Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Nerd Table

I like analogies. So I'd like to compare the publishing industry to a highschool cafeteria. When I was in highschool (that would be in the late eighties, btw), our lunchroom was divided by tables. There was the popular table, the nerd table, the metal-head table (eighties, remember), the preppie-but-not-popular tables (that was a big section), the skaters, the punk-rockers, the pot-heads (sadly, another big section in my highschool), the get the idea. Everyone sat at the same table every day. Everyone knew exactly where they belonged.

Well, publishing is divided into genres. And it seems that books are supposed to fit neatly into those genre categories. Authors are supposed to know exactly where they belong, too. Often, agents and publishers want your genre stated in the subject line of a query. I'm assuming this is so they can delete it if it is not a genre they represent, and not be bothered reading a submission if they know up-front it is not a good fit. That is how seriously this categorization is taken. An entire novel can be turned down based on the subject line of the email in which it is queried.

Book genres include sci-fi/fantasy, romance, western, horror, mystery/suspense, humor, and many others. And there are two distinct umbrellas under which these genres fall: secular and Christian. Here's how you tell the difference. Secular books are the ones found all over the book store. They are divided, and then lined up on shelves under signs that declare their various genres. Christian books are in the way, way, far-back corner of the bookstore, and all the genres are crammed together in a single aisle under a sign that says, "Christian/Inspirational Reading," or something of the like.

That is where my book will end up if things don't change. But that is like putting a punk-rocker at the nerd table just because she balances chemical equations and factors polynomials for fun.

I am a Christian. If you can read, and you've been to my website (, then you know that. I am a Christian, but I am a fantasy writer.

No, not "but."

I am a Christian and I am a fantasy writer. Just as my life is built on the foundation of my beliefs, my books are built on a backbone of theological reasoning. But my life includes everything everybody's life includes. And my book includes all the elements of any good fantasy novel. Punk rocker and nerd, in one.

But just admitting I am a Christian, and admitting my book has certain theological foundations, may be enough to segregate me to the way, way far-back corner of the bookstore. I may be forced to sit only at the nerd table. There's not much I can do about that now. It's not what I want, but let's face it, no non-nerd punk-rocker or metal-head would be caught dead at the nerd table.

Unless, the nerds are cool. Unless, the others see that we can be both.

I really was an all-in-one punk-rocker and nerd when I was in highschool. And I sat at both tables. Fortunately for me, they happened to be right next to each other, ironically in the way, far-back corner of the lunchroom. I tended to grab a chair and sit smack-dab in the middle between the two. Both groups soon began to understand each other a little better because I refused to be labelled as one or the other.

There are other authors like me--lots of them, as a matter of fact. Just Google "edgy Christian fiction" or "Christian speculative fiction" and you'll find gobs of websites. Presses are popping up that recognize the need for authors like us, authors who refuse to be shoved in the corner.

Not quite "Revenge of the Nerds," but then our purpose isn't getting invited to frat parties.


Shawna K. Williams said...

This is such a good post Kat.
In most aspects of my life I'm about as conventional as an oven set at 350. When it comes to writing, I've got my own flare, and sometimes I get discouraged over where I fit in, or don't.
Thanks for the encouragement.

Joe Chiappetta said...

Well said Kat. Labels and social status really can be confusing, even though they were intended to make things more clear. I also didn't fit neatly into a category in high school or college, so I can totally relate. As to writing, the same things happen in the public eye for my comics and sci-fi stuff. Once the Christian label is attached to the work, it is an immediate dividing force. So be it.