Thursday, February 21, 2008

Agent Insight

I was recently invited to give a presentation at the the Greensboro campus of the University of North Carolina about publishing science fiction and fantasy. I have to admit, the idea of a university asking me to come in and talk about SF was a pleasant surprise; far too often academics don't take our genre seriously. So I obviously wanted to make a good impression and as I started to prepare, one of the things I did to get good, current information was email Jenny Rappaport, a literary agent with the Lori Perkins agency, and ask her what trends she saw developing with science fiction and fantasy novels. She replied with this, which I thought interesting enough to share with you:

Hi Edmund,

It's really interesting that you ask about this, since I've been having a series of running discussions with Lori Perkins about this. Basically, I think there's an overall trend in publishing right now that's based on the lagging economy; if you compare the number of deals being posted on Publisher's Marketplace now, to the number of deals being posted last summer, they've pretty much been cut in half. This doesn't necessarily mean publishers aren't buying as many books, but it could mean that they're buying them for less money, and thus the agents aren't posting the "nice" deals as often. I don't think the industry has been drastically affected by the economy yet, but I think that if we do slip into a recession, you're going to see that reflected.

In terms of sf/f, I've heard a couple of things floating around. One editor is looking for an urban fantasy, a la KITTY AND THE MIDNIGHT HOUR, with a male protagonist. Another is still looking for sexy vampire and werewolf stories. Overall, I think the trends are definitely going more towards urban fantasy at the moment, particularly because it has such crossover appeal with paranormal romance. And although I'm not sure the publishers are taking this into account, romance and women's fiction sales tend to remain strong during times of economic downturn, so that may be another reason urban fantasies are doing well. Epic fantasies are having more difficulty selling, even when I've felt the books aren't really epic in nature; if the publisher can put that label on it, it's making it harder for the editor to buy it, even if they like the book.

Will any of this change? I think it's cyclical, and that it will eventually swing back around again. I've only talked about fantasy, but science fiction is still being bought and read--just at a much lower consumption rate than fantasy novels. Sci-fi seems to be doing well in terms of military/espionage books, as well as ones that trend in the utter opposite direction, and are uber-intellectual (think Charlie Stross; at least, he seems intellectual to me).

Anyway, I hope this helps you!



Erik Smetana said...

Wow. That's really interesting. I never really thought too much about the big deals and overall MSS sales in relation to the economy, but it makes perfect sense. Hmmm.

Edmund R. Schubert said...

As much time and effort as writers put into their artistic side of their endeavors, you've always got to remember that publishing is a business, too. :-)

Erik Smetana said...

Definitely. So many writers pour their soul out and when they are finally finished they seem to have a brain freeze when it comes to that realization (in so many different aspects of the publishing world).

Maria said...

Thanks for posting that letter. Insightful and interesting.