now also the distribution lines have been seeing changes. As long as the good stories are told well, they will find their readers one way or another.

      The internet has certainly played its part for good and bad in this. The online communications between writers has been a huge blessing, along with the means to learn how to improve writing craft without having to attend physical conferences. And now, with the emergence of Amazon reviews and sites like Goodreads, readers are having their say and thus word of mouth is spreading this way en masse.

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    6. Thank you Andrea! Your own work and the work of many other Aussie (and NZ!) authors needs to be showcased more to the readers who are out there.

      One bit of news that isn't related to Christian fiction but IS related to storytelling in this region is the growth of the film industry here, partly in thanks to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. So much so, that James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) has relocated to NZ as he sees the passion for filmmaking [and thus storytelling] is more alive here than back in California. Here is the article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=11386520

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    7. One more thing.

      I know for a fact that all the good writers in the US who sell well never stop learning and seek to always learn more. They still attend writer's retreats and conferences, even though they have already "made it". So there is ALWAYS room for improvement. The whole POV head-hopping and showing vs. telling is only a recent change in storytelling. There will always be something new coming forth to learn, or relearn.

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    8. That's so interesting about the film industry. Meredith would like that. Thanks again :)

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  25. Ellie, I am afraid your comments may not be completely accurate of the whole scenario. I understood that bookshops not having access to titles was only the case in the first year or so the book club commenced back in 1992. Going by my Heartsong royalty statements, my very first one in 1994 did record 5,286 'mail order" (Book club) sales plus only 976 Store sales. A few years later the book club had grown by many thousands of course but the percentage in relation to store sale was much greater than that growth of subscribers. After I let the Australian distributor know I had books released by Barbour, shops here in Australia also had my books for sale very soon after they were released to members of the book club. I understood from other authors in the US at the time that Barbour had increased greatly their production numbers for book shops many times over and above those printed for the members of the club.

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    1. Mary I think Ellie was meaning NZ more than here as I know both Koorong and Word had the early HP books its where I got them and I got number 1 however we didn't get them all. I got your books here from Koorong.

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    2. I stand corrected, Mary. You're right, I do remember there was the opportunity for stores to order current HP titles in the latter half of the decade, but bookshops didn't take up the opportunity as they only sold in thier stores when very very cheap (end run sales), and thus they were not prepared to stock them at full value. So after a year or so of trying they stopped being offered on the order forms. But when they came really cheaply through end runs, stores were then willing to stock them.

      It may be a different case for Australia than NZ. I just know as we didn't have access to the HP backlist like we did the trade backlist. I even asked our sales rep for more info about HP titles once and she couldn't get it for me as it was a different department and not relevant to NZ distributor sales. And since we'd only been able to sell them as end of run and not while full price, that may have affected things as well. I imagine, though, if any of the HP authors were New Zealanders, the case may have been different for their particular title. But as far as I know, there weren't any Kiwi authors.

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  26. Great discussion you've started Andrea—obviously it struck a nerve! I think all the points you raised are valid.

    We all need to write well enough to stand on the world stage. That means investing in our craft, finding good editors and being willing to improve always.

    In this economic climate, booksellers buy the books they know will sell, plus they look at the cost per item. The lower the cost, the more they sell. Therefore, local publishers often have higher costs per item due to the smaller numbers produced.

    It's complex, but if we give our readership what they want, they will buy it. One book I read said that if you have 1000 dedicated readers and you keep supplying them with more books, you can make a good living out of writing.

    My first books did just that (non fiction) , but it's been harder going with the fiction. I'll keep writing and hopefully keep improving the writing until I reach a tipping point I guess where people find you and stick with you.

    Great comments everyone!

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