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Good News / Bad News for Christian Spec-Fic Enthusiasts

I’m officially registered for the 2012 ACFW Conference. They have quite a staff assembled, and I’m really looking forward to meeting some industry luminaries, writers, and bloggers I’ve long admired and corresponded with online. More on that as the date approaches.

While perusing the list of editors — attendees can schedule two meetings with an editor to pitch their projects — I was a little bummed. You see, my current project just doesn’t seem to fit what Christian houses are looking for. I’m writing an Urban Fantasy with Noir, Paranormal Romance, and Sci-Fi elements. While this genre remains pretty hot in the mainstream market, apparently, it is nowhere to be found in mainstream Christian houses. (Not one Christian publisher even mentioned Urban Fantasy.) Granted, I’m not writing this book to, necessarily, find a home in the Christian market. If it lands there, I’d be thrilled. Nevertheless, once again, I’m caught in a literary limbo — writing from a Christian worldview in a market that is woefully narrow.

Anyway, after studying the consultation guidelines, it seems spec-fic fans like myself are in for good news and bad news. The good news first. The biggest name in Christian publishing is currently seeking Supernatural Fiction. From the Thomas Nelson conference guidelines:

Right now Thomas Nelson is most interested in supernatural stories across genres (those that examine the thin places between the seen and unseen)…

We will consider all genres but are less interested in sci-fi and fantasy.

The fact that TN is interested in “supernatural stories across genres” is a great sign. Perhaps Christian publishers are FINALLY getting that Christian readers want something other than the standard fare. Hopefully, other publishers are watching. Of course, “supernatural” can mean all kinds of things — spiritual warfare, magical realism, slipstream, paranormal romance, horror. Apparently, what it DOESN’T mean is “sci-fi and fantasy.” This is the “bad news” part the deal.

In fact, as you read through the “wants” of publishers at the ACFW Conference, it becomes apparent that TN’s interest in “supernatural stories” is still largely unique in the industry. From the editor guidelines:

  • Revell Books: “No fantasy.”
  • Barbour Publishing: “We have no current need for… fantasy.”
  • Moody: “We are not currently looking to acquire speculative fiction.”
  • Harvest House: “We are not interested in: speculative fiction, supernatural…”
  • Bethany House: “Not seeking: Fantasy or sci-fi; end-times; supernatural thrillers…”
  • WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing: “We are not currently reviewing… zombie or robot stories, and in particular, military-alien romances featuring buggies and robots.”
  • Summerside: “We are not seeking… speculative, fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural, or thrillers.”
  • Harvest House: “We are NOT looking for… speculative fiction.”
  • Zondervan: “What I’m not looking for… fantasy, sci fi, visionary, apocalyptic, futuristic.”
  • Abingdon: “NOT seeking supernatural/end times/spiritual warfare, and speculative.”
  • Tyndale: “We do not publish sci-fi or fantasy.”
  • Whitaker House Publishers: “We also do not publish science fiction, fantasies.”

Are we seeing a trend here, folks?

Admittedly, I’m a pessimist at heart. As much as I’d love to see Christian fiction expand its literary and demographic borders, this sampling doesn’t give me much hope. Yes, Thomas Nelson’s move toward the spec market could signal a sea change. However, it still doesn’t change this fact:

Of the 28 editors who will be attending the ACFW Conference, four* will consider speculative fiction.

Apart from Thomas Nelson, the other three are:

Pelican Book Group: “For Harbourlight Books… This imprint is open to submissions in all non-romance Christian fiction: westerns; mysteries; suspense; action-adventure; family saga; speculative, general, women’s, and science fiction

Oak Tara: “Fresh fiction for adults in every genre—Biblical, Classic & Allegory, Fantasy, Futuristic, General, Historical, Issues, Legal/Political Thrillers, Mystery & Detective, Romance, Romance-Suspense, Sci-Fi, Suspense.”

AMG Publishers: “Inspirational Fantasy/Speculative/Sci-Fi/Visionary, including high fantasy, Biblical fantasy, epic fantasy, contemporary fantasy, dystopian/post-apocalyptic works, allegorical fiction with fairy tale-esque magic, and science fiction.”

