Welcome back to this blog series on trends in publishing. This week, we are wrapping up our discussion of speculative fiction with an overview of what agents and readers are looking for in new pitches and books. For last week's discussion of demographics and speculative fiction readers, click here.
In terms of what agents and publishers are looking for in their slush piles, speculative fiction offers a wide array of possibilities. That is not to suggest that querying is a free-for-all, though, as certain concepts and subgenres are experiencing dips in popularity. For example, Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group, posits that for authors “writing in urban fantasy, it might be better to refer to it as a modern fantasy or contemporary fantasy, since urban fantasy tends to struggle in the marketplace and therefore agents and publishers are reticent to take [it] in” (qtd. in Moss and Strawser). Additionally, Eddie Schneider of JABberwocky Literary Agency says that he has noticed a recent surge in epic fantasy (qtd. in Moss and Strawser). Schneider also notes a decrease in the number of heroic fantasies being published while grittier fantasies are surging. He also notes an uptick in historical fantasy, like the books written by Marie Brennan—good news for my thesis novel. Schneider also claims that more speculative stories are being published that are “set outside of Northern European mythology” as well as retro novels that are exploring recent decades in the way that Ready Player One explored 80s nostalgia.
Some agents who work in speculative genres find it helpful when authors drill down into their specific subgenres when querying. Eddie Schneider says, “Calling something an epic fantasy (or steampunk, or magical realism) is more helpful than calling something a fantasy novel and leaving it at that” (qtd. in Moss and Strawser). The level of genre-specificity in querying is clearly a balancing act, though, as other agents, such as Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency, advises that “It might be best to let the [agent] make the determination” as to which subgenre your work belongs (qtd. in Moss and Strawser). This split indicates that authors should strive to learn as much as possible about the agents they are querying.
General recent developments in speculative genres are as varied as the possibilities of speculative subject matter. For example, Diver speaks to the speculative evolution into “modern sensibilities” wherein men are not the only action heroes and stories are “quicker to get to the point and faster-paced” (qtd. in Moss and Strawser). Schneider echoes this idea of a movement toward modern sensibilities, arguing that the stories being told in speculative genres are more diverse—to the chagrin of some of the genres’ old-guard. We have seen this backlash play out in mainstream culture as some speculative film franchises, such as Star Wars, have made moves to follow these trends and allow for more diverse ensembles and stories to the dismay of some of the franchise’s older, or more conservative, fans.
Finally, a discussion of trends would be incomplete without some discussion of what readers are looking for (or not looking for) in a specific genre. According to a survey of 86 book blogs that review self-published speculative fiction novels, compiled by Anela Deen, readers of these genres are growing tired of certain themes and motifs. The top three aspects of science-fiction novels that readers complained about appearing too often included human spaceship captains, too many Han Solo-types (rascals on the surface with hearts of gold), and too much emphasis on science to the detriment of the fiction. Fantasy novels that were considered to be appearing overabundantly included an excess of elf characters, too many instances of “chosen one” stories, and rushed world-building that results in the painful-to-readers infodump.
Understanding what readers are growing weary of can help authors avoid pitfalls that could be off-putting to their audience. Of course, as Deen articulates in her analysis of this data, authors should remain true to the stories they are writing while keeping one eye toward the trends. It would be a bad idea to write to the market or to the trends. Stories written with the market in mind first stand the chance of coming off as insincere or disingenuous.
Do your experiences as a reader mirror these? Where do you see this genre heading in the future?
Works Cited (Parts 1 and 2)
Bachofen, Andrea. “Comp Titles—An Elevator Pitch for Your Book.” Penguin Random House, Penguin Random House,
authornews. penguinrandomhouse. com/comp-titles-an-elevator-pitch-for-your-book/, Accessed 9 October 2018.
Deen, Anela. “Market Research: Trends in Speculative Fiction.” Amid the Imaginary,
amidtheimaginary. wordpress. com/2015/12/17/market-research-trends-in-speculative- fiction/, Accessed 10 October 2018.
Harris Interactive. "What Types of Books Have You Read in The past Year? ." Statista - The
Statistics Portal, Statista, www. statista. com/statistics/201404/types-of-books-that- american-adults-read/, Accessed 13 Oct 2018.
Hoffert, Barbara. “WHAT’S HOT NOW: Media, Especially Streaming and Downloadables, Keep
Gaining, and Tracking Circulation over Five Years Shows Major Shifts.” Library Journal, no. 2, 2018, p. 34. EBSCOhost, ezproxy. snhu. edu/login? url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=edsglr&AN=edsgcl.525899391&site=eds-live&scope=site, Accessed 10 October 2018.
Moss, Tyler, and Jessica Strawser. “Science Fiction & Fantasy Today.” Writer’s Digest, no. 6,
2016, p. 40. EBSCOhost, ezproxy. snhu .edu/login?
url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=edsggo&AN=edsgcl.456344191&site=eds-live&scope=site, Accessed 10 October 2018.