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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Christian Speculative Fiction Panel -- Pt. 1

When it comes to Christian literature, the genre of speculative fiction – sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc. – is one of the most difficult to understand. While spec-fic titles comprise a significant chunk of the general market, Christian alternatives are noticeably scarce in religious bookstores. Why is this? Some suggest demographics, others point to a socially, theologically conservative readership. The opinions are many and varied. In order to further explore the subject of Christian Speculative Fiction, I’ve asked some of those "in the know" to help us get a better perspective.

A lifelong speculative fiction fan, Frank Creed founded the Lost Genre Guild as a community of Christian speculative fiction artists and fans. His 2036 Chicago cyberpunk novel Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground keeps winning awards and nominations. Frank is the head literary critiquer for The Finishers manuscript evaluation service. War of Attrition: Book Two of the Underground, and Join the Underground: the Role Playing Game are due for release in 2009.

Jeff Gerke, a.k.a. Jefferson Scott, is a published Christian novelist and professional book editor living in Colorado Springs. He's published six Christian novels of his own and co-written two Christian nonfiction books. He has been on staff at Multnomah Publishers, Strang Communications (where he launched the Realms imprint of Christian speculative fiction), and NavPress. He has done freelance editing for Howard, Barbour, WinePress, and more. He teaches at Christian writers conferences and has been an acquisitions and developmental editor for several years. He maintains two Web sites: Jefferson Scott and Where the Map Ends, and is the founder of Marcher Lord Press.

Rebecca LuElla Miller works primarily as a novelist, but also has covered high school and college sports as a correspondent for a Los Angeles area newspaper group and has published short stories and articles in a variety of publications, including Victorian Homes magazine. In addition, she does freelance editing, most prominently, three books in the Dragons in Our Midst series for AMG Publishers/Living Ink. She is the managing administrator for the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, a contributor to the team blog Speculative Faith, and the founder of the CSFF promotional newsletter Latest In Spec.

* * *

There are some differing opinions as to the state of Christian Speculative Fiction. While some laud increased quality and more ezine and indie publishing options, others bemoan the lack of shelf space and lukewarm interest by mainstream Christian publishers. How would you assess the state of Christian Speculative Fiction? Should we be encouraged, concerned, or just plain frustrated?

JEFF: For over two years I've been doing my monthly interviews with movers and shakers in Christian speculative fiction publishing, over at WhereTheMapEnds. Every time, I ask the interviewee to give his or her evaluation of the current state of our genre. I've asked this of authors from Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti to agents, forums leaders, and other pioneers in this area. The answers are always either "It's going great" or "It's terrible." To me, that says things aren't really changing. Because those have been the two opinions people have been saying since I got into Christian publishing in 1994. Certainly we'd have to say that there have been great advances and successes. But we'd also have to conclude that the industry itself--more properly, the demographic reached by Christian fiction through traditional channels--hasn't changed.

I launched Marcher Lord Press largely over my frustration with this situation. I saw that traditional CBA houses were not reaching the people who desired Christian speculative fiction, and indeed those people weren't even looking for this kind of fiction from CBA houses anymore, much less going into Christian bookstores hoping to find it. The solution, it seemed to me, would be to bypass those stores and that industry and try to reach those readers directly, where they are. Which is online.

So I think we can be encouraged that more CBA houses are giving Christian speculative fiction a chance. Writers should start there first. But I wouldn't hold my breath. We can be encouraged on the other side too because indie efforts like Marcher Lord Press are springing up to try to meet the demand of this wonderful, creative, and loyal niche.

BECKY: I’m encouraged. The publishing industry is notoriously slow, so positive movement gives me hope that more is to come.

Like others, I’ve been somewhat concerned that, while CBA has apparently embraced YA fantasy, there aren’t more adult offerings. But even in this area, I think there’s hope. For instance, Bryan Davis is contracted by Zondervan for two adult speculative novels. Coupled with George Bryan Polivka’s upcoming sequel to his Trophy Chase Trilogy (Harvest House), Jeffrey Overstreet’s Cyndere’s Midnight (WaterBrook), Karen Hancock’s Enclave (Bethany) due out this summer, there are some stories for adults we can look forward to.

I’m also hopeful that Marcher Lord Press, Double-Edge Publishing, The Writer’s Café Press, Tsaba House, Capstone, and whatever other independent presses are producing Christian speculative are going to generate wide enthusiasm for the genre.

FRANK: I study this question and see a series of truths, no differing opinions. The short answer is that the present state and future of Christian sci-fi, horror and fantasy has never been so bright. But as a lifelong fan, that’s because things have been so dim for so many decades.

On the reading end of books, the long sci-fi, horror, and fantasy drought is over. Gone are the days of literally no new titles for genre fans. The free-market has opened the doors because computers, the Web, and outsourcing changed publishing. Free and not-for-profit e-zines feature short fiction online. Small Independent presses have risked the niche and targeted genre fans who tend to have other common interests: gaming, heavy metal music, and X-games thrill sports.