So this is also “good news.” Spec enthusiasts are still out there. The interesting thing about these three houses is their “disconnect” from more mainstream, old school, Christian publishers. For instance, Oak Tara describes its mission and vision this way:

OakTara is passionate about creating a new market for inspirational books, especially with readers who may not traditionally enter a Christian bookstore but who avidly shop the Web. Our goal is to provide readers with something different, vibrant, and new—not “just the same old thing” that they’ve seen, time and again, from other inspirational publishers.

By the “same old thing,” I’m assuming they mean what the majority of Christian houses are publishing. It’s no coincidence that most Christian spec-fic is being sought by small, independent houses, like the ones above. Marcher Lord Press continues to hold a significant corner of the market for Christian spec-fic titles. But founder Jeff Gerke’s success is precisely in moving out of the myopic mainstream. Maybe this is what’s so encouraging about Thomas Nelson’s interest in speculative titles — they ARE mainstream. I don’t know.

I usually get in trouble for complaining about what’s wrong with the industry, rather than acknowledging the positive changes. I may be guilty of that here. Nevertheless, I still see Christian spec enthusiasts as fighting an uphill battle against champions of “the same old thing.” Yes, there’s good news. Amidst the bad.

How do you see it?

A NOTE OF CLARIFICATION: Ramona Richards of Abingdon Press pointed at that she IS seeking to acquire Speculative Fiction. “Seeking western romance, suspense/thrillers, speculative, and YA (especially F&SF).” Thanks for that correction, Romona. I apologize for creating confusion.

* A fifth could be Zonderkidz: “YA FICTION: Dystopian (think Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, Divergent by Veronica Roth, and Delirium by Lauren Oliver) with a unique twist and some kind of Christian element; paranormal fiction that isn’t necessarily a romance a la Twilight; hybrid or light fantasy that will appeal to a wider audience (no high fantasies, please), character-driven fiction, books for guys (because they need reading material too!), and books with some humor in them.”
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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • E. Stephen Burnett April 9, 2012, 6:26 AM

    Mike, you already likely know this, but so long as Christian fiction readers ultimately have atheistic, non-supernatural assumptions about the “real world,” keeping God and the Gospel safely relegated to one corner of perception, and as long as this God remains so small, naturally such readers’ story preferences will follow.

    The main problem is the preferences of readers, not publishers. And my guess is that, as this persists, even Thomas Nelson’s exploratory goal — thank God! — will prove futile.

    A solution: better theology applied to life, higher views of God, and reminders that everything, including what we read for “entertainment,” must proceed from faith or else it’s sin (Romans 14:29). This isn’t just about what kind of stories are more fun, or about which ones are not “safe.” We must instead show that higher-concept stories, whose structure implicitly, and perhaps even content explicitly, reflects the Gospel (rather than mere Christian morality), are far better reading choices for the discerning Christian. Such stories have God-honoring truth and beauty that simply isn’t found in other genres.

    As reader Jen V. noted recently on your own site:

    I’m a girl, and I hate romance. I hate the cutesy little Amish stories that mean absolutely nothing to me. I live in a world where we have to fight every day to get closer to God, where there are evil things inside of each of us trying to keep us from following him, and where God had to turn into a person and die in order to get me to him. My every day is a battle, so why on earth would I want to read a story about a cute little girl in a dress who never has to fight for anything?

  • Jessica Thomas April 9, 2012, 7:01 AM

    I don’t think you are complaining. I think you are looking at the facts available and coming to a realistic conclusion. When I look at the same facts, I draw the same conclusion.

    Given the current Christian cultural climate in the U.S., I don’t see “weird” being accepted by mainstream Christian publishing any time soon, and I’m to a point where I’m okay with that. We often cite Marcher Lord Press as an indicator of demand for “weird Christian” fiction, but as I’ve watched Marcher Lord’s recent titles, I’ve been disappointed to see most of them are series based, or reprints of older “weird” Christian novels; therefore, unless he is able to expand his venture, I don’t see it making a huge dent in terms of providing opportunities for new writers.

