The Christian sci-fi/fantasy publishing universe is expanding. There's increased interest in the young adult audience with imprints from HarperCollins Focus and Tyndale adding new series. More faith-based authors are choosing custom publishing or self-publishing in the category. And one house, Enclave Publishing, a division of Oasis Family Media, which dominates the field for all age groups in publishing exclusively science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction, is expanding its frontlist every year.
The Christy Award, given yearly by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association to top Christian fiction in a variety of genres, points to the evolution of the category. Initially called Futuristic fiction from 2000-2004, then Visionary from 2005-2020, it’s now called Speculative. Sharon Hinck, who publishes with Enclave, won the Christy Award in Speculative in 2022 for Windward Shore, in 2021 for Forsaken Island, and in 2020 for Hidden Current, all part of the Dancing Realms series.
When Steve Laube, president of the Steve Laube Agency, became Enclave's owner and publisher in 2014 it had been doing a dozen books a year. It was purchased by Oasis Family Media in January 2022 and retained Laube as publisher. Now, with added capacity and finances, Laube promises 16 books total for both YA and adult markets this year, 18 titles in 2024, and a plan to rise steadily to 24 books a year. Enclave titles sell through all traditional channels including bookstores, Amazon, and Christianbook.com, and they sell in all formats.
“This is a generation of Christian readers looking for the fantastical. The future is bright because we have a second-generation post-Star Wars that has grown up on these types of stories. They love them, they want to write them, and they want to read them,” Laube said. He'd like to see major Christian publishers do more. "The creativity out there is breathtaking."
Steve Smith, president of Oasis, calls science fiction and fantasy his “first literary loves.” Enclave titles, he said, make up about 5% of Oasis sales. “I prefer saying that Enclave books are sci-fi and fantasy written by writers who use their [Christian] faith as their moral compass when telling stories,” said Smith.
Blink YA, an imprint of HarperCollins Focus, releases three to four books a year with one or two of them sci-fi/fantasy/speculative fiction. While focused on the general market, senior acquisitions editor Katherine Jacobs, who acquires for Zonderkidz and Blink YA, calls the titles “clean YA." As she defines this, "The characters are not perfect, but they reflect how real people deal with real issues as they grow and change. You will find tough topics in our clean YA books; however, you won’t find swearing, violence, or sex, and depictions of drug and alcohol use are limited.”
Bestselling Blink titles include The Memory Thief by Lauren Mansy (2020), a debut fantasy that was named a YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Teens’ Top Ten Book for 2020. Our Divine Mischief, the second by Hanna C. Howard, is YA fantasy inspired by Scottish history and folklore that releases in Oct. 2023. “The sci-fi/fantasy category is important because it’s so expansive and leaves so much room for creativity,” said Jacobs. “I love how surprising these stories can be, and I think some of the best social commentary and critique happens in genre fiction."
Tyndale’s Wander imprint for YA readers puts most of its small number of titles per year in the sci-fi/fantasy category, and they hope to add more such titles in this category in the future, said Talia Messina, acquisitions editor for Tyndale Kids and Wander. She tells PW, “The majority of secular sci-fi and fantasy books [for YA readers] today emphasize dark themes and we’d like to provide alternative stories that emphasize truth, hope, and redemption.”
Titles include the three-title Sunlit Lands series by Matt Mikilatos, released as a trilogy in June, and the Beacon Hill series by D. J. Williams with the first book, Hunt for Eden’s Star released in April and a sequel, Secrets of the Highlands, publishing in November. Wander is also rereleasing the four books in the Dragons in Our Midst series by Bryan Davis, published in the early 2000s, with plans to expand the series universe with more books, according to Messina.
Randy Dockens has published more than a dozen science fiction novels he has written through Carpenter’s Son, a Christian custom publishing house. He calls his titles a blend of the Bible, Bible prophecy, science fiction, and dystopian themes. “As a Christian author, it’s not only about the story but about how it affects people’s lives,” said Dockens. “I’ve seen a turning point, with young people now seeming to turn away from the dogma they’ve been taught (and beginning to look) at things related to God and Scripture they haven’t thought about before.”
His top seller is the July 2022 release The Holy Grail of Babylon, his most recent is The Luciferian Plague, both in his Adversary Chronicles series. Dockens is working on the initial titles in a new series, The Parallel Universe Saga. Dockens’ books are available in paperback and e-book via Amazon, Kobu, Barnes & Noble, and Ingram, and audiobooks through Audible. He said his readers are both adult and young adults.
Shane Crabtree, COO of Carpenter’s Son and a fan of the genre, said he’d like to expand awareness of the sci-fi/fantasy genre, particularly in the Christian sphere because “we can open doors for people to read more in this area.” Crabtree said he doesn't think the standard way for promoting books is what's needed to grow the category for authors and readers. "It’s going to be grassroots—authors attending conferences, creating websites, speaking, and having a social media presence. It’s growth from the bottom via outreach" for authors looking to increase sales and awareness of the category.
Troy Hooker, owner and managing editor for Descendent Publishing, which released his Descendants of the Light series, told PW he sells through online retailers, direct sales through descendantpublishing.com, and through attending homeschool conferences and Realm Makers, a conference for faith-based authors of sci-fi, fantasy and speculative fiction. Realm Makers' annual conference (occurring July 13-15) now draws 300 attendees.
“Now we are dealing directly with fans, which means a different way of presenting to the marketplace,” said Laube, pointing to social media communities such as Bookstagram, TikTok, and YouTube and to new generations who have grown up on Marvel and DC Comics movies.
And ideas can come straight from the headlines. Ignatius Press' title Exogenesis by Peco Gaskovski (released in June) presents a future world controlled by AI and reproductive technology.