Breaking into Sci-Fi versus Fantasy

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Coragem, Mar 12, 2012.

  1.  
    Coragem

    Coragem Believer in flawed heroes

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    Hi there:

    First, many thanks for Ian Sales for some interesting exchanges via private message.

    One of the things we discussed was how difficult it is to break through as a sci-fi author. Not that we were denying that it's hugely difficult to break through as an author regardless of genre … But we were talking about how there appears (speaking very generally) to be much less reader demand for sci-fi than there is for fantasy.

    Specifically, it's been said that (again, speaking generally) fantasy outsells sci-fi 7-to-1. Obviously, this is a tricky one, partly because many novels don't easily fit any box (e.g., sci-fi, steampunk, urban fantasy, all the above?). Still, sound plausible?

    Personally, I (naively?) went straight into writing sci-fi because I have a fairly rational / empirical mindset -- I'm not keen on magic! Now I'm wondering, maybe my next project should be so-called 'historical fantasy' (which I love)!?

    I would add that the style of my sci-fi and my use of character take a great deal from fantasy. Following the likes of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch, I tend to find quite of bit of humour spills out. In a sci-fi novel, will this help of hinder my chances of publication?

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Coragem.
  2.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

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    Coragem, I hope you're wrong... cos otherwise I'm in equal trouble. Although having now decided being published isn't my acme, I'm less het up about it (not that I don't want to be, I just don't want it to define my life anymore).

    Believe! Like your other half says - you'll make it popular. (and then I'll trail along and and say, fancy trying mine, too :D)

    And the mountain seems very high, and it is, so we'll all of us, in our own wee way, might have to help the others up.
    J.
  3.  
    Dozmonic

    Dozmonic Member

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    Go in to any major book store and see how many metres they have dedicated to various genres. You'll see general fiction out spacing sf&f 10 or 20 to 1. Neither science fiction nor fantasy are big sellers generally speaking.

    If you're talking about breaking into the market, I assume you want to write something that's commercially viable so the books that follow are printed too? If so, you need to either target a specific section of the reading audience that already exists, or target an audience that doesn't exist but have an idea how to make it. Is there room for a space-based Pratchett style of science fiction, for example? Almost definitely. Does it exist en masse right now? No. So if you write something that fits in that space, you have to have an idea on how it can reach the attention of people who want to read that.

    It's easy to say that all advertising is down to the publisher, but they've only got the money to take so many risks in any given year. You do yourself and your work a great favour by thinking ahead on these matters.

    Of course, if you rebrand your work as young adult, it'll get several times as much shelf space and exposure in the current market. Just half the age of your protagonist and remove the explicit sex (if any) and you're good to go.
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    springs

    springs Juggling life

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    Interestingly, though, young adult books, acccording to booksellers are starting to slow after the twilight effect - a bit of market saturation, I suspect.
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    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    It's certainly sad to see the lack of attention sci-fi gets. I can go into a local bookstore and struggle to find science fiction novels on the shelves, whereas the 'science fiction and fantasy' section is overrun with fantasy.

    One of the big things is that science fiction movies have not recently had a major effect on the industry, unlike Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Chronicles of Narnia. All hugely successful fantasy IPs. And of course ahem... Twilight...

    We had Star Wars back in the day, and it fuelled a huge series of novels that used to be all over bookshelves, but that trend has died off and nothing has come back to refuel it.

    Another factor is that more women read books then men, yet science fiction has predominantly a male audience -of course there are women who read sci-fi, and write it, just not many. Statistics show that women prefer literary and general fiction, and fantasy.


    It's sad because there are some great sci-fi writers out there, like Alistair Reynolds and Orson Scott Card. But those authors are doing very well, to this day, so it's not all doom and gloom for sci-fi. I'm sure more successful authors can come along and join in with them.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2012
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    David Evil Overlord

    David Evil Overlord Censored Member

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    I broke into Sci-fi. I got time off for good behaviour. :)

    Is my super hero novel Fantasy, or Sci-fi? Does it matter? Can I sell it to both camps?
  7.  
    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    Yours is actually it's own genre, DEO.

    Superhero fiction, a sub-genre of speculative fiction.