    In my mid-week mashup last week, I mentioned Nancy Fulda, who has been published in top notch scifi venues and who is also a Christian. She recently posted a blog titled “What I do on Sundays” wherein she came clean about being a Christ-follower. She prefaced her post with a warning, and with a realization that “coming out of the closet” could cost her readers. When I perused the post’s comments, there was no hate mail. They were all supportive.

    I read Nancy’s flash fiction piece in Daily Science Fiction. It was loaded with pro-God references, even pro-Christian God references. That’s why I ultimately clicked over to her blog. Not only that, the writing was stellar.

    It begs the question, Are Christian science fiction writers barking up the wrong tree? Are we guilty of “poor me” syndrome, lamenting that the mainstream market won’t accept us “either”, when in fact, we haven’t tried the mainstream market, or we’re too afraid to come out from under our protective Christian cultural covering to even think of approaching it. Or our writing simply isn’t up to par.

    • Mike Duran April 9, 2012, 7:44 AM

      Jessica, I read the post by Nancy Fulda and contacted her regarding a possible blog interview. Thanks for mentioning her. You might be right about the “barking up the wrong tree” thing. I do believe Christian writers can feel — consciously or subconsciously — safer aiming at the Christian market. We don’t need to be fearful of expressing our faith, factually or fictionally, and the conventions fit our “family friendly” lifestyles. It’s an important point that Christian writers may be “too afraid to come out from under our protective Christian cultural covering” to even consider mainstream publishing. It’s just easier to rail against the existing industry.

      • Jessica Thomas April 9, 2012, 6:48 PM

        That’s a great idea, Mike! I’d love to hear her perspective.

    • Steve Rzasa April 10, 2012, 7:03 PM

      This is an excellent point, but as a Marcher Lord Press author, I just had to jump in with a comment here–MLP is not alone in offering series-based books. As a librarian, I see series all over the place, in every conceivable genre (especially YA) Christian or not. And as for opportunities for new authors, well, in the past 3 and a half years MLP has introduced at least 10 new authors, including John Otte and Morgan Busse of our latest release. So I think MLP’s done a fair job. And yes, I’m very biased 🙂

  • Jesse Koepke April 9, 2012, 7:47 AM

    When I try to think of good action speculative authors in the Christian market, I can only think of Stephen Lawhead, Frank Peretti, and Ted Dekker. And wouldn’t you know, most of their books have been published by Thomas Nelson.

    I think what you said, Mike, about “writing from a Christian worldview” is key, and something the scifi/fantasy market desperately needs. It’s sad that the authors who are considered masters in the genre, Tolkien and Lewis, might be turned down by Christian publishers if they were writing today.

  • Aubrey Hansen April 9, 2012, 8:22 AM

    Very interesting information. Thanks for compiling and posting that!

    It is sad that mainstream Christian fiction is still largely entrenched in its ways. However, to me, I think that shows why there is a great need for authors who are willing to break the mold, even if it means going independent or being published by a small house.

    Interestingly, though, the last time I was at a Christian bookstore doing market research, half of the YA fiction department was speculative. Mostly epic fantasy, but also some sci-fi, like Amanda Davis’s debut novel. (The other half was the usual contemporary and Amish romance.) Perhaps the YA sector is a bit more open to speculative?

    • Mike Duran April 9, 2012, 8:46 AM

      Aubrey, the YA sector of Christian publishing DOES seem more open to spec-fic. The fact that Zonderkidz is open to “dystopian” and “paranormal fiction” (a term seldom used by Christian publishers) is a good sign. Many of AMG’s fantasy titles are also YA. However, this has a potential downside, I think, because it channels spec-fic away from the adult market.

  • Bryan Thomas Schmidt April 9, 2012, 9:23 AM

    I gave up two years ago pursuing Christian publishing, Mike. Besides their lack of respect for the genres or interest, the limits they set for their lowest common denominator “core” don’t allow me to write with honesty. So I am seeking publication in other venues. None of this surprises me and that’s sad.

