My last few columns were designed intentionally to provoke discussion. I’d like to do something similar today, but perhaps without as much controversy. I’d really like to see some interaction on this one, so if you have the time, pop by the forums and let me know what you think. (Link at the bottom of this column.)
So, I’m not certain how much you all know about the book marketplace. However, you may be surprised to realize that fantasy and science fiction combined only make up 6% of the book market. That’s compared to a whopping 35%ish percent for romance novels, and somewhere in the twenties for thrillers/mysteries. In addition, F&SF fell about a half a percent last year, according to one the market-watching magazines I subscribe to.
Why is this? I know these things have been discussed before, but I’m curious as to your reactions and thoughts on the matter.
I’ve got a few theories—and, since this is my column, I’m going to (of course) tell you what they are. I think that F&SF is trapped in a very strange place in the literary field. In my opinion, our books generally try to straddle the boundary between escapism and significance. Now, I don’t have anything against pure enjoyment through storytelling; personally, I consider this as import an art as other, more ‘literary’ forms of expression. However, I think that—through the nature out our genres—many F&SF writers aren’t content with just telling a story, especially not a simple, forgettable one.
The more I think about it, the more I realize how much SF&F has in common with the literary/poetry folks. Maybe this is why we don’t get along very well; we’re too similar. We SF&F people certainly consider ourselves to be a step above other forms of genre fiction. We don’t want to be forgotten—we want to say something meaningful about human nature while we tell our story of another world. Even when we don’t have moral or philosophical goals, we want to inspire the creativity and imagination of our readers. The books AREN’T just there to tell a good story, no matter what we say.
And so, our market share ends up looking more like that of the ‘literary’ folks than it does like that of the romance folks. (Note, however, that I don’t think that these more popular genres preclude their books from having depth—I do think, however, that many of the writers in them don’t care to produce such works.)
Too popular for the literature folks, too thoughtful for the fluff readers, SF&F gets stuck in the middle. Am I being to dismissive of the others in this supposition? Let me know on the forums.