Just this last week I read another report of a writer friend who is considering no longer doing speculative fiction. To be accurate, the word “speculative” wasn’t part of the equation, but since that’s what he writes, that’s a given.
He’s not alone. In a comment to his post, another writer said they were considering the same thing.
In a group of speculative writers, more than one have “sung their swan song,” expressed their frustration at low sales and much work, and have decided to hang it up.
This is not exactly new. I know of a speculative writer who wrote in obscurity for years. Eventually he got a contract with a traditional publisher who put out his fantasy trilogy and received . . . dismal sales. So he decided, enough.
Then there’s the middle grade writer who had a similar experience. Not the “writing in obscurity” part exactly. He’d written nonfiction and work for hire for years. In other words he’d paid his writing dues, honed his skill, then when the opportunity came, . . . sales were not there.
Some of these writers I’m talking about primarily are self-published. Some have been contracted by a traditional press.
At the other end of the spectrum are writers who self-publish and do quite well or writers who started out with contracts from small presses and now have contracts with major traditional publishers. Yes, these too are speculative writers.
What are we to conclude from these circumstances?
1) Some people have no clue how to market and no will to do so. Apparently they have no desire to learn, either, or to bring someone on board who can help with that end of the writing and publishing experience.
2) Some people are publishing prematurely. They, much as I did when I was new to writing fiction, think they’re ready when they aren’t ready. They apparently haven’t put their work in front of anyone who will give them knowledgeable feedback. Are there plot holes? Are these characters realistic? Is there tension, clarity, conflict, resolution? And on and on. Too many “beta readers” make their evaluation based on the fact that they like this person and they want them to be happy, so they give a story a thumbs up when it really needs much more work.
I see what I can only assume to be novels that have received this kind of approval which then end up in contests. They hold no chance against the novels from authors who have learned the craft, received the critiquing, editing, proofing from an established team of professionals.
But remember, good writing doesn’t mean good promotion.
3) Some people write what they like and are unaware what the majority of readers want. I kind of think that’s the case when it comes to “Christian horror.” Yes, I do know some people are firmly in the corner of this genre. They believe in it. But from what I’ve seen, readers who embrace horror aren’t particularly interested in a “Christian” aspect, and Christians aren’t particularly eager to read the horror aspect.
Of course there is the factor that many in Christian leadership still do not understand the pretend element of speculative fiction. Just this week I heard a pastor mention dark elements such as vampires as a thing to avoid. Are they wrong? Not categorically, but neither are they right. There is perhaps more evil displayed in “realistic fiction” that never gets thrown into the classification of “dark.” Yet it belongs there more than any pretend monster story.
There is one more issue connected with writing Christian fiction—some writers believe speculative fiction needs to tell the truth about God and spiritual forces. I’ve read some books that do a remarkable job showing demons and angels in the same way the Bible does, for instance. On the other hand I’ve read books that have humans traveling to hell and back, demon hunters battling evil by means that can only be referred to as superstition, angels getting trapped on earth and unable to return to heaven.
The question is, if someone is writing Christian fiction, what do Christians want to read? My guess is, they’d choose to read books that do not distort or twist facts about the supernatural that God has shown us.
But what about Christians writing fiction that isn’t telling any spiritual truth? Their stories are just intended to be good stories.
Yes, I’ve heard over and over that their Christian worldview will inevitably leak into their story, but is that attractive or off-putting to the general market? I know of one writer who wanted to make a difference among young adult readers by creating a “clean” story. Yet in the end, their characters entered into relationships that were no different from someone writing from a different worldview. Apparently that’s what the story demanded, and holding on to a “puritanical” approach would have been off-putting to the general market readership.
Will writers who hold to Christian values in their stories also hold their readers? Or find their readers? Must they write to Christians only?
I happen to think that the world desperately needs to hear what Christians have to say. The world needs hope and healing from sin, but the truth is there is only false hope in “looking for the power within,” or the “man is good, you just need to show him empathy” approach to life.
So where does that leave Christians and speculative fiction? I guess the key is to take a hard look at the books that are “making it,” the books in the general market and in the Christian market and those that are self-published and selling well. What do they have that the others do not?
I’d be interested in your ideas. Do you know any books that are doing well—selling in the thousands—whether self-published, traditionally published (by small or large, Christian or general market, publishers)? What do they do that allows readers to find them and want to read them?