I am delighted to host author Cristina Jurado on my blog today to describe the current boom in Science Fiction in Spain and the assimilation of Fantasy into mainstream publishing. Cristina brings together the views of leading figures in Spain’s SFF community to discuss the future of science fiction, fantasy and horror publishing.
If Spain were the title of a recent fantasy movie, it would be “The desolation of Smaug”. The country has been in such economical stress over the last few years – rampaging unemployment, numerous banking and political scandals, and popular discontent over the Government decisions – that it looks as if it has been ravaged by powerful predators. No more Spanish miracle due to the booming of the construction market.
Spaniards are having a hard time getting back on their feet, and the cultural landscape has been greatly affected by high taxes (21% in cultural related products like e-books, movies, etc.) and cuts in public funding. Although the Conservative party in power has recently announced it is planning to lower taxes, people remain highly skeptical.
Fewer books but more science fiction titles
The crisis in Spain has influenced the literary scene in many ways – book sales seem to have plunged in general and fewer titles are being released. According to the study Outlook of the Spanish Publishing Sector, 104,724 books were published in the country in 2012, 6.4% less than the previous year. The last available data on the sector’s sales revenues related to 2011, which shows a 4.1% drop in comparison to 2010.
In contrast with this gloomy situation, fantasy literature – including science fiction and horror – is experiencing a remarkable flourishing, as journalist and writer Laura Fernández points out in her article for Hoy.es. Fernández claims that fantasy titles beat popular best sellers in the Spanish market. The block-buster 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James has sold 300,000 copies in Spain, Patrick Rothfuss has sold 800,000 of The Kingkiller Chronicle, and Song of Ice and Fire by G.R.R. Martin (popular thanks to the TV series Game of Thrones) has sold 1,200,000 copies. According to a report by the Spanish Association of Publishers, G.R.R. Martin and YA fantasy writer Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games Trilogy) occupied 2nd and 3rd place in the ranking of best sellers in Spain in 2012.
Antonio Navarro, President of AEFCFT (The Spanish Association of Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror), is a little more cautious about this presumed phenomenon. “It is true there are some titles or authors that sell a lot. It is also true that TV fantasy series have achieved fame and popularity among the public, and fantasy cinema hasn’t lost attention – many movies are released with huge success year after year. But to say there is a boom in genre literature, it’s a big statement. On the other hand, I believe there is another significant factor facing the genre’s future, more important than current sales and/or consumption. I’m referring to the normality in which the genre is being embraced. Fantasy literature is acquiring a degree of normality, of commonplace, it didn’t have before.”
Fantasy literature is acquiring a degree of normality, of commonplace, it didn’t have before. Antonio Navarro
Elías Combarro @odo is editor of the bilingual blog Sense of Wonder (devoted to fantasy and science fiction literature), member of the podcast Los VerdHugos and also member of the editing team for Terra Nova anthologies. “I agree, but I need to clarify. Certain ideas from the genre (time travel, space battles, dragons, wizards…) are now embedded in popular culture and have become attractive to all kinds of audiences, and not only to fantasy hard-core fans. In a way, their use has become customary. I also think that “the boom of fantasy” is due to fashion brought by sagas like Harry Potter, Song of Ice and Fire and Twilight. I don´t really believe there is more interest in fantasy literature in general but in certain books or authors in particular. I think that most fans of G.R.R. Martin don’t pick up a book written by Abercrombie, for example. They are not really interested in the genre, but only in the universe of Game of Thrones.”
Mariano Villareal, a veteran in the science fiction and fantasy scene in Spain, has recently published his own study. Villareal manages Literatura Fantástica (web portal with information and reviews about the genre), is member of Terbi – Asociación Vasca de Ciencia Ficción, (Vasque Science Fiction Association), has worked closely with Asociación Española de Fantasía, Ciencia Ficción y Terror (Spain´s Fantasy, Science Fiction and Terror Association or AEFCFT) in organizing the Ignotus awards (the Spanish “Hugos”), and has served as editor for numerous anthologies of short stories.
