Monday, April 9, 2012

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 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."


Kathrese McKee said...

Even if there's no room at the inn for speculative fiction, I'm hopeful that publishers of inspirational fiction will find a place for us in the stable. We can all agree that, sometimes, great things come from humble beginnings.

Thanks for your encouraging post.

Bruce Hennigan said...

Mike, it is a mixed bag. I was going to ACFW but opted instead to go to HUTCHMOOT 2012. It's a very small, but highly sought after conference about speculative fiction from the greats, Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, O'Connor, Wangerin, etc.
But, I would invite anyone interested to check out an online apologetics conference at this link:
in late April. It is dedicated to the intersection of literature and apologetics and I have been invited to speak on Christian Speculative Fiction and Apologetics and I'm using your book, The Resurrection as one example.
This may seem futile, but I think one way we can engage other Christians to pick up SpecFic books is to appear at such venues and talk about our work. I hope this presentation gives a boost to Christian SpecFic.
I hate that I'm not going to ACFW. I'd love to meet you and any other Realms authors that might be there.

Amanda Stephan said...

Well, I'm glad to see Thomas Nelson is interested as that's what our daughter primarily reads. I'd much rather have her read a book from a Christian publisher I'm familiar with than have to hold my breath every time she picks something up from a secular publisher. Not that they don't have some good books, but, I'd prefer there were more Chrisitian Spec-Fic. Here's to hoping others jump on board!