On the business end of books, Christian spec-fic has long been too Christian for mainstream publishers, and too niche for Christian publishers. Because of this, the genre still lacks both religious titles and shelf space. The lack of market has frustrated artists with real passions for the genre into waiting, writing, polishing our precious. As a result, literary quality has festered. There is more hope now than ever for readers and artists.

On the writing end, there is finally hope, as all the major Christian houses have a few spec-fic authors. Many artists have published with Print-on-Demand companies. The first Christian Spec-Fic only publisher, Mr. Gerke's Marcher Lord Press, is free-market cutting edge. He uses PoD technology over the old-fashioned warehouse-full-of-books method. Paradigms have shifted, the artists are thrilled, and the fans are gathering on the Web to watch for their favorite sub-genre titles in places like Where the Map Ends, the Christian Science-Fiction & Fantasy blog tour, and the Lost Genre Guild.

Speculative themes are prominent in popular culture. For instance, of the 50 highest-grossing movies of all-time, more than half contain speculative themes (The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spider Man, etc.). In literature, there's Stephanie Meyer's Twilight epic and Rowling's Harry Potter series, which have sold gazillions of copies. Nevertheless, spec titles comprise a relatively minuscule portion of the religious fiction market. Why the disparity? Is the niche really a lot smaller than most fans are willing to admit? Are publishers constrained by demographics unique to their industry? Or is Christian Speculative Fiction somehow inferior to its secular counterpart?

BECKY: I’ll take those questions in order.

1) Why the disparity? I know many will say it’s because of the female demographic in CBA stores. I say, balderdash! We just finished a blog tour for by D. Barkley Briggs. The book was well-liked by both men and women (there were few “rave reviews,” and as one of our bloggers pointed out, balanced reviews are often the more trustworthy ones.) So if it’s not demographic, what is it? I say it is, in part, the small selection. I know from offering books on the CSFF Blog Tour that some of our readers only take the science fiction books, others opt out whenever we have a supernatural suspense, others only take YA or middle grade while another group never takes those.

For a long time, there was no significant choice in speculative titles. In addition, few stores organize their fiction by genre. Some are beginning to, and that should draw more attention to speculative titles.

Not so long ago, a fan of speculative literature could walk into a CBA store and buy Karen Hancock or Ted Dekker. That was pretty much it, and Hancock wasn’t even a for sure. Compare that to fans of romance. They can choose from Wick, Kingsbury, Lewis, Austin, Snelling, Oke, Gist, Hatcher, Rivers, Mills, Hill, ad infinitum. So what were the chances a romance fan would walk out of the store with a book to her liking versus the chances of a speculative fiction fan finding just the right book? But as I noted, slowly more speculative authors are joining the ranks, which gives readers a better chance of finding ones to their liking.

2) Is the niche smaller than what fans are willing to admit? The speculative genre is broad. Within that catch-all phrase are some small niches. But the (re)popularity of Narnia shows me that Christians still want good fantasy—the kind that includes spiritual truth.

3) Demographics – see #1. Let me add something Mirtika Schultz taught me. People may like speculative fiction without realizing it. Mike, you named some movie titles that people don’t often think of as “speculative.” Add in older movies like ET and Princess Bride—big hits, enjoyed by the segment of society who isn’t supposed to like speculative fiction. I believe it just takes the right story.

4) Is Christian speculative fiction somehow inferior to its secular [I assume by this you mean, non-Christian worldview as opposed to Christian worldview published by a general market publisher] counterpart? Not inherently. In fact, because the Christian worldview is true, we have a chance to write more powerful, life-altering fiction than someone writing from a different worldview. Do we pull it off? Well, there hasn’t yet been a Christian speculative blockbuster (unless you classify the Left Behind books as speculative – I haven’t read them to know if they are). I think the quality has improved, certainly. I see some books that come very, very close. But whether they start too slowly, have convoluted story-lines, weak characterization, improper or weak motivation, predictable plots, transparent symbolism—something—I think we’re still waiting for the breakout book.

Of course, there’s lots of discussion about what creates a breakout book. If we’re talking about sales figures, the quality of writing doesn’t seem to be a necessary ingredient.

FRANK: You mentioned demographics; here’s one to further confound your question. Shoutlife.com is one of the few Web communities one can join as a literary artist, like musical artists can join at many others. The Shoutlife authors’ page is broken down by genre. If you add the number of fantasy/ sci-fi writers to half the mystery/ suspense writers—who write spiritual thrillers—the total number of spec-fic authors surpasses even romance. Of course there are fewer authors published by traditional houses in the spec-fic categories.

In our culture, movies have become fiction’s most popular vehicle. I believe the top grossing films don’t lie, and the majority of those have been speculative. These box office successes have been credited with opening the doors to major houses for spec-fic literary artists.

The people who finally master reaching the Christian spec-fic fans, who don’t look for their fiction on the fiction shelves of Christian bookstores, are going to make a lot of money. One man you’d think would be able to answer this is Jan Dennis, literary agent for Ted Dekker, and Stephen Lawhead. Like no other, Mr. Dennis has heard that build-it-and-they-will-come voice, calling out from a cornfield somewhere.

