It all started in January 2000 when six women authors joined together to form the American Christian Romance Writers (ACRW) with the goal of serving and supporting writers of that genre. The organization changed its name to American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) in 2004 to appeal to a broader audience and “better reflect its members’ scope of writing.”
“I became a founder of ACFW in 2000,” says Gail Martin. “Most of us wrote for Barbour and we got to talking. We knew about Romance Writers of America. Why not Christian Romance Writers of America? That’s how the group got formed. After a year and a half, we were getting inundated with requests to make it Christian Fiction Writers, not just romance, because there were so many writers: suspense, women’s fiction, and so on. So after a few years, we reincorporated as ACFW.”
Ministry of ACFW
Our greatest ministry,” Martin says, “is to strengthen faith as well as writing skills in the ACFW. We’re there for inspiration and fellowship—to become a family of writers who love Jesus. We aim to help people learn how to write and understand the faith of others while keeping our faith foremost in our thoughts everyday. We study the Bible to understand what we’re writing and what God wants us to do. We lean on God for our writing, abilities, talents, and stories. Many people pray about their books before they send them into the publishers so that they will touch people’s lives in a way that will help them find an answer in their life for a problem they’re dealing with.
“I look at modern Christian fiction like modern parables,” she says. “Jesus always answered questions with stories, and He was the greatest teacher. So I believe that our novels are also answering questions. We’re all dealing with struggles in our lives. Our stories can deal with those struggles. The reader can grab on and see how a certain problem is solved. They can see there is hope.”
After a career in public education that included teaching English and public speaking and spending 23 years as a high school counselor, Martin began writing fiction in 1997.
“When I retired from education,” she says, “I was still young enough that I wanted to do some other things, so I decided to write. I started writing freelance. I did a lot of writing for Christian magazines—articles on parenting and helping teens with issues, which was what I did in counseling. I sold poetry. I sold devotionals. No matter what I did I was selling, so finally I thought, ‘Okay, Lord, I think you have a plan for me here.’”
She sold her first book to Barbour Publishing in 1998, then she joined an email “loop” similar to what ACFW uses to reach its audience.
“I didn’t know what a loop was,” she says. “I had no idea that was a group. I was so new. You can’t believe the people who were in that group—Francine Rivers and Karen Ball, among others. These were some of the best writers of Christian fiction. I got great advice and help from those people. They really mentored me. I sold my second novel to Barbour the next year and that same year, I sold to a love-inspired line. So I tumbled into writing romance even though I wasn’t a reader of romance.”
Fast-forward 15 years.
Martin has now published 60 titles and sold 4,000,000 books. She is also an in-demand public speaker who speaks on a wide range of topics related to the Christian faith and the “things we struggle with.”
“My dreams came true,” she says. “I was eight years old in the third grade when my teacher wrote in my report card, ‘Gail is a good writer.’ I loved books. I loved writing and that love has stayed with me. I truly believe it doesn’t matter how old you are. My writing career started in my fifties, but I still consider myself young at heart. Man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”