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On Zombie Science Fiction, Part II

As previously promised, the second part of The End of Science Fiction by Nader Elhefnawy, concerning the poor business prospects of the genre, went up at The Fix on September 15th. First of all, you should watch your word counts:

Back in the days when the pulps controlled the market, books rarely got much beyond 60,000 words, as Robert Bee noted in an article on the subject in the April issue of IROSF. However, a well-known literary agent (who deals in science fiction, among other things) confirmed what a lot of people have long suspected when he briefly included in his site’s guidelines a flat statement that works in that range were unsalable. Those publishers which indicate a minimum length in their guidelines almost never ask for fewer than eighty thousand words, and if you walk into any bookstore or library, you tend to see rather longer books than that on the “new” shelf. (Indeed, between the reticence of magazines about publishing longer works, and the disinterest of book publishers in shorter ones, works in the 10-80,000 word range are almost unpublishable, and a writer maximizing his chances would keep the stories under five K, the novels in the vicinity of a hundred K and up, ignoring a vast swathe of historically very worthwhile literary territory. Gregory Feeley put it quite nicely in his article on the subject: “If I really wanted my next novella to reach a wide audience, I should make it 600 pages long.”)

Finally, someone has leaked some hard numbers about science fiction sales:

However, it seems that science fiction, which for a long time may have actually benefited from the perception of it as a “marginal” part of the literary world, is especially vulnerable in a more thoroughly commercialized field. One reason is that it accounts for just three percent of book sales, hardly the thing to attract support from the Suits. (By contrast, romance novels, broadly defined, are commonly said to constitute roughly 50 percent of the market; thrillers of various kinds, another 28 percent or so.)

And also some for fantasy:

I suspect, however, that just as mainstream writers already use science fiction tropes without calling them that (who refers to Philip Roth as a science fiction writer?), these kinds of stories will increasingly be thought of as fantasy, rather than the reverse. (Commercially, we already seem to be well on our way to that destination, with fantasy outselling science fiction by more than two to one, and fantasy’s simpler marketability already proven.)

The article concludes with the usual zombie references. I find it interesting that they—this is not the only zombie sci-fi critique out there—use a metaphor from horror, in which zombies are hot, rather than from science fiction itself, which may be stone cold and shambling already.

And if that wasn’t depressing enough, the comments led me to io9 on the end of TV science fiction.