Interview with Steve Laube

Please Welcome…Steve Laube

(*Originally posted March 2007)

What a joy and honor to have agent and editor Steve Laube as our interview guest at WhereTheMapEnds.com.

If you’ve spent much time at all wading in the waters of Christian speculative fiction you will have heard of Steve Laube.

For as long as I’ve been in publishing Steve has been the primary champion of speculative fiction in the CBA. Everyone told me, “If you want to write this kind of fiction, good luck! And you’d better get to know Steve Laube.”

Though I’m sure he doesn’t remember it, I first met Steve at a CBA International convention in 1999. I’d heard of him so I made a point to go by the Bethany House booth (Steve was a long-time editor with Bethany) and introduce myself.

I was struck then by his approachability and his passion for speculative fiction. His face positively lit up when I told him I was writing a UFO novel (or whatever aw shucks thing I said by way of introduction).

Over the years I followed Steve’s moves and tried to learn from the master. Those of you who know Steve and have spent much time on WhereTheMapEnds may notice a similar impulse behind Steve’s startup publishing company, ACW Press, and my own venture, Marcher Lord Press.

A few years ago Steve sold ACW Press and became a literary agent. If you write Christian speculative fiction and you’re looking for an agent who speaks your language, Steve might be your man.

Steve is wise, canny, and humble, and I am privileged to call him my friend.

And now the interview.

WhereTheMapEnds: Catch us up with what’s going on in your life.

Steve Laube: A bit of background first.

I started in the industry while a college student working part-time in a Christian bookstore. Upon graduation I went full-time and eventually became the general manager of that store and the national buyer for the chain. Our store was named CBA store of the year in 1989. I was with the company for nearly 11 years.

In 1992 I transitioned to work for Bethany House Publishers as an acquisitions editor. I had the privilege of working with top writers like Calvin Miller and Dr. Norm Geisler as well as develop the Jesus Freaks II project with dcTalk. Also had a part in discovering a number of novelists including Deborah Raney, Anne Tatlock, Kristen Heitzmann, and Karen Hancock. Eventually my title became Editorial Director, Non-fiction, but I continued my work with selected fiction projects.

In 2003 I became a literary agent. The timing came at the point where Baker Book House was set to buy Bethany House and a number of things were in flux. I was approached by a New York Agency to join them and open up the world of CBA to them. I worked for them for a little over a year and in June 2004 I formed my own literary agency.

WhereTheMapEnds: You’ve seen all sides of the industry, but I happen to know you are quite a fan of science-fiction/ fantasy genre. So, tell us, what is your favorite speculative novel of all time (Christian or secular) and why is that your favorite?

Steve Laube:  I carry a list of my favorite authors and there are at least 20 names on the list. To narrow it to one?

I read Lord of the Rings as a college assignment. We were to read all three volumes over the course of the semester. I read all three in five days. It is still the classic high fantasy without peer.

The Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert is one that I have re-read numerous times. An amazing feat of imagination wrapped in a package of possibility. The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov was also influential. Hard to grasp at first but entrancing nonetheless.

Other favorites include James Hogan, David Eddings, Timothy Zahn, Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, Charles Ingrid, Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle, David Brin, Elizabeth Moon, David Webb, and Stephen Donaldson.

WhereTheMapEnds: What made you want to become involved with Christian speculative fiction?

Steve Laube: I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom (Mars) series when in high school and was introduced to Narnia by my older brother when I was 16. And the year after I graduated was the movie Star Wars. There is a whole generation who was attracted to the genre.

I brought that interest with me to Bethany House. I began looking for the right proposal to show the pub board. It took seven years to find the right one. That was Firebird by Kathy Tyers.

WhereTheMapEnds: How was your attempt at publishing a Christian speculative novel received?

Steve Laube: Those who read the trilogy by Kathy loved them. It was even picked up in a one volume hardcover by the Science Fiction Book Club.

Soon after that we brought out Oxygen by John Olson and Randy Ingermanson (which won the Christy Award for best speculative novel).

Later came Arena, the debut novel of Karen Hancock–also a Christy Award winner. She followed that with her Legends of the Guardian King series. She has won the Christy Award for the last four years in a row!

Unfortunately, despite the raving fans and the critical acclaim, many of the titles did not sell as well as hoped. The universe of readers who are Christian and speculative fiction lovers are few…or, as I speculate, are not aware of what is available to them. It was frustrating, to say the least.

