Why is it that fantasy fiction has done well in the secular marketplace, but has bombed in the Christian marketplace? Why has it been so hard to get speculative Christian fiction published?
Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press had some insight about this at the 2013 Realm Makers Conference in St. Louis, where Christian speculative fiction writers and readers gathered for the first time.
Gerke suggested that there’s a gatekeeper at the Christian bookstores. This person is female and middle-aged or older and threatens to withdraw her support from her Christian bookstore if she finds any fiction in it she finds offensive, for example containing a bad word, or magic, or angels of questionable heritage. Her threat is effective, and the bookstores won’t buy anything borderline as far as middle-aged Christian women are concerned.
In the past, all the CBA publishers have bowed to this gatekeeper. They want to get their stuff into Christian bookstores, and that’s what they have had to do.
Since the readers who frequent Christian bookstores tend to be middle-aged women in search of a romance read, why are we surprised that fantasy doesn’t sell there?
Now that bookstores are struggling and much book buying is shifting to the Internet, where is the power of this gatekeeper?Might there now be room in the Christian marketplace for books that this particular gatekeeper finds offensive, but other Christians do not? In particular I am thinking that the market may be opening up for Christian science fiction and fantasy, since those who want to write this can now sell it directly to those who want to read it. There’s even room for fantasy books with a few cuss words in them; Marcher Lord Press’s best seller, A Throne of Bones, is an edgier book like that, appealing to Christian readers under 30.
The challenge becomes getting the attention of potential readers on the Internet, where there is certainly a lot of noise. That’s a challenge, but it’s no longer a closed door, slammed by that former gatekeeper.