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  • Writer's pictureShane

Trends in Speculative Fiction, Part 1

Welcome to the first part of a two-part series discussing market trends in publishing, especially as they relate to the speculative fiction genres: science-fiction and fantasy, as well as their many subgenres. Beyond this series on speculative fiction, you can expect similar market research on other genres. This research started as an assignment for my MFA in Creative Writing at SNHU.

How Popular is Speculative Fiction?

Speculative fiction continues to enjoy a significant share of the literary marketplace. According to a 2015 poll by Harris Interactive (“What Types of Books Have You Read in the Past Year?”), 26% of respondents read at least one science-fiction novel in the preceding year, while 24% of respondents read at least one fantasy novel. Science-fiction and fantasy respectively occupied the spaces of the sixth and seventh most widely-read genres in this study. The speculative genres were bested by three non-fiction genres (history, biographies/ memoir, and cookbooks) and two fiction genres (mystery/ crime and romance). 2015 is the most recent data I could find.

How are Readers Reading Speculative Fiction?

There is also evidence to suggest that readers of speculative fiction are consuming more of those stories through ereaders like the Kindle or their phones. According to a study of library book circulation conducted by Library Journal, science-fiction and fantasy saw an 18% increase in digital circulation over the past five years (Hoffert). Additionally, the study reports that print circulation of science-fiction and fantasy is tenth among the most popular genres, while its digital circulation is seventh. Even though this study is related to library book circulation, the implications of this are clear: a significant share of the speculative fiction readership experiences their stories through digital media.

Who Reads Speculative Fiction?

The more an author knows his or her potential audience, the more success that author can have with querying and in the marketplace. To that end, the Harris Interactive study on 2015 adult reading habits shows that fantasy might be slightly more popular among women, with 25% of female survey respondents having read a fantasy novel in the past year compared to only 23% of male respondents. This is only a sliver of a difference, though, which means it is more likely that men and women read fantasy at mostly even rate. Science-fiction is a completely different story, though, with men reading novels published in that genre almost twice as often (35% to 19%).

Finally, the Harris Interactive study shows that, when it comes to adult readers, fantasy and science-fiction are both read more often by Millennials (ages 18-35) than any other age group. The differential between those age groups is larger in fantasy (37% of Millennials; 25% of Generation X; 15% of Baby Boomers; 10% of Matures) than in science-fiction (32% of Millennials; 28% of Generation X; 22% of Baby Boomers; 17% of Matures).

These numbers suggest that speculative fiction is still successful, but my subgenre—fantasy—is much more likely to be read by people between the ages of 18 and 35, and is slightly more likely to be read by women.


Authors must understand who they are writing for if they intend to find success in their creative pursuits. Next week, we will look at what agents and readers look for in these genres and what they are tired of reading.

Do these findings echo what you see in your market research? Does any of this surprise you? Let's talk! And while you're here, don't forget to sign up for the mailing list!

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