JEFF: In my years of championing speculative projects at Christian publishing companies I have noticed that success in secular publishing has little bearing on the decisions at CBA houses. Christian publishers even sometimes bear it as a mark of pride that they're not bowing to the pressures of secular publishing.

I believe there are two main factors that come into play here. First, leadership at CBA houses and at many bookstore chains is still often suspicious of speculative fiction. (And using Tolkien and Lewis as examples doesn't help; they're considered classics that probably wouldn't sell if published new today.) Pitching anything magical or supernatural gets their shields up. Kind of like when a millionaire is chatting with someone who suddenly brings up a financial need he or she has. Suddenly he's wary. Same with spec fic in CBA publishing committee meetings.

Second, the demographic CBA houses sell to has no overwhelming interest in speculative fiction. As a group, the subset of white, American, evangelical women of child-bearing to empty nest ages doesn't want to read speculative. This group--and I love this group, by the way!--is more interested in chick-lit and cozy mysteries than in mutant alien vampires who will eat your brain.

CBA publishers know their market. They are wise to provide products that will appeal to their market and to not provide products that won't. The market for CBA fiction is not the same as for ABA fiction, and that's why publishers don't just follow what happens in secular publishing.

Of the Speculative Fiction being published by Christian houses, the majority is YA. Why is adult spec-fic lagging so far behind Young Adult in the religious market? Is this a good or a bad thing for Christians writing “adult” speculative?

FRANK: Young adult books outsell adult speculative fiction because of business. This is all about crossover potential and profitability. Adults can still enjoy books that are written for a younger audience, but younger readers can’t enjoy fiction for more mature readers. The writer of complex or heavy adult spec-fic is at a huge disadvantage. Marcher Lord Press gives such artists hope.

The psychographic of Christian bookstore shoppers and Christian bookstore buyers in general, are mothers and grandmothers. While women are a minority of the spec-fic genre, only twenty percent of men read novels at all. This means many spec-fic titles are purchased in brick & mortar Christian stores as gifts for young adult family and friends—not to be read by the buyer. YA spec-fic has huge well-intentioned birthday present potential.

BECKY: Jeff mentioned that using Tolkien doesn’t help to break down resistance to speculative fiction because his work falls in the classics category. How odd that we would deliberately steer away from anything resembling a timeless piece of literature.

Regarding your question: I think Christian spec-fic is lagging behind because Harry Potter sold well and now the Twilight books are selling well. These successes in the secular market have convinced ECPA houses that there is a market for YA fantasy. One thing I wish we would see—but I know it’s easy for me to talk because it isn’t my money on the line—is a publisher who wants to set the standard rather than dutifully follow along after the general market houses. I would like to see Christians leading rather than following.

JEFF: Adult spec-fic is lagging behind YA mainly due to the home schoolers. Many of these kids are voracious readers and are precociously brilliant. And they all dream in speculative stories. Ask any group of Christian teen novelists what they're writing and 9 out of 10 will say "fantasy."

This is the generation that's going to save us. They're growing up desiring Christian fantasy and other speculative fiction, and they're going to create a demand for more of that, and more adult stories, as they mature. So it's not necessarily a good thing for Christians writing adult speculative fiction right now, but it will be in the future.

Incidentally, Marcher Lord Press is one of the few houses that is publishing Christian speculative fiction but rejecting YA fiction. MLP is for adult Christian speculative fiction only. (However, one of my new authors thought her book was YA but I thought it was great for adults, so never fear!)

* * *

Part Two of the Christian Speculative Fiction Panel will be posted next month. Until then, we are interested in hearing your thoughts.

34 comments:

Mike Duran said...

Hey, thanks again for participating Frank, Jeff and Becky. Very informative answers! Looking forward to Part Two.

M. L. Archer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
M. L. Archer said...

One of the reasons I think speculative fiction has not taken off in the CBA has to do, in part, with their tendency to publish products that seem to lean towards a primarily female audience.

I am a moderator at christianwriters.com and we recently had one of our guys announce that he no longer wished to be a 'Christian Writer' but a Christian who writes. He is a published novelist, with a fine detective series on the market, which he no longer will continue because his books don't fit CBA structure.

Another fellow who enjoyed his series had this to say:

"This is very disappointing to me, Joe was one of my favorite characters. He took on the worst of men and even though his faith was challenged he stood firm, a good example, edgy or not, to knotheads like me who hit challenges every day."

But, the character isn't gone forever, he is getting a new name and heading for the secular market.

However, this isn't the only example of male writers having difficulty in the CBA. I know another man who was told to swap out his male MC for a female to make their work more CBA worthy.

Another gentlemen asked me to recommend a market for a story he wrote. Excellent story. Quite edgy. It had a strong Christian theme. No sex, no swearing. I recommended a Christian speculative magazine, which he sent it off to and almost immediately had it shot down. The editors said it was, 'too intense.' I looked up the names of the editors. They were all female. Every story in their annual anthology was also written by ladies.

