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  • ACFW Policy Changes

    Subject Line: Follow-up to questions re: ACFW Policy Changes

    The changes to our organization are extensive, and they require a lot of work in ironing out all the details. Issues may continue to arise. We’ve discussed everything we can to date—and they were serious, hard discussions. Making decisions on some of these issues was not easy. And in the future we may need to reevaluate our decisions. But we wanted to respond to your questions and concerns as soon as possible. So in response to your feedback, here are further details to the ACFW policy changes.

    Qualified Independent Author Status

    A number of independently published authors questioned the standard of proving $5000 in sales for one book in a 12-month period, saying it’s too high. Some suggested that the $5000 amount be for more than one book, or earned over longer than a 12-month period.

    The $5000 amount has precedent in the industry. To join Novelists, Inc., an organization for multi published novelists, independent authors must submit proof of sales for two books, each earning at least $5000 in a twelve-month period. However, in listening to everyone’s concerns and further discussing this with others in the publishing industry, we have reset the Qualified Independent Author (QIA) requirement to $4000 earned for one book in a 12-month period. This is still a high standard for an independent author and will take work to achieve it. It may take a number of years to achieve.

    We must look at this issue strictly within the context of the Carols—as a balancing act between the traditionally published and the independently published (indies). Traditionally published authors must meet a high standard as well. They must convince a publishing company to accept their novel over the hundreds of other manuscripts the house receives in any given year. As you all know, it can take years to break into traditional publishing. Meanwhile, indies can publish their own work at any time—as many books as they can produce in a year. The board has agreed that, to enter the Carols, any one indie book must meet a standard challenging enough to match the challenging standard of any one traditionally published book.

    One note: the $4000 in sales can include all forms of the indie book: ebook through all channels, print, audio, foreign, etc.

    Recognized Publisher List for Traditionally Published Entries into the Carols and Fiction Finder

    The Board was in agreement from the start that ACFW needs to keep the Recognized Publisher (RP) list in place in order to maintain standards on the traditional publishing side for entry into the Carol Awards and Fiction Finder. But with our new policy changes, should the requirements for the RP list be revised? Here are the current requirements, taken from our website:

    1.  The publisher publishes novels written from a Christian worldview in any Christian fiction genre (i.e. should not contain profanity, graphic sex, or other objectionable material, and must otherwise conform to generally accepted standards of the CBA, as determined by ACFW.)

    2.  All of the publisher’s fiction is Christian, or the publisher has an imprint devoted entirely to Christian fiction (in which case only the imprint will be recognized).

    3.  The author must not participate financially in the production or distribution of the book (including a requirement to buy books).

    4.  The publisher must pay royalties.

    5.  The publisher must have been in business at least one year, and have previously unpublished books of Christian fiction by at least two authors (other than the owners) in print over the past year.

    6. The publisher’s books must show evidence of professional editing and cover art, and the content must reflect biblical principles.

    We discussed and voted on two issues regarding the current RP list:

    1. The Christian imprint requirement (#2)

    Frankly, this has been our hardest issue. We really wrestled with it. There is no answer that will make everyone happy. In the end, we had to make the best decision for ACFW as a whole. Therefore at this time the Christian imprint requirement will remain in place.

    We recognize an inherent imbalance here: to participate in the Carols or Fiction Finder, a traditionally published book must be released by certain publishers who’ve proven to meet the standard of writing Christian fiction, while any indie book by a QIA author can participate. This requirement means that the small percentage of ACFW traditionally published members who write for a secular publisher without a Christian imprint will not qualify for the Carols and Fiction Finder.

    Let’s look at the Carols first.

    We faced a real dilemma if we deleted the Christian imprint requirement in that any secular publisher (and there are many) would be allowed to enter a book in the Carols. (They could easily “overlook” the #1 requirement of Christian content, and there would be no vetting in place to stop them.) This could swell entries for the Carol to a huge, unworkable number. And it would negate the focus of the Carols, which has always been on fiction published within the Christian market. That is the very purpose of the contest, just as RWA’s RITA focuses on romance, and the Edgar Awards focuses on mysteries. If we allowed any publisher to enter, non-Christian books would eventually be disqualified by judges within the contest, but we would not be able to find enough judges for all those books.

