Some readers admittedly consider themselves part of a niche. They love science fiction, for example, and science fiction alone. They devour online magazines that carry science fiction, buy up all the novels they can afford, watch whatever scifi shows up on TV, own the DVDs of all the great scifi movies, and bemoan the fact that there isn’t more they can get their hands on.
I was never that kind of reader. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my first great reading love was Walter Farley’s books about the Black Stallion and the horses he sired. Not long after, though, I dived into Nancy drew mysteries. My first “serious” reading was Pride and Prejudice, which led me to discover Little Women and others by Louisa May Alcott.
What do all those books have in common? Not much, other than the fact that I found them interesting, exciting, enjoyable.
At some point, I discovered fantasy, either through Lord of the Rings or Narnia–I don’t recall which was first–and I did search for any and all books that seemed similar. Not exclusively, though. When Janette Oke published her first prairie romance, I read it and enjoyed it. Shortly afterward, a friend pointed me to a Randy Alcorn mystery, and I read and enjoyed that, too. When Frank Peretti’s supernatural suspense books came out, I happily devoured them as well.
Despite the fact that I had discovered the early books in what has come to be known as Christian fiction, I continued to read Dick Francis novels or Tom Clancy. In other words, my reading tastes have been, and still are, eclectic.
When I went to my first writing conferences, then, I was at a loss to understand the idea instructors introduced that writers should target a particular audience. I was targeting readers like me who enjoy all kinds of stories. Not children. Not teens necessarily, though they might enjoy my stories. But readers. People who like mysteries or fantasy or space opera or adventure, even women who like women’s fiction.
But apparently readers is not an acceptable target audience. Apparently we, writers and readers, are supposed to segregate ourselves from genres other than our favorites.
Except, I consistently see in the blogosphere, others who say they like stories from a variety of categories.
How can we who want to see more Christian speculative fiction produced by traditional publishers, reach those readers? For that matter, how can self-published authors reach those readers?
I’ve been thinking about that in connection to Speculative Faith and to the Clive Staples Award. With the latter, readers have nominated a couple middle grade books, some young adult novels, and some adult. So how can we get the attention of middle grade readers, not just middle grade readers who like fantasy? Or YA readers, not just YA readers who enjoy supernatural suspense?
In other words, how can readers like me, the eclectic kind, find out about books we label “speculative”? Will regular readers stop by the Spec Faith library because they’re in the mood to read scifi, much the way someone might choose a Chinese restaurant because they’re in the mood for a little chow mein?
I’m asking these questions without answers. I know too many readers who would not consider themselves “fantasy people” who enjoy Narnia and The Hobbit, but who have never heard of The Chronicles of Prydain, let alone the Blood of Kings trilogy by Jill Williamson or The Guardian-King series by Karen Hancock.
I know there are fans of Melanie Dickerson’s Christian fairytale fantasies, for example, who don’t know there’s a Clive Staples Award where they could nominate her books. Why? Because we have no way of reaching them.
And the thing is, should they discover their favorite author on a list of books nominated for the same award, might they not find out that a novel like King by R. J. Larson or Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl or Son of Truth by Morgan Busse, is similar?
How do we bridge the gap between readers and books waiting to be read? How do we spread the word, not about a single title, but about a genre to non-genre-identifying readers? Because I have to believe there are far more readers who just love good stories than there are readers who isolate their reading to one particular category.
I’m part of a couple Facebook groups for Christian speculative fiction, and I wonder how helpful those are. Would it be wiser to join regular reading groups instead? How can we reach beyond the borders of readers who identify as fans of speculative literature? Is there something we’re missing?