Christian SpecFic Shut Out … Again

The Florida Christian Writers Conference is next weekend, and I’ve had that old, familiar experience: I look through the list of agents and editors, hoping there will be someone I can meet with.

But it happened again, same as always.

This one’s looking for romance, suspense, and historical.

That one’s looking for Amish, contemporary romance, and women’s fiction.

Another one is interested in most genres but NOT speculative.

keep out

Photo illustration by magann • Fotolia

The number of agents and acquisition editors who specifically state they do NOT want speculative fiction tells me they are getting a lot of it. Because if writers weren’t pitching it, editors wouldn’t feel the need to exclude it.

I mean, the market is clearly not deluged with writers pitching Westerns, or the editors’ information would say “we’re looking for historical fiction, including romance, but NOT Westerns.”

They don’t say that.

Speculative fiction is the only genre in the Christian submarket that gets singled out for this kind of exclusion.

Why is that?

We’ve talked a lot here about the Christian submarket’s cluelessness at reaching speculative fiction readers. Few of the editors get it, and fewer still of the booksellers. And the publishers? Where Christian speculative fiction is concerned, I’m not sure the marketing departments at any of the Big Five subsidiaries know the difference between Balaam’s donkey and the Crack of Doom.

So why do I keep doing it? Why do I keep attending Christian writers conferences when I know they won’t have anyone for me to pitch to? Why don’t I just attend Realm Makers and skip all the others?

Well, mostly it’s because I usually have an opportunity to teach, so even if there’s nothing for me there as a writer, there’s an opportunity for me as an editor to serve writers and, let’s be honest, promote my business.

But it’s also than I have the opportunity to study. Yes, now that I’ve been doing the conference circuit for almost ten years, there’s not a lot I haven’t heard. You can only sit in so many novel-writing workshops before it all starts to sound the same. But if I ever reach the point where I claim to not have more to learn, please bury me, because I’ll be dead.

So I will keep attending writers conferences and editors conferences and trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can while imparting to others what I have. And I will keep perusing those editorial requirements because every once in a while, I do find another publisher who accepts Christian speculative fiction. Last year it was Brimstone, which also got involved in Realm Makers. I don’t know who will be next to figure out that this Christian speculative fiction genre has potential … but I’ll keep looking.

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.

17 comments on “Christian SpecFic Shut Out … Again

  1. I hear you. When i mentioned speculative at a regional Christian writing conference, I received some odd looks. Thank goodness for Realm Makers!

  2. Nooo! I’m so sorry, Kristen! But way to persevere.

    I haven’t been part of NAF long enough to participate in the discussion about why Christian publishers don’t want spec fic, but do you think it might have something to do with its (unjustly) low place on the totem pole of canon? I took a science-fiction class in college where we explored why sci-fi and fantasy were the last in the hierarchy of “respected” genres in academia (fantasy being the very lowest). I don’t remember any of the reasons we discussed in class, but I encountered that hierarchy myself when I wrote my thesis on LOTR and Paradise Lost. It took some effort to get LOTR accepted as a scholarly enough work to analyze. I wonder why spec fic in general, and fantasy in particular, is so overlooked.

    • That could be a big part of it. Genre fiction of all kinds was traditionally looked down on in academia. I still hear tell of professors that don’t want students writing genre fiction.

      In the Christian submarket, it’s mostly that sci-fi and fantasy readers gave up looking for books in Christian bookstores. So the booksellers and marketers don’t know how to reach them. But yes, there is definitely an anti-genre bias at work.

  3. Unfortunately, that’s exactly why I quit going to that conference. I wish I could say I’d keep going there to learn, but I have found other ways–much less costly ones–to keep learning, in places where I don’t feel like an outcast.

    Also, I just do NOT get why publishers can’t see that if writers–who are also READERS–are writing so much spec-fic, it’s because they see a need for it. Someday, there are going to be even more spec-fic writers, too, as all the teen writers out there are growing up, and most teens I know–Christian teens–read gobs of spec-fic.

  4. I have a reputation for bluntness, like Foyle in Foyle’s War. It gets me in trouble sometimes, which is why I rarely comment. My heart goes out to you, Kristen. You are in my prayers.

    But to answer your question. Why does this happen? Because the people who control Christian publishing from the top down do not like speculative fiction, therefore no one else should. It’s a matter of taste run amok. They just do not like it, period, nor should anyone else, and they do everything in their considerable power to marginalize these genres and subgenres accordingly, plus they punish those who offend their sensibilities and get out of line in very chilling ways. The only way to combat this is to be faithful where we are, practice Jesus’ command to forgive, and never give up.

    Mr. Foyle will be silent now.

  5. Thanks for your heartfelt words, Kristen.

    My experience was years ago at the CBA in Denver. I was there as a project manager for an outside PR firm but had the luxury to walk the floor on my breaks looking for potential publishers. As I recall, I only found 2 or 3 that handled fantasy, but since my series is dark (I rate it PG-13) I whittled those down to 1.

    Conclusion? I too scratched my head as to why and aside from what you and others have observed, I’d add that the Christian publishing world is a teeny-tiny market place (in respects to the general market) and the competition is vicious. In short, they can only publish what they know will sell.

    So I’m now working on an Amish fantasy series about teen vampires…sorry, that was a joke.

  6. Unfortunately, Kristen, that sounds about par for the course. 😦
    At the first Christian writers group I attended, I was told that when I matured as a Christian, I would leave “that stuff” and write devotionals & Christian self-help (oxymoron?) books. Tried their conferences in two consecutive years. There was /slightly/ more welcome but only because it was big enough to attract some known indie publishers in the genre.

    For the most part, though, the words “fantasy” or “science fiction” or “speculative” in a Christian writers group or conference draws, at best, polite but pitying stares as though you have a mental illness or snot running down your face.
    At worst, you get a dressing down for doing something sinful and/or occult.
    It’s a major reason so many Christian speculative writers either take the self-publishing route or go mainstream. We don’t hang out where we’re not welcome.

  7. This is one reason we started our own small press. There is a major disconnect between CBA publishers and Christian speculative readers. I’m a geek and a book reviewer who likes finding my own tribe, so I KNOW the readership is out there. However, it seemed like more and more, because I was a Christian spec geek, I had a lot more viable ideas about the audience, what they like, and where to reach them. One member of our publishing team is a veteran of conventions, both as a panelist and an attendee, and we have other marketing endeavors as well. And as a small press, we don’t have all the stuff to lose that the big presses do–and since we’re solely speculative, no worries about scaring off Amish fiction readers. Sorry, that’s sounding like a promotional. All being said, you just have to keep fighting and making connections, and I applaud you for doing so consistently. 🙂

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