  • Jill April 9, 2012, 9:27 AM

    I’m starting to wonder why it matters. If you write for the CBA, follow their genre guidelines. If not, follow the guidelines of whatever genre/publisher you would like to write/market to.

    • Mike Duran April 9, 2012, 9:38 AM

      Jill, it’s not that cut and dried. I write Supernatural Suspense with some faith themes. I believe it can work in either market. For instance, “The Resurrection” was being considered by Random House for a while. It was also considered by CBA publishers. So… who was I writing for? When Charisma House offered me a contract it was contingent upon removing the language. Which I did. All that to say, I don’t think the issue is as easy as Either / Or.

      • Jill April 9, 2012, 10:26 AM

        Yes, but how do you propose not making it an either/or? The language part isn’t the issue for me. I would [most likely] follow editorial advice about language, too. I thought Charisma House wasn’t publishing your genre any longer. Either you write the genre(s) the CBA wants, or you look elsewhere. Am I missing something?

  • Jill April 9, 2012, 9:31 AM

    Also, it did occur to me that writers such as yourself have been displaced, so these issues are still relevant to you. But from my perspective, the CBA just isn’t the place to market my work because, at this point, I’m not following their guidelines.

  • Jeremy McNabb April 9, 2012, 10:28 AM

    There’s also the very real possibility that Christians who wrote speculative fiction find less need for Christian outlets. Because those of us who grew up in the church, but reading speculative fiction, weren’t reading Christian speculative fiction, there may be less interest in writing for or reading within the Christian market. It very well could be that the attitude of Christians who write speculative fiction is that they aren’t writing solely for Christians and therefore, feel no need to shoulder their way into the Christian market.

  • Tony April 9, 2012, 10:51 AM

    If you can’t find a place for your project, just self-publish it. Worked well with Winterland. I bought Winterland and The Resurrection together, but to my surprise, the one that held my interest the most was the self-published one. I noticed one thing in particular — you were much less restricted when writing Winterland. Great book, I enjoyed it quite a bit. So, yes, do that. Or, like you said, go ABA. Dean Koontz never bothered with CBA, after all, and The Taking is as Christian as novels come.

    Great news about Thomas Nelson, though. They already publish some decent spec. fic. Nothing to brag about, but nothing to sneeze at either. Sad that they’re not taking fantasy or scifi. . .every genre has its upsides, and those two are fantastic for allegory and symbolism. Where Horror gives us Warnings and Hard Truths, Fantasy gives us Hope, Scifi gives us Perspective.

    Can’t tell you the times I’ve browsed for decent Christian Fantasy. High-Fantasy, in particular. Pretty interested in reading the Scifi: Oxygen, though.

  • Tony April 9, 2012, 10:53 AM

    Thanks for those links btw. A lot of interesting books I hadn’t even heard of. I think a shopping spree might be the appropriate course of action. 😉

  • John Robinson April 9, 2012, 12:42 PM

    FWIW, I couldn’t find any love from the CBA for my stand-alone SF work The Radiance. With an Army Ranger captain turned fallen-away pastor as MC, it’s rather Koontz-ish (though I’m understandably chary about putting myself in the same league), so it ended up with a small general market e-book house.

  • Ramona Richards April 9, 2012, 2:18 PM

    Hi, Mike,

    Two things: One is that the AP desires were cut off in your post. The full line reads: NOT seeking supernatural/end times/spiritual warfare, and speculative should not be of the “bad guys have won now the Christians have to fight back” type.

    As I read it now, that’s a little confusing. We ARE looking for speculative manuscripts of all types.

    Two: If you have time,I’d love to meet with you at ACFW and talk about the market for spec/sf in general, including your manuscript. If you’ll email me, I’d like to set a time outside the editor appointments.

    Ramona

    • Mike Duran April 9, 2012, 2:45 PM

      Thanks for clarifying that, Ramona. That line DOES read unclear. I went back and re-read your guidelines and DID notice speculative mentioned. I’ll amend my post now. I’d love to me with you at the conference. I’m sending you an email.

