Book Genres and Blog Stats

I had fun collecting stats on my sidebar polls last week. Thanks to all 1,453 of you who answered the questions!

Turns out:

→ 93% of you are writers
→ 85% of you are writing fiction
→ 73% of you are not yet published
→ 77% of you are writing for the general (not Christian) market

By far the most interesting info I gathered was the genres my blog readers are writing (or at least those who chose to vote). Here’s how it stacked up:

26%  Fantasy or sci-fi
21%  General/other (non-genre fiction)
12%  Women’s fiction
12%  Mystery/suspense
10%  Supernatural or paranormal
9%    Romance
7%    Historical (romance or not)

I was particularly interested in the fact that the largest percentage was fantasy and sci-fi. I don’t typically rep fantasy or sci-fi, so I really appreciate all of you reading my blog!

When the numbers first started coming in, I immediately noticed the large percentage who checked fantasy/sci-fi, and I wondered whether there might be a disproportionate number of writers in that genre vs. readers (hence the difficulty many of you are having getting published). I set out to try and run the numbers, but it’s ridiculously hard to find accurate data on book sales by genre. So I went about it a different way. I decided to look at recent book deals as listed on Publishers Marketplace.

I chose two months: April, 2011, and October, 2010, and looked at all the fiction deals reported. There were 309 total deals. Here is how they stacked up by genre:

38%  General/other (non-genre fiction)
30%  Women’s/Romance
11%  Thriller
10%  Mystery/Crime
6%    Sci-fi/Fantasy
5%    Paranormal
<1%  Horror

I realize this isn’t scientific, it’s strictly anecdotal. But the anecdotal evidence supports the initial instinct I had when I saw the numbers. While 26% of those voting report writing fantasy or sci-fi, sampling from two recent months suggests only 6% of book deals were done in those genres. That’s not a minor discrepancy…it’s a significant difference.

What do you make of this?

What other conclusions might you draw from these two lists of (unscientific) statistics?

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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  • Rachel Stark

    >Hi Rachelle — interesting data! Out of curiousity, why did you choose April and October as the months you sampled? Are those particularly big months for making offers in trade publishing?

  • Melinda Szymanik

    >Do book deals reflect the number of readers in this genre? And how many sci-fi/fantasy novels come out as self published and/or e-books that don't turn up in book deal stats but do have significant sales to readers? Just wondering :)

  • Katherine Hyde

    >I conclude that fantasy is a lot of fun to write–after all, you don't have to do research or worry about verisimilitude–but is possibly even more difficult than other genres to write really well. It's especially difficult to be truly original.

    I think there may be a fair number of unagented, unreported sales of fantasy as well. It's kind of its own world, is it not (pun intended)?

  • Melissa

    >This isn’t quite scientific, but I do have a hypothesis: during times of economic hardship, the general tendency of the population is to seek entertainment that’s far removed from real life (look at Marquez’s magic realism, for example). This is actually backed by studies. Sci-fi and fantasy take readers, literally, out of this particular world – a world that they might find threatening, uncertain or just plain depressing. And it could be that writers, experiencing the same financial uncertainty, also feel the lure of this particular genre — or way of writing.

    Look at the popularity of “Game of Thrones.” Would you have thunk it? Movies that deal with high fantasy – with few exceptions, such as LoTR – have a history of tanking or floundering at the box office.

    I write contemporary romance and don’t intend on making changes anytime soon. So this is all theoretical, of course. ☺

  • BK

    >Two things: If you broke out non-romance historical into its own category, it would, sadly, be much smaller than 7%. Second, in those two months you examined, historicals didn't appear at all. Considering the amount of people I hear griping that historicals take up a lot of shelf space, this is very interesting.

  • Lauren B.

    >I'm one of those sci-fi writers who answered your poll. I'd be curious to see how that splits between fantasy and sci fi–I'd bet the majority is fantasy.

    I think those particular genres inspire their readers to try their hand at writing more than others. Look at the preponderance of fanfiction for books/tv/movies in those genres.

    All that said, though, I always get the impression that the vast majority of other writers I encounter online are female YA writers. I don't know if that's the case, but that's what it feels like.

  • Ted Cross

    >I have only my life experience to go on, but I believe there is a vast audience for fantasy, and publishers are not doing a great job of fulfilling our wants. They do get a few great books out there each year, but we really want more of certain areas and they are not providing. I really believe that this is one area of publishing that someone could come along and do much better at.

  • Ted Cross

    >@Melissa – Fantasy shows and movies have a history of getting low budgets and terrible effects/acting/directing. Peter Jackson did it right, for a change, so it was no surprise that it got huge audiences. Game of Thrones is getting some decent money/acting/effects, so it is again no surprise that it does well.

  • Anonymous

    >I think it goes back to roleplaying games.

  • Melissa

    >@Ted

    You’re right about the bad acting, bad sets, etc. in past fantasy movies (except that “Excalibur” was pretty awesome). I guess my question would be: why would so much money be thrown at this fantasy show, given that this has not been a trend in the past? Could you see a network station airing something like GoT ten years ago? There have always been truly good fantasy/sci-fi books on which to base a series/movie. I suspect that there’s a growing audience for it.

  • Lauren B.

    >Xena had a pretty good run…

  • Carol J. Garvin

    >I'm not a fan of sci-fi or high fantasy, but I wonder how many writers are writing it to accommodate the perceived market. It would be interesting to poll the writers here, asking only two questions: (1.) what they are currently writing, and (2.) what they would be writing if they weren't trying to sell a manuscript.

    Interesting statistics, Rachelle. Thanks for doing the analysis and sharing.

  • Ted Cross

    >@Melissa, I think Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series has a much larger audience of passionate fans than most other fantasy works. That doesn't mean we shouldn't also be seeing movies based off of other great books, such as The Name of the Wind or The Lies of Locke Lamora.

