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Christian SpecFic — Alive and Well?

Monday’s Publisher’s Weekly article Christian Fiction Editors Talk Trends focused on — what else? — Women’s Fiction. Statements like the one made by Abingdon’s Barbara Scott  — “Romance in any form dominates sales” — sent me scrambling for my Prozac. Thankfully, there was some good news for males who don’t much care for Romance Fiction.

What are the trends in speculative fiction? Are Christian readers more open to edgy speculative fiction than they were a decade ago?

Watson, Tyndale: There is renewed interest in apocalyptic fiction. We’ve seen a significant increase in the Left Behind series in the past 12 months. Movies like 2012 and The Book of Eli play into the theme that has been big in our industry for some time. Joel Rosenberg’s upcoming novel, The Twelfth Imam, will be in this category.

Long, Bethany: Vampires are just a bite of what is basically “horror fiction” being labeled something else. They’re not going to emerge, as in ABA, as their own subculture. But horror stories (edgy, speculative) will continue to thrive.

Brower, Zondervan: Yes, Christian readers are more open to speculative and gritty fiction. However, it is still a very small group of consumers in Christian bookstores, and it’s difficult to market in the general market. The problem with speculative fiction is logistics. Readers who like speculative fiction browse the YA, fantasy, and science fiction sections of the store. Even if they would like a Christian novel, they rarely venture into the religion section of the bookstore.

Marchese, WaterBrook: While it remains a smaller segment of readers, the audience has certainly shifted in its willingness to accept speculative types of storytelling. Our company has a reputation for good speculative fiction because we have seen success in that area and we recognize its potential to explore meaningful spiritual connections.

Several observations / highlights:

“Christian readers are more open to speculative and gritty fiction,” says Sue Brower. Shannon Marchese adds, “the audience has certainly shifted in its willingness to accept speculative types of storytelling.” From a reader and writer of speculative fiction, I don’t think Christians are “more open to speculative themes.” I think the gatekeepers are finally seeing what has always been.

“Horror stories (edgy, speculative) will continue to thrive.” (God bless you, Dave Long!) Okay, I’m not sure about the “thrive” part. But I appreciate Long’s observations elsewhere that the CBA genre of Supernatural Suspense is really Christian Horror. The term horror has been anathema in CBA circles, even though the stories exist there. So it’s good to hear an acquisitions editor spare us the semantics.

“The problem with speculative fiction is logistics,” says Zondervan’s Sue Brower. “Readers who like speculative fiction browse the YA, fantasy, and science fiction sections of the store. Even if they would like a Christian novel, they rarely venture into the religion section of the bookstore.” So why is it that Religion and Romance can coexist, but Religion and SciFi / Fantasy / Horror can’t? (Is it THIS?) I often wonder if this isn’t more indicative of an inherent problem with Christian Fiction — it narrows the audience of any genre — than it is “logistics.” Or does the speculative genre just seem antithetical to Christianity (and Women’s Fiction doesn’t?)?

Anyway, this all leads me to ask why Christian publishers don’t publish more speculative fiction.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • E. Stephen Burnett (Dr. Ransom) March 10, 2010, 2:29 PM

    The main reason why: many professing Christians (real or otherwise) have overemphasized God's nature of immanence and personal love. Both of these aspects of His character are true, of course. But many in churches have focused on those and ignored His might, blazingly glorious infinitude and transcendence.

    His good versus our rebellion and the world's evils? No, I'd rather read about God's Love versus My Personal Struggles and Stresses.

    A smaller faith (even if true) will lead to a desire for smaller stories.

    Re-epic-ize God — in a Biblical way, always keeping in mind the truth that He is still personal, loving, and reachable — and you also epic-ize readers' story desires.

    • Mike Duran March 10, 2010, 4:53 PM

      It's interesting that you trace the issue to a theological myopia, Stephen. I really think there's a lot of truth to that. Our propensity for clean, feel-good stories says a lot about what American Christians believe. Great comments!

  • Nicole March 10, 2010, 2:53 PM

    Mike, as you know, a lot of booksellers choose not to integrate Christian fiction–even thrillers–with their secular books. CBA publishers and individual authors have been working with the mainstream bookstores to diminish this over the years, but the process seems very slow.
    Even though speculative fiction maintains a large audience outside the borders of Christian fiction, like romance it is a niche market. That niche is definitely there in the Christian market, just not as large as the niche market of romance readers.
    Even within the category of romance there are niche books which don't appeal to the "Bonnet Book" readers, and I think it would be good for publishers to figure out how to offer any well done niche books (specfic, literary, whatever) to their specific markets since these genres definitely have their avid readers.

    • Mike Duran March 10, 2010, 4:58 PM

      I agree that "speculative fiction maintains a large audience," but I'm wondering why it exists primarily "outside the borders of Christian fiction." It could be, as some have suggested, that spec fans are just more avid. However, it's still worth asking whether speculative fiction is simply under-represented in Christian fiction. Thanks, Nicole!

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller March 10, 2010, 6:17 PM

    I believe "under-represented." If you don't regularly stop by Rachelle Gardner's blog, I suggest you take a peek at the comments to her post last Friday. She conducted a poll, then invited us to tell about our writing. An AMAZING number identified themselves with speculative fiction. I, who have always believed the readers are there, was shocked at how many.

    • Mike Duran March 10, 2010, 7:16 PM

      Becky, THAT IS AMAZING! Does somebody know about this? Have you expounded on that elsewhere? Crazy. I'm tempted to count how many of the 200+ respondents write SpecFic. At least a third, if not half. Wow! Perhaps there's a conspiracy. How could so many Christian authors be trafficking in SpecFic and it be so… peripheral? And I don't even think Rachelle represents Fantasy and sci-fi, does she? That alone is worth a few questions. Can you tell I'm flabbergasted? That really deserves a post of its own. Wow! Unbelievable!

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller March 10, 2010, 7:51 PM

    Yes, Mike. You said what I was thinking as I read the first part of your comment—Racelle does not rep speculative, and she says that loudly and often. It's not like she is The One Agent who is open to SF or fantasy or horror, so we're all hovering around her blog in hopes that we can catch her eye. Just the opposite.

    I suspect, therefore, the numbers are a reflection of how many of us there are.

    I also think it's interesting that a number include spec fiction even though they name another genre. It's almost like a concession, like they are writing something else though they haven't given up on the speculative.

    But no, I haven't expounded on this elsewhere. I wanted to say something at Rachelle's blog when I commented, but someone else already had. And I know I can start to sound like I have one note to play. It does end up turning people off, so I settled for my commercial instead. 😉

  • Skadi meic Beorh April 30, 2012, 5:24 AM

    As a spec-fic writer, I write for readers who like speculative fiction, whether they are Christians, atheists, Hindoos, et al. Bram Stoker didn’t call himself a Christian writer. Neither did Charles Dickens. Both were devout Believers. In fact, as far as I know, Lovecraft didn’t label himself as an “atheist writer.” All of my books have been published by secular (non-Christian) publishers, no questions asked. And for 99% of my stories, same thing. My point? Use the gift God has given you. He will open the doors He wants to open, and shut those He wants to shut. Forget the future. It never comes. Sufficient in each day is the evil thereof.

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