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Am I right in assuming that a fantasy book will garner much less interest than a realistic fiction novel? On one hand, fantasy has its own market of readers that are always looking for new, great fantasy books... and on the other hand, realistic fiction is much more widely read than fantasy books (obviously with some exceptions within the genre).

Any opinions or sites that have stats would help a great deal, thanks!

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I think it's interesting how everyone is interpreting "realistic fiction" in a different way. I assumed you meant literary fiction (a term I hate (especially when its used to look down one's nose at "genre fiction")). Could you give a couple of examples of what you would define as "realistic fiction"? –  Joel Shea Jun 29 '11 at 11:49
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Realistic Fiction to me has a modern time setting with events that are very possible to happen, given the lack of sci-fi or fantasy or supernatural elements and the like. This is good too: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiction#Realistic_Fiction –  bdrelling Jun 29 '11 at 15:15
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I'm assuming that when you say "realistic fiction", what you really mean is "non-fantasy fiction". Then the answer is, of course fantasy has less of a readership than "realistic" fiction, because you're comparing one genre against the collective power of all other genres.

If we start looking at comparisons between genres, fantasy is probably at the low-end of the scale. The statistics on genre sales I could find (for US sales, 2009) suggest romance is king, with around 21% of book sales. Science Fiction and Fantasy together account for approximately 7.8% of the market, with Mystery taking up around 6.7%. I imagine if you split Science Fiction and Fantasy into separate groups, Mystery would then be higher than both. Keep in mind, that's just raw sales. If you start looking at core readership numbers, I suspect speculative fiction will be far, far lower.

Despite its small readership size compared to other genres, speculative fiction readership more than makes up for this by the fact that they hoover up just about anything good that they can lay their hands on. Orson Scott Card has written about this before in his book "How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy", and goes to great lengths to point out that speculative fiction lovers reward good authors in spades. They're also more often open to the strange and the wonderful that just doesn't "fit" elsewhere. In short, there's a lot of opportunity for writers in the fantasy genre to have a captive audience.

Which leads on to your question about whether "a fantasy book will garner much less interest than a realistic fiction novel". You need to define what you mean by "interest". Do you mean raw book sales, with huge success across the world? Massive publicity and fanfare? A book that is read by anyone and everyone, despite the fact that it's fantasy? Look at the Harry Potter books as a demonstration of just how much interest fantasy books can generate. Or Neil Gaiman's work. Or Terry Pratchett. Or the Twilight saga.

Okay, you may say that those are just exceptions. Sure, not all fantasy books have such great success. But that comes back to what you mean by interest. Do you mean interest within the genre? A well-written fantasy book may not always be on the top best-seller lists, but it will generate a heck of a lot of interest among fantasy lovers. Consider the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, one of the best fantasy works I've ever read. Didn't make big waves outside the fantasy genre, but it sure as hell generated a lot of interest.

The long and the short of it is that you will always have a market that is interested if you write good fantasy fiction. Don't worry if that readership has smaller numbers. Write well, write what you love, and you'll be rewarded.

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Excellent answer Craig. Your eloquent and detailed answers make the rest of look like hillibillies. :) –  Shantnu Tiwari Jun 29 '11 at 13:15
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This was a great response... thank you, Craig! –  bdrelling Jun 29 '11 at 15:17
    
Thanks @Shan and @Aerodynamo, glad you found it helpful. –  Craig Sefton Jun 29 '11 at 15:31
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As always, very insightful answer, @Craig. Also I have to agree with you on the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, I've never come across fantasy books that even remotely compare. –  DeVil Jul 4 '11 at 13:42
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"Realistic Fiction" isn't a single genre. You've got literary fiction, thrillers, mysteries, romances, and more. Each has its own target audience, some wider than others.

Moreover, bestseller lists might be interesting, but they may also be misleading - because most books aren't bestsellers, aren't written to be, aren't marketed to be. What you're really interested in is more along the lines of "average sales of books within the genre over time," and hard statistics on those will be very difficult to garner - but professionals in publishing may be able to give a rough estimate, or compare orders of magnitude.

Here's what I do know: fantasy (and science-fiction) has a wide market of voracious readers, always eager to find something new and exciting, and happy to share new discoveries with the community at large (often with great enthusiasm, and physical intimidation if necessary). It's hard to stand out from the crowd, to differentiate yourself from a glut of books that may or may not be similar to your own. But if you do gain a core fan base, you can do pretty well for yourself, compared with midlist books in other less fannish genres.

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With realistic novels- I assume you mean thrillers. And not 200 pages on how Betty goes to work and comes home everyday. :)

All selling novels have an element of fantasy and make believe. In thrillers, it maybe the hero taking on 200 Al Qaeda members alone while flirting with supermodels. In fantasy, it maybe an elf taking on 200 members of orcs while flirting with fairies. :) But in either case, the reader is expecting to leave the normal world behind, and enter a world of adventure and excitement.

While its true thrillers(itself a huge genre- crime thrillers, military, legal etc) books usually top the best sellers list(at least based on my quick look in the local book stores), there are also more of these type of books, and hence more writers.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy, while they maybe a smaller market comparatively, have a much more loyal following.

At the end of the day, you can't write books like a business plan- X sells most, so I will write X. It will be dishonest, and your readers will see it. Instead, write what you love. And leave the selling to salesmen.

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The plural of anecdote is not data... but speaking from my own experience, sci-fi and fantasy are just about all I read. So it doesn't matter how popular the Girl Who Kicked the Dragon Fire Tattoo in Swedish books are, I am never going to read them.

On the other hand, I buy multiple copies of books by Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Gael Baudino, and Isaac Asimov, to have different covers and to have copies to give to friends. I will champion Gossamer Axe for years. I couldn't tell you who was on the Amazon bestseller list last week.*

*Actually I could: It was Go The Fuck To Sleep. But that's the exception which proves the rule.

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I like your list! I'm just wondering if there is perhaps a statistics site for the bestsellers by genre or something? Whether or not it affects anything is one thing, but it'd be cool to see! –  bdrelling Jun 29 '11 at 1:59
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