    @Carol and Anonymous, I think it is precisely the huge gaming audience that publishers are overlooking. They don't understand just how huge and passionate it is, so the only books they provide for this audience are the low-quality official shared-world novels. I write fantasy because I know exactly what I want to read, only the publishers aren't providing it anymore.

  • Jessica

    >I am one of the Fantasy/Sci-fi writers that follows Rachelle's blog. I follow several agents, even those that don't represent Fantasy, because you guys give such great information on honing our skills, and on what the market looks like out there.

    @Carol
    1) I am currently writing a Science-fantasy
    2) I would be writing fantasy or science fantasy regardless of if I was trying to get a manuscript published. I have a lot of fun building logical yet fantastic environments and breaking away from the mundane. I love reading fantasy, but I don't like reading (mostly) fiction taking place in the real world. Though, I like movies that do. Go figure.

  • Sra

    >I think all the other comments are valid reasons for the discrepancy. But I think there is something else too.

    Stereotypically speaking, the fantasy/sci-fi people (like me) are the ones that are more indoorsy. They're on more blogs and websites. They spend a lot more time in the online world. Therefore the number of followers from that group would be high in a lot of situations like this.

    Also, I imagine that there are more people who fancy themselves writers when the whole rest of their world is so strongly based in the mind, instead of being social or outdoorsy. (again, like me.)

    I mean, how many people who are really into snowboarding are going to think "gee, I could really make it as a snowboarding author"?

    Or "wow. I love playing the guitar so much. I could be a famous author!" The connection between loving fantasy and wanting to write is a lot more direct.

  • Aimee L Salter

    >I'd be interested to know how many of the sci-fi / fantasy writers were also YA. SF/F percentages of sales are SIGNIFICANTLY higher if you're only looking at YA sales.

    Just a thought.

  • Erastes

    >interesting data -but surely, it can't be disproportianate readers vs writers because every writer is primarily a reader!

  • Rosemary Gemmell

    >Interesting statistics. I think sci fi/fantasy is probably more popular with the smaller, independent publishers – some of them are requesting this type of book now.

  • Michelle

    >that was very interesting.
    I have found that every man/woman/and his/her dog seem to be writing fantasy/scifi around me. But not many are reading that around me – excpet those who write it. (information via my head – without polls or technical research)

  • Kary

    >I'm one of those YA fantasy writers what do I make of these statistics? Nothing much I already know its a slim chance that I be publish even a slimmer chance that it be a best seller. Or that it will ever turn into a movie but does that bother me? No, why should it? I'm at my happiest state when I write, isn't that how its suppose to be? You write because it makes you happy not because you want to get rich. Well at least that's how I see it, actually Sra I'm pretty outdoorsy and I like hanging out with my friends they have given me ideas for great scenes. Only at night I do my best work so being coop up inside has nothing to do with it. For me I read all types of agents some don't represent YA some do. I read it because who better than agents know the industry? And I want to approach the right agent, the right way.

    1) What am I current working on? A comic called the Glitch its going to be an online comic. With a fellow artist and close friend of mine. Decided to take a three best characters and put them together to see what happens.

    2) What would I be writing if I wasn't writing trying to sell a manuscript? The same thing I've been writing since as long as I could remember and not trying to sell a manuscript days. YA fantasy its something about showing the outside world. The world inside your head its just an amazing feeling! Its even better if you could draw.

  • Cab Sav

    >I'm another who writes SF/Fantasy. I think that the type of person who writes (and readers) in this genre tends to be an early adopter of technology anyway, hence they're more likely to be on the web.

    I think this trend is also noticeable in online publishers. Outside of romance (and erotica) ePublishers appear to be picking up SFF next.

  • Kate Larkindale

    >Certainly in my critique groups, the vast majority of authors are writing sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal stuff. I couldn't say why… Personally, I don't enjoy it, but in the last two years, I've read a lot of it as a result of that being what's brought to the groups.

    I don't have any conclusions as to why there is so much being written, just that it is…

  • Kate Larkindale

    >Certainly in my critique groups, the vast majority of authors are writing sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal stuff. I couldn't say why… Personally, I don't enjoy it, but in the last two years, I've read a lot of it as a result of that being what's brought to the groups.

    I don't have any conclusions as to why there is so much being written, just that it is…

  • Timothy Fish

    >I wasn't surprised at the high percentage of sci-fi and fantasy folks. Just from my own unscientific observation, I've noticed that many of the people who tell me they would like to write a novel intend to write in that genre. If I had to guess why this is, I think it is because it is that genre that more than any other allows people to escape from whatever is happening around them. Who wouldn't want to slay dragons or travel through space?

  • Phoenix Sullivan

    >I do query crits on my blog, and the majority of queries I receive are for speculative fiction.

    But it's been disproportionate like that for a long, long time. Just take a peek at Evil Editor or Miss Snark's archives from 5 or 6 years ago. More spec fiction than anything there, too.

    SFF does represent a smaller percentage of the print market, but some deals go unreported because there are a number of publishers in those genres who will consider unagented material.

    @Lauren B: One Big 6 imprint ran an open submissions month in March and received 990 subs. Of those, 46% were fantasy and 41% were science fiction.

    I'm more surprised that only 9% of the respondents are writing romance since that's the biggest genre seller.

  • Sharon A. Lavy

    >I just hope that the writers of the genre (Si-Fi / Fantasy) are readers of the genre also.

    Once a young woman who worked in our office told me she was writing a book about her life. I asked her if she liked to read and she said, not really.

  • Timothy Fish

    >Carol J. Garvin,
    That isn’t an easy question to answer. The first manuscript that crossed over the 60,000 word mark for me was a Fantasy. I might have finished it, if my hard drive hadn’t crashed, but I don’t think the people I would like to read my work would’ve read it. That is the most important thing. Forget about getting a manuscript published—who are your readers and what do you have to say to them? I find that I am drawn to write about people who live in a world much like our own because the characters I create look much like my reader. It there’s one message I would like for readers to get out of my books it is that yes, this world stinks but you can make a difference. So, my stories don’t take place in the grand arena of politics or the global stage, but they take place in the homes, schools, churches, and businesses, where the individual has the greatest power to change the world. I thought about writing sci-fi or fantasy. And I thought I would try my hand at writing a cozy mystery, since I enjoy that genre and it would be easier to fit it in a genre than my other work. I even started one, but I find that my heart is drawn to another story that puts me right back in the same stuff I’ve been writing all along.