He has been compiling information about the titles published within the genre since 2005 and he estimates that only 3% of books have escaped his cataloguing.
Science fiction has experienced an increase of 50% in new titles, equaling a third of the total genre market… Mariano Villareal
Even though he deals with titles rather than revenues or sales in the Spanish market of fantasy, science fiction and horror, his study offers some insight into current trends for the genre. The figures in this study speak with loud voices. The number of released science fiction, fantasy and horror books in Spain has fallen by 35% between 2009 and 2013. This trend could have been greater if it wasn’t for the ‘Amazon effect’, which alone brought 100 new titles.
However, while the number of new releases of Fantasy books has fallen almost 50%, science fiction has experienced an increase of 50% in new titles, equaling a third of the total genre market, since horror books suffer a fall similar to that of fantasy. “Science fiction works with smaller print runs and has a loyal and stable audience, so maybe that is the reason for more new releases,” says Villareal.
For Antonio Navarro, the decline of fantasy publications in favor of science fiction responds to a natural cycle. He points out his specific concerns about local genre writers. “We all know that some publishing houses have disappeared, companies that were producing material for years – some of them focused on the work of authors writing in Spanish or in the other official languages in Spain. That means many local writers have more difficulty showcasing their creativity.”
As Elías Combarro explains: “Fantasy loosing ground in 2013 is just incidental. When new tittles by Brandon Sanderson, George R.R. Martin and so forth are released, fantasy will pick up. I understand that Mariano’s study is based on published titles and not on sales. If sales were analyzed, I guess the outcome would be different. I also believe there are cycles and fashions. There are times when a certain genre is more successful, almost always propelled by one or two leading authors and afterwards, it somehow vanishes. I remember that some time ago there was an imprint devoted exclusively to Orson Scott Card, a not so relevant writer in our days, even though the movie Ender’s Game may help him to regain prominence.”
The rise of anthologies and new specialized imprints
The number of anthologies has risen and, amid the disappearance of specialized imprints and publishing companies, there are many others emerging initiatives, like publishing houses Fantascy, Fata Libelli, Satori Ficción, Palabras de agua, Nevsky, the web of free translated stories Cuentos para Algernon and publications such us Presencia Humana Magazine. For Navarro “as president of the AEFCFT, or simply fan of the genre, I’m really happy about it. In my opinion, short stories are the author’s touchstone, especially for those who are starting. It is the way new writers can show if they have what it takes to be an author by displaying their abilities, using less time than required for a novel, getting to readers more quickly, and being published more easily.”
In my opinion, short stories are the author’s touchstone. Antonio Navarro
“Some years ago, anthologies experienced a big decline. Editors claimed they didn’t sell, or maybe sold much less than novels, which – according to my personal experience – could be true only in some instances, because there are anthologies than sell a lot more than many novels,” claims Villareal. “On the other hand, is fairly easy to convince authors to collaborate in anthologies, relying on them to amplify the momentum, and to boost presentations and even sales. I see this option as suitable for small imprints and fandom projects. Anthologies also mean more work and a smaller share per head – including the editor – so many publishing houses are not interested. In my opinion, it is an offer with a lot of potential, if we take into account a third aspect: a short story is very easy to read in an e-reader and, although e-books only represent 5% of turnover in Spain, is a very interesting factor.”
About the emergence of small imprints, Villareal explains: “They have always been there, some surfacing when others disappear but maintaining a steady number – around thirty. Before, they used to fight against the endemic problems of small distribution and now they have to compete against the big players of the market. This effort deserves to be praised.”
Villareal’s study also reveals that most imprints have halved their new titles. However this fall has coincided with improved quality in terms of editing, design, translation (with some exceptions) and with ongoing efforts to stabilize prices by printing paperbacks rather than hardbacks. “This is a subjective appreciation,¨ says Villareal. “I wanted to add optimism in a landscape of dropping figures. I don’t have tangible data but this is an evident reality for many veterans like me, hardened in a time when there was a lack of new titles, bad translations and improvable prints. Now readers are more exigent and publishing houses without attractive and good quality products are rejected.”