    But I believe it originally developed out of sci-fi
  8.  
    Abernovo

    Abernovo Accident-prone, allegedly

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    Coragem, I don't really know the work of Abercrombie or Lynch, but humour exists in Science Fiction. Harry Harrison and Fredric Brown both delved into humour regularly. Even Heinlein used it, although not to everybody's taste. I think readers often want to have a bit of light relief in their fiction.

    Funny, but I'm on the other side of the fence, in a way. My writing isn't humorous enough to be commercially viable, from what I've seen.
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    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    Don't write to market. By the time you've finished your magnum opus that's supposed to plug that gap you've spotted, the market has moved on. Write the best sf (or fantasy) novel you can. That's all you can do.

    Plenty of women read and write sf. I've seen studies that show at least half of the readership are female. But they won't read books that exclude them. So write novels with diverse casts and female characters with agency. If your novel fails the Bechdel Test, chuck it out and start again.

    If you really wanted to be a successful author who sells zillions of copies of your books, you wouldn't be writing sf. So you may as well write what pleases you, and just hope you do it well enough to please other people.
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    Ian Whates

    Ian Whates Author and Editor

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    Ian's right in this instance; don't chase trends or worry about them too much. If you want to write science fiction, write science fiction. If your work is good enough, if you're determined enough and put your MS before the right people, there's every chance that it will sell, irrespective of whether it's SF or fantasy.

    The problem is that the market will only sustain so many SF authors, and there are a host of other hopefuls competing for the very few available publishing slots. You have to strive to ensure that your work is a little better, a little different, to that of your competitors.

    I recall having a conversation (which I cringe about now) with Alastair Reynolds back in 2005, before I had any publishing contracts, in which I bemoaned the difficulty of breaking through as a new author. He maintained that the system works, and that in his opinion the cream would still rise to the top.

    You need to have faith in what you're doing, and believe that your work is good enough to be a part of that cream, no matter what knocks you take along the way.
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    Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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    All very true [Ian Sales' post]. Editors and agents can spot an "insincere" book a mile off. Or a kilometre if you're in Europe.
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    Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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    [Ian Whates' post] You have to walk that incredibly fine line between arrogant self-belief and true self-belief. It's almost impossible, of course.
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    Ian Whates

    Ian Whates Author and Editor

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    A problem you're far too modest to ever need to worry about, Stephen.
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    Warren_Paul

    Warren_Paul Banishment this world!

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    Thanks Ian, that's a very inspirational post. It's great to see authors who have succeeded take part in the community here on the Chrons.


    I'm trying not to get a big head, but I do believe in myself. I'm sure I'll succeed too. One day.
  15.  
    Ian Whates

    Ian Whates Author and Editor

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    That's exactly the right attitude. Stephen's entirely correct: nobody likes a big head; nobody likes a would-be author (or even an established one) who continually espouses on the brilliance of his or her work... but that doesn't stop you believing as much deep down.
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    Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer author of novels

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    The fans help - if you get good reviews from people you don't know, that's "proof positive" :D
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    Anne Lyle

    Anne Lyle Fantastical historian

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    Personally I think the Bechdel Test is overly restrictive - depending on your setting, it's not always possible to show two female characters having a conversation that has nothing to do with men, unless you pause the plot for them to do so. I'm not going to write a page of irrelevant dialogue about sewing or whatever just to pass an arbitrary test :)

    To me it's more important for your female characters to have agency (as in, they're pro-active and don't just have things happen to them). And never, ever use rape as a "something bad needs to happen to my heroine at this point" gimmick. It's tired, unimaginative and will just annoy your female readers.

    </rant>
  18.  
    iansales

    iansales Active Member

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    The Bechdel Test is a useful tool, but it should never be used as a checklist. If you have two female characters talk about sewing so you can pass it, you'd be better off asking why those characters only seem to exist in relation to the male characters and you need to apply such tricks.
  19.  
    Hex

    Hex Mod in tooth and claw Staff Member

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  20.  
    springs

    springs Juggling life

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    My only problem with this is they have to talk to another woman about it. (mine do, as it happens.) Only I grew up with oodles of brothers and I'd talk to them about things that weren't to do with blokes, evidently.

    So, can a woman in the story be deemed to pass this if she has conversations about all sorts of things - not sewing, can't see it, somehow, but budget figures and army sizes - with other blokes. Brothers. Friends. Etc. Etc.

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