    Sharon A. Lavy,
    It may be just my impression, but it seems like a lot of people think that their lives are so unique that the rest of us want to read about it, even though they don’t want to read about anyone else’s life.

  • Timothy Fish

    >Phoenix Sullivan,
    Something to consider with the 9% romance number is that romance follows a different model than most genres. The books are short, cheap and the individual readers purchase a lot of books. With that model, a smaller number of readers could actually push the number of books sold to a higher ranking in comparison to the other genres.

  • Sherri

    >I'm one of the fantasy writers in the poll. I agree with what Sra said above, in that sf/f writers are more likely to be online, and that the worlds we create in our heads are more easily transferred onto the page than other activities.

    Someone else said that more people write fantasy because there's no research involved. This is a fallacy that might indeed draw people to the genre, and another reason why there's a discrepancy between the number of unpubbed and pubbed writers. The people who don't take it seriously don't do it well, and therefore don't get published.

  • Rachelle

    >I agree there might be a lot more unagented & unreported sales of SFF vs. other genres, so that could be skewing the data. There also could be more SFF writers online in the first place.

    Rachel Stark: I chose April and October because I wanted my sampling to be recent, and I also wanted to do more than one month. So I chose the most recent full month, and six months ago. Kind of random.

    Melissa: Yes, it's true about the "escape" factor, but I see this applied just as often to the romance genre, i.e. people are wanting to read it for escape during times of hardship. In fact, sales of romance are very, very strong the last few years. Across most of the industry, fantasy also seems to be trending upwards in consumer sales while Sci-fi is down.

    BK: Publishers Marketplace doesn't have a separate genre category for historicals so there's no way to know where the historicals are being placed in the PM listings.

    Ted: Yours is a popular viewpoint, but I can't help repeating the refrain that if publishers had evidence they could be making more money, I think they'd be doing it. Almost every good sized publisher has given just about every genre a try, including SFF. For the most part, I think they always come back to "stick with what's working." If those SFF readers are out there in as big a numbers as many writers are always telling me, then I'm not sure why they've never proven it by buying the books offered. At the same time, there's merit to your statement that "someone could come along and do much better" at publishing and marketing fantasy.

    Also, Ted, I think you have a good point about the gaming audience, but I think it proves exactly the opposite of what you're intending. It may be that the bulk of the gaming audience is basically too busy gaming to spend much time reading. The fact that gaming has grown so much has been very bad for books. When they read, they seem more likely to veer towards graphic novels. (This is just my perception.)

    Carol: I don't get the sense that SFF writers are the "cater to the market" types. If they were, they'd probably have been writing paranormal romance instead, preferably YA. I feel like this group of writers is committed to their genre regardless of what the market ever does. And when was the last time anybody came out and said "fantasy is selling great!" If your name doesn't start with JK and end in Rowling, it's unlikely this is the case.

    Erastes: Yes, writers are also readers. But writers are a tiny fraction of the general population – so the genre numbers can easily be disproportionate.

  • Anonymous

    >I checked I was writing historical fiction, because that's what I write that sells.

    But I also write fantasy that doesn't. Now I see why.

  • Just Another Day in Paradise

    >Interesting statistics regardless of the science. Considering, most "stories" have elements of several categories in them, exactly how do you classify the "readers". So much of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy does also include: Womens/Romance, Thriller, Mystery/Crime and Paranormal. Adding those categories up it totals 56% and if you include the Sci-Fi/Fantasy it's a total of 62%, now that's a whole 'nother ball game.

    There was a time when I completely shied away from anything mildly suggesting Sci-Fi, then I read "Enders Game" and realized it was so much more. Once again, I learned the hard way; "you can't judge a book by its cover".

    While I do understand that publishing is that other ball game, the one that holds the purse strings, and they need a solid basis on which to perform. We the writers, fortunately, march to a different drummer and if we get out of step with our hearts it's crash and burn time. In actuality, it's all Fantasy/Fiction, isn't it?

  • Colleen

    >If everyone who answered your poll writes what they would want to read – which they may not – it would seem that a lot of people want to read fantasy and sci fi.

    I'd like to think that publishers are just ignoring this audience, but it could be that spec fic writers have more of an online presence.

  • MJR

    >I'm not surprised at the fantasy/sci fi stat. I think people enjoy sci fi/fantasy in video games, movies etc and then want to create their own worlds. I'm surprised at the low paranormal stat because it seems as if every deal in Publishers Weekly these days has a paranormal twist. I just proofread one of these for a major publisher and it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer revisited (with a zombie/ faerie slant). Sort of discouraging to me because I have no Faeries in my novel. sigh.

  • Heather

    >Another one of those odd-ball sci-fi/fantasy writers chiming in: I sincerely think that the market is going to to change a little, at least in the Christian market. I grew up without a lot of Christian fantasy available–now, there's quite a bit of it for YA.

    What's going to happen when all those teens steeped in Donita K. Paul and Wayne Thomas Batson (not to mention classics like LotR and the Narnia Chronicles) grow up? They're certainly not going to switch to reading Amish romance! ;)

    The market probably won't grow into a huge one like romance, but I'm pretty certain it'll grow.

  • Mike Koch – Protect The Risen

    >I think I'll change the genre of my manuscript to women's romance. So if you happen to read it and see the slaying of a dragon or the shooting of fireballs please disregard and pay no mind to those actions they are just filler. ;)

  • Leah Petersen

    >My own anecdotal experience bears out your conclusion about the sff genre. A very large proportion of aspiring authors I have interacted with on the internet are sff authors. I noticed that so few agents rep sff, which agrees with the data on few book deals.