I'm sure it's not on purpose, but perhaps if some of our publishers, and those who work for them, took a bit more of a two-fisted approach we might not be having this conversation.

'Coach' Culbertson, proprietor of the horror anthology, Coach's Midnight Diner, is much more free wheeling as to whom and what gets published. The second edition of the Diner will be out soon and I would watch to see how it goes. Because while the Diner may be many things, it is definitely NOT your great-aunts prairie romance.
__________________

John Robinson said...

I agree with Mike: great job Frank, Jeff, and Becky. Gives a feller hope.

And in the interests of full disclosure I'm the "guy" Merry alluded to. As my DI used to say (incessantly), "gentlemen, it is what it is." *G*

Mike Duran said...

M.L., that's a suggestion I floated in a post entitled Christian Fiction: No Men Allowed, several months back. For the obvious reasons, it's uncomfortable for a man to interject such ideas. Nevertheless, I think it carries a lot of weight and I appreciate you bringing it up.

While I respect Becky's assessment that the "female demographic" does not influence the volume (or lack of volume) of Christian spec-fic being published, I can't help but feel that an industry so geared to women, and so historically rooted in female readership and oversight, would not tilt in that direction. Of course, this is not to suggest that women don't read spec-fic, but that the majority of them do not gravitate toward it as a first option. Thanks for your comments!

M. L. Archer said...

I went back and read your post, Mike. Awesome. I don't know, is it time for a mag predominately by guys, for guys...read at your own risk?

Maybe.

TWCP Authors said...

I don't think we can fairly say that because editors are female that they have a bias against male-type fiction, especially when speaking of the larger Christian houses. As Jeff said, the large Christian houses know their market and it is predominantly female. It is only good business sense that says publish more female-oriented books.

Since the percentage split between female/ male readers in the Christian market mirrors that of the secular market (i.e., females enjoy reading more than males), it stands to reason that big publishers aren't going to take a business risk and publish more male-oriented fiction.

However, it is a shame that male readers can't find enough reading material that suits them. As Rebecca pointed out, there are male-type books available and there is more than a handful of them. I believe that until the men start to buy and recommend these books in substantial numbers the publishers won't produce more of them.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Guys, I'm going to be blunt here. You just don't get it. I think it's because ... well, you are guys.

In case you've forgotten, we are made differently. As a rule guys don't particularly like to read books about a woman protagonist, but as a rule, women don't care if the protagonist is a woman or a man. But you guys don't believe me because you think women must hate to read about men as much as you hate to read about women.

I'm sure you'll pull out the CBA stats to try and prove me wrong, but it's not valid. Think about the history of Christian fiction. For those first years, the books were by women and about prairie romance.

Along comes Frank Peretti who had great success, but somehow the powers that be didn't understand that many of his readers were also the ones buying the romances.

After Peretti's first four or five books, romance again dominated the offerings, then Ted Dekker came along, who also saw healthy sales. I suggest not just men are reading his books.

Women are willing to "cross over" and read about men. But guess what? Many of the editors who made the decisions about what books the female audience in the CBA will read are ... MEN. Men deciding that women don't want to read books with male protagonists.

Of course I don't have the numbers to prove my point, but I wrote on this topic two years ago, and received feedback to make me think I'm on the right track here.

Add to this the fact that a number of women don't even realize they like the speculate genre because they think the term refers only to the weird niche stuff, and you get this oft repeated and totally unproven statement that women don't like fantasy or science fiction.

We didn't like Star Wars? Or Princess Bride? Every After? Sixth Sense? or a host of other box-office successes? What, do people seriously think Christian women didn't go to see those movies?

Becky

P. S. OK, Frank posted after I wrote the above, so I'll amend this to say, Guys, not all of you get it.

Nicole said...

I, too, am a big John Robinson/Joe Box fan. Good series.
While I'm not a fantasy/specfic fan, for the life of me I can't see what the problem is for publishing more of them since the demand is there. I think now, though, many Christians don't look for these books in CBA stores, and that's the problem for setting recognizable sales.
And guys generally don't know where to find the novels they like to read in Christian bookstores. Poor marketing on the part of these stores to feature male literature in prominent places that appeal to men.

TWCP Authors said...

Great point Rebecca!

I never even thought about Dekker and Peretti when thinking of novels with cross over appeal to both sexes.

Consider all the female novelists over time, especially in the science fiction field, who have either used initials or androgenous (sp?) names to mask the author's sex. Why? supposedly knowledge of the author's sex informs the purchase of many male book buyers.

Consider Andre Norton (Alice) and how about J.K. Rowling? Now that Rowling's books are so well known it doesn't matter about the gender of the author, however, apparently when she first approached Bloomsbury, the publisher suggested the initials so she "wouldn't turn off the young boys."

I think you're onto something here, Rebecca. Males that I know do seem reluctant to read a story about a female or by a female figuring it will be all sweet, light, and daisy-kisses. On the other hand, many females don't care about the gender of the author.

