Monday, August 10, 2009

Genre-Specific Sales, Part 1 of 8: Fantasy

The results of last week’s informal genre poll are in. By my count, the top four most-requested categories are:

1. Fantasy
2. Children’s/MG/YA
3. Mystery/Thriller
4. Science Fiction

Followed closely by literary fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction/chick lit, and romance. So, here’s the deal: I’ll do all top eight—the top four this Monday through Thursday plus a Friday round-up, courtesy of Laura, and then the second set of four next Monday through Thursday. I know, I know. I spoil you.

Now: to business!

First, the bad news: book sales are down. Due to the recession and the fact that nobody reads anymore anyway, the industry has suffered "modest" (read: depressed) sales, affecting retailers, publishing houses, agents, and authors alike. Dark times, gentle readers.

The good news, however is this: fantasy is actually doing all right, and in many instances, sales of fantasy books are up over last year's sales. Without quoting you exact BookScan numbers, I can tell you that fantasy book sales are up at my house by roughly 10%, which is the number currently being quoted for most of the major trade publishers. As for the retailers themselves, they're seeing a 4-5% increase in general sales, as described in author Kameron M. Franklin's post on the subject.

It occurred to me to check the hardcover vs. trade paperback numbers in BookScan, and again, without quoting specifics, I can tell you that hardcover sales are particularly depressed across the board and trade paperback numbers (both frontlist and backlist) are up (which was my hunch). The AAP's recent release on book sales for May of this year more or less confirms this. Then again, I've always been more of a big-picture guy, so I encourage you to check out the numbers for January, February, March, and April, too.

(Fun exercise: pay special attention to the numbers for audio books and e-books in those AAP releases. Then consider whether you'd like your fantasy novel sold as an audio book and/or e-book, in addition to the print version.)

Now, obviously I don't know what the economic climate will be like by the time your book is ready to be published, but if it's still not so great and you have the option of publishing as a TPO (trade paperback original—that is, your books hits the market as a trade paperback, rather than coming out as a hardcover and then as a paperback a year later), you might want to go with that. In some cases, your book might go straight to mass market, which also might not be a bad thing, as mass market edition sales are up, too. (Remember that TPs have a price range of about $10 – $20 and MMs, around $4 – $7; this beats the pants off the $20 – $40 you're expected to pay for a hardcover.) Then again, the lower prices on TPs and MMs means less revenue for publishers and for you on each book sold, so you need to move a lot more units.

Now, one or two of you mentioned you might like to have an idea of the median/average advances on different types of novels. I'm happy to report author and blogger Tobias S. Buckell has crunched the SF/fantasy numbers for us, and if you're writing a fantasy novel, you can expect an advance in the $0 - $40,000 range, with a median of $5,000 and an average of $6,494. Now, this post is a few years old, but if I were to adjust everything for inflation and then adjust it back down due the "recession effect," I'm pretty sure it would come out even. Also note that it's based on one hundred or so self-reported advances, so there's a certain margin of error there (roughly 12%, if you're interested).

And oh, yeah—in case you didn't notice, Tobias' numbers indicate much higher advances for agented deals over unagented ones. This is not a coincidence. Get yourself an agent. Then ask him or her for more details on average/median advances, &c, since (to be honest) it's not technically my specialty.

For daily deal news (and weekly summaries that often list ballparks on advances), I highly recommend you subscribe to Publisher's Lunch. This version is free; you can also subscribe to the deluxe edition for a nominal fee.

So, in summary:

• Overall sales are down against last year.
• Fantasy sales are up against last year (~10% or so). People love their escapist fiction!
• Hardcovers are way down, trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks are up-ish.
• Median fantasy novel advance: $5,000; average: $6,494; range: $0 - $40,000.

Questions? Comments?


  1. Fascinating! Thanks so much for the great info. I'm looking forward to your post on Mystery/Thrillers. Book sales may be down, but this blog is priceless!

  2. Great series! Can't wait until my favorite comes up. Thanks!

  3. Great info! I can't wait to read on!

  4. Thanks for the info. I'm most interested in the Science Fiction genre. I hope those sales are up as well. People who like to escape in fantasy probably enjoy escaping to SF too.

