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Guest Post: Why Aren’t There Aliens at Your Local Christian Bookstore? by Mike Lynch

It’s been said everyone has at least one book in them. Perhaps this is an overstatement, but I would venture to guess that most people have wondered at one time or another if they had it within them to write the Great American Novel. The unfortunate truth is that for nearly all aspiring writers, they will never have their novel published. In fact, your chances of getting published are 99-1 against you. Despite those terrible odds, people keep plugging away on their computers, hoping their story will be the great exception.

You are actually in very good company. John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 15 publishers and 30 agents. Mary Higgins Clark went through 40 rejections before she landed a publisher. Louis L’Amour received 350 rejections before selling his first story, and Jack London received 600. As I said, the odds are stacked against every one of us. But as bad as the situation is for your average aspiring writer, the odds are actually even worse for authors who are interested in writing Bibically-based speculative fiction.

I don’t think it’s a secret when I say that science fiction and fantasy are embraced by the secular market. According to Simba Information, a total of $ 3.8 billion was generated from fiction book sales in 2009. Of that, sci-fi/fantasy novels made $554 million, or 14.5% of total fiction sales. If you translate that into your local Barnes & Noble or Borders book stores, about that same amount of floor space would be devoted to books of those genres. Then there’s the film industry, in which 15 out of the top 20 grossing films of all time were either science fiction or fantasy stories. Clearly, our culture loves these genres. Then why is this not the case for the Christian market?

One would think Christian publishers would be on a constant hunt for well-crafted stories filled with strong characters and exotic locations on other planets or dimensions. Sadly, this just isn’t case. Though some Christian publishers have taken a chance on a speculative story now and again, overall, they remain reticent to embrace these genres. As has been told a number of times to myself and many other writers I know, they believe the audience just isn’t big enough to take the financial risk. And so they stay with those genres that have proven themselves economically viable over the years. All one has to do is go down to their local Christian book store and look in the fiction section and see the Amish (bonnet) and prairie-oriented lined up on the shelves one after the other. The reason given for this disparity is that they claim 80% of all books sold are purchased by women, and so they stock those stories their clientele are most likely interested in reading. Of course, it follows that if Christian bookstores carry titles that fall within a limited genre, readers will go elsewhere to find the kinds of stories they want to read: Barnes & Noble and Borders.

Why, then, do Christian publishers believe speculative fiction is not financially viable? Frank Creed put it succinctly in an article he wrote in 2008. 1) Christendom has always been suspicious of and slow to accept new things, 2) A widespread belief that fantasy, horror, and science-fiction inherently are incapable of glorifying God, and 3) Biblical speculative fiction is preachy.

Christian publishers are generally committed to publishing books readers want, but they are also in business to make money. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be publishing books for very long. This means the only way Christian authors who write speculative fiction are going to legitimize this genre is through strong sales. It’s sad to say, but it’s the dollars that count. The bar set for writers of Biblical speculative fiction is a high one. They need to write novels that honor God, are well written and engaging, and do not pound readers on their collective heads with a message they consider preachy.

The good news is that things are changing. Jeff Gerke launched Marcher Lord Press in 2010, an online publishing house that specializes on science fiction and fantasy. Also, a number of Christian groups, bloggers, and forums, such as The Lost Genre Guild, Ray Gun Revival, Digital Dragon, and Residential Aliens, have popped up all over the Internet that are committed to making Biblically-based science fiction and fantasy just as viable a genre as prairie romances and political thrillers. In time, I believe today’s reading audience raised by Star Trek and Star Wars will force mainstream Christian publishers to adjust their promotional strategy, and start offering many more titles that reflect this genre.

Mike Lynch is constantly awed by the wonder of God’s creation, which has led to his interests in theology, astronomy, history, politics, and films, eventually turning his attention to writing. He published his first (non-fiction) book, Dublin, in 2007. His first novel, When the Sky Fell, co-authored by Brandon Barr, was published two years later, followed by two other books they’ve written together, American Midnight and After the Cross. His latest novel, The Crystal Portal, co-authored by Travis Perry, was released in 2011. Mike graduated from San Jose State with a degree in History, and from San Jose Bible College with a degree in Bible and Theology. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.