We’re Talking Promotion, Really

I’ve been corrected in the past about misusing the term “Marketing.” I believe what I’m actually advocating is that writers and readers PROMOTE the good CSFF fiction we love. In so doing, I believe these things are likely to happen:

    1) More readers will find out that CSFF exists
    2) More readers will buy CSFF
    3) Publishers will contract more CSFF authors

This last point depends in part on changing the perception that Christian readers won’t buy Christian science fiction and fantasy.

To accomplish this, I think we need to debunk the myths which I have tried to do in previous posts. Here’s another effort.

Myth: Realms, an imprint of Strang dedicated to Christian science fiction and fantasy, was a failure.

The Truth: Realms books actually made the publisher money. That the person now in charge at Realms chooses to publish supernatural suspense instead of fantasy or science fiction does not mandate the conclusion that the CSFF books were not financially successful.

There ARE other reasons for going a different direction. Since I trust the source who saw the numbers and stated that the books all earned out, I must conclude that there is something other than a financial reason for the change.

The unfortunate thing is that the myth that Realms failed financially is being repeated, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Myth: respected houses don’t want Christian science fiction or fantasy.

The Truth: Respected houses with fantasy authors under contract include AMG (Bryan Davis), Barbour (R. K. Mortenson), Bethany—Dave Long’s employer—(Karen Hancock), Harvest House (George Bryan Polivka), NavPress (Sharon Hinck), P&R (L. B. Graham), Thomas Nelson (Wayne Thomas Batson), Tyndale (Chris Walley), Water Brook (Donita Paul), and probably others. Many houses may not be actively seeking new fantasy authors, but that’s not the same thing as saying they don’t want it.

Myth: fantasy means allegory.

The Truth: Very little allegory exists. Allegory is a one-to-one correspondence of an image with what it represents throughout the story. Few writers can sustain such metaphorical writing and few even try. What I suspect someone like Chip MacGreagor means, in stating as Dan Edelen reported that “allegory is a hard sell,” is that the use of transparent symbols makes the work a hard sell. The use of transparent symbols is a matter of craft, not of genre, and poorly crafted work should be a hard sell.

Myth: something isn’t working right in the publishing business.

The Truth: As near as I can tell, the publishing business is working like most other capitalistic endeavors. Right now publishing favors the “buyer,” the publishing house. They can pick and choose what manuscript to purchase based on their own standards. I may not like these circumstances, but unless someone is advocating the overthrow of the capitalist system, these are the circumstances we’ve got.

Rather than appearing broken, the system is working to the satisfaction of the publishers. Until recently CBA (actually the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, ECPA) saw the aging middle class woman as their target buyer. This was someone unlikely to buy fantasy or science fiction. Consequently CSFF authors either quit, went to secular houses, or shelved their work for later.

What changed was declining book sales, except, apparently, in the CBA. Secular publishing houses wanted a piece of the ECPA pie and began buying up Christian publishing houses and running them as imprints of the parent company.

Was this what gave ECPA books wider distribution? Perhaps. Many more novels are on the shelves of CBA stores but also are on the shelves at Barnes & Nobel, Borders, Wal-Mart, and so on. With wider distribution and an awareness that the aging target audience is … well, aging, the publishers have become more active in their efforts to sign authors writing for the twenty-something reader.

The point is, the business is in flux. What was in 2005 will in all likelihood no longer be true in 2007.

Here’s an example. I received this very nice rejection notice in May, 2005:

I’ve taken some time to review The Chronicles of Efrathah and we’re going to have to pass. We’re still a bit gun shy about the fantasy genre.

Less than six months later, this same publisher contracted a fantasy trilogy. Was this editor lying to me? I know the man and I don’t believe that for a moment. The fact is, their perception of fantasy changed. Either their perception of what constitutes fantasy or their perception of the market that exists for it.

Myth: fantasy isn’t well written.

The Truth: I can’t prove this, but I think just the opposite is true. Because fantasy authors have been shut out of publication for a number of years, we have had time to work on our craft. I think CSFF as a general rule is the best Christian fiction I’ve read. I’d take Hancock, Hinck, Ingermanson, Mackel, Mortenson, Olsen, Owens, Paul, Rogers, Tyers (and I’m undoubtedly leaving out some that could easily be included) over any other ten CBA writers.

Can the writing improve? Of course. I’d like to see us deepen our characters, make our plots more complex, our themes less transparent, but I see that happening. With perhaps only one exception that I can think of, CSFF writers continue to improve their craft. That’s as it should be. Can we ever say, This book is perfect? Not this side of Heaven. So that means there will ALWAYS be room for improvement.

I, for one, don’t plan to wait for those perfect books before I start promoting the very good ones that will help change the perception of CSFF.

Published in: on December 29, 2006 at 1:31 pm  Comments (9)  
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