    When you look at the proportion of other media and entertainment that is now sff at least to some degree, I can't imagine that books won't catch up, and there's certainly a push for that already with sff authors self-publishing and going straight to the e-readers.

    But I see, too, why it would take much longer for books to more heavily represent the sff genres than primarily visual media and that targeted to the video-game generation.

  • Ted Cross

    >I know what you are saying about the gamers, but I think you'd be surprised at how many of them read. I know I can only say so anecdotally, but I sure know a lot of gamers and I don't know a single one of them that doesn't also love reading and watching fantasy.

    If the publishers had truly already tried publishing the books I am talking about, I would have found them. I have spent the past four decades searching hard (much easier now that Amazon allows me to search specific subsets) for the kinds of books I want. Other than some rare exceptions, like the Iron Tower trilogy, they just aren't publishing them.

  • Sarah Thomas

    >What a fun peek into what's selling. I love fiddling with numbers like that. All I can say is I'm glad to be writing women's fiction at the moment.

    I did find it interesting to see how many of your readers are writing for the general market. I somehow had the idea there would be a higher percentage writing CBA books. I love that someone who reps Christian writers has such a large general market following. Maybe one of these days we won't have to draw such a distinct line between the two markets.

  • R.L. Naquin

    >I also checked the fantasy box. It's not a choice, so much as what comes out when I sit down to write. I tried to do a short story about small-town Kansas and a chupacabra ran across the page. Everything I write seems to be contemporary fantasy — regular people, extraordinary experiences. Worrying about publishing stats is like only buying a lottery ticket when sales are low. Just because your odds are better, doesn't mean you have that much of a chance to win. It's still a long shot.

    I also wanted to mention why a fantasy writer would read the blog of an agent who doesn't rep her genre. While I do follow several agents, you're a peaceful place where I can soak in advice without the added pressure of weighing your words against my every move. I'm not "stalking" you in the hope of getting that one golden piece of information that will make you like my work. Good advice from a friend, no strings or pressure attached.

    And for that, I thank you.

    - Rachel

  • Timothy Fish

    >What might help explain why publishers can’t make money at fantasy: I find myself in the position that I would like to read fantasy, but the fantasy I find doesn’t match what I want to read. Of course, the solution to that is to go write the book I would like to read, but that doesn’t mean that anyone else wants to read it.

  • Ted Cross

    >@Timothy,
    Exactly!

  • Anonymous

    >I don't understand how any of the data listed can be used to draw the conclusions being made, even when proposed as personal opinion or anecdotal results.

    Poll results through a single blog are representative only of people who come to the blog and not the larger writing base.

    Two months of deals on PM does not in any way equate the number of publications or sales of any genre, as it ignores authors already under contract and does not reflect by any degree whether the books sold.

    SFF is an established genre that can yield success (which is why Pat Rothfuss' A WISE MAN'S FEAR debuted at #1 on the NYT bestseller list) and more importantly offers consistency in its readership. While other genres took serious hits during the recession, SFF grew its market.

    The only anecdotal claim you can truly make from your poll is that the majority of your readers write SFF and even that is unsubstantiated.

  • Carol Riggs

    >I write YA, and my last novel (not my WIP) was light sci-fi. I follow your blog simply because it's extremely informative!

    Very interesting, the statistics. Ideas:
    1. Perhaps sci-fi/fantasy is difficult to write and the majority of writers aren't doing it well? (ouch).
    2. I've heard (somewhere, not sure where) interest is on the rise–for sci-fi at least; maybe enough new books haven't been released yet to change those statistics.
    3. Writers are writing what they love despite the odds. Which may be how it should be. ;o)

  • Michelle Miller

    >In my experience, people who enjoy sci fi and fantasy the most have a certain kind of imagination. They can put themselves in the worlds they read about and easily imagine worlds of their own. And many of them end up writing them down. This may account for at least some of the high percentage.

    For some reason, my friends who enjoy other kinds of reading, romance for instance, or mystery, don't feel the same compulsion to write down their own imaginary wanderings. By and large, they just want to read it, not write it.

    I also suspect that if you took out all the Stephanie Meyer wannabees and zombie-fad riders out of the mix, that 26% would be a lot smaller.

    Also, several people have pointed out that fantasy and sci fi are much more popular in the YA market, and it'll be interesting to see if those reading habits follow them into adulthood with a corresponding increase in adult sales.

  • R.J. Edwards

    >I think these stats show why so many are going the self-publishing route these days. I've followed a lot of sci-fi and horror writers who have given up on traditional publishing all together after seeing the success of other indie writers on Kindle and Smashwords. Self-publishing may not pay all the bills in most cases, but most of these authors just want a chance to get their work out there and have it appreciated by someone.

  • Leah Petersen

    >@Ted

    As much as I'd love to agree with you, I have to side with Rachelle on the gamers-as-readers issue. I find most aren't readers.

  • Ted Cross

    >Different generations perhaps, Leah? Or maybe I just have a lot of unusual friends.

    I disagree with Michelle's idea that YA fantasy sells a lot more than adult. I think that may be the perception for publishers these days, but I don't think it is accurate. There is a starving audience for good adult fantasy, which you can see from looking at the sales of Martin, Rothfuss, Lynch, etc.

  • Leah Petersen

    >Ted,

    Yeah, the gamers I meet who are readers are almost always the "older" ones (by which I mean late 20s+.) Which, I'd assume is due to the fact that–to paraphrase–'when I was your age MMORPG was called books' effect.

    The fact that it's the younger generation not reading bodes ill for the future of sff books, I'd think.

  • Briannon

    >Well, that probably means my writing genre is one of the harder ones to sell to an agent then. Regardless, fantasy is fun to write. That's probably why so many people do it.

    Regardless, though, it seems like a lot of fantasy/scifi authors are pursuing the self publishing route as well. If this anecdotal evidence is any reflection of the actual figures (wherever they may be) then that might be why that's happening.