    Do advances go up if the publisher offers a 2 or 3 book deal? Or is it still ~$5K each book.


  5. Thanks for the breakdown, Eric! You rock!

  6. Yay escapist fiction. Based on the advance figures, looks like I won't be escaping my day job anytime soon :-)

  7. Quick and to the point as usual. Thanks.

  8. Wow. Some lucky author got a $40,000 advance for fantasy? That's awesome!
    In one way, I'm surprised any aspect of books is up. But in another way, it makes sense that people who read would want to escape more when the times are more depressing.
    There are so many angles here I feel like I should solicit an economist as well as an agent.

    Thank you for the perspective. The times are changing so fast. Makes me glad I have more than one iron in the fire.

  9. Great information, thank you!

    Do these numbers include urban fantasy, or is that considered a separate genre?

  10. Blast, Eric, now everyone is going to write a fantasy novel and there'll be more competition for me.

  11. Totally unexpected, but welcome information. You cover the aspects of publishing some of us just 'forget' to think about. I am particulary glad to hear all that you said about fantasy - I love it and enjoy writing it. I feel buoyed by your post. Thanks

  12. Hi Debra:

    Advances are usually cut up into pieces, some of which are only payable on delivery of manuscript, so you'll likely get a bigger advance on a multi-book deal, but you won't see all the money until you deliver all the books.

    Hi Amy34:

    Yes, urban fantasy is rolled into this (urban fantasy, epic fantasy, media tie-in fantasy, &c).

  13. Wow, thanks for the information! I wonder about the difference in the longer term are? Like what the average pay out is on, say, five years out. Although, I'm guessing it would be hard to say since each book performs differently.

    This is really fascinating! You are full of helpful information. =)

  14. Good to get the all the facts and figures.

    Thanks for putting it together for us. Most of us, I think, are starved for the kind of information you've been kind enough to supply.

  15. Thank you thank you THANK YOU for doing women's fiction anyway! =)

  16. Thanks for doing all the genres Eric! My two favourites were in the top four, but it will be interesting to read about the others, and I'm sure those who are writing in those genres will be very grateful.

  17. Love this series. Thank you very much for your effort. I did want to point out one error you're making. Your assumption that recession reductions are equal to two years of inflation is incorrect. Inflation has been incredibly low (even non-existent in some quarters) over the past two years. If a house reduces an advance from $6000 to $5000, that is a 16.6% reduction in advance while inflation is measured in low single digits. Authors are making less per advance (with exceptions of course) and inflation isn't offseting that decline.

  18. That's great to hear. I'm kind of shocked. I write in slipstream/speculative so it's very cool to see people are looking for thrillers, fantasy and scifi these days. A great post, lots of wonderful information.


  19. Hi, I am an new author and my new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld," was released on August 12th.

    I would like to invite readers who enjoy fantasy/sci-fi to purchase a copy from or Barnes&

    Any and all reviews are greatly appreciated.

    Brenda Estacio

  20. I stumbled onto your blog, laughed at the heading, and have been smitten ever since. Thanks for your tongue-in-cheek-while-thoughtfully-sincere information, not just from today but from other posts I've intentionally looked up. I'm not sure how you manage to sound both cheeky and sincere, but I'm fully appreciative of all the research (particularly fantasy) you freely hand out. Thank you Eric.

  21. Thanks for this wonderful insider info!

  22. I did want to point out one error you're making. Your assumption that recession reductions are equal to two years of inflation is incorrect. Inflation has been incredibly low (even non-existent in some quarters) over the past two years. If a house reduces an advance from $6000 to $5000, that is a 16.6% reduction in advance while inflation is measured in low single digits. Authors are making less per advance (with exceptions of course) and inflation isn't offseting that decline.Increase Your Sales

  23. Escapist needs during this recession would most certainly assist with fantasy novel sales. After all, what's a better antidote to reality than something surreal? What better conflict to read about than one that is so different to your daily experience that you can live vicariously through the well-developed characters without ever pausing to think: 'wait, what is that happened to me?'

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