What is the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy? Are the genres fading? Are writers running out of ideas? Have audiences grown tired of the same old thing? Not at all. In fact, according to several prominent agents, whether written for middle grade, young adult or adult audiences, the genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy are going strong and will be for a long time to come. There's more crossover now too. While teenagers have always read adult fiction, with the popularity of books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson, adults are reading more middle grade and young adult fiction now than ever before.
Although some agents may disagree on which of the two genres is strongest, Science Fiction or Fantasy, they all agree that we'll be seeing much more of both in the future.
I interviewed seven agents -- Eddie Schneider with JABberwocky, Sandy Lu with the L. Perkins Agency, Lucienne Diver with the Knight Agency, Miriam Kriss with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, Jean Naggar with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency, Nancy Gallt with the Nancy Gallt Literary Agency (she is also the agent for Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series), and Jessica Faust with Bookends -- and asked each of them four questions regarding Science Fiction and Fantasy.
This is what they had to say.
Eddie Schneider: I think that SF/F is one of the healthiest genres in literature right now, so I'd say more growth and diversification. With the latter, I think we're going to see greater diversity both in the variety of subgenres (helped along by the e-book industry, which is able to prove to publishers that things they think won't work, do), and in terms of subject matter and authorial background. I think we're finally going to start to see good SF/F novels that should've been translated into English years ago get their due, and the chorus of voices will be more nuanced than it's historically been.
Sandy Lu: Science fiction, which has been overshadowed by fantasy in recent years, will be in demand again. Urban fantasy, one of the fastest growing genres in the past few years, is on the decline. The market is saturated with vampires, werewolves, zombies, and psychics, the readers are quickly growing tired of them. They will want something with a basis in scientific theories, such as cyberpunk, alternate worlds, or space opera.
Lucienne Diver: It's always difficult to predict the future. Trends come and go, sometimes nearly overnight, like mash-ups, and sometimes lingering, like urban/contemporary fantasy. What I can say is that sf and fantasy are eternal. Epics are eternal. Anything that deals with the human condition and high stakes, whether they be espionage, magically or murderously induced, will be perpetually popular.
Miriam Kriss: We're definitely seeing a return to more traditional high and epic forms of fantasy, with a modern feel, and a hunger for near future stories, rather than space opera. We've also been seeing steampunk crop up in both YA and adult SF/F -- even in romance!
Jean Naggar: There will always be a future for science fiction and fantasy, and I include futuristic as well as dystopian novels. We all love peering into weird fantastical worlds, seeing wonderful alternate universes developed by others, playing with the "what if..." and taking a break from the harsh realities of the international political spectrum in our real world. Since science fiction and fantasy are among the most creative genres, I cannot speculate where the next talented imaginative writers will take us, but I am sure that the journeys will be worth the trip!
Nancy Gallt: I think readers will always enjoy the genres, as they have for generations.
With the success of books/series like The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson, do you feel YA is dominating the genre?
Eddie Schneider: No. Fantasy for adult readers, in particular, is proliferating, and there's a whole class of excellent authors that's cropped up in the last few years, including but not limited to JABberwocky clients Brandon Sanderson, Peter V. Brett, Jon Sprunk, Myke Cole...
Sandy Lu: It's actually the other way around. SF & Fantasy is dominating the YA genre.
Lucienne Diver: I think that partly the recent domination of YA is because it's not so divided into genres. YA is its own category, and to an extent that gives authors more freedom to cross boundaries and pull in whatever elements they'd like. However, I wouldn't say that YA is dominating the genre. Look at the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin or the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. There's a lot of great and bestselling adult sf/f as well.
Miriam Kriss: It might be more appropriate to say that the genre is dominating YA. There are still plenty of big name SF/F adult series that are doing wonderfully, including the tremendous success of Game of Thrones. In YA the trends right now are Horror and SF, which a great way for readers to be exposed to the genre and grow up hungry for more.
