The readership of science fiction and fantasy is pretty divided at the moment. This leads to conflicting advice for authors. Sometimes you’re told to be daring, air your own voice, and represent the under-represented. Other times you’re told to play it safe, that you’ll only get anywhere by focusing on familiar stories with Eurocentric settings and white male leads.
So what’s going on? Which advice should you take?
As I see it, that depends upon how you want to build your career.
Writing for Mass Readers
On the one hand, there’s trying to build your career through direct appeal to the mass market. That means playing it safe so that you’ll appeal to the nervous links in the chain of big publishing. The aim is to produce something that can uncontroversially grab a chunk of the casual reading market. You write is people who read sf+f but aren’t heavily involved in the geek scene. You write for those who read to relax, not to be challenged.
Writing for Core Fandom
On the other hand, there’s trying to build your career by appealing to the hard core of fandom. If you succeed then these enthusiasts will advocate for you, push your book on other people, and generally big you up.
Recent years have shown that the majority of this set like diversity. They run events like Nine Worlds. They wear badges telling you their preferred gender pronoun. They keep the magazine market afloat against the pressure of financial common sense. They vote awards to Ancillary Justice. They kick over the bins of the patriarchy just to hear the sad puppies scream.
These are the people who want something novel and want it now.
There’s Wiggle Room
This is a model of what’s happening, not an absolute. Real writing sits on a spectrum between these extremes. But if you think about which one you’re aiming for, you have a better shot of understanding and reaching your audience.
Personally, I’ve never thought it through well enough, though I tend toward writing for core fandom, as shown by the mix of stories in Lies We Will Tell Ourselves.
If you write, which of these markets do you tend to write for? And what do you look for as a reader? Let me know in the comments below.