Tuesday, 15 March 2016

What’s Changed in 20 Years of Christian Fiction




For me, I entered the world of being published as a Christian Fiction author 20 years ago. From that time to this, I’ve seen such dramatic change in many different facets of the Christian writing and reading world that I thought you might be interested to see how my journey unfolded. 

Like all writers, I was enthusiastic and hopeful when I’d finished my first manuscript. I loved it, and was certain any publisher would jump at the opportunity to publish. I guess I don’t need to tell you how that turned out…

Let’s just skip to the part where my number one fan—my mother—having influence at a state level, talked the editor of the SA CWA magazine into allowing me to write a serialised story for them. The first version of The Manse (#1 The Heart of Green Valley series) was born. I wrote two pages every two months for two years, and then the editor sent me a letter. ‘Could you wind it up now, as the readers want an ending...’
'The Manse' first serialised
When I read this letter, I nearly had a conniption! I’d just finished establishing character, and was about to write the complication. An ending! You have to be kidding! But I felt that God spoke to me and said, ‘grab this opportunity.’ To me, that meant ask the editor: if after writing a pseudo-ending (an ending that is no ending at all), would they advertise for their readers to order the complete novel. She said, ‘yes!’ Then I had to figure out how to finish the story, how to print it, and how to design a cover. I had NO idea. But I bumbled along, and in 1997 produced and had printed 300 copies. My husband was doubtful that I would sell 10, and that was only to my family who felt sorry for me. 

'The Manse' first edition

300 copies sold fairly quickly, through the magazine and friends at church. (It’s great to have good friends). I was on a roll, and had a sequel half done. I had previously established a working relationship with one of the larger Christian distributors in Australia, and I sent him a copy of this first edition of The Manse, and asked if he’d be interested in getting it out there into the Christian market. He passed it on to his mother-in-law, who told him she ‘loved it!’ So he said to me, do something about the cover, organise the sequel, and we’ll launch it to the Australian Christian market.

In 1998 books #1 and #2 in The Heart of Green Valley series were printed and launched, and from that moment sold like hot cakes. Seriously, like hot cakes (and I’m not even exaggerating). I had reprinted both in a short time, and the distributor couldn’t get enough of them. I had book #3 on the go, and it was all going swimmingly.

'The Manse' second edition

In 2002, I put out #5 in the series, and I got a random call from another writer/public-speaker acquaintance who told me he’d mentioned me to his UK publisher as a brilliant Australian author of Christian fiction. The ‘brilliant’ part he made up, as he’d never read anything of mine. Still, I contacted the publisher on his recommendation, and they accepted books 1,2 and 3, and sent them to a REAL editor. She gave me a tough time about a heap of stuff, and I re-wrote. We re-designed the covers, and off they went to the UK market. They sold reasonably well there  , though strangely, the UK market was very slow at picking up Christian Fiction as a genre. In numbers they sold better here in Australia. 

'The Manse' third UK edition

The UK publisher decided to try them in the US, but thought we’d better change the cover. I think that was the beginning of the end. What a horrid cover! Anyway, I heard from our large Christian retailer in Australia that they’d just bought 1000 copies of each of the US editions from a dump warehouse. I wasn’t very amused as I don’t get any royalties from remainders, but this retailer still managed to sell another 3000 copies on top of the 22,000 copies that had already been sold. The Heart of Green Valley series was a reasonably successful story.
 
Let’s skip all those years that the digital revolution came in to wreck our lives. Bookshops have closed in plague proportions, two of my publishers have gone out of business. Two of my distributors have folded, and a printer I used to always use went broke after 80 years in the business. Whereas before I always used to sell 1800 copies of a title the moment it was released, now nobody is willing to risk buying such larger numbers, and the few they do buy, they don’t reorder once sold. Sales of hard copy paperback have dropped alarmingly. So I have been trying to play the eBook game. That’s not such an easy game to play. Every trick that there is to try to get rankings and interest has already been thought of by at least another 500,000 authors. Aaargh! Does anyone relate?