Self-publishing and e-books: new trends on the block
There is no existing data reflecting the influence of self-publishing in total sales, but in other important markets the tendency seems to thrive. Bowker, the official ISBN agency for the US and Australia, estimated in last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair an increase of almost 60% of total self-published titles in USA in 2012 from the previous year. If one takes into account that thousands of titles were released without ISBN (like in Amazon’s Kindle store), the growth in 5 years calculated at 422% could be greatly underestimated.
For Navarro, “I believe the work of editors, correctors, layout artists, translators (when necessary) within the publishing process is vital and still makes sense. A book, released without those filters, will probably arrive in the market with certain gaps in terms of content (characters, plot, development, etc.) as well as of formal aspects (orthography, style, layout, punctuation, etc.) in comparison with those already filtered.”
To me it’s very important that an editor selects really good titles, creates imprints with distinctive personalities, and backs up really interesting writers. Elías Combarro
Combarro has also mixed feelings about self-publishing. “In some instances it is beneficial and, in others, not so much. It’s undeniable that it brings bigger opportunities for authors, and that is positive if it helps good writers to release their stories and meet the readers. It is also good news that acclaimed authors can get back the rights to their works when they are out of print, and they can be easily published once more. That was unthinkable years ago. But I also believe that self-publishing adds a lot of noise to the publishing scene. It’s increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff because there are fewer filters. To me it’s very important that an editor selects really good titles, creates imprints with distinctive personalities, and backs up really interesting writers. Like Sturgeon used to say, “90% of everything is garbage”, but I´m afraid that most of the remaining 10% is not on the side of the self-published writers.”
The number of e-book customers in 2012 reached 58% of Spanish readers older than 14, which means that the percentage has grown 5.3% in comparison to the previous year. Although Villarreal’s study does not provide information about the total number of genre e-books in Spain, he claims this format is starting to take off. He estimates that more than 50% of new titles are released in traditional format as well as in e-book, although there are very important publishing houses like Alamut/Bibliópolis, Gigamesh or Valdemar that don’t offer it yet.
The scarce information, excluding Villareal´s study, shows that fantasy is finally finding its place in the Spanish literary market, despite the economical crisis. Celsius 232, the Spanish International Festival of genre literature of Avilés, is attracting a bigger and broader audience every year, even receiving planetary stars like G.R.R. Martin. Not only fantasy titles are topping the best-seller´s charts but also global publishing houses are also counting on Spanish authors to amplify their catalogue. Random Mondadori has recently created a genre imprint, Fantascy, in which local authors like Concepción Perea, Jesús Cañadas, Ismael Biurrún, Rodolfo Martínez or Juan Miguel Aguilera, are rubbing shoulders with international names like Terry Pratchett, China Miéville or Brandon Sanderson.
It may be true that the rhythm of releases has decelerated but it seems that, in contrast, genre titles are generating a big portion of the revenues for publishing companies. A few specialized imprints have disappeared, it is true, but there is new blood invigorating the scene with “indie” initiatives. For example, Cuentos para Algernon is a website that offers translated short stories for free (after agreeing with the author) and Fata Libelli is an e-publishing company for translated stories´ anthologies.
All this shows the growing dynamism of the fantasy, science fiction and horror literary market in Spain, at a moment in which some titles have become mainstream, and editors have realized the genre´s potential in terms of revenues and business opportunities. Let´s hope it is not a temporary trend but rather the logical consolidation of a natural phenomenon.
About Cristina Jurado:
Cristina Jurado Marcos writes the sci-fi blog Más ficción que ciencia (More fiction than science). Having a degree in Advertising and Public Relations by Universidad de Seville and a Masters in Rhetoric by Northwestern University (USA), she currently studies Philosophy for fun. She considers herself a globetrotter after living in Edinburgh, Chicago, Paris and Dubai. Her short stories have appeared in several sci-fi online magazines and anthologies. Her first novel From Orange to Blue was published in 2012.
Cristina recently interviewed me. To read the interview click here for the Spanish version and here, on Elías Combarro’s blog, for the English translation.