  • Angeline Lajeunesse

    >Just a random thought…maybe sci-fi and fantasy are written so prevalently lately because the human collective conscience has subconsciously picked up on signs of something big coming. Something fantastical or space-related. As a result, those of us who are creators (writers) are filtering it through our art and inundating the market.

    Wow. I need a cup of coffee. Carry on. Hahaha

  • Laila Knight

    >Thank you for this poll. Clearly, we have to find a way to flip these stats around. I write fantasy as well as paranormal romance. I don't do it to accomodate anyone but because it is a pleasure. Fantasy isn't something you write to escape, although that may be the end result. It takes a rich imagination and plenty of soul to pour life onto pages and produce amazing new worlds, wild untapped concepts. It's easy to touch someone with everyday stuff, but much more fun to look outside the box and wow their socks off.

  • Nicole

    >I don't read or write fantasy, but at a recent conference most everyone writing fiction there declared they were writing fantasy. It appears that somewhere people are reading it (of all ages) and want to read it–regardless of what publishers might want.

  • Jill

    >If all else fails, just label your book a romance. I could see an elf version of Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy could be a snooty, taciturn elf with a jolly sidekick–Elizabeth the gutsy female elf: "If you want me, come and claim me!" "Frodo, don't wear the ring. Mr. Darcy will find you."

  • Cynthia Herron

    >Rachelle, I agree with what Sarah said. I was surprised, as well, that there were more folks writing for the general market vs. the Christian market. The advice/encouragement you give in your blog obviously resonates with EVERYONE, not just those of us who are focusing on writing for the CBA.

  • Rondi Olson

    >I doubt most of us who checked the SFF box write Tolkienesque tomes or Star Trek space odysseys. Those markets are quite small. I have a YA dystopian with a sci-fi element and a YA historical romance with a fantasy element. Those types of books are highly marketable.Yes, I would write them if I weren’t tying to sell a manuscript and yes, I read them too.

  • Beth

    >Interesting stats. Thanks for conducting this survey. I don’t read nor do I write sci-fi or fantasy. I do write women’s fiction, contemporary romance and romantic suspense because I love to read (and write) those particular genres–not to follow any trend. So…it’s a bonus that these are in demand. Yea!

  • Teddi Deppner

    >I’m new to your blog (a writer friend passed it along last week), but I also am a SFF writer. Fascinating that so many who responded to your poll are in that genre of reader/writer.The overall trends in entertainment over the past three decades (just from my own observation) seem to contain a LOT more SFF than it used to (counting books, TV, movies). When I was growing up, Star Trek was about the only Sci-Fi show and Fantasy was maybe in cartoons if you looked hard enough and in the random movie (Labyrinth, etc). King Arthur and Robin Hood hardly count as Fantasy, but they were there.I agree with a lot of the comments here about SFF and the industry. I think it’s sad that there aren’t many being published. I think it’s because the money is so risky — you never know if the story will resonate with a large number of people. The SFF genre (including all its offshoots) is so rich and so varied — and so is its audience. Although you might find that more than half the entertainment consumers enjoy a “good SFF story”, I imagine it’s VERY difficult to get a story that ALL of them like.That leaves MOST people like myself extremely unsatisfied. There’s very little out there, and only some of what’s there hits my “sweet spot” of favorite type of SFF.Happily, there IS more than there used to be. There’s even a whole cable TV channel (SyFy) that specializes in the stuff. And nearly every major channel or network has at least one SFF show somewhere in its lineup. Again, there’s only a few shows that I really like, but it’s better than it used to be.With new technologies and a huge revolution in the use of social media and online consumption, the publishing industry is going through major throes of change. I hope and expect (and am determined to do everything within my own sphere and scope to ensure) that we will see some new ways for GOOD stories to get published and effectively categorized so that they reach their niche audiences.

  • Ted Cross

    >@Rondi, I wonder why you believe the audience for such fantasy is so small? Certainly there is much venom these days against any sort of Tolkienesque fantasy, but the numbers are actually very much against your assertion. On the rare occasions where publishers have dares to print a Tolkienesque fantasy (Sword of Shannara, Iron Tower trilogy) they sell very well indeed. Any time a decent Tolkienesque fantasy gets published it does very well. Makes me wonder just how well a really good one would do!

  • Jessica Thomas

    >I think younger readers want more scifi and the publishing industry hasn’t figured that out yet.

  • Botanist

    >I write sci-fi, and I follow this blog because of its excellent advice and perspectives, regardless of genre.I, too, would have been interested to see sci-fi and fantasy split off. In the critique group I belong to, these genres have separate queues and the fantasy queue is thriving while sci-fi one is sometimes like a ghost town.

  • Mary

    >I agree that these stats are probably related more to who’s online than to an actual cross section of writers. And the numbers are way too anecdotal to be used for any major assumptions.But it seems likely that the large SF/F stat could also be related to changes in what types of stories are now considered part of the genre. I’m still a young writer, and when I was growing up, SF/F was mostly high fantasy and old-school SF. Now, readers are more open to speculative elements in stories that would otherwise be far outside classic SF/F. Those stories can be labeled spec fiction, even though they may be marketed in other genres if they are picked up by a publisher. It’s more fluid than it used to be.

  • Sue Harrison

    >I read SFF almost exclusively when I was in junior high and high school – a time when I read library books because I couldn’t afford to buy books. Now years later I read no SF and some fantasy, but I buy many books, more than 50 a year. Maybe the age of the buyer is a significant factor.Thank you for a thought-provoking post, Rachelle!