But I’m still here, still wondering if there is another opportunity I need to grab hold of as it comes by.
Here’s the irony: At the time the opportunity presented itself (the SA CWA magazine), my writing was awful. There is no other word for it—other than ‘tragic’. Now, after 20 years of writing, working with editors, going to conferences, reading articles from writers, doing a uni-course on creative writing and being hammered a bit more by editors, I’m a much better writer. MUCH! If you have a copy of any of my early work, keep it on the top shelf as a collector’s piece. DO NOT READ IT! Now my writing is coming close to being presentable to the international market, and I can’t sell the books. Frustration abounds.

'The Manse' fourth edition

My thoughts on the situation are this: We Australian Christian writers were eager, young and naive. We got a break in the early days, and it was wonderful. But in hindsight, I wonder if we did ourselves a damage, having readers read work that was untried. Too late, I guess. What has been read can’t be unread.
However, when I consider it fully, from the amount of positive response I got during the 'hot-cake sale', I have to conclude that there is a large percentage of readers who either don't know about writing style, or don't care. It would seem that for them it is whether they connect with the characters and the plot—the heart of the story.
As I went to get the old Heart of Green Valley series ready for eBook, I looked at the UK edition—the one that a REAL editor had worked on—and knew that it was still awful. Things have changed so much in the writing world. I’m re-writing the whole series. This is something else I've learned in 20 years of writing—I'm not nearly as precious about what I've already done as I used to be. I can chop words, phrases and paragraphs without a second thought. When I first started, I hated the idea of changing a thing.


Here is the cover of the 4th edition, due soon. I’ve re-written. The plot is the same, the characters are the same, and I’ve retained a little of what fans apparently enjoyed 20 years ago. But there is a heap of language and expression that I’ve changed. I hope if you’ve never read The Manse, that you’ll get an opportunity to read this version soon. If you read one of the old versions years ago, you might like to read the story again, but I recommend the new version.

click here to see promo video 

Meredith Resce will celebrate 20 years as a published author in 2017. She has 17 novels, 2 novellas and 1 screenplay (assistant screenwriter) published. Please connect more with Meredith on her website or facebook page


8 comments:

  1. Meredith, congratulations on 20 years. Incredible. And how marvellous to see an Aussie Christian Fiction author with multiple editions of one of their novels.

    All the every best with the latest edition, the 20th anniversary edition.

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  2. Congratulations on 20 years. I'm feeling the re-writing pain with you. Although, I'm only tackling 2 books.
    How much has changed! I agree that our writing is improving so much - and that is one big positive in a lot of negatives.

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  3. What a great story!

    I'm not surprised by your UK experience - when I lived there, I found a lot of people read (a lot), but few read any form of Christian fiction, even Christians. They did like reading British books, and there wasn't a lot of good British Christian fiction available.

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  4. Congrats Meredith on 20 years and the anniversary edition of the Manse. And thanks for the insight on the early years of Australian Christian fiction - there is an irony there that while writing styles have improved (or match the contemporary style) the opportunities to sell your work have shrunk. Let's hope that We can reach those audiences who either do know about or maybe had bad experiences in the past with Christian fiction. Only on the week-end I caught up with a former colleague and his wife. He loved the poetry in Glimpses of Light, and she, an avid reader of US Christian fiction, had never come across or heard of the Australian equivalent. All the best with the new edition of The Manse :)

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  5. Thanks for sharing so honestly. I love to hear stories of the author's journey. Congrats on 20 years!

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  6. Hi Meredith, Congrats on reaching the twenty year milestone! A big achievement :)

    My kids only occasionally read either print or ebooks because there are so many other entertainment options that they find more appealing eg. Skyping with friends, YouTube, online gaming, etc. When you add in Facebook and other social media, streaming services like NetFlix, we can't ignore the fact that books are now in competition with other forms of leisure that didn't exist twenty years ago.

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  7. Hi Meredith,
    It's great to see the gallery of covers spanning twenty years, especially on the eve of your 20 year anniversary. Christian fiction publishing in Australia certainly has had highs and lows in that time, and you've stuck there through all of it! Perhaps one of the biggest ironies is that we generally are a lot better as writers now, yet it's become harder to get our work seen and sold. But it's been fun to walk that path together for many of those years.

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    1. It has been fun Paula, and didn't we do well to start. I know your original edition of 'Picking up the Pieces' practically flew out the door. I haven't re-read it recently, so I'd be amused to see how the writing has changed. We didn't worry about so many things back then,

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