Christian SpecFic? Or SpecFic by Christians?

Avily brought The Great Christian Spec-Fic Debate to NAF yesterday, and as I started to compose my response, I realized it was a whole other post.

The Christian submarket only came about because general market romance novels got so explicit Christian women wouldn’t read them anymore. So publishers created this segment with clean romance novels for them.

Then writers in other genres said, if there can be Christian romance novels, there can be Christian suspense novels and Christian mystery novels. But Christian speculative fiction just doesn’t fit in that mold. Most Christian readers are satisfied to read GRR Martin and Brandon Sanderson.

We’re all trying to get a grip on this thing, and we’re not there yet.

Pardon me while I go all Venn on you:

CSF Venn Diagram - Plain

Like Avily, I agree with those who say the wedge in the middle is too small to sustain viable businesses. The problem of course, is that our efforts to market to the Christian bubble have fallen flat, because there are just so many people on that side who are put off by some of the concepts and themes we deal with.

Marketing to the other side of the bubble will be just as hard, because on that side, there’s a whole subset who are offended by Christian values and theology. They’re the ones who leave one-star reviews on Christian books because there’s “too much moralizing.”

We need to stop trying to convince the CBA/ACFW (which are closely allied) to solve this problem for us. They have amply demonstrated themselves unable and unwilling to do so. They’ve made that choice for business reasons. Who can argue?

We need to work both sides of the equation, finding Christians who are open to SF and SF readers who are open to Christian concepts. But that’s a daunting task. The only way we can do it is together.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

15 comments on “Christian SpecFic? Or SpecFic by Christians?

  1. The more I think about this, the more it seems to me many of us defy market delineations. This is a problem if we are looking to publish in the traditional model, because publishers have to focus their marketing on a demographic, so pigeonholing is a bottom-line must.

    But for any of us to waste another breath lamenting what the CBA isn’t doing for us seems to me just that: wasted energy. ACFW and the Christian market have their place and use, but like a mechanic wouldn’t use a spatula to do his job, we need to stop hoping the wrong tools will get us the results we want. (OK, that was a silly analogy, but I’m working fast here.)

    For me, at least as I prepare to re-release everything I’ve written in self-published editions over the next 9 months, I think this is going to mean experimenting on marketing to both “secular” and Christian readers to find my base of faith-friendly readers who don’t need the world system of the stories they read to match real theology. If this means I have to leave the “Christian author” fold, then so be it.

    If we’re going to really embrace what we write and make peace with the fact that we don’t fit anywhere, then we have to make out own, new market. Fortunately, with the way the face of publishing is changing right now, this is the time to do it.

    • The way I have ALWAYS written, Rebecca – in a combination of science fiction, fantasy and allegory – I really have no choice but to self-publish, unless a house such as Enclave eventually likes whatever I do next. (THE CROSS AND THE COSMOS, a now-defunct e-zine, certainly liked what I did. That much is encouraging.)

      I’m not surprised, then, that you’re coming to a parallel conclusion for what are probably similar reasons. And yes, only in these times in all probability would such an attempt work.

    • That’s so true, Becky. And I think the important thing to remember is that even though the niche may be small, it still exists. So there is a readership to serve. Your books, particularly, have great potential to reach the secular side because the faith element is so subtle.

  2. Uh, thank you, Avily and Kristen. You have just added to my work load by raising a topic which is so near and dear to my heart and experience that I very likely will HAVE to submit a post of my own in response. 😛 pbbt 😉

    Seriously, that Venn diagram ought to give one pause for a reason not mentioned: it’s hard indeed to please both God and the world and maybe “Christian spec-fic” is what it is (often rather poorly written, often little appreciated however well-written) because too many in it – perhaps the genre itself – attempt(s) to do exactly that.

    • You are always welcome to submit a post!

      Balancing between Earth and the Kingdom is always a challenge. But I think we can bring our faith into the market. We’ll run into opposition from a few, but we ought to expect that. We were never promised it would be easy. On the contrary, we were told “in this world you will have tribulations.”

  3. I really appreciate these posts, Avily and Kristen. Like y’all and many who have posted, I’ve faced this dilema as well. When I finished my first novel, an author friend of mine read it and immediately said I’d have difficulty in ever getting it published. It was the “wrong” kind of Christian for CBA – it didn’t quite conform to the expected conservative theology in that market. It was too “Christian” for ABA – the faith elements were too overt. She advised that I needed to decide exactly who my target audience was, make changes, and then commit to it. I spent a year trying to break through with CBA – but arrived at the conclusion that we’ve all been stating: we can’t make CBA into something that it isn’t. And that’s okay.

    So I’ve committed to the position that I’m a Christian who happens to write speculative fiction, and I’m under contract with a secular publisher. And I truly do believe that there is a market out there for us. We just need to make peace with the fact that it doesn’t lie within CBA.

    • You summed it up well, Scott. We have to write what we’re going to write and then find the readers for it. Discoverability is the hard part for all authors, not only in CSF but in every niche.

      Congratulations on your contract! Feel free to submit us a guest post about it, and/or on the launch of your book. (the link to my e-mail is at the top of the right-hand column).

  4. The problem I sense is that as religion and churches are all different in some way, that leaves the judgement of what is and isn’t good Christian Fiction in the hands of the world who create so many differences.
    I see, and I am in NO WAY judging any religion here. But in taking world religions it isn’t difficult to understand how the fules have such a wide variance and degree. So if one ie: Baptist Christian writer feels the boundaries of such christian writing is nothing comparable to playing cards going to dances or playing Bingo. So their rules for writing Christian Fiction would be less tolerant than another religion who says Bingo dances and playing cards is acceptable but wearing pants to church for a woman is wrong. There is no universal mode of christian thinking. And to me, that will always be a stumbling block to christian writers.
    Just a thought

    • “Christian Fiction” as it is sold in bookstores covers many different denominations and many styles are represented. But there are certain things that aren’t “allowed” in “Christian Fiction,” such as bad language, and there are certain things that must be included, like a spiritual journey of some kind. So when I refer to “Christian Fiction” and it’s parameters, it’s those things that the publishing industry sees as “Christian” versus “Secular”. My point is that Christian Speculative fiction doesn’t really fall into either of those categories. It doesn’t meet the parameters of “Christian Fiction” but it doesn’t have some of the other elements that is expected in secular fiction, like gratuitous sex scenes for example.

  5. […] had to go and do it. Avily Jerome (in The Great Christian Spec-Fic Debate) and Kristen Steiffel (in Christian SpecFic? Or SpecFic by Christians?) just had to go and touch upon a nerve which has been tender all my creative life—and I mean from […]

  6. I think that Venn diagram is misleading–the blue circle should be about the size of a pea. 😀 Face it–we’re all better off upping our game and competing with the big fish in the big pond. I mean, have you ever seen the hateful comments that Jim Butcher gets on the Dresden books for the miniscule amount of Christianity? (Treating Catholic priests and paladins as good guys! GOOD HEAVENS WHAT PROSELYTIZING!) But at the same time, he’s got a million hardcore fans who wouldn’t have it any other way.

  7. […] brought to my attention last time two other Human writers, Jerome and Steiffel, who wrote coupled discussions on that strange phenomenon called “Christian fiction”, and […]

  8. […] brought to my attention last time two other Human writers, Jerome and Steiffel, who wrote coupled discussions on that strange phenomenon called “Christian fiction,” and […]

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