  • Anonymous

    >While I think a few factors are at work skewing the results, I believe that Mr. Cross is onto something. I participate in a moderate sized online community of fantasy gamers, and a major complaint I hear is the lack of quality fantasy and science fiction being published. I think some prejudice exists in the publishing community concerning the quality of fantasy. Is it industry culture? A broader bias of the community? I’m not sure, but it exists. The bias is self-reinforcing. When a poorly written fantasy fails to perform, it can be used as a justification for why the genre as a whole fails to perform. If fantasy and sci-fi gamers don’t read, in part it is because traditional publishing has failed to serve them. The publishing industry is bound by inertia and such self-reinforcing prejudices. Of course, the neophyte fantasy / sci-fi writer doesn’t know this yet. They love their genre and pursue publication of the sorts of stories they would like to read. That isn’t to say there isn’t intelligent, high quality fiction in these genres. There is. But once someone’s read Martin, Rothfuss, Mieville and looking for more, there’s not so much to recommend (That isn’t an exhaustive list, I know there are some other great writers in the genre.) I think it’s a market that’s being underserved. I know I would buy more books in a year than I do…if they were being published. But that doesn’t mean that I, or other genre readers, will settle for second rate and ask for more of the same.

  • Jessi

    >I write Christian YA sci-fi and I’ve dabbled in fantasy. After looking at these statistics, I wonder if writing for the Christian market makes me more or less likely to be published.I think the reason sci-fi/fantasy might be more appealing for writers is because they can “fix” the things that are wrong with the world, something they can’t do when they’re writing more realistic stories.Perhaps the reason women’s fiction is selling better than sci-fi/fantasy might not be the amount of readers, but how the readers get their material. When I go the libraries, I see a fair amount of sci-fi/fantasy on the shelves and lots of people seem to read it. When I look at the bestseller list on Amazon, I notice fantasy does seem to be reasonably popular. However, at used bookstores, the statistics you showed ring true. There are a lot of paperback romances and mystery/thrillers. I assume these books originally came from the supermarket. I find very few fantasy books in the used bookstores and many of the ones I do find are hardbacks. My theory is that readers of sci-fi/fantasy either check their books out at the library, or they buy a few hardbacks while the romance and thriller readers buy lots of grocery store paperbacks instead of borrowing them from the library.

  • Chris Morrow

    >I think it’s worth noting that there is a large a number of small publishers specializing in horror and I’m guessing their numbers are not reflected in Publishers Marketplace. I think horror is still a very viable genre.An example would be – Cemetery Dance, Arkham, Dilirium Books, Permuted Press, etc.

  • Phoenix Sullivan

    >@Chris Morrow: The imprint I mentioned above that had 990 subs had a 13% intake of Horror. Someone asked the editors: Re that 13% of your subs being horror, do you think that signifies less interest in the genre from readers?The editors’ reply (quite succinct): Yes

  • Rondi Olson

    >@Ted Cross, I stand corrected. I agree high fantasy/science fiction done right has a huge market. I personally think most SFF falls short in the area of world building. It’s a very difficult skill few have mastered but when it’s done right the rewards are tremendous. I saw an unscientific pie chart that showed romance as the highest number of manuscripts sold to publishers but the biggest advances going to SFF.

  • Sara Thompson

    >Personally, I have noticed that fantasy gets placed in other genres. It seems like romance, YA, and general fiction all have fantasy type books that are quite popular. I had always thought of myself as a fantasy writer because I use a lot of fantasy elements but since becoming serious I have been told that it’s not the genre my stories would be marketed in. That may be true for many other authors.

  • Lauren B.

    >@Phoenix Sullivan – are you referring to Angry Robot? They are primarily a SFF imprint, are they not? Isn’t that what they openly asked for?I didn’t mean to imply there weren’t a lot of SFF writers out there, just that when I see the entries on blogs that do first page or query critiques, or read forums, I feel like I encounter a lot of YA writers.Though in my head, however improperly, I also tend to loop a lot of Adult Paranormal into YA since they have similar voices.

  • Jessica K

    >Weren’t there any figures for Historical? Or does Historical fall into the other categories?

  • Phoenix Sullivan

    >@Lauren: Yes, it was Angry Robot (and sorry, meant to say former imprint of a Big 6 – HarperCollins; they’re an indie imprint under Osprey now).They publish only SF, Fantasy and Horror (hence the term ‘imprint’). So when they opened to subs, they asked for SFF and H and got 990 subs: 41% SF, 46% Fantasy and 13% Horror.BUT, they were soliciting only Adult books, not YA, in these genres.However, YA is a category, not a genre. So I’m sure a lot of YA authors had to choose between fantasy and paranormal when they answered Rachelle’s poll.

  • Lauren B.

    >@Phoenix Sullivan. Ok, I get what you’re saying :)It is really interesting to me whether Paranormal and things like Dystopian are expanding the appeal of the ‘SFF’ umbrella, or splintering it.Yes, Angels and Vampires and Faeries are fantastical, but do they appeal to the same readers as Tolkien and belong on the same shelf? Probably not.Similarly, for how long did Margaret Atwood resist the SF label for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’? Did she win that battle? ‘Oryx and Crake’ is clearly fiction-about-science, but it’s not hard sci fi, space opera, etc.And I’m starting to see more and more agents asking for Steampunk who may not otherwise represent a lot of SF subgenres.

  • Rachelle

    >Anon 10:42: Your points are correct, which I why I resisted drawing any conclusions, but simply pondered my stats’ significance and opened it up to discussion. I don’t think the stats add up to any particular truth; but perhaps they might point us in the direction of some truths if we try to surmise what they could mean. Or not. :-)

