14 Jan 2013, 10:53am
making books:
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Can you guess how many of last year’s bestselling SF titles were published last year?

One.

Actually, that’s not fair. I’m not counting the media tie-ins, of which there are four, three of which were published last year and made the list.

Of the rest, Ready Player One was published in 2011. Also, didn’t that one get a mainstream push? The other four slots were taken up with Ender’s Game, Dune, and two different editions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The only book that was a) original fiction and b) released that same year was the latest “Honorverse” novel from David Weber.

(A quick note: I don’t have anything against media tie-in novels. I wrote one myself last year for the Spirit of the Century rpg. They’re still not the same as pop art created outside a corporate structure, even ruthlessly commercial pop art like these lists.)

You may think it’s unfair to compare the books this way, because Ender’s Game, Hitchhikers and Dune are often assigned in school, but let’s look at the numbers. That OSC novel sold just over 100,000 copies. The tenth best selling novel on the mystery list is one of the “Dragon Tattoo” movie editions, with 127,000+ sales. Another edition of the same novel holds the fifth spot.

And the rest of the listed books are all original fiction, as long as you’re willing to throw stuff published under James Patterson’s name into that category, and I’m not sure I am. None of those books need to be assigned in school to reach six-figure sales.

If you look at the number one mystery novel, it would make #7 on the Romance list. I was tempted to leave any discussion of the Romance bestsellers out of this discussion because the 50 Shades of Grey + sequels have been the Big Cultural Thing this past year, which sort of skews the results.

Still, very few people are buying sf novels, and most of them are buying old favorites. I knew science fiction was a small part of the market, but I had no idea just how small it was.

I wish they’d included the bestselling fantasy novels, too.

This all leads me to three conclusions:

1) Science fiction is a genre in decline (obvs).

2) I am even more determined to reject the idea that fantasy should aspire to science fiction’s protocols.

3) I will never write science fiction. I don’t love it enough to move into that ghost town.

(Added later: John Scalzi confirms that Redshirts sold well enough to make the list, but most of those sales were ebooks. These lists only track pbooks. I wonder how including ebooks would change the comparisons of the books below.)

 
  • The prequel to Child of Fire: see here for more details

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Starred review from Publishers Weekly

  • Named to Publishers Weekly's "Best 100 Books of 2009" list. Get the audiobook here.

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