Among writers of Christian speculative fiction and members of the publishing industry, there are two distinct patterns of thought regarding the ultimate fate of Christian speculative fiction. On one end of the spectrum are those who feel it will never take off in any substantial way. In an interview with horror writer Mike Duran, agent Rachelle Gardner advances this view:
“For a long time, Christian fiction had a narrow definition and it was difficult to justify how a story involving fantasy, time travel, vampires or similar other-worldly elements could actually be ‘Christian.’ Many publishers are still trying to figure it out. At the same time, most of the publishers have dipped their toe in the waters of spec fiction in some way, and haven’t been successful at it (whether due to marketing, or their lack of ability to find their audience, or the quality of the books… probably a combination). But when they take a risk and it doesn’t pay off, they usually pull back and focus once again on books that aren’t so risky. The questions about viability in the CBA world, combined with difficulty selling it, makes it unlikely that the situation in CBA is going to change.”
On the other end are those who believe that, if given a chance, the market could do exceedingly well. Although speculative fiction only has a small representation in the Christian market, the numbers continue to grow each year. Fantasy writer Becky Miller offered an excellent account of growth in the genre and shared her perspective on the potential of this market here. In addition, on editor and agent panels, I’ve listened to other industry professionals state their beliefs that the genre could flourish–once the publishers connect with the target audience.
Yet when assessing the state of the genre, there’s another angle to consider–the overall picture of speculative fiction written by Christians and releasing from a variety of outlets, some outside the traditional box. In an interview with Nick Harrison, editor with Harvest House, Jeff Gerke, founder of Marcher Lord Press and long-time editor discusses the audience searching for this type of book:
“These people, this majority of Christians, are not being served by traditional Christian publishing. That’s the kind of situation that is not going to last. An artificial imbalance like that will be naturally self-correcting in time. That’s what we’re seeing now. After Marcher Lord Press rose up and showed people what a small, indie press dedicated to Christian speculative fiction could do, several other similar presses have sprung up to help meet the needs of that demographic. Similar presses are rising up to fill other niches, like Christian poetry, true crime, military/men’s, literary, and more. All the dispossessed authors and readers are beginning to walk around in the sunshine and find each other. And that’s only going to increase. It’s a great day to be a writer and reader of a kind of novel that has previously been squelched by the traditional Christian publishing paradigm.”
The successes he’s experienced so far, including a number of awards and positive reviews by publications like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal support his views.
In light of all this, I take a third perspective–that speculative fiction written by Christians is growing and will continue to expand both inside and outside the Christian market. I see this happening on a number of fronts:
- E-publishing. The shift in this market has both publishers and writers paying heed. Some writers (traditionally published and unpublished alike) choose to self-publish in e-book format, allowing them to connect directly with their target audience, while even the largest of publishers are also experimenting with the various options e-publishing allows. New imprints, like Tyndale’s Digital First initiative provide a traditional model of publishing that releases in e-book only format, allowing the publishers to release books with less upfront expense and risk. Writers of Christian speculative fiction that have had difficulty in the Christian market for the reasons Rachelle cited above, may find success through these venues.
- Small, independent publishers. Many of these newer traditional publishing houses, adept at finding and connecting with niche markets, put out quality work that garners awards and positive reviews from sources well accepted in the publishing industry at large (like Marcher Lord Press) and can provide strong support for the writer of Christian speculative fiction.
- CBA publishers. Certain Christian publishing houses like WaterBrook Press, AMG, and Zondervan seem to be having a level of success with Christian speculative fiction–at least they continue to acquire and release it, albeit in limited numbers, and can connect writers with broader distribution channels and more substantial backing.
- Mainstream publishers. A number of Christian writers of speculative fiction are making inroads in the mainstream market (RJ Anderson, ND Wilson, Merrie Defestano, and others). Yes, the general market has its own boundaries and limitations when it comes to the depiction of faith elements, but it understands speculative fiction well.
Each option has its benefits–and its limitations–but when you combine these four avenues, it is easy to see Christian speculative fiction growing and impacting the market in increasing measure. So is the genre thriving? Not to the fullest, but I believe it’s expanding and gaining traction, and there’s much hope for the future.
How do you view the state of the genre?