  • Anonymous

    >My thoughts on science fantasy – there are hardly any good, true to type fantasy novels being published. Remove all the urban fantasy – and look at only epic or high fantasy, then think about it for the moment. Where is it on the shelves? A lot of it is the new ‘transformative’ fantasy, (GRR Martin, Abercrombie, Weeks etc) which means it’s very bloodthirsty. I don’t want to read about people’s heads being squeezed like pimples, but thanks publishers, for the thought. I want to read traditional fantasy, but I want it delivered with interesting concepts, beautiful writing, and engaging characters. And just to note, traditional, high or epic fantasy is NOT about elves and dwarves and so on, but it is high on concepts, and should be delivered with a rich, deep immersing story.So that eliminates just about everything else and leaves us with Pat Rothfuss, and his ‘The Name of the Wind’ and his latest, ‘The Wise Man’s Fear.’ Publishers wonder why his book is doing so well. It’s pretty simple. It’s good, it’s beautifully written, and it truly is one of the only traditionally styled fantasy novels available in most bookstores.So, so people people are writing fantasy because that is what they read, but they can’t buy it. Not how they want to buy it, anyway. This actually is a case of publishers producing what they think readers want – urban fantasy ten ways to Sunday and depressing epic fantasy.It’s one of the reasons Eragon did so well, even though in many ways it’s so derivative of Tolkien. Readers are getting desperate. But you only have to look at the list of top ten selling books to see how many are fantasy novels and get a clear idea of the types of fantasy people want to read; we want uplifting fantasy, not depressing fantasy. (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Eragon etc) and think likewise of the top ten list of movies (Pirates, Harry Potter, Avatar, LOTR, Narnia, Eragon). To answer the question as to why fantasy writers come here for information, well a good blog is a good blog and the information is fairly useful across genres. You’re obviously a great agent, and perhaps many of the writers here wish you could be converted. ;-)

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller

    >Before I answer your question, Rachelle, I just had to make a comment about Katherine’s statement that when you write speculative fiction “you don’t have to do research or worry about verisimilitude.”I understand where that comes from. Certainly the “research” a fantasy writer does is completely different than what a historical, crime, or even contemporary writer does. But I’ll say, I made a trip to see a particular place, have drawn maps, made timelines, researched typography, even written basic “new language” grammar. It’s not quite like we don’t do research.And the realism we must maintain is on two levels. First we must be consistent on the story world level, and then we must be true to life when it comes to how people act and react, what motivates and what causes them to change and grow. In short, speculative fiction isn’t fluff pulled out of thin air. ;-)Becky

  • Stephsco

    >I echo what was said about YA, which is full of fantasy and paranormal. And YA as a genre is getting more attention, too. The other points made about the gaming world are valid. Gaming is considered “low” art, even though the amount of money Microsoft has made off of Xbox is astounding. Something people outside the game industry are so slow to get is that gaming is not just for kids. Some of the top games out there are fantasy and sci-fi: of course World of Warcraft for the PC is HUGE. The Halo franchise is a space opera (with lots of fast fighting, but there is a storyline behind it), Dragon Age, Final Fantasy (still going strong) and tons of other games that have dynamic characters and rich stories. I’m a 30 year old wife with a mortgage, and I gave up gaming for lent. And it was HARD. Thankfully, I wrote and edited more of my book in the meantime :)

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller

    >Rachelle, you said If those SFF readers are out there in as big a numbers as many writers are always telling me, then I’m not sure why they’ve never proven it by buying the books offered. Maybe I’m being naive here, but what do publishers and agents make of the millions of books Harry Potter sold, and Twilight, and Hunger Games. Is it because they are YA that they don’t count?Becky

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller

    >Finally, Rachelle, Anonymous said it better than I could: To answer the question as to why fantasy writers come here for information, well a good blog is a good blog and the information is fairly useful across genres. You’re obviously a great agent, and perhaps many of the writers here wish you could be converted. ;-)Amen to that!Becky

  • kathy taylor

    >Rachelle, so much gold to glean from your blog, it’s easy to see why a diverse group of writers are interested.

  • Michael Offutt

    >I think Dungeons & Dragons is to blame. Kids played the rpg and made characters and they all think they have a story worth telling because they fell in love with their own characters. They grew up, created worlds for their characters to live in beyond the rpg and then decided they should write about them and others should read it. Hence, the prevalance of fantasy novelists.

  • Leah Petersen

    >@Michael Offutt,We don’t want to encourage young people to think “they all…have a story worth telling?” If that led to using one’s own imagination and to READING and WRITING, I’d consider that a benefit of gaming, not something to “blame.”Can’t see, myself, what’s exactly wrong with speculative fiction that we need to blame someone or something for it, anyway.

  • Robert Michael

    >Wow. All the sci-fi/fantasy love! By the number of comments, it is interesting fantasy doesn’t sell better. Look, I am probably the biggest geek alive today. I have played D & D when I was younger and still DM for my teen boys and their friends on occasion. I like writing fantasy from time-to-time, but I am all over the map. I think this is true for most fantasy writers. I am a genre-less writer. I write Christian general market/literary/thriller/Action/Adventure/historical/mainstream/fantasy/science fiction/romance. How about that? The point is: I am a writer. The genre only defines the market in which my stories will find a place on a shelf in a store (be it online or a in a old-fashioned and dying breed brick-and-mortar book store).As a marketing strategy for a writer, it wouldn’t be a bad idea I would think, to seek an agent for most of the markets above. Then, either self-publish (epublish) or solicit editors directly for fantasy or science fiction.

  • Marcia Richards

    >I’m one of your historical fiction writers in your subscription base. I appreciate you spending the time to come up with that data, but I don’t believe it to be a good measurement of what’s selling, who’s reading what kind of writing, or what kind of writer is online most. I do find it interesting to see who is reading your blog, however. Data and opinions notwithstanding, I read your blog because you write on topics i’m interested in. I would likely read your blog no matter what genre I wrote in, simply because you ahve something useful to offer.

