An Open Letter to Christian Fantasy Readers

Two years ago I walked into my local Family Christian Store looking for a copy of Karen Hancock‘s Light of Eidon as a gift for a friend. When I didn’t find it, I asked the clerk why they didn’t shelve the books of a three-time Christy award-winning author. She registered shock. “Oh, I didn’t know!” I ordered the book and since then have had no trouble locating Hancock’s books at that store.

The point is simple: people don’t buy good Christian fantasy because they don’t know about the books or where they can buy them—not because of an aversion to the genre or because of poor writing.

In a discussion in the ACFW forums Stuart Stockton informed us of a web site, TitleZ that keeps track of Amazon sales rankings over long stretches of time and claims to reflect how a book is selling industry-wide. If this is true, the sales for some of the best Christian fantasies are not good. And yet, when comparing them to some of the “bright lights” of Christian fiction, the sales don’t seem to be all that far apart. Of course, if this were translated into dollars and cents, I might view it differently.

Still, not that much seems to separate the better fantasies from some of the better other-genre books (with Ted Dekker being an anomaly 😉 ). Why is this?

Have the fantasies not found readers? That’s not true, because there are a couple series doing quite well—better than some of the other-genre books that have received a significant marketing push from their publishers.

Are the readers who find the good fantasies hoarding them—not telling their friends or buying the books for their relatives, because they feel like they belong to a secret club and want to keep it that way? Possibly.

Or do the readers take the books for granted, assuming that if they found them, others will too in good time? Hmmm. This might be true.

Still, I am befuddled. Some beautifully-packaged books are selling well and some beautifully-packaged books have disappointing sales, at least judging by TitleZ’s claim that these Amazon figures reflect sales at large.

Can we who love SFF make a difference? I have to believe so. Blogging, in my view, is the written form of word-of-mouth, so our views ought to start people looking at the books we believe in.

But this past week heard another fact—a recent survey revealed that only 18% of readers visit a publisher’s web site while 23% visit an author’s site. That makes me realize, blogging alone is not enough, especially by unpublished writers like me (23% of 0 being what it is! 😉 )

What am I driving at? We readers/fans/writers of Christian science fiction or fantasy need to do more to spread the word about our genre. Here are some ideas:

  • buy at least one CSFF book for a Christmas present
  • ask at least one local bookstore to stock books by a CSFF author you see missing from their shelves
  • write a publisher of one of your favorite CSFF books and thank them for giving you the kind of book you love and ask them for more
  • write a list of your favorite books and authors and give that to a local library asking them to add those to their buying list
  • mention said list in your Christmas letter
  • too late for the Christmas letter? send another one in January all about fantasy and why you love it and what authors you would recommend
  • send same information to your e-mail contacts
  • post a list of favorite authors on your blog
  • invite friends, family, church acquaintances, school contacts, business collegues, neighbors to read your blog, especially during CSFF blog tours
  • not participating in the tour? Sign up at CSFF Blog Tour
  • I’m sure there are other things we can do if we brainstorm a bit. Of course, not everyone is able to do all of these, but if you managed only three, starting with the first one on the list, that can begin a wave that will grow geometrically. One doubled becomes two. Two doubled becomes four. Four doubled becomes eight. How many steps to a million? Not as many as you might think, but it will NEVER happen if one doesn’t first double and become two.

    The bottom line for me, however, is not simply sales. Rather, it is this: our culture loves story and right now is drinking in fantasy. Fantasy, a genre built on the struggle of good versus evil, can and should reflect God and His work in the world. What a great opportunity to be Paul on Mars Hill saying, I notice you’re worshipping an unknown god. Let me tell you a fantasy that will show you who He is. Might not Christian fantasy be the new evangelistic crusade?

    I know I’ve triggered a few knee-jerk reactions with that last line (stories should NOT preach), and I don’t want to digress into a discussion of well-crafted theme versus preaching. No matter what you believe about that issue, I think we can agree that Christians should glorify God. It’s why we are. So a Christian who writes science fiction or fantasy should glorify God. In turn, do not those of us who read these writers want to point others to this work in order that God’s glory can be spread farther, wider?

    Marketing shouldn’t be about garnering fame or dollars but about giving others the chance to see God through the writing we love. We can play a small part in this process—one becoming two.

    Published in: on December 18, 2006 at 6:00 am  Comments (16)  
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