Thursday, December 2, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Fantasy (Part 3 of 8)

Fantasy is a complicated genre, cats & kittens. You've got your Tolkien-style epic fantasy, your hip urban fantasy, your fantasy with sci-fi elements, and your romantic fantasy (which is completely different from your paranormal romance!), just to name a few. There are vampires and demons (sometimes daemons!), witches and wizards, fairies, faeries, and phaeyries (I made that last one up), and all varieties of magic(k)s.

Simply put: summarizing fantasy title sales is hard.

That said, it looks like (once again) the genre is doing well, either flat or a little up to last year. Although the effects of the recession are wearing off, there are a few key reasons (à mon avis) why fantasy sales are still doing well. Again, all the usual caveats (see parts 1 and 2) apply:

Escapism. Who doesn't want to live in an enchanted land where you can wield arcane magic(k)s against a host of undeniably evil foes? (Especially when the alternative is looking at your year-to-date return on your 401(k).) While I don't expect fantasy sales to suddenly tank when the economy truly turns bullish again, I do think our lingering economic woes contribute to our desires to seek out escapist fantasy, which in turn convert to sales.

The mass market format. The fantasy genre in particular lends itself to the mass market format, and frankly, you can't beat $5 – $9 for a book. Almost every other form of entertainment is more expensive, and while I do expect e-sales to eat away at the mass market's dominance over the next couple of years (we're already starting to see it), the low price point attracts a lot of consumers. (See below for more notes on the fantasy genre and e-books.)

The series effect. Fantasy books also lend themselves well to serialization, and once you hook a reader on a series, you're golden. Who's going to read the first book in the EverMagicks War Chronicles and not read the subsequent eight books, assuming they liked the first? Especially if those subsequent books are, say, $6.99 apiece? That's what I thought.

Now, unlike children's fantasy (see yesterday's post), adult trade fantasy titles are far from immune to the specter (or, worse yet, spectre) of e-books. If you're writing in this genre, be prepared to discuss e-book rights with your agent, as well as blog, tweet, and participate in all varieties of social media. The Kindle, nook, and iPad are now your friends.

Numbers-wise, it looks like fantasy title sales are more or less in line with the rest of the market in terms of the ratio of e-books to physical books sold (e-books probably comprise about 10% of sales in terms of units). Depending on the average price of e-books, this could be a little higher or lower in terms of dollars. My guess is it's not that different, though this may change if and when e-book prices come way down.

So, mes auteurs, for your bullet-reading pleasure:

• Fantasy is doing well as a genre. Hooray!

• The nature of the content, preferred format, and predisposition toward series probably contribute to its continued good health. Crossover between children's/YA and adult (Deathly Hallows, anyone?) also probably helps. I can't think of another genre in which adult and kids' literature sees so much overlap.

• Adult trade fantasy sales are, like the rest of adult trade fiction, favoring the electronic formats more and more. It is, in fact, entirely possible that your book will only be sold as an e-book by the time you find representation.

That's all the news that's fit to blog, meine Autoren. Tomorrow: mysteries! Thrillers!


  1. Woo hoo!!!

    waiting for Sci-Fi with bated breath...

  2. What's the difference between romantic fantasy and paranormal romance?

  3. I think a lot of the health of the genre has to do with urban fantasy. It's been huge the last few years, to the point where it's strangling out more classic fantasy representation among agents (four more on my list of agents to query stopped repping standard fantasy since May). I wonder if the genre were examined without urban fantasy if those numbers would hold true.

    A lot of the expected epic fantasies (Martin's Dance with Dragon's, Rothfuss' Wise Man's Fear) have seen long delays. While their individual draw may not have diminished that much, using them to support other new fantasies is much more difficult.

  4. I write on the cusp between adult epic fantasy and YA. I think that with A Game of Thrones and the Hobbit movies eventually coming out the genre will be going stronger than ever shortly.

  5. Phaeyries are going to be the next big trend. Just wait and see.

    Great post! I agree with Joseph L. Selby that urban fantasy probably really helps bump the numbers, but the fantasy section is still one of the most packed with browsers whenever I go to the bookstore (where urban stuff is separated into its own stacks). I don't think the genre will tank too hard anytime soon.

    @Cathy: My guess is that romantic fantasy encompasses more than just the paranormal, encompassing various settings and natures for the characters in love. Paranormal romance, on the other hand, tends to be modern and involve a romance between a human and a (usually brooding) vampire/werewolf/fallen angel/whatever. In my experience, they tend to be less sweet as well, with more sex (but not usually enough to brand them as erotica).

    EDIT: My word verification is "comet". This means SF is next, right?

  6. As someone who belongs to a lot of genre reading groups and watches the markets, I'd say that UF is what is growing the fantasy market, and women readers, particularly romance readers, are fueling UF's growth.

    The publishers and authors have figured this out because you are far more likely to see UF advertised in "RT Bookreview" than in "Locus" or the other sf/f magazines.

    And the difference between romantic fantasy and paranormal romance is the plot that drives the story. The romantic fantasy is a fantasy with a romance subplot. A paranormal romance is a romance with paranormal worldbuilding.

  7. Thanks for the information on fantasy ebooks. That's the only thing I've an interest in writing, so I'm glad they're holding their own. I keep seeing those horror/thriller ebook authors making it big, but I've seen a couple fantasy folks doing well too. :)

  8. This is great news although I have to agree with the others that it seems like paranormal or urban fantasy is pretty high up. I just hope there are still people out there who like the classic YA fantasy. That's what I've always read, always loved and have been writing. I'm glad Kristen Cashore's Graceling did very well to boost "classic" fantasy readership.

  9. I do wonder what the stats would be without urban fantasy. Like Selby, I've seen fewer agents who are still interested in other-world fantasy. Still, overall, I suppose this is good news.

    It would be interesting to do a historical study to see if there really is a trend linking economic downturns with the popularity of fantasy. I have my doubts, but you never know. Supposedly interest in zombies vs interest in vampires shifts depending on which political party is in power.