I came across this article about men’s fiction that men account of 20% of fiction sales. I found a Publisher’s Weekly article on Hot and Cold Book Categories of 2015. That article showed a 12% decline in science fiction and fantasy from 2014 to 2015.
I have been reading science fiction and later fantasy since the middle 1970s. Most people from middle 40s on up you talk to that read don’t seem to enthusiastic at the selections available on shelves.
It goes back to the basic rule of business of creating new customers. It used to be the classic new customer was the age range around 11-14. Talk to anyone over 50 and chances are they got started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs (like me), Howard, Lovecraft, Asimov, Heinlein, Clark etc.
In the 1970s, you could find most of these authors. Depending on where you lived, you might have picked up these books at the grocery store, drug store, department store. K-Mart used to have a very nice book department at one time.
If we want our favorite sub-genres to survive, we need new readers. I will make the case we need to bring back the male readers.
That means publishing fiction that is going to appeal to males.
When I was 12 or so, I wanted to read about space armadas and big space battles. I just don’t remember seeing all that many. I wrote a long series about sword and sorcery artists last year. Fantasy is where the covers grabbed your attention.
The covers today are less than thrilling. Static photoshopped poses are anti-climactic to one who remembers Frazetta, Jones, Whelan etc.
The fiction- years ago I had the belief there was a market for a magazine that was action oriented with contents that were space opera, sword and sorcery, action horror, and even lost race. The time for fiction magazines might be passed, at least in print form. Annual anthologies are probably a more viable form borne out by Baen Books’ Year’s Best Military & Adventure SF series that will have a fourth volume out in a few months.
I belong to a Yahoo group wherein editor/writer Mike Ashly once made a comment that the Clayton era Astounding Stories of Super Science was unfortunately the first of action science fiction that would live on in Planet Stories. There is room for action science fiction, you want readers for other sorts of science fiction, prime the pump. I happen to like Planet Stories. I have a near complete run of the magazine.
There was an attempt to publish an action adventure science fiction magazine (in theory) in the late 1970s with the oxymoronic title of Asimov’s SF Adventure Magazine. It lasted for four issues. There were a few memorable stories but the magazine but it really failed to capture adventure consistently.
It is like the periodic attempt to resurrect Unknown. Editors and critics seemed obsessed that there are legions of readers hammering at the door to get snarky, smart-ass, sneering fantasy that is at the end of the day, Bewitched. Unknown lasted for four years. Yes, a paper shortage killed it but John Campbell chose not to revive it. He realized it was a one trick pony where the joke got old fast. Yet, some editor gets it in his head to revive the idea. Despite the nostalgia, that sort of fantasy does not age well and does not have an audience to sustain such a publication.
The advent of the e-reader is making changes. We might see the return of the novelette, novella, and short novel. The would be gate-keepers can be bypassed. Yet, you have to be looking for the fiction to begin with. How many of you discovered a favorite author or book by accident seeing it on the shelf?
I saw an article that e-reader sales have flat lined. Readers still like the feel of paper. This gives me hope for the mass market paperback. I hate trade paperbacks. They are a bastard child created by university presses in the 1950s to distance themselves from the lowly mass market paperback. The spines crack easily, the corners get bent or damaged. The rush to trade paperbacks strikes me as a cynical move to charge more for a book that could have been a mass market paperback.
Want new readers? Get back to mass market paperbacks. Keep the price down. Western writer James Reasoner once said to me that a paperback should cost about one hour at the minimum wage. That keeps the paperback within the impulse buy range. Those trade paperbacks are less likely to compete for a 14 years old discretionary income.
Publish fiction that teenage boys will read. Space opera, fantastic adventure, sword and sorcery, action horror. They are not going to want to read some navel gazing philosophical tract. There should be things going on, not lots of dialogue. Don’t make the fiction too clever for its own good.
Don’t be afraid of classics including Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jack Williamson’s “Legion of Space,” Poul Anderson, Robert E. Howard, or even Harold Lamb.
For Crom’s sake, get rid of the photoshopped poses and bring back dynamic cover art.
Get the books to places outside of Barnes & Noble and Books A Million. There is opportunity waiting for someone to recreate the mid-list distribution system. Get those books in grocery stores, truck stops, mini-marts, comic-book stores etc.
If men make up only 20% of the fiction reading audience, there is opportunity. It used to be in used bookstores, you did not see much Louis Lamour paperbacks in the western section. Now I notice whole shelves. The readers are dying off and the survivors/executors are getting rid of the deceased paperbacks. This could happen with classic science fiction and fantasy.