  • Nancy Kay

    >Hi Rachelle,Interestingly, not long ago I did my own personal pole. By visiting bookstores – Barnes and Noble, Borders, and one locally owned store – I inquired as to what readers were seeking. I also let the people I spoke with know I am an author and write romantic suspense/with a home and hearth theme. To my surprise, a great deal of interest was expressed when I explained the ‘home and hearth’ slant. Each store revealed they lacked classic romance stories with mystery and intrigue. There is a market for gritty RS- ala Lisa Jackson, Alison Brennan -that as a writer, I enjoy, but everyday crime fighters and plain old murders – minus the ‘serial killer’ – are in short supply. Just my humble input. And, by the way, I expanded my pole to friends, family, coworkers, etc. and guess what? Same answers, same gaps in reading material.Thanks for letting me contribute.Nancy Kay

  • Esther

    >According to a recent Harris Interactive poll (2010): Of Americans who read at least one book in the last year, 48% read in the Mystery, Thriller, Crime category. The next biggest category with 26% was science fiction. Next was literature (literary?) at 24% and then Romance at %21. I’m guessing that the Science Fiction category includes Fantasy because that is not a separate category. http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/mid/1508/articleId/578/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/Default.aspx

  • S. F. Roney

    >While it is an unscientific set of data, it can be considered a sample that’s fairly close to accurate. There are a lot of science fiction/fantasy writers out there, most likely because it’s a lot more fun to write. It certainly isn’t easier. It’s sobering to have your study confirm it’s a big swarm for a small pot.

  • Lisa R.

    >You bring up an interesting point and not just about the sci-fi/fantasy genre. The market fluctuates; readers tastes change. It took me four years to find an agent. When I first started querying, a lot of deals for books in my genre (i.e. mystery/thrillers) seemed to be happening–a lot of books similar to mine seemed to be selling. Then it dried up. I had agents tell me no one was buying in my genre. A couple even said fiction was dead which I never believed. Anyway, then last year I noticed there were a lot more deals being reported on PM involving books similar to mine. Now that I have an agent of course the only deals that I see being reported are either by established writers in my genre or cozy mysteries which is not something I write. I really wonder if I had been ready and agented five years ago, if I might have found a publisher quickly. I don’t think the fluctuation or the disparity has to do with a specific genre. Sometimes sci-fi/fantasy is “hot”, sometimes mysteries are, sometimes literary fiction is the new greatest thing ever. I think it’s all about timing. You have to catch the genre you’re writing in on an upswing.

  • catherinemjohnson

    >It is hard to check off just one box when you write across genres too. There's no box for picture books and poetry for example.

    Thanks for going to the effort to find some stats useful to us even though you don't rep our genres.

    Love reading these comments some of them crack me up, but I mainly come here for the awesome industry advice.

  • Dave Freer

    >:-)As one of those sales records (I have 13 sf/fantasy books published, 2 in press and and another 5 on contract) I found this intresting… but misleading. My other hat, before I blundered into writing was a fisheries scientist, which means stats with a little biology and a lot of fantasy. Look, the first trouble is your sample is self-selected and small. It's more likely that wanna-be writers within a genre will link (and thus advertise) your blog to others within the same genre. There are a bunch of other factors that I could explain, but really, this is not something you reach any conclusion on. It's of the level of validity of an editor using bookscan to decide if a book is worth buying fom an author (GIGO). So there is a substantial chance that what you're seeing is sampling error. Secondly: to make a valid comparison of genre by genre sales you need a far bigger sample set, and establish whether 1) this is consistant, 2)you are actually comparing noob sales with noob sales. I could go on but seriously, this is not a survey you should base your assessments on :-).

  • Marleen Gagnon

    >I write historical romance and no it's not regency. I'm in love with the old west. I had people a few years back almost laugh and say no one was reading that stuff. Today they're interested. So I say Si-fi/fantasy keep writing. The more you write the better you get. If you're interested enough to write it there are people out there who are interested to read it.

  • Shannon Wheeler

    >I'd be interested in hearing the numbers on Christian non-fiction, which is where my interest in writing lies.

    It's been really interesting to see what your poll results are and hear others' feedback.
    Thanks for keeping us all informed!

  • Hilarey Johnson

    >Like many of the others, I am here for the great insight and advice.

    I wonder if the discrepancy has something to do with personalities of romance readers vs sci fi readers.

    A romance reader doesn't usually care that the book is a slight variation of a story they've already heard. They are in it for the temporal distraction.

    Sci-fi readers seem to want to study their books and pseudo-occupy the world. (How many people have learned the Star Trek or LOTR Elf languages) I had a ten year old that complained about the fact that it was impossible to have a purple light saber because the blah blah cave only had blue and green…

    Sci-fi/fantasy people seem to be more technical and analytical and therefore more critical of books they read.

  • Nairam

    >Wow, I had no idea. I'm so used to be surrounded by fantasy-loving and writing young authors, I guess I assumed that it was what is selling…that's encouraging, because I can't write fantasy to save my life. Well, maybe for that. But I can't write GOOD fantasy.

  • pixydust

    >Very interesting stats. Thanks for doing all that, Rachelle! I was an avid reader of spec-fic long before I was a writer of it. It seems spec-fic has always had a bit of a "back seat" in the pub world. That's life. ;) I considered writing "normal" books during a desperate time when I was sure I'd never be published…lol. But monsters and faeries kept popping up in the stories…very annoying.

    Pesky faeries…

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  • R M Haskell

    This is a belated response to an (in an internet timeframe) ancient post, but I couldn’t pass it up.


    Katherine Hyde wrote: I conclude that fantasy is a lot of fun to write–after all, you don’t have to do research or worry about verisimilitude…

    This is incorrect, and a frustrating fallacy to those of us who have done the hundreds of hours of research necessary to plausibly fabricate an entire world. “Plausibly” is the material point here.

    Is your world’s technological development feasible and consistent? What are the appropriate governmental structures, construction methods, weather patterns, agriculture, sources of fuel, food, marketable goods? How do you deal with travel? What do you know about politics in a (for example) feudal society? What about religion, social norms and mores? All of these things are interrelated, must be consistent with one another, and require immense amounts of research.

    Contemporary fiction requires a working knowledge of the world we have been learning since birth. While some might argue that the research required of fantasy writers is offset by the fact that we can “simply make things up”, unfortunately, we can’t just whip things out willy-nilly and expect a (statistically speaking) highly knowledgeable readership to swallow it whole.

    I would venture to say that the only genres that require more in-depth research and knowledge at hand than fantasy are historical fiction, and hard sci-fi.

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