It’s now my turn to join the SpecFaith round table on why romance novels predominate Christian fiction. Rather than give a single, complete theory, I’m going to offer a handful of reasons on why this might be. I’m going to start by citing numbers and referring to distribution models because no one on the round table has been so mundane yet, and you should never discount the mundane when trying to explain things.
Theory #1: Romance is predominant in the Christian market for the same reason it’s predominant in the secular market. As Randy Ingermanson pointed out, romance is predominant in the general market, just as it is in the Christian market. The Romance Writers of America has compiled statistics from various sources to prove the dominance of the romance genre. The most important statistic, for the purposes of this discussion, is this: In 2012, romance led all genres in revenues, with an estimated $1.438 billion.
And sci-fi/fantasy came in – second? Third? No, fourth, with $590.2 million. (Mystery came in third, by the way. I’ve never seen any theories as to why mystery, like romance, beats speculative fiction. Anyone care to theorize on why mystery is more popular – or on why there are no theories about why mystery is more popular?)
The predominance of romance, as a genre, is not a specifically Christian, let alone evangelical, phenomenon. Maybe romance rules in the Christian market for at least some of the same reasons it rules in the secular market. As for what those reasons are, I don’t know, and I frankly don’t care to speculate.
Theory #2: Romance publishers have a direct, established channel to their audience, and speculative publishers do not. Last year, at the Realm Makers conference, I listened to Jeff Gerke explain that SF does not sell well for traditional Christian publishers because they sell through Christian bookstores, which is an excellent place to find Christians who like romance, but not necessarily Christians who like SF. (That’s about the concept, though not the words. I’m working from memory, not notes.)
The explanation makes sense to me. But practically speaking, it means this: Those who publish and those who read Christian romance have an open channel to each other through Christian bookstores. It’s not so easy for those who publish and those who read Christian science fiction or fantasy. And your sales can really take a hit from that.
Theory #3: Science fiction’s low presence in the Christian market is related to Christianity’s low presence in science fiction; or, Who is the Isaac Asimov of the Christians? Science fiction and anti-Christian philosophy do not go hand in hand. They have, however, had a long and intimate association. From Jules Verne and H. G. Wells to Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, from Stanislaw Lem to John Campbell, the paramount figures of science fiction have usually rejected Christianity.
It is common to see, in sci-fi, those evolutionary ideas that are entirely incompatible with Christianity: that humans are blank slates, imprinted by their environments; that Man was created by blind nature, and God was created by Man; that humanity will evolve past this primitive religious stage. Star Wars and Star Trek – culturally omnipresent, the two great pop hits of sci-fi – mostly ignore God and occasionally slight Him. When they reveal their fundamental assumptions, those assumptions are of a God-less universe.
There’s no reason why science fiction shouldn’t be discernibly Christian, but it usually hasn’t been. Maybe that old estrangement, whatever its causes, is one of the reasons why speculative fiction has made slower inroads in the Christian literary world.
So there are my theories – none of them the reason why romance predominates, but all possibly a reason. What about you? What are your theories?