Fantasy has been a staple genre in bookstores all across the world. Yet, many people still wonder how fantasy books stack up against other literature genres when it comes to sales.
Aspiring fantasy authors in particular are curious about these numbers because they want to know how viable it is to make a living off of writing.
Consumers continue to purchase a high volume of fantasy novels, but it’s important to note that the format of these book sales have steadily changed over time. A growing number of people are buying fantasy novels in an e-book or audiobook format over the print version.
Many people fail to realize that although the print versions of fantasy books have been dwindling, the surge in fantasy e-book and audiobook sales has counterbalanced these effects. In order to fully understand how well fantasy books sell, we’ll need to delve into the numbers below.
How Fantasy Book Sales Compare to Sales in Other Reading Genres
From January 2018 to June 2018, fiction book sales were recorded in order to reach an approximate estimate of where each reading genre stood in relation to each other. The survey data has been outlined in the table below (source).
|Fictional Genre||Amount of Unit Sales (in millions)|
From the data, you can see that the fantasy reading genre is not at the top of the list, but neither is it sitting at the bottom. Honestly, 2.96 million book sales is nothing scoff at, especially only halfway through the year.
Another promising statistic that has recently come to light is the fact that fantasy and science fiction book sales have doubled since 2010, according to Forbes (source). This twofold increase in fantasy and science fiction book sales takes into account both print and digital copies of novels in these genres.
These statistics just go to show that there is still very much a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to fantasy books. It’s only a matter of putting a quality fantasy book at the forefront of the public’s eye.
Factors That Influence How Well a Fantasy Book Will Sell
Now that we know that there’s a substantial audience for the fantasy genre that’s steadily growing, it’s time to take a look at the individual criteria that determines how well a fantasy book will sell.
The Overall Quality of the Fantasy Narrative
First and foremost, the quality of the reading experience offered by the fantasy narrative must be top tier. A fantasy book won’t sell at a high volume if the composition of the book fails to engage the reader.
Everything from top to bottom must be written remarkably well. The magic system must be original and well-depicted, the fictional world must be fully immersive and expansive, the characters should be paradoxically out of this world yet down to earth—essentially, every fantasy book standard must appeal to the reader.
You can get a better understanding for the standard characteristics of fantasy books by clicking over to 11 Archetypical Elements of Fantasy Genre.
Incorporating all of these fantasy elements in a professional manner is obviously easier said than done. Layering a fantasy narrative beyond just the surface level requires a great deal of time and effort. It’s hard to implement these underlying layers from the first writing draft alone.
Often times, even the most experienced writers have to go back through their narrative at least once or twice and revise the content to increase its complexion and, thus, overall intrigue.
The Acclaim of the Author
Following the quality of the fantasy book, readers often flock to their favorite authors and buy up whatever narratives they have in their stockpile of work.
The book industry places a particularly heavy emphasis on branding. Since there’s such an overwhelming selection of books out there, people are more likely to read from a few choice authors rather than experiment with a host of random authors.
This makes logical sense. When a reader is first testing the waters of fantasy, it can be rather challenging to pick out a high quality fantasy text that fits exactly what they’re looking for. They might have to try out several different authors before stumbling upon a diamond in the rough.
Once they discover this diamond in the rough, however, they’re likely to stick with the brand of the author and read through several of their other works before testing the waters yet again.
Although many fantasy readers do not realize it, they often buy books based on the brand that a fantasy writer has built rather than judging how alluring a book is on its own.
There’s nothing wrong with this strategy. In fact, it almost always results in a higher quality reading experience. Regardless, it’s an important point to consider for why some fantasy books sell well, while others don’t.
The Efforts Put Forth by the Marketing Team
In addition, marketing plays a massive role in how fantasy books do in the marketplace, especially with the advent of social media.
Fewer and fewer people are physically traveling over to the bookstore to browse through their selection. Instead, more customers opt to research book reviews online and end up purchasing a book of interest right then and there.
There’s a lot that goes into marketing nowadays. It’s not just a matter of striking a deal with a publishing company anymore and relying on their name to gather recognition for a novel. Fantasy writers now have to connect with their target audiences by connecting on social media, holding talks about their book, and making the novel available in multiple platforms.
If a fantasy novel is only marketed as a physical text, there’s a large portion of potential sales that are being missed, sine there are a growing amount of customers that are beginning to shift toward the e-book and audiobook platforms.
US audiobooks sales actually yielded $1.2 billion in revenue in 2019, which is a 16% sales increase from 2018. This actually marks the first time in history that US audiobook sales superseded e-book sales (source).
