Wynn Wynn
JoAnne Simmons

JoAnne Simmons is a fiction acquisitions editor for Barbour Publishing. She has been working with Barbour since 2003, first as a freelance copyeditor, then as an assistant managing editor, and now as editor of the Heartsong Present series. JoAnne has enjoyed a wide variety of writing and editing experience but loves Christian fiction the most. She is delighted to be in a career she has dreamed of since childhood.

Heartsong Presents: It’s All About Our Audience

I wonder how many writers have perused the guidelines for writing a Heartsong Presents novel and scoffed at some of our strict rules and limitations on things like drinking, language, dancing, divorce, immodest dress, passion, and sticky spiritual topics. We certainly aren’t a publisher of “edgy” Christian fiction. Nor are we a legalistic bunch of prudes. We just believe in the basics of our guidelines: “The main element of a Heartsong Presents inspirational romance is the sweet love story. A very close second is the inspirational theme and content. All manuscripts in the Heartsong Presents inspirational line should present a conservative, evangelical Christian worldview.” And we do that because our readers tend to be conservative, evangelical Christians ranging in age from preteens to the elderly.

I recently heard from a young teenager who said the Heartsong book she’d just read was a Christmas gift from her grandma. That was a great example of how wide our audience is, and it demonstrates the trust older readers have in our books, knowing they are appropriate for their young, impressionable loved ones.

Barbour Publishing started Heartsong Presents back in 1992 as the first book club to offer four inspirational romance novels delivered to members’ mailboxes every four weeks. My predecessors as senior editors of the line include Rebecca Germany and Tracie Peterson, so I had extremely talented shoes to fill when I took the job in May of 2006, when the Heartsong book numbers were in the low 700s. We publish fifty-two Heartsongs each year, so the number is now in the upper 800s. That’s a lot of love stories, and you’d think our readers might get tired of “the same old thing.” But our membership and sales numbers remain consistently strong, thanks to creative authors who rise to the challenge when I ask for new spins on the classic romance.

My constant joy and trial is to find fresh romantic stories that stick to our guidelines. I love the thrill of the hunt, searching through proposal after proposal from the firmly established writers to the most inexperienced. I love coming across some

fascinating bit of history an author has included, or unique occupations, settings, or circumstances around which the romance develops. And I remain open to unsolicited, unagented proposals from unpublished authors because Heartsong has always been a place for writers to break into Christian publishing and develop their talent. It’s an honor for me to be a part of that growth and to look for reasons to recommend writers for Barbour’s full-length fiction line.

But back to our audience—conservative, evangelical Christians who appreciate our strict guidelines. Not only are they enjoying Heartsong books, they also are being changed by them and using them to help change the lives of others through the power of story that incorporates Scripture and the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I get feedback from readers assuring me of that all the time. And it’s by far what I’m most proud of about Heartsong Presents. Because no matter who or how many our audience here on earth is, we all have a heavenly audience of just One. And alongside our authors, I strive to make sure each Heartsong book is pleasing to Him while following our mission at Barbour “to publish and distribute inspirational products offering exceptional value and biblical encouragement to the masses.”

Heartsong Book Club