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All of the poll-related above is somewhat tangential to the main thrust of the meeting on monday, which was to talk about the closure of Earthlight, Simon & Schuster's SF/F imprint. A couple of other thoughts occured to me whilst I was there:

- SF/F makes up 10% of UK paperback book sales. This is the first time I've heard a concrete figure from a reputable source.

- Of the authors affected by the closure (basically the home-grown ones; the international authors published by Earthlight probably aren't going anywhere anytime soon) it happens that there aren't that many I'm personally that fussed about; basically, Ian McDonald, Jon Courtenay Grimwood and Christopher Priest (and he, at least, has already found a new home). Which is more of a reflection on the fact that...

- People don't choose books by imprint (with a couple of exceptions, such as the SF Masterworks). del_c suggested that as readers mature they go from choosing books on the basis of covers to choosing on the basis of authors to choosing on the basis of reviews, and I think by and large that's true. What's the importance of having a specific SF/F imprint, then? I don't know much about publishing, so it was interesting to hear people talk about this sort of thing. The greatest impact seems to be in marketing - having someone sympathetic to push your books. Assimilate SF/F into the main line, and you risk occurences like the fiasco seen with The Separation (Chris Priest had an amusing anecdote about this: After the book was published (with zero promotion as a mainstream novel), it was reviewed in Locus. Eventually, this made its way to his editor, at which point he received an email asking 'why didn't you tell me this was science fiction?!'). Perhaps it's telling that nobody mentioned what to me is the obvious fourth way that (at least SF) readers can choose authors - by regularly reading short fiction magazines. Anyway, this eventually lead to a discussion of...

- The insularity of genre readers - of any genre. It was generally agreed to be a Bad Thing that people stick to one type of book, but I don't know; it seems to me (and I think I've said this before) that given the choice between reading widely and reading deeply, I'd rather read deeply. The reason I don't read much 'mainstream' is not because I don't want to read mainstream, it's because I do want to read SF. I wonder if mainstream readers would say the same about SF or crime? Maybe there's still a balance to be struck.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Off-topic somewhat, but what about Madelein L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time ? I know it won something big though it may have been children's book prize, and it's superb.
SF/F makes up 10% of UK paperback book sales.

And since I very much suspect that the majority of the that is made up of sales of Pratchett, Tolkein and other hefty fantasy sequences then that would make sales of real science fiction litarature probably quite a bit lower than 5% of total. I'm biased, obviously, but I think there's a lot of good SF out there, and it's a shame it doesn't get a better profile than this.

Perhaps it's telling that nobody mentioned what to me is the obvious fourth way that (at least SF) readers can choose authors - by regularly reading short fiction magazines.

And then there's the main reason why I choose books - word of mouth and recommendations from friends whose taste and opinion I trust. This has been the driving force in most of my reading habits. Reviews, critical writings, and familiarity with an author through short fiction magazines will encourage me to take a look, but personal recommendation is by far my most common and most trusted method of choosing authors/books to read.

The reason I don't read much 'mainstream' is not because I don't want to read mainstream, it's because I do want to read SF. I wonder if mainstream readers would say the same about SF or crime?

This very much goes for me too. I know there's a lot of good stuff out there that I'd love to read, but I've already got a list as long as my arm of SF stuff I want to read, and I do like having that depth of understanding that comes with intensive reading in a single genre. I sometimes think of myself as a student of SF (pretentious I know!) but I read as much around SF, both fiction and criticism, as I do around any academic field. If I were to branch out into the mainstream more often, I know I'd lose that sense of expertise that comes with reading as much SF as I do.
And what about those SF/Fish books sold in the mainstream? And is the SF/F market categorised seperately in this from childrens, in which a large amount I imagine will be SF/F based.

I still think visual impact matters, though I'm not saying more than reviews do, especially if you're looking at a huge range of books on the shelves and don't have much time.