Nowadays, fantasy authors don’t even have to go the traditional route and negotiate a deal with a publishing company. Fantasy writers can choose to self publish instead if it makes more sense to do so. Under these circumstances, all of the marketing efforts fall onto their shoulders since they don’t have the backing of a publishing company to help market the book.
Put simply, marketing is a tough ordeal, but it’s essential to book sales. If readers don’t know about your book, how else are they going to buy it?
Even if a new fantasy writer excels in all of the aforementioned factors, there’s still a chance that their book may flop when it finally releases. To make it in the fantasy book industry, you need to have a little bit of luck on your side.
Unfortunately, the fantasy book industry is oversaturated in terms of quantity, but not quality. This makes it hard for new fantasy writers to separate themselves from the pack and prove that they can write quality stories that are different from the norm.
Breaking through that initial barrier into fantasy stardom is a long, arduous battle. A fantasy writer must do all of the seemingly petty, minor things right in order to get luck on their side.
For example, one simple little detail that can severely hurt the appeal of a book is a mediocre book cover. Whether you like it or not, readers do judge the quality of a book based on its cover! Even if you wrote the best fantasy novel in the world, your book still might not sell if its cover fails to catch the customer’s eye.
Often times, fantasy writers who hit it big are on the favorable end of a perfect storm. They time the release of their book magnificently, craft the title and cover of their book to be as appealing as possible, advertise their book to the right audiences, and land a book review with some big time name in the online scene.
To do all these things, you’ll need to have a little bit of luck on your side in order to succeed.
Will Fantasy Book Sales Rise in the Future?
It’s hard to judge what the future holds for fantasy in the years to come. The statistics say that both fantasy and science fiction sales have in fact doubled in recent years, but some are still skeptical as to whether or not this trend will hold.
The increasing prevalence of e-books and audiobooks have certainly helped fantasy literature to stay relevant. Without these platforms available to the general public, all book sales would’ve been on the downslope years ago.
The landscape of the fantasy market is changing. We know that much for certain. Although physical copies of fantasy books reign supreme for now, it seems as though digital and audio versions of fantasy novels will eventually overtake physical texts in due time.
Hopefully, there will be another fantasy series that works its way into the mainstream, like A Song of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin. The far reaching success seen by the Game of Thrones TV series helped take the fantasy industry to new heights.
If something even close to resembling Game of Thrones sprung up from the depths, fantasy novels would almost certainly see another spike in popularity and an uptick in book sales.
What All This Means for Aspiring Fantasy Writers
Many people who wonder about how fantasy novels are selling often aim to become a full time fantasy writer at some point in their lifetime. If this fits your description, you may want to consider the information down below, as there are a couple of other statistics that may draw your interest.
The Top Percentage of Fantasy Authors Skew the Revenue Numbers
Fantasy writing is a unique job pursuit in that there are only a select few writers at the top who make large sums of money, with considerably more writers at the bottom who make far less.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median salary for full time authors was $62,170 (source). However, this statistic does not account for part-time writers, even though they’re the ones who make up the majority of the writing population.
To get a better gauge of the actual median salary for all writers (both part-time and full-time), there was a survey conducted in 2018 that involved over 5,000 participants. In this survey conducted by Author’s Guild, it was revealed that the actual median income of all writers is only $6,080 (source).
Although these numbers take into account writers from all different genres, the same general trends apply to fantasy writers. This proves just how difficult it is for most aspiring fantasy authors to climb their way to the top and yield a sustainable income from their narratives.
Pay Attention to the Income Range, Not the Average
For this reason, it’s important that you take a closer look at the range as opposed to the mean of the data. It doesn’t make sense to compare yourself to the top writers in the fantasy industry. Doing so would only offer you a false perspective of what to expect from your fantasy endeavors.
Instead, it’s much more beneficial to look at the income data on fantasy writing as a pyramid. The tip of the pyramid represents the most esteemed fantasy writers, like J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin, that are making millions per year off of book sales alone.
To give you an idea of how much money these best-selling authors are collecting, J.K. Rowling reportedly made $54 million over the span of 2018 (source).
Although it’s nice to look up at the tip of the pyramid once in a while, it can be detrimental to do so if you allow these numbers to cloud your expectations. Many more writers lie at the bottom of the pyramid, making little to no money off of their writing endeavors.
This fact is not meant to be a source of discouragement. It’s meant to show you that fantasy writing is not an endeavor for the feint of heart. If you want to reach full-time status as a fantasy writer, you’ll have to push through those early days where your efforts are not yielding any quantifiable results.
Recognizing that fantasy authorship is a goal for the long term rather than the short term will ultimately help you to attain your personal goals and achieve your overarching aspirations for the future.