Several weeks ago, the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced the finalists for its annual Christian Book Awards in seven categories.The five finalists in the Fiction category contain NO speculative novels. The closest would be Tosca Lee’s Iscariot, which is labeled as an “historical.”
Question: If Christian spec-fic is on the rise, why aren’t we seeing it edge its way into the mainstream houses?
Fantasy novelist Kat Heckenbach went poking around at the subject a while back on Facebook when she made this observation:
Kat’s question seems to infer that if Christian spec-fic is to get any traction, it must do so through indie presses and self-pubbers. Indeed, small presses have become the main outlet for Christian speculative fiction. Marcher Lord Press (MLP) being the flagship. So I found Jeff Gerke, MLP founder’s, comment on Kat’s post interesting:
…the pool of self-identified fans of Christian speculative fiction is very small–possibly smaller than 5,000 people in the English speaking world. So the real problem is 3) how to appeal to those many, many fans of Christian speculative fiction who don’t KNOW they are fans of Christian speculative fiction. The people who would never watch an alternative history movie with time travel and a paranormal major character but who would gladly watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The people who would never watch a time-traveling ghost story with an element of horror but who would love to watch “A Christmas Carol.” There are millions of potential fans of Christian speculative fiction, but they simply don’t know they would love it and, most importantly, if you described it in speculative fiction terms, they would run away from it. So they’re sleeper fans who must be awakened and activated without triggering their “I hate science fiction and fantasy!” gag reflex. Go do that, my children, and you shall prosper.
A couple things. First, I agree with Jeff that a story’s speculative elements may be under the radar for many readers and viewers. What’s interesting about that, however, is that general market speculative fiction LEADS with its speculative elements. Which is why films are marketed to sci-fi fans, horror fans, epic fantasy fans, superhero fans, etc. In other words, they don’t have to try to “appeal to those many, many fans of… speculative fiction who don’t KNOW they are fans of… speculative fiction. ” If Christian speculative fiction will only make progress as it convinces unknowing spec-fans to embrace its titles, I fear we’re way behind the eight ball. Making my title appealing to someone who’s not a certain genre fan seems self-defeating.
My second observation has to do with Jeff’s point that “the pool of self-identified fans of Christian speculative fiction is very small–possibly smaller than 5,000 people in the English speaking world.” If true, this is terribly disheartening. But here’s where I think that observation is tricky and points to an important divide in the Christian speculative fiction debate.
While “the pool of self-identified fans of Christian speculative fiction is very small,” the pool of Christians who like speculative fiction is immense.
And that, I think, is a huge distinction that needs made. I’ve repeatedly said, as I did on that thread, that “hardcore spec readers migrate away from overtly ‘clean,’ preachy stuff.” I’ve seen this over and over. The Christians I know who love speculative fiction read Stephen King, watch Game of Thrones, enjoy The Hunger Games, and like the Walking Dead. They don’t need to have their stuff scrubbed and salted with Scripture. And these same Christians are probably not in Jeff’s pool of 5,000.
- The pool of Christians who love speculative fiction is immense.
- The pool of Christian fiction enthusiasts who love speculative fiction is much smaller.
These two groups are after two different things: One wants good spec-fic, the other wants good Christian fic, with speculative elements.
And there’s your divide.
It’s this BIG pool of Christians who like speculative fiction that we are missing. And we are missing them because we’re aiming at the Christian market.