Just my 2-bits worth.

John Robinson said...

First, thanks Nicole for the nice comments. 'Preciate it! *G*

Next, I’ll admit it: I don’t get what the hoo-ha is here. Let me just state this, and then let everyone make of it what they will.

I’ve been saved now for thirty-nine years. In that time I’ve matured in my faith, but I’m still light-years from where I’d like to be (as are most of us, I'd wager). And as a guy I’ve always liked certain kinds of books and movies. Perusing my bookshelves and video library, I find those prejudices borne out.

In my DVD collection I have, in addition to a bunch of classic comedies and dramas, Master and Commander, Band of Brothers, all the Lethal Weapon films, tons of Arnie and John Wayne and Stallone … you get the idea.

And the books I love include not only Lincoln and Child’s Agent Pendergast series, but Clive Cussler’s stuff, anything by Dean Koontz, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Emily Dickenson, as well as Jim Bell's works, Al Ganksy's, Peretti's, Decker's … again you get the idea. I love ‘em all.

Although my shelves are full, unfortunately the Christian novels I own and enjoy are dwarfed by the secular titles I likewise own and enjoy. Why? I dunno; probably a myriad of reasons.

All I’m saying is, there are a lot of men just like me. Shallow barbarians all, when we want something with some freaking action in it, nine times out ten we’re forced to go to the secular aisle. Not because the writing is better, but there’s simply more of it to choose from. That’s all.

M. L. Archer said...

I understand what you're saying,Frank, Rebecca. It's quite true, women more than men are cross-over readers and I know it's male publisher's calling most of the feminizing shot's at the larger houses, because, hey, it's business.

But, and this is just a thought, what if men aren't big reader's of Christian fiction because it's presented in a way that leaves them hovering between little interest and none at all?

I used to teach a roomful of boys who hated to read and it's true, there is different motivation one needs to tap into with them. You know, something beyond the threat of a book report.

So, what's the answer?

I don't know. However, I do think we're going to see more guy-readers and writers heading for the secular side of the fence.

Which does beg the question: is that where we want them? And how does one draw them back?

M. L. Archer said...

Hey, I posted as John's post was going up. Good idea's... right there.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

nine times out ten we’re forced to go to the secular aisle. Not because the writing is better, but there’s simply more of it to choose from. The same is true for fantasy/science fiction fans, John. I've written about that, too. But it seems to me that one of the hurdles we need to get over is that of misconceptions.

I may not like all the action adventure you do or even as much, but I saw all the Rocky movies and The Hunt for Red October, the Jack Ryan films. I loved the Bourne books (not the movies) and I'm a huge mystery fan. And of course, fantasy. I don't think I'm all that odd. My friends read a wide variety, too--certainly not only a steady diet of romance.

Don't get me wrong. I happen to like romance as part of the mix, but it's only part.

Unless acquisition editors are convinced, however, that there are enough of us "crossover" readers to combine with the men who like action adventure or speculative fiction, then I suppose things won't change, but I think they actually are in the process of changing.

And let's face it, discussions like this help form impressions. How many times does a person have to read "women don't like the color blue," whether it's true or not, before they start believing it?

So I'm here to say, the old "truths" about speculative fiction aren't really true.

Think for a moment about Harry Potter. That was a boy book that obviously sold to many female young adults as well as male. And those same young adults who read HP when the first book came out eight or so years ago are now ... how old? Twenty-one to twenty-seven or so? Did all those young women suddenly decide they would no longer read books with male protagonists because they became adults?

We're missing it to limit the kinds of books we put in Christian bookstore because women are buying most of the books.

Don't even get me started about women buying books to give to the men in their lives. Just this morning I received an email asking for recommendations for middle grade science fiction or fantasy for a woman's son. Happily I could give a number of fantasy titles. The point is, this was a mom who wanted to buy for her son.

Becky

sally apokedak said...

I'm a girl. Well, I once was.

I love sci-fi/fantasy. I hate horror.

I like boy characters better than girl characters, usually. Maybe because I like action.

But girl characters can draw me in if they're feisty. That Anne girl is one of the best characters around and it's OK that she's a girl.

I have read a lot of CBA spec fic. For adults and teens. I agree with Becky's point that there isn't a big enough selection. Out of all the CBA spec fic I've read, I've only found one series I really, really love. I give it to kids for Christmas. I look for kids in youth group I can buy the series for. I encourage others to buy it every time I get a chance.

That series is Jonathan Rogers' Wilderking Series.

Why don't I love the others? Some of them are good. But they all lack something. This happens with ABA books all the time. But ABA is a bigger pond. I can, in any given month, find an ABA book I need to buy to give away because I love it that much.

In about a decade of reading CBA books I've only found one book/series I love that much.

One problem I've seen over and over with CBA spec fic is that the books are brought out too fast and they are poorly written and poorly edited.

Some of the books have enjoyable characters, others have enjoyable plots, but so many of them fall short of being good books. They don't drag me into the world. They don't make me care about the characters. They don't make me love the story.

