Thursday, December 11, 2008

The State of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Market

Anyways, my question: What is your impression of the strength of the sci-fi/fantasy genre? With sci-fi in particuliar, which I think has a more male readership than female, has the readership base been in decline? Sometimes I get the impression that science fiction in a literary form has trouble competing with video games and movies. Maybe I'm totally wrong in thinking this way or maybe this isn't a question you can answer. But if you can, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

While this isn't a question I could give you a solid answer to, that won't stop me from posting about it.

Sci-fi/fantasy was my first great love, and still pretty much is, though I mainly read non-fiction these days for work-related reasons. In terms of the literary world, the only world where I can speak with some imagined authority I don't actually have, I would say the state of the current market is as strong as any other market: doing okay considering the economy and YA is really hot, but not as hot as people think it is, everyone stop thinking you can write YA and submit it and it'll be more likely to get published, I'm really sick of it. Sci-fi/fantasy - particularly fantasy - has been trending mainstream for a decade now, though one could easily make the argument that there were other decades in the 20th century where it was so mainstream it didn't have its own section in the bookstore. All I know is, when I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, if you read Lord of the Rings, you were a nerd. Nowadays you barely qualify unless you name your third external hard drive after a Silmarillion character. So, no weeping about the state of sci-fi/fantasy from me.

The market is very tight in this genre, and always has been. There's some argument that it's gotten too conventional. My agent shopped a post-Apocalyptic novel to sci-fi publishers last spring and it didn't sell. We got some very nice letters back about how it was very wild, interesting, etc, but they weren't sure "how it would do in the market." In other words, "We can't predict whether it will sell and therefore can't invest the money in a new author with a risky book; go write a vampire story." I imagine it's worse now than it was in May, but that won't stop sci-fi fans from submitting their crappy fantasy novels to my boss even though she doesn't handle fantasy, and they won't all be exactly the same. In fact, I'm pretty sure nothing could stop the flow of unpublishable fantasy novels into the sludge piles of publishing, and then the one you find per year that's actually great.

So, if you want to write, write. If you want to try to get published, submit and cross your fingers. If you want instant gratification and a genuine, pre-built fanbase that will totally leave you nice comments that will make your day, write fan fiction.