Realm Makers, the conference for Christian speculative writers, was a huge success, by all reports. For one thing, it created a good deal of buzz about the genre, but there may have been a more important effect.
First, as Christian publishing houses, small to begin with in comparison to general market publishers and the number of books they release, concentrate on the tried and true—either genre or author—the ever-expanding number of speculative authors must look elsewhere for publication.
In response to this trend, more small presses have joined the likes of Enclave and Splashdown Books, focusing primarily, if not exclusively, on speculative fiction from a Christian worldview. In addition, self-publishing as an option is no longer cost prohibitive. Finally, we can’t forget about the possibility of publishing in the general market.
In other words, Christian speculative writers have options like we’ve never had before. While some of us still feel stuck in the in between—not “Christian” enough for the Christian market and not fantastic enough or scientific enough or dark enough or violent enough for the general market—we no longer are dependent upon those two options.
But here’s were Realm Makers and any other writers’ conference come into play again. One conferee at last week’s event tweeted this: “Writing conferences: the place you go to realize you need to rewrite everything. But strangely also be inspired….” (Jesse Koepke @jessekoepke)
Conferences show writers what we can’t find out on our own—what other people think of our ideas, what professionals consider when deciding which manuscripts to publish, how our writing stacks up against the writing book buyers are paying to read. In other words, writers get schooled.
How well we learn our lessons, I believe, determines how successful we’re going to be in reaching the public with our stories in this new publishing paradigm.
As a freelance editor, I’ve seen all kinds. Some writers are so confident in their work, they don’t feel they need editing, or even revision. In contrast, some multi-piblished writers send their work through critique groups, hire an editor, and still send their work to Beta readers. In other words, they are working hard to polish their story to a shine, not according to their own standards alone, but according to the feedback they receive.
In some ways, the more a writer learns, the more he finds out what he needs to learn.
But what does all this mean for the future of Christian speculative fiction?
I think we’re right where we need to be. As atheism grows and books reflect the depravity of our society, Christian speculative fiction, like Christ Himself and those of us who follow Him, have the opportunity of presenting truth to counter the lies filling bleak books that offer no hope.
Rather than bemoaning the state of publishing, we should pull up our socks and go to work. Yes, work! Good writing takes work, and we must not settle for mediocre. Proper marketing and promotion takes work, too.
Essentially, the future of Christian speculative fiction is in the hands of those of us who are passionate about speculative stories and more passionate about pointing to God through what we write.
It’s an exciting time. We can create quality stories, draw attention to the best of our genre, support and encourage readers in their efforts to find good books—and no gatekeepers stand in our way. The readers themselves are the gatekeepers.
We as readers can play an active role and help advance the cause of Christian speculative fiction—not by giving meaningless 5-star reviews or by voting for books in contests based on how popular the author is. We can also do the hard work of telling the truth about books—the good and the not so good.
In reality, honest feedback is the only helpful feedback. If someone buys a book because the last twenty people gave it five stars, only to discover that it has holes in the plot and weakly developed characters, not only has that author lost a reader, perhaps the whole genre has lost a reader.
We’re at a crossroads, I believe. Are Christian speculative stories going to speak to our culture, or not?
By God’s help we can use speculative fiction to show who God is and what difference He makes in the world. We can show to a world floundering without purpose why we’re here. We can show the value of life to a world devaluing humans. We can show what it means to love our neighbor or to embrace absolute truth. We can paint a picture that shows our eternal destiny, not annihilation.
There are so many ways our stories can show God’s truth to a dying world hungry to sort through the morass of false teaching flooding our schools and movies and TV programs.
We Christian speculative writers and readers may be no more numerous or powerful than Gideon’s army, but should God choose to use us for His glory, we can make a lasting impact on our culture. If we will.