Why is “Speculative Fiction” Under-represented in Christian Bookstores?

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of being a Christian who reads speculative fiction (supernatural, sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.) is the lack of speculative titles available in Christian bookstores. It is routinely estimated that 75-80% of all Christian novels are some form of romance, which leaves the other quarter-of-a-percent to duke it out for the remaining space. But apart from the two big names — Ted Dekker and Frank Peretti — spec titles are a rarity in Christian bookstores.

While many groups have formed (independent presses, blog tours, message boards, crit groups, etc.) aimed at addressing this disparity, the bottom line remains: Christians who like speculative fiction are forced to find their “fix” outside the Christian market.

Why is this?

I privately queried one industry insider regarding the dearth of spec-fic in Christian bookstores and they wrote back with this answer:

“…it’s not just a CBA thing. Across all of publishing, sales of Spec fiction lag behind many other kinds of fiction. The spec/fantasy crowd (both writers and readers) are an extremely vocal minority. They are always out there screaming that there’s not enough spec fiction to suit them, but publishers have not seen profit in it. Believe me, if they did, everyone would be publishing a lot more spec.”

I’ll be honest: I have a hard time believing this. I mean, when Borders and Barnes and Noble contain aisles — not just a couple shelves — aisles of horror, science fiction, graphic novels, and fantasy, it is really difficult to believe that “publishers have not seen profit in it.” On top of that is the prominence of spec-fic in popular culture. For instance, of the 50 highest-grossing movies of all-time, more than half contain speculative themes (The Dark Knight, The Sixth Sense, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Spider Man, etc.). In literature, there’s Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight epic and Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which have sold gazillions of copies. Nevertheless, spec titles comprise a relatively minuscule portion of the religious fiction market.

So what gives? Is this industry insider (and their professional peers) deluded? Are they part of some grand CBA conspiracy to suppress the growth of speculative fiction? Is the spec/fantasy crowd simply “an extremely vocal minority”? Or are Christian readers really not that interested in speculative fiction?

I recently posted on this subject at my website (link HERE) and received a lot of great response (the comment thread is currently pushing 50). Nevertheless, the answers remain varied. Of the possible reasons why speculative fiction is under-represented in Christian bookstores, these seem to be the most common:

  • Demographics; the Christian market is primarily geared toward women, and women, by and large, don’t prefer spec titles
  • Christian publishers are behind the times, operating under an “old model,” unwilling (perhaps unable) to risk broadening their market
  • Speculative titles are “unsafe” and push the boundaries (thematically and theologically) of traditional Christian fare
  • Christian bookstores cater to conservative clientele; hardcore spec fans cannot go to Christian bookstores to find their “fix”

Anyway, these are the going theories.. While I have several of my own, definitive answers appear elusive. Either way, I guess I’m part of that “extremely vocal minority.” What about you? Why do you think Speculative Fiction is so under-represented in Christian bookstores?

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” in stores Spring of 2011. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.