      • Ramona April 9, 2012, 2:55 PM

        I look forward to it. I wrote the conference director and asked her to remove that entire paragraph, so that just the first mention of speculative remains. If nothing else, your post let me know how confusing it was!

  • Kaci April 9, 2012, 3:17 PM

    There’s part of me, though, that sort of understands the generic trend of wariness toward anything that even smells of the occult, magic, or paganism in Christian circles. My experience is that most people who have trouble with the speculative genres share this concern, and, while it’s quite easy to go too far and throw out the good with the bad, I can at least appreciate the concern, I think.

    I guess it’s sort of like the death penalty, war, and violence: The continuous discomfort is itself healthy. People who don’t like violence serve, for me, as a bit of a personal “check” in my own writing, which can be pretty violent. (Am I being gratuitous, or is this exactly how it needs to play out? Can I write this entire scene without it and not change the core of the story?) And, in the same way, people who don’t like speculative fiction serve as a personal check: Am I delving too far into darkness; am I using supernatural elements as a crutch (which, in my case, was exactly what has started to happen); am I relying on a techie toy when something simpler would work? Am I using a ten dollar trick when a one dollar would suffice? Am I overindulging in the novelty of the storyworld (people, places, etc) instead of focusing on pertinent events & details?

    Anyway, just sidenotes.

  • Joy @ Edgy Inspirational Romance April 9, 2012, 9:06 PM

    Urban Fantasy with Noir, Paranormal Romance, and Sci-Fi elements?!!?

    Yes!!!! I know of at least two CF bloggers who’d love to read something like this (me and Serena).

    I hope authors will continue to beat down the doors of CF and offer readers something outside of the box. Some of us are begging for it.

  • Katherine Coble April 10, 2012, 8:10 PM

    It seems to me that we’ve been here before.

    Complaints about the CBA not taking Spec Fic are kind of like complaining that Tor won’t look at Mystery Cozies.

    • Mike Duran April 11, 2012, 3:41 AM

      Except that Tor represents one genre: Speculative (and all the variants therein). CBA, in theory, represents ALL genres.

      • Katherine Coble April 11, 2012, 9:03 AM

        In whose theory? Clearly they aren’t making sales in a certain genre.

        I just can’t fault a publisher for not taking on a product that doesn’t sell. Not in this day in age where micropublishing is a real alternative.

  • DD April 13, 2012, 7:48 PM

    These publishers are missing out on a lot of talent (and revenue — we can’t pretend that money isn’t important to publishers, regardless of their beliefs). Perhaps Christian writers should focus on publishers outside of the CBA world? Success there may change the other publisher’s minds.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller April 14, 2012, 1:46 PM

    Late to the party as usual, but wanted to mention — because an acquisitions editor says they aren’t looking doesn’t mean they aren’t accepting. Zondervan, for example, published Jill Williamson’s YA sci fi, Replication this year, and now they just contracted CSFF member Robert Treskillard to publish his three-book fantasy series The Merlin Spiral. See Fantasy Friday – A Success Story.

    Becky

    • Mike Duran April 14, 2012, 2:11 PM

      What that tells me, Becky, is that Zondervan has probably reached their quota of spec-fic.

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller April 16, 2012, 9:43 AM

    Mike, you could be right, but I’ve heard before that editors may not be seeking such and such, but they aren’t opposed to finding it. I tend to think that’s what’s happening with Christian speculative fiction. I continually hear of yet another author being contracted. For example, I just received an ARC this week for a Christian fantasy Thomas Nelson is releasing. And Bethany which has never, to my knowledge, given any indication that they’re looking for speculative, has added yet another speculative author. So somehow, even though there seems to be discouraging news for writers, there seems to be a growing number of titles for readers.

    Becky

  • Scathe meic Beorh May 8, 2012, 6:48 PM

    22 years ago Crossway Books courted me as the next Peretti. Slow train comin’ round the bend, apparently.

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