Is there some pressing reason CBA authors must write two to eight novels a year? Yikes.

I know. Once publishers find a name that sells it's a safer bet to put out four books by that name rather than one book by that name and three by unknowns.

But I think they are shortsighted. I think as long as they do this they will keep catering to the small group of fans and they won't grow their audience any.

And when they try to do both, a good thing, they end up making the new authors publish too many too fast. The new authors who have a lot of talent are never given a chance to mature. They have too many contracts with too low advances and they have to keep their day jobs and crank out a second book in a year when they spent ten on their first book.

Maybe I'm wrong about all this. I'm certainly not in the know. I'm making an educated guess.

But one thing I do know is that as a reader it is so discouraging to not be able to find stellar books in the CBA.

I know others love some of the books I don't love. So I think part of it is just a matter of taste. And I do think the books are getting better each year. But I know there are many, many books I've read that have such potential but they miss the mark. I can't help but think if the authors had a little more time and if the editors had a little more experience, the books would have been great.

And one drag is that several very nice authors, with some talent, won't ever be read by me again because I've tried their first book and their second book and their third book and instead of getting better with each book, they get worse. Once you've burned me three times by charging me for a book I don't like, you're not going to get me to read another book of yours. I feel like these authors are being published too early and with not enough time and guidance from their editors, and they've ruined their careers before they even got off the ground.

I really want to love these books and it's distessing that I can't.

Sue Dent said...

I whole-heartedly agree with whoever it was that said I'm a writer who is a Christian.

I started calling the work I write, which is general market horror (which by the way encompasses Christian readers,) Christian Fiction because the market I innocently appealed to, readers of CBA and ECPA fiction started calling it that.

Shame on you guys. My work isn't Christian Fiction as the definition is applied by CBA and ECPA readers. Ya'll got me in big trouble! But I forgive you.

But because of suggestions by these readers and even some of their authors, :O I went looking to get published by affiliated publishers. Would you believe they all turned me down. They don't publish horror that appeals to anyone but core market readers. And vampires and werewolves as they exist in lore is O-U-T out even if they're seeking redemption!

That's okay. At least I know now but what a big disappointment.

Mike Duran said...

Sally, thanks so much for your thoughts. I concur about the apparent rush of CBA novels. I wonder how Tolkien, someone who spent years and years developing the world of Middle Earth, would fare in today's market.

And Becky, forgive my density. I've always operated under the assumption that the primary consumers of Christian Fiction are women, but that the primary consumers of spec-fic are men. Am I wrong? If not, then wouldn't "Christian spec-fic" suffer a double-whammy?

Ane Mulligan said...

Well, Mike, all I can say is you really know how to start a conversation. LOL

I don't particulary care for most of the speculative fiction, but I sure know a lot of people who do. We need a place for it all. :)

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Yes, Mike, I think you are missing it. Sixty-one percent of the CSFF membership is women.

Am I saying that all women will like speculative fiction? No. But not all want to read romance all the time either.

It's perception and that comes by what people say over and over until people start believing it, even if it isn't true.

Maybe you overlooked this part of my previous comment: Think for a moment about Harry Potter. That was a boy book that obviously sold to many female young adults as well as male. And those same young adults who read HP when the first book came out eight or so years ago are now ... how old? Twenty-one to twenty-seven or so? Did all those young women suddenly decide they would no longer read books with male protagonists because they became adults?

We're missing it to limit the kinds of books we put in Christian bookstore because women are buying most of the books.


Yes, women buy romances, but they also bought Peretti and they buy Dekker.

I like Ane's conclusion--give us a place for it all!

Becky

Maggie May said...

Nothing to add, but just wanted to say I'm glad this blog is here.

Mike Duran said...

Becky, I'm wondering if the CSFF membership numbers are misleading. The sixty-one percent could be just as much indicative of the proliferation of women reading Christian Fiction as anything. In other words, there's more women than men reading Christian Fiction, thus there will be more reading Spec-fic as well. The number I'm really interested in is what percentage of all women reading Christian Fiction will actively seek out Speculative Fiction. My guess is that that percentage is well below the CSFF figure you quoted. Becky, thanks so much for the terrific conversation!

Stuart said...

I think if there is something we can take away from this it's that if CBA wanted to reach the widest possible market for sci-fi fantasy they would aquire books with a slant toward a male readership, since apparently women are more flexible in this than men are.

But I don't think that's likely to happen. In my experience with conferences and such in CBA, they tend to steer writers toward writing styles geared more toward women than men, thus they alienate male readership who is less flexible in what they will take (overall, always exceptions) if what we've seen discussed here is true to market.

I also think that a big portion of what's going on with male readership is that movies and video games tend to scratch our entertainment urges better than a lot of novels. Espeically those found in Christian fiction.

M. L. Archer said...

I read a thread at Christian writers this morning and it's author gave what sounds like one more good reason why men aren't all that interested in Christian Fiction...