    Independent authors with QIA status will be vetted for Christian content within the judging process of the Carols. These authors represent a small fraction of books compared to the entire traditionally published market. If an indie entry contains material not suited for the Christian market, a judge will be required to disqualify it from the contest, and no refund will be given.

    Another important point to note here: Christian authors published by secular publishers sometimes experience pressure to conform to standards that do not fit within the ACFW guidelines of Christian writing. The indie author is under no such pressure and is free to write from a Christian worldview.

    For Fiction Finder we ran into similar problems that would result from our deleting the Christian imprint requirement. Any publisher would be allowed to immediately place its books on Fiction Finder—with no immediate vetting to qualify them. In time, if the books were found to not have Christian content, they could be removed. But it would be a huge task to police this, plus a possible embarrassment if certain books were placed on the site.

    Again, we made this decision in balancing the integrity of Fiction Finder and the Carols as a whole against the needs of the small percentage of ACFW members who write for secular publishers without a Christian imprint. If you are one of those authors, please ask your publisher to establish a Christian imprint for its Christian novels. Then this requirement can be satisfied.

    2.  Strengthening the RP requirement for small presses (#5 of the current requirements, above).

    To date all traditional houses, including small presses, have been asked to follow the requirements of the RP list. Now, in the changing publishing industry small presses are cropping up daily—and it’s not difficult for just about anyone to set up such a press. In fact, many independent authors publish under the name of their own “press.” Therefore small presses need a monetary standard. We have amended requirement #5 of the RP list to read: “The publisher must have been in business at least one year, and have previously-unpublished books of Christian fiction by at least two authors (other than the owners) in print over the past year. The publisher must submit proof of $5000 in gross sales for each of two books over a twelve-month period.” Books published through 2013 from small presses that have been on the RP list to this point will be grandfathered in, maintaining their eligibility for Fiction Finder and entering this year’s Carol Awards.

    All other current requirements of the RP list will continue to apply to small presses.

    The submission process for QIA status

    Independent authors who have been previously traditionally published by a house on the Recognized Publisher list (or by a secular publisher who meets requirement #5) automatically achieve QIA status. Independent authors who have not been previously published according to these guidelines will be asked to submit proof of sales—$4000 for one independently published book in a 12-month period. We are currently working out this process with the ACFW Director. As soon as this process is in place, we’ll let you know, and submissions can begin. Once an author earns QIA status, he/she can immediately place books on Fiction Finder. Once an author achieves QIA status, that status applies for the life of the author’s ACFW membership.

    Independent author qualification for Featured Author Interviews

    An independent author who is represented on Fiction Finder is eligible for a Featured Author interview.

    Submitting books to the Carols

    At this time submissions will still be required in the form of printed books. Independently published books can be easily printed through POD printers such as Createspace.

    Our ACFW email loop

    A few questioned whether there will be a new email loop for the indie authors. At this time we will continue with one email loop for all authors. We think this is best for numerous reasons: (1) Everyone needs to learn craft, regardless of how published, and we wouldn’t want any author to miss out on those discussions. (2) Many of you indie authors already have experience and knowledge in how to pursue this path. Your opinions and guidance will be important to your colleagues who are new at it and want to learn. Diverting all discussions of indie publishing into its own loop would make it much harder for the many ACFW authors who want to learn more about independent publishing. They’d have to participate in two loops. (3) In general, segregating ACFW authors according to how they publish goes against what we are trying to accomplish here—embracing all authors as colleagues in the publishing industry.

    Thanks, again, all of you, for your patience and encouragement as we work out these details in the best way we can for ACFW. As before, if you have questions or feedback, please send them to Brandilyn Collins at She will continue to forward all responses to the rest of us.

    Blessings to all of you,

    Colleen Coble
    Randy Ingermanson
    Allen Arnold
    Cara Putman
    Deborah Raney
    Rachel Hauck
    Gail Martin
    Brandilyn Collins