So much great conversation has ensued following Realm Makers 2016. One person I’ve really enjoyed chatting with about RM, the Christian speculative community, and related publishing trends, is author and founder of Uncommon Universes Press, Janeen Ippolito. Janeen had some interesting (and I think, important) observations about the conference and where the Christian spec community could be headed. So I invited her to share some of her thoughts…
I’m honored that Mike opted to share his platform so I could do a little brainstorming on a topic close to my heart: growth. I’m all about the growth, whether it be in faith, in education, in understanding, or in profit (dare to dream). As an entrepreneur married to an entrepreneur, growth is a buzzword in our conversations about new ventures.
- Is this project growing?
- Has that endeavor increased in reach and marketability?
- What about this venture? Is it moving forward or stagnating?
I’m not here to talk deep theology. While I have a degree from a Christian college, my specialty was informational writing, anthropology, communication, and education. Basically, learning about people/cultures and how to communicate with and educate them. Needless to say, as I’ve dived into studying business/marketing over the years, I’ve found quite a few overlaps and connections.
Crossover appeal is what I’m here to talk about. Specifically, the future of a unique conference like Realm Makers when sandwiched between two major markets: CBA and ABA.
First off, major applause to the organizers and supporters of Realm Makers who have given their all to see this tiny but mighty conference grow over the years. They have the guts and drive to do the impossible, and that deserves a ton of respect and commendation. Every year, the conference improves, and every year, the masterminds behind the conference express their willingness and openness to see this niche market of Christian speculative fiction grow and expand.
Bravo for all the hard work!
Now for the less fun part: how is this thing, this peculiar bunch of faith-based speculative fiction fans (or junkies, as Mike says) going to grow? The conference is a flourishing plant, breaking through some hard soil, but it’s about to hit two big rocks:
- The larger Christian market, which will still require a lot of education to understand the place of speculative fiction in their worldview
- The general market, which is hit or miss at best for indies and already has plenty of their own conferences and conventions to attend anyway
There are people who declare that the up and coming geeky generation of Christians will push the tide of Christian fiction towards the speculative. That each year, the market is growing, regardless of what the CBA says. This could be true. Certainly the general trend towards speculative fiction in culture hasn’t died off the way people said it would. But with this understanding, Realm Makers will continue to serve an exclusively Christian speculative fiction market, perhaps creating its own prosperous bubble right next to ACFW. Speculative fiction by Christians and for Christians.
Is this the endgame? To became the newest, strongest flavor of fiction on the Christian shelf of the bookstore or in the Christian category online?
Another view promotes ‘crossover writing’ with Christians writing for the general market. This is where things get complicated. First of all, my personal opinion is that many Christians aren’t comfortable enough to write for the general market, where story trumps theological ‘rightness.’ There are underlying tropes, concepts, and ideas within that subculture that people from a Christian subculture won’t necessarily get or even understand how to include.
Realm Makers included sessions on the Crossover Novelist, which brings up whether the conference is considering this market as well. Are attendees from other faith or lack-of-faith backgrounds considered part of the target market? Should they be? Or is Realm Makers trying to be a sort of training ground for Christians seeking to reach a general market audience? Should the purpose of this conference be two-fold? Can it be?
A Realm Makers crossover market appeal could follow a couple of schemes:
- Making a Christian conference so good everyone will want a taste. The thing is, people in the general market come from a lot of backgrounds and are rather sensitive to being preached at, and it seems that many people treasure the strong faith aspect of Realm Makers. Could a ‘taste and see’ method work? Possibly. I’m never going to say never. But it would require a lot of focus in terms of building relationships as well as continuing to pursue excellence and quality in conference presentation.
- Creating Realm Makers as a more theologically neutral safe space with buzzwords like ‘clean.’ Again, I’m not sure how viable this is. A lot of people know ‘clean’ is a buzzword for ‘a certain kind of morality’ which is fair since worldview will come through in writing no matter what. In trying to go ‘clean’ Realm Makers might just end up in a lukewarm place with zero audience.
- Making Realm Makers an educational powerhouse where people are taught how to do excellent writing. Period. There would be the faith aspect, but there would also be a high level of faculty and content so that people might come, even a la carte, just to get solid instruction. This goal is harder than people think, because it has nothing to do with hitting every major point of whatever favorite theology someone holds to and nothing to do with long discussions about whether we really need magic. Instead, this type of track would have everything to do with teaching writers of all levels how to nail down an excellent speculative story. Not a “clean version of this author/genre” book that puts cleanliness up there with good editing, but a well-written story with great plotting, characterization, themes, and editing that is tight and genre-appropriate and reaches the target audience in a fresh and memorable way.
Do I have any answers for the Realm Makers conundrum? Not particularly. Ultimately, all of these decisions rely in the hands of the fearless, driven entrepreneurs who dared to ask ‘what if’ and then went ahead and did. And kept doing, sacrificing time, money, and sleep (ohhhh, sleep) in pursuit of making this Realm Makers thing happen. I applaud their efforts. And as someone whose eyes are always on the growth and who wants to see awesome endeavors leveled up, I’m hoping and praying the fearless leaders make wise decisions regarding the future of this quite particular little conference that could.
What about you? Any brainstorms about the place of Realm Makers?
Janeen Ippolito is an idea-charged teacher, reader, author, and the Fearless Leader of Uncommon Universes Press. She writes nonfiction reference, including World-Building From the Inside Out and speculative fiction laced with everyday humor, horror, and cultural tensions. Her co-written illustrated novella, Thicker Than Water, releases on October 29th. Find her online at JaneenIppolito.com.