Discussing speculative fiction Tamera said, "The Christian man in fiction doesn't act like any man I've ever known. His warrior edges aren't there. He's sensitive and romantic, almost like a woman. As Merry (ahem) would say, they "gay" him up."

It goes back to what John had to say about men: "All I’m saying is, there are a lot of men just like me. Shallow barbarians all, when we want something with some freaking action in it, nine times out ten we’re forced to go to the secular aisle. Not because the writing is better, but there’s simply more of it to choose from. That’s all."

Surely this is a solvable problem.

I wouldn't worry about how many women are or aren't reading CF, because they are, that's a given. But when the other half of the population is barely a blip on the radar I wonder how to fix that.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

TWCP Authors (Cyn or Frank?) said: Consider all the female novelists over time, especially in the science fiction field, who have either used initials or androgenous (sp?) names to mask the author's sex. Why? supposedly knowledge of the author's sex informs the purchase of many male book buyers.

I think that's a good point. When we toured Karen Hancock's final book in the Guardian-King series, I got my eyes opened. A number of men said they had steered away from the books because the covers led them to believe the books were just another romance. The were pleasantly surprised by the story.

So here you had a clearly female author with romance-like covers, and the guys who search out fantasy stayed a mile away.

Still the books must have done OK because Bethany is putting out another of Karen's books this summer (though I'm not sure if they're calling it speculative or not).

Becky

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

In other words, there's more women than men reading Christian Fiction, thus there will be more reading Spec-fic as well. The number I'm really interested in is what percentage of all women reading Christian Fiction will actively seek out Speculative Fiction.

Mike, I don't know if you just like to stir up conversation or if you really believe there isn't a market for speculative fiction among Christians.

First you say you doubt if women will read speculative fiction, and when I give you a statistic that indicates we will,you say that number isn't valid because there are more women who read Christian fiction than men.

Yes, there are, and not only do we read speculative fiction, borne out by the success of Peretti and Dekker, we write speculative fiction because we don't see enough of what we want to read.

If even half of the women who read Christian fiction also would read Christian speculative stories and then gave those books to their husbands and sons, it seems to me that sales would be competitive. And think of the new audience those publishers will gain.

But I'll come back to a point I made at the end of one of my comments. The Harry Potter generation has grown up and now comprises the twenty-somethings that many publishers want to reach. I suggest this will best be accomplished by thinking beyond the confines of what's been popular in the past.

Becky

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Stuart, you said I think if there is something we can take away from this it's that if CBA wanted to reach the widest possible market for sci-fi fantasy they would aquire books with a slant toward a male readership, since apparently women are more flexible in this than men are.

But I don't think that's likely to happen.


I agree with you completely. And I think the reason this is so is this misperception that women won't read speculative fiction.

Some won't. But some won't read suspense either and that hasn't stopped suspense from becoming one of the genres certain houses have featured.

I really do believe publishers belonging to ECPA are understanding this because more are including speculative titles. They do so cautiously and they keep an eye on sales to see if producing more is worth the investment.

So it seems important to me to keep voicing the cry: Speculative readers are out here. We want Christian stories--ones that are overt or ones that are subtle.

The genre has a unique way of addressing heart issues in the middle of rip-roaring action adventure.

Becky

novelteen said...

Good article, guys. One thing on Twilight, it's at heart a romantic suspense novel. That's mostly why girls (and women) are completely obsessed with it, including those who would never read a vampire story. It's got that Stephen King factor of combining two completely unrelated things (Vampires and love) and...pow!

When the teens in our youth group come to my house to borrow books from my library, they'll all consider the sci fi/fantasy books. Their moms, however...they just want to read the romance.

cathikin said...

Great panel discussion and great discussion here on the comments. A couple of matters on which I'm going to put my two cents.

The matter of women and/or reading spec fic. I'm one who loves spec fic, although I'm not very keen on horror most of the time. Since Flashpoint came out, I have been loaning or giving copies to different guys who love sci-fi, looking for their reaction to it. I was surprised to find that most of them don't really want to read, although they'll watch The Matrix and such twenty times or more. The few who do read loved it. The rest of the surprise was that several wives, girlfriends, daughters, picked up the book which I expected the guy to read. All of them have told me they enjoyed it. I've come to the conclusion that I'm not that unusual after all. In the same vein, I have seen a great number of reviews recently, for such books as Steve Rice's League of Superheroes or the Marcher Lord Press books, that begin something like, "I don't usually like speculative fiction, but I couldn't put this book down." It doesn't always happen, but a lot of those ladies who think they only like romance are won over with a good spec fic story.

Someone mentioned the poor editing aw a problem. Oh, how true it is! I can't count the number of books I've read now that were self-published or a tiny publishing house, books that were rushed before they were finished. Many of these books had good stories but were so full of editing problems that I couldn't really recommend them to anyone. Sometimes I write to the author, hoping they can and will make changes necessary. It's sad to see a good story flawed by being in too much of a hurry to get it honed properly.

