Gayle Roper

Gayle Roper’s novel Autumn Dreams won RWA’s RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance. Caught Redhanded and Summer Shadows were Carol Award winners. Summer Shadows won the Inspirational Readers Choice Contest. Gayle has been a Christy finalist three times and has won the Holt Medallion. The Decision won the Reviewers Choice Award, and she has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times Book Report. For her work in training Christian writers Gayle has won special recognition from Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, St. Davids CWC, Florida CWC, and Greater Philadelphia CWC. She directed the St. Davids conference for five years and Sandy Cove conference for six. She served as writer in residence with Christian Leaders, Authors and Speakers Services (CLASS) for several years. She currently serves as captain of the Mount Hermon CWC Mentoring Clinic and Critique programs. She lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. She enjoys reading, spending time at the family’s Canadian cottage, gardening, and eating out every time she can manage it. Visit her:

For Writers Only

Can You Say Change?

I have seen the world of Christian fiction change over the forty-one years I’ve been involved in CBA publishing. The copyright date on my first novel, Fear Haunts the Summer, is 1970, and the date on my latest, Shadows on the Sand, is 2011. (You understand, of course, that I was a mere child when that first book was published.) To put it succinctly, Christian fiction has gone from being the poor misfit to being Prom Queen.

I still remember my surprise when in the early ’80s I went to a regional CBA show and saw the Bethany House best-seller list hanging above their booth: #1 Janette Oke; #3 Bodie Thoene. Novels as a CBA publisher’s best sellers? Unheard of! But very exciting! And today almost commonplace.

Complex Plots and Challenging Subjects
My first book had a simple plot, just right for me as a new writer and for the industry that published little adult fiction. Among the biggest industry changes over the years has been the development of not only complex plots but also the freedom to tackle any topic, no matter how controversial. What began with prairie romances and historicals has moved on to the increasingly sophisticated handling of all subjects and the publishing of all genres, and even small houses like Marcher Lord Press specializing in one genre.

As recently as 2001, Spring Rain had to have a publisher’s note in the beginning of the book because a major story line dealt with AIDS and a gay brother. Today such a protection is not necessary. Any topic is acceptable as long as it’s wrapped in a story that keeps readers turning pages and all thoughts on the subject come from the characters and not the author.

Professionalism and Established Methods
When I wrote Fear Haunts the Summer, I sent the first three chapters to Moody Press. Some nice lady there asked to see the rest of the book. As I finished each chapter, I sent it to her. She kept them all until I reached the end. By some miracle they offered me a contract, probably as they laughed at my naiveté over their coffee at the pub board meeting. Today such amateurism could doom a writer.

To submit in the old days, all you needed was an SASE. You mailed your proposal with your SASE to any Christian publisher and waited six months or more to get a response. You couldn’t submit a given manuscript to more than one publisher at a time, a very aggravating policy.

Today we submit according to the rules and only through accepted channels, now narrower and more prescribed than ever. How-to books, the Internet, and writers’ conferences teach the proper patterns, and if he does his homework, even a beginner can look like the seasoned pro. Because the competition for publication has become so keen, presenting oneself well has become almost as important as writing skill.

Writers’ Conferences
In the 1950’s the Green Lake Christian Writers Conference and the St Davids Christian Writers’ Conference began, originally sponsored by the American Baptist Convention, and both continue to this day, though with a much broader base.

Faulty directions almost kept me from attending my first St. Davids CWC. I’ve thought often of how different my life would have been if I hadn’t persisted until I located the meeting area. I can trace a web of contacts and opportunities that stem from that first conference, doors that wouldn’t have opened if I hadn’t gone.

Today high-powered conferences like ACFW, Mount Hermon, and Blue Ridge offer fiction mentoring, tutorial opportunities, and occasions for learning the craft. That all-important networking is more than enough reason to attend. Conferences and workshops abound for every calendar and every pocketbook.

The opportunities to learn the craft in your own home are basically limitless through the number of how-to books and Web courses.

Agents and Writer Reps
In the early days of my career, the Christian publishing industry was very wary of agents. The idea seemed to be that agents would break everyone’s bank. Writers were in good hands with the publishers calling all the shots. Everyone, no matter which side of the desk they sat on, was everyone else’s friend.

In reality the publishers were protecting themselves. I say this not as criticism but as fact. They were, after all, in business as well as in ministry and needed to protect their bottom line.

As the industry grew more sophisticated, so did contracts. In this increasingly complex business world, we writers who hunkered down in our offices writing needed knowledgeable and honest representatives to stand for us.

I began hearing of CBA novelists having agents in the late 1980s. Over the ensuing twenty-some years, agents have proliferated so that there are seventy-nine agencies, many with multiple agents, listed in the 2011 Christian Writers’ Market Guide.

Writers’ agents are our guardians and representatives. Few of us know the business and Christian publishing worlds well enough to navigate the tricky waters. Few of us have the courage or the knowledge to challenge a contract. A trustworthy agent gives us not only credibility with publishers but also the freedom to be the writers we got onto this business to be.

Few changes have been more obvious than what is expected of an author as a self-promoter. Gone are the days when a CBA publisher produced a novel, sent it to bookstores, and everyone sat back to see what happened.

“You must have a platform,” we are told. For a fiction writer, platform is a particularly tricky thing. We don’t write topics. We write stories, and each story is unique.

So we must develop a brand, a pattern of storytelling that marks us so our readers can buy our titles with confidence. To further this brand, we must Facebook, twitter, blog, guest on other’s blogs, find endorsers, arrange our own PR opportunities, and the list goes on.

Our publishers’ marketers and PR people still do their best, but authors are expected to be active participants in this process, something that grates on many novelists who are by nature introverts.

Today’s Truths; Tomorrow’s Promises
While today’s Christian publishing world is very different from forty years ago, for the novelist it’s exciting! Sure, it’s still hard to get a royalty house to publish us. Sure, sales figures—or the lack thereof—are the bane of our existence. Sure, there’s pressure to produce quickly enough to keep the public’s awareness of our names.

But they like us―really like us. We’ve proven that there is a hungry market for Christian fiction of all kinds—gentle and edgy, action and interior, contemporary, historical and futuristic. With talented new writers emerging all the time and established writers continuing to prove their worth, these are heady days for Christian fiction.

And of course there’s e-publishing and the freedom to release work outside the traditional pattern, a new world whose promise and pitfalls are only now being explored. What will some young writer beginning today say about this phenomenon forty years hence?

I think the best may be yet to come for Christian novelists. I see a future where we who love the Lord offer hope to a world often filled with despair and pain. We will continue to tell our stories in which we model the life-changing grace of God and show the consequences of good choices and bad. We are a conduit that turns hearts to God and the salvation found in Christ.

Does it get any better?


Shadows On The Sand