Get Set
Mary Hawkins

Mary Hawkins is a medical and best-selling inspirational romance author with her 18th title due early in 2009. A Queensland farmer’s daughter, she became a registered nurse before going to Bible College. She and her minister husband have three adult children and four grandchildren, enjoyed more than 43 years of ministry in Australia including church planting, two years in England, three short term mission trips to Africa and now live semi-retired in Tasmania.

Confessions from One Aussie Author

It is over seventeen years since my two fingers typed my first submission letter accompanying my first Christian fiction manuscript to a religious publisher in my home country of Australia. The search for a publisher—and rejection letters—had begun.

After the first rejection, I phoned an experienced and kind editor I’d previously met. I took a deep breath and blurted out, “Could you tell me, please, if you think the writing is good enough to be published?”

I will be forever thankful he had no hint of hesitation before saying, “Oh, yes, most definitely.” Then he added what I was to hear in one form or another from other Australian publishers: “Unfortunately, we believe we cannot sell enough books to make it a viable proposition for us.” This editor mentioned they had released another novel the previous year and had “burnt their fingers on” it. If their financial position improved in the next year or so, they might attempt another novel. To my knowledge it never happened.

If it had not been for his encouragement and comments from the readers who had assessed my manuscript, I would not have had the courage to persevere. My writing career would have ground to a halt. As it was, it took over thirteen years and thirteen rejections before Barbour in America accepted my manuscript.

Little did I realize that Christian fiction writers everywhere were also facing similar problems. For years Christian fiction was a low priority for most publishers because the readership was simply not there. All that has changed in America, evidenced by the current number of novels filling our Christian bookshops. But, sad to say, for Australian writers it is even more difficult. In fact, we have fewer religious publishers now than twenty years ago. Perhaps the most devastating problem for Australian publishers to stay viable is that our bookshelves have been flooded by imported novels.

So where does that leave Australians—especially Christian authors and in particular those targeting Christian fiction? We certainly cannot do anything about the imports, nor would we want to miss out on those wonderful books. Until very recently, the only choices Christian fiction writers had here was self-publishing or submitting manuscripts to overseas publishers. The Internet has made that much easier, quicker, and less expensive than back when I had to airmail my manuscripts overseas.

One disadvantage Australian authors have is our small population, only about twenty million (U.S has a population of about three

hundred million). Another is that according to United Nations criteria, Australia is no longer classified as a “Christian nation.” Not only is the general population relatively small, but also the Christian population and thereby our target audience.

Although computers may be one of God’s gifts to writers, they have also contributed to the increasing number of authors everywhere searching for a publisher. With the volume of manuscripts flooding editor’s desks, most prefer to meet writers at conferences and contract with authors who do not have to cross the Pacific Ocean for speaking engagements, book tours, and media interviews. They buy manuscripts that target their primary marketing population, Americans for example. Some editors in the U.S. may turn down a manuscript from overseas because it needs extra editing and they simply do not have time for it.

In September’s issue, Colleen Phillips shared in her article, “Writing Fiction Way South of the Border,” some of the frustrations American editors experience when “fixing” (to avoid misunderstandings) our different words and terms in our manuscripts. For example, Americans and Australians use different terminology for forest fires (we call them bushfires). The “bushfire” raging through those tall eucalyptus trees in one of my novels became a mere brush fire because I failed to use the American term, “forest fire”!

So, where does all this leave the majority of writers in smaller nations like Australia? Certainly frustrated many times but, hopefully, more determined to be competitive and to keep sharpening our writing skills. We have to try to write better, smarter, keep informed about publishers and the markets, and persevere until perhaps one day those sweated-over stories will find the right editor at the right time—God’s time.

I’m glad to say that my hard work has resulted in being published for the American market, but having my last Christian novel published by a relatively new Australian publisher, Ark House Press, has brought me that extra special sense of delight and satisfaction. It seems that Aussies especially enjoy Christian novels set in our own country and written by Australian authors—few though we may be! My last book, Return to Baragula, released last March, has spent the last three months on the fiction top ten best-seller list of Australia’s largest Christian bookstore chain.

And the Australian market for Christian novels from all over the world seems to be growing. I pray it continues to increase more and more.