A Counter Proposition
I recently linked to John Scalzi's post about SF writers jumping ship to become Young Adult writers, and Mediabistro's additional notes on the subject. Scalzi expands more on this, but the bottom line is the same; books in the Young Adult section of the bookstore sell better (and therefore pay better) than books in the SF section of the bookstore.
"As a final kick in the teeth," Scalzi observers, "YA SF/F is amply represented at top of the general bestselling charts of YA book sales, whereas adult SF/F struggles to get onto the general bestselling adult fiction charts at all." The overall effect? Adult readers, he proposes, "are missing a genuine literary revolution in their genre because the YA section is a blank spot on the map to them, if not to everyone else."
As an example, consider Cory Doctorow's new YA novel Little Brother which is the first of his novels to make it to a New York Times bestseller list (granted it's the kids bestseller list, but still).
There have been a number of explanations of the reasons for this discrepancy, but let me put my two cents in: SF titles sell better in the Young Adult section because they're mixed in with non-SF titles as general fiction aimed at a certain age group. On the contrary, adult SF is segregated from the rest of the "Fiction and Literature" as if it were not fiction or literature, but instead the embarrassing power fantasies of people who think making women wear "touch-my-boobies" pins is acceptable adult behavior.
Let me say this to all you SF/F people out there: sometimes it's really hard to take you folks seriously. And there's plenty of talk about stigmas and ghettos in the SF world and even talk about how the constant death of SF is part of the nature of the beast. But so what? How low do your sales have to get before you finally abandon ship?
Now consider this: as much as superheroes and comics are often linked in the public imagination, it's not the superheroes that are making comics' popularity rise while SF's popularity dies. In fact the bestselling comics in America right now are all manga, which tends to use many, many genres, including SF.
In fact, I'd argue (admittedly absent statistical data) that the SF most read right now is that in the "Graphic Novel" and YA sections of the bookstore, which have in common that SF and non-SF is mixed together without any thought of separating them.
So to all you SF people out there, let me ask you this: What advantage is there to maintaining SF as a separate genre? Can it possibly be outweighed by the disadvantages?
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