WhereTheMapEnds: Boy, I hear ya. I actually think it’s a little of both, but primarily that there really aren’t that many Christians who love Christian speculative fiction.

In an interview that appeared on February 20, 2007 here, I speculated that probably a lot less than 25% of all Christians in North America would think speculative fiction is important. Then you have to get those folks to discover that there really is some Christian speculative fiction worth reading.

Okay, Steve, what is your favorite speculative genre to read?

Steve Laube: Having sampled so many over the years and continue to read dozens of new ones each year, I’ve landed on Military science fiction as my favorite. Another description would be Space Opera with a military theme. Like the Honor Harrington series and titles like Ender’s Game.

WhereTheMapEnds: Oh, man, I love the military theme in the science fiction and fantasy I read. My own current work-in-progress is an epic fantasy in which paladins are an elite special forces unit kind of like Army Rangers. And of course my hero goes to the paladin academy…

How would you characterize the current state of Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing?

Steve Laube:  It is a category that is still fledgling. You, me, and Jan Dennis were the few on the editorial side who were in the hunt for new material. But none of us are on the editorial side [anymore]. Consequently it is very hard to convince someone who is not necessarily a fan how great a book really is.

I hear at some conferences the statement “in CBA science fiction or fantasy is dead.” I feel like standing up and shouting when I hear that. I want to say, “Ladies and gentleman? All it will take is one book and every one of you will declare this the hot new thing. Just one bestseller.”

But that is the nature of publishing. There are some brave souls who will try something a bit outside their normal publishing and kaboom you have some wild success.

By the way. I don’t count the Left Behind series in this speculation. That was an aberration that caught everyone by surprise. They originally only proposed a trilogy. While it is a post-apocalyptic series it doesn’t quite fit in the traditional science-fiction or fantasy categories.

Unfortunately while the market is soft right now (February 2007) there are still opportunities. Sharon Hinck’s new Restorer series will debut in May from NavPress. It is a fantasy where a “soccer mom” ends up in an alternative world and does great things. But it is the exception.

Our agency receives, on average, between 6 and 10 new science-fiction or fantasy proposals each month. Very few are strong enough to compete with Karen Hancock or Sharon Hinck. It is a small market and is tough to break in.

WhereTheMapEnds: What do you think Christian speculative fiction writing and/or publishing will look like in three years? Five years? Ten years?

Steve Laube: The industry as a whole is in flux. The “big boys” are driving the train through buying smaller Christian houses. Howard bought by Simon & Schuster; Multnomah bought by Random House and merging with Waterbrook; Meredith Books (Better Homes & Gardens) is launching a CBA division in the Fall; Avon Books opened a new trade division called Avon Inspire for their CBA acquisitions, etc.

What does it all mean? That things never stay the same. I, for one, welcome the attention. It forces us all to be better at what we do. It means the bar is raised for authors.

As an agent I represent one of the first lines of defense and I must be like Simon Cowell of American Idol. I must tell the truth about the writing I see. Not being mean or ugly, but truthful. Because I desperately want fabulous books which will impact their readers.

WhereTheMapEnds: Thank you for standing in the gap for us, Steve. What advice would you give to someone who aspires to write and publish Christian speculative fiction?

Steve Laube: DQYDJ.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job.

But at the same time do NOT give up. I have two clients who worked at their craft for nearly 10 years before I “discovered” them. Ten years! Are you willing to commit that much time, money, and effort into the project? That means that while the market may be soft now, in the year 2017 it may be ripe, and you will be ready.

WhereTheMapEnds: Awesome. What project(s) are you working on now?

Steve Laube: Karen Hancock has recently signed to do two new stand-alone novels. Should be exciting. I mentioned the Sharon Hinck project. Also look for a archeological thriller from John Olson called Fossil Hunter, which will release in February 2008.

Our agency has placed contracts (many of them multi-book contracts) for over 250 new titles since we opened the agency in 2004. So we are looking forward to a veritable flood of new titles each year.

We represent both fiction and non-fiction and our clients are almost evenly mixed between the two categories.
WhereTheMapEnds: What last thing would you like to say to readers of WhereTheMapEnds.com?

Steve Laube: I will always be on the hunt for great new writers with powerful stories and ideas. Check out the agency web site and see the type of projects we have worked with. But if sending something to us, please follow the guidelines! You’d be amazed at those that don’t think the standards apply to them.

That’s All for This Time

What a wonderful interview! Thanks again to Steve Laube, the official holder of the Christian speculative fiction torch. Be sure to visit Steve online.

 

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