Jean Naggar: The YA market is particularly strong at the moment, but rather than dominating the genre, I think it is opening up the connections between readers of all ages, making crossover books and movies more and more frequent, and making intergenerational book conversations once again the norm, rather than young readers only finding age-based material.
Nancy Gallt: Percy Jackson is technically middle grade as Percy was only 12 when the series began, but I think SF/F have always been YA genres, it's the age when that kind of imagination and speculation are at their peak.
Jessica Faust: I feel like YA is hot right now, but I don't know that YA is dominating any genre other then it's own. YA books should be sold in the YA section and SF/F will remain a primarily adult market and sold to adults. I do think there's a lot of SF/F or paranormal in YA right now however.
Eddie Schneider: I think there are quite a few authors who are excited about the idea of writing for a teen audience. While there are a few who've done it for commercial reasons, there are so many more who've done it for the artistic challenge of telling a really tight story with great characters. Teens have strong crap filters, and will skip over something that tries too hard or feels inauthentic, hence the challenge.
Sandy Lu: Yes, definitely. YA is a quickly-growing market, and some adult authors, not just SF & Fantasy ones, such as Gail Carriger and Philippa Gregory, are also writing YA now.
Lucienne Diver: Yes, but when urban fantasy became hot, I saw a lot of authors jumping on that bandwagon as well. I think a lot of authors simply have more ideas floating around than they possibly have time to write and when something skyrockets like YA has, they may choose to focus on those ideas that previously might not have had the best chance for breaking out.
Miriam Kriss: There are definitely authors who are doing both and doing it well. My own authors Lilith Saintcrow and Kate Locke, who write YA as Lili St. Crow and Kady Cross respectively, have found their YA and adult audiences to have a great deal of crossover and the pen names they've chosen are meant to be deliberately obvious so that readers know which they're getting but at the same time can find them easily. Other authors, like Jenna Black, write both YA and adult fantasy under the same name.
Nancy Gallt: I think a lot of adult authors are jumping on the boom in children's books in general--look at James Patterson.
Jessica Faust: I can't say for sure about SF/F, but we're definitely seeing it in other genres. I'm not sure if people feel it's going to be easier, they'll sell more books, or they've just always had a desire to write YA, but we're seeing a lot of adult authors switching over.
First it was dragons, then kick-ass females in some state of undeadness. Now with all the vampires and werewolves out there, what are the trends? What sorts of characters are in demand now, or will be in the near future?
Eddie Schneider: I shy away from this sort of thing personally; I'm much more interested in books that have a strong and distinctive authorial voice, than books that deliberately aim for the zeitgeist (trends) -- in the long run, I think authors of the former stick around and are able to make better careers out of it than authors of the latter. They also write more interesting books, at least in my opinion. That said, there IS a trend toward darker and more realistic SF/F, and I'm happy to see this.
Sandy Lu: Hard science fiction may be returning, and the boom in fantasy may be on the wane. Robots and aliens may be the next big thing. As for characters, the demand will always be the same: multi-dimensional characters with deeply human stories, who the readers can identify with, fall in love with, or love to hate.
Lucienne Diver: It's very difficult, but not impossible, to find a new angle on vampires. I think the way we'll expand and diversify is by bringing in other cultural traditions. For example, the mythology and superstitions surrounding vampires or shape shifters or zombies or what have you differ vastly from one culture to another. I'd love to see more non-European influences.
Miriam Kriss: Well as I said, there's a big push to find the next George R. R. Martin or Brent Weeks on the fantasy side and a lot of interest in both near future stories and steampunk.
Jean Naggar: Hard to say. The imagination is a wide-open playground, and the next trend is as close as the next writer with a wacky take on creatures and our world.
Nancy Gallt: A good story and a fresh approach will always be in demand.
But perhaps the best summary came from Agent Jessica Faust. When asked what the next big thing is, what agents are looking for, she replied, "I think most editors, and probably readers, are looking for the next thing, but no one knows what it will be quite yet."
So, for those of us who write Science Fiction or Fantasy, it's good to know there will always be a market for our work and an audience who appreciates it.