In 2005, I went to my first American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. I was so overwhelmed, didn’t know a soul there, and it seemed like everyone I met was published. Don’t get me wrong, I met really nice people. They weren’t bragging. But it seemed like everyone there was published. Except me. After that first day, I went to my hotel room and bawled on my husband’s shoulder. Day two, I sucked up what little confidence I had left, put on my big girl panties, and went to breakfast.
This nice blond walked up, shook my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Lenora Worth.” My jaw dropped. The very first inspirational romance book I’d ever read was The Christmas Groom by Deb Kastner. Book 2 was A Perfect Love by Lenora Worth. I managed to make noises that sounded something like, “I love your books.” She thanked me and asked if the seat beside me was taken. I ate breakfast with LENORA WORTH. She asked which books I’d read. My brain was blank. “The ones with the 3 cousins.” She knew exactly what I was talking about. Every time someone new sat down at the table, I’d point at her and say, “This is Lenora Worth. I’m eating breakfast with LENORA WORTH.” She was very gracious, put up with my fangirl antics, and acted like she was just a normal person. Every conference since, if she’s there, she always remembers me and hugs me. When I placed in an unpublished book contest a few years later, she congratulated me. When I signed my first contract, she congratulated me. When I won a published book award, she congratulated me. Needless to say, she’s on my list of favorite authors.
Since then, I’ve attended countless conferences and met countless published authors. I love meeting authors I’ve read, but also authors who’ve been on my personal blog, and authors I blog with here. I got to meet Janet W. Ferguson, former inspy blogger, a few years ago. Since I’ve met so many authors, the height of fun for me is to go to Christian bookstores, look at all the books ,and count the authors I’ve met. Sadly, we no longer have a Christian bookstore in our town. And the one 30 minutes away, no longer carries fiction. Two Christian bookstores in Little Rock, about an hour from me, closed down a few years ago. Thankfully, we still have Mardels, owned by the same people who run Hobby Lobby.
Since every time someone gets baptized at our church, the church buys the person a Bible, I’m at Mardels often. Since my husband is the pastor, he does the Bible picking. And let me tell you, this is time-consuming. Depending on the person’s age and gender, he picks the perfect Bible with the commentary he agrees with and it has to be a certain version, which isn’t the most popular, which makes it like searching for a needle in a haystack. While he does this, I do my author fangirling, finding books by authors I’ve met. Even though they probably don’t remember me. Since I regularly do this, I see the trends. I watched the trend of Christian bookstores closing. I watched the trend of almost everything on the shelves being Amish. I watched the trend of almost everything on the shelves being Historicals. There for a while, there were barely any contemporaries.
Lately, I see more contemporaries, which does my heart good, but there still aren’t enough. The most consistent trend I see is the big-name authors take up all the shelf space, while lesser-known authors get very little, and those brave enough to self-publish get none, as do those published by small presses. Since some Christian bookstores don’t carry mass paperback size books (Love Inspired size), in my eleven years of being published, I’ve only seen my book on store shelves, other than Walmart, once.
My latest sighting got me excited, our very own Toni Shiloh’s In Search of a Prince. In Mardel’s! Yay Toni! More good news, when I started reading one of my favorites, Denise Hunter, I had to ask the store to order her books. After a while, I’d find one or two of her books on the shelf. Now, there’s a whole row. Yay Denise!
So what can we do to help authors and bookstores to make the trends better for both?
1. Instead of ordering books online, go to a bookstore, preferably a Christian bookstore and get them to order the book for you. Sometimes, they’ll order two or three copies and put them on their shelves.
2. Ask your local library to order your favorite authors’ books. Bookstore readers and library readers are pretty much two different groups. Libraries carrying author’s books equal sales, so the author can keep writing more books. And since people who buy books aren’t usually library patrons, this won’t hurt the stores.
3. Tell your friends about your favorite authors or new ones you’ve discovered. Loaning books is great, if your friend doesn’t already read inspirational romance. Those first two books I read were loaned to me. But if your friend is already a Christian, and already a fan of inspirational romance, tell them about your favorite authors or newly discovered ones and encourage them to buy the books.
4. Try new authors. If you stick with the ones monopolizing bookstore shelves, what about the lesser-known authors? They might not be able to keep writing. A great way to try new to you authors is to find blogs like this one with book giveaways. Another great way is to watch for sales or e-books for free online. But once you discover a new author you enjoy, go back to the bookstore for future purchases.
5. Buy more books. I know the economy is rough right now, but books are relatively cheap entertainment. And if you love a book, you’re likely to read it again. And again. Since I started writing, I buy more books because I know how tough it is being an author. And if money is really tight, loaning books is still okay. I know three sisters living on limited income. They take turns buying their favorite author’s newest releases and share.
6. If you love a book, review it. Especially if the author isn’t well known.
7. Go to book signings. Trust me, they are the worst. Sitting there for hours, trying to lure customers to your table is sheer torture. Lots of authors are introverts, including me. It’s really hard for us to put ourselves out there. The only thing that makes it bearable is chatting with readers. When I happen in a store and I didn’t know there was a signing going on, I know nothing about the author or their books, I buy a copy. It’s sixteen dollars at the most and maybe I’ll discover a new author I love. If you don’t love it, you can pass it on to someone else who might. At book signings, you get to meet authors. And trust me, all the ones I’ve met are really cool people. They’ll probably have a lot in common with you because they’re Christians. And authors are readers. They started writing because they love to read.
8. Start a book club. Have you ever read a book and you just want to talk about it for days with someone else who’s read it? Having a group buy the same book, read it together, and then get to discuss it in detail is one of the joys of reading. And if you have any local authors in your area, I bet they’d be willing to meet with your group. I’ve done that. It’s much FUN!!!!
Okay, let’s rally the troops and storm those bookstores. Let’s bring a variety of Contemporary Romance to the shelves and keep the stores open, and maybe even encourage new ones to open. Which brings me to a question: Have you ever met an author? What was the first Inspirational Contemporary Romance you read? Is there still a Christian book store near you? All comments will go in the drawing for my two in one Large Print with Heidi McCahan’s The Bull Rider’s Fresh Start and my Hill Country Redemption. Deadline: July 16th.