My hat off to Jeff, Frank, and Rebecca for all your contributions "to the cause."

Anonymous said...

Discussing speculative fiction Tamera said, "The Christian man in fiction doesn't act like any man I've ever known. His warrior edges aren't there. He's sensitive and romantic, almost like a woman. As Merry (ahem) would say, they "gay" him up."

Then, one has to look outside the CBA bookstores offerings for now! I can't repeat this enough -- and I am not trying to get a plug in for TWCP's offerings: there are several good Christian small presses who do take a chance on harder-edged books/ characters/ action/ plot.

You may not want to take the risk of purchasing something outside the big publishers, but until these fellows see sales figures that warrant a new line/ a departure from the current fare, they aren't going to give it a go. Profitability is the name of the game.

Instead of lamenting the paucity of fiction, enjoyed by many males, in the CBA stores, support this type of fiction that exists outside of this market! Once the big guys see the little guys selling male-type fiction, they'll jump in with open wallets -- it has been their business pattern to date and I have no reason to doubt that it will continue.

Cynthia MacKinnon

Mike Duran said...

Becky said, "Mike, I don't know if you just like to stir up conversation or if you really believe there isn't a market for speculative fiction among Christians."

Becky, do I seem like the kind of person who tries to stir things up? To clarify: I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE THERE IS A MARKET FOR SPEC-FIC AMONG CHRISTIANS. My questions are more with the elements that make those stories "Christian" and whether or not that detracts from true spec-fic fans and their enjoyment.

Becky said: "First you say you doubt if women will read speculative fiction, and when I give you a statistic that indicates we will,you say that number isn't valid because there are more women who read Christian fiction than men." To clarify: I ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE WOMEN WILL READ SPECULATIVE FICTION. That's a no brainer. My questions have to do with their percentages market-wise (vss. reading romance, inspirational, historical, etc.) and then, once you calculate the percentage of women-who-read-spec-fic, how does that stack up in the much narrower Christian Fiction market.

See, I'm really pretty un-antagonistic...

Rachel Starr Thomson said...

Becky said that Christian spec fic is "not inherently" inferior to secular. "In fact, because the Christian worldview is true, we have a chance to write more powerful, life-altering fiction than someone writing from a different worldview. Do we pull it off?" Well, MacDonald--one of the pioneers of spec fiction--did. Tolkien did. Lewis did. L'Engle did. Even Rowling's Harry Potter saga was admittedly shaped by the Christ story. Christian work ranks among the greatest classics of the genre.

Fantasy which is Christian in its roots is inherently BETTER than secular, as truth is inherently better than falsehood.

As a (female) homeschool graduate who writes fantasy fiction, I second Jeff's assessment of the future of the genre. Yup, homeschoolers are brilliant ;). And they will change the world if they don't drop the torch they're holding now.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Thanks for the clarifications, Mike. I was beginning to feel pushed in a corner, like you were going to keep asking me the same question in different ways until I gave you the answer you wanted to hear.

Sally has written one of the best analyses of a story, showing how the Christian message can be incorporated without it being preachy. She looked at a The Year the Swallows Came Early, a middle grade contemporary put out by a general market publisher, an imprint of Harper Collins.

These are the kinds of books I think we Christians should be doing more of. And I would hope that publishers in the ECPA would be looking for this type.

If so, then I can see quality Christian science fiction or fantasy that all readers would enjoy--the fans of speculative fiction because it is such a great story, the fans of Christian fiction because it is such a great story.

But Mike, I do think there is some niche speculative fiction that will go no further than it's niche. And for those, I think having alternative publishing methods is essential.

Rachel, I agree with you about Christian SFF having a foot up on secular because we Christians write from a worldview that incorporates spiritual truth as well as natural. I also think the speculative genre is the perfect vehicle to convey that dimension.

I think we've kind of lost our way, though, with this whole preachy/propaganda/worldview is good enough trend. We have the most powerful, life-changing good news in the world, and we are writing stories to convey ... what? To listen to some writers, it sounds like we are to convey nothing or else we will taint the good story.

And according to others, it sounds like we are to convey whatever emerges from the story.

That bothers me. We call writing a craft because it takes some learning to get it right. I don't know if any carpenter sits down to make a table and starts in on the wood to see what will emerge.

I think it takes some work to make a story say something in a way that will not detract from the story.

I think speculative fiction can do that better than other fiction, but I'm sure that's open to debate.

Becky

sally apokedak said...

Oh, great comment, Becky, and thanks for the shout out.

Two quick things: if anyone wants a free copy of The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice, it's a great book to study if you're looking at how to put meaning into a book without preaching, you can enter a drawing here.

The second--I came across this by John Piper:

The other reason I say that imagination is a Christian duty is that when a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin.

I just really like that quote. Careful crafting is important, including deep themes and well-rounded and motivated characters.

Sheila Deeth said...

Fascinating discussion. Thanks. I guess I wonder if part of the problem, given which books get "stickered" in the Christian bookstore, isn't a fear that speculation itself might be hazardous to spiritual health.