Pub Rants

The New Buzz Word: Speculative

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Status: Dashing out to next meeting in 30 minutes and sheesh, it’s hotter than blazes in New York City today. I’m melting. It’s suppose to be a high of 99 tomorrow. I may stick an ice cube in my bra. That’s probably TMI.

What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? I’M MELTING IN THE SUN by INXS (I couldn’t resist putting this title on!)

It’s official. I’ve had three meetings with three different editors at three different children’s publishing houses.

The new hot thing is “speculative” fiction.

I guess we don’t want to call it science fiction, futuristic, and definitely not dystopian. LOL.

Speculative is SF though.

For some editors, they don’t want a huge science focus or an emphasis on technology (as is a bit more traditional in adult SF). They want it based more concretely in an Earth or contemporary society anchor.

One editor actually said screw that. Bring on the next Ender’s Game (and I say Heck Yes to that! I totally want to see that book).

Editors also want:

Horror—not gore but scary as in I Know What You did Last Summer

Psych Thriller

Jodi Picoult with hot topic but for the teen set

Literary but with a hook

Editors are seeing a lot of mysteries with a romantic elements. So far, that doesn’t feel overly appealing to them. Of course it only takes one to break that mold and then every editor will want one.

We know how that goes.

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31 Responses

  1. Kristin Laughtin said:

    It’s just a good overarching term for SF and fantasy and horror, especially since so many of them tend to overlap and bleed into each other. You mentioned talking to children’s editors. Was there this kind of atmosphere for the adult market as well?

    @The Pen and Ink Blog: Certainly seems speculative to me.

  2. Lauren B. said:

    “Speculative is SF though.”

    Is it though? I really think the term works best as an umbrella term, of which SF and Fantasy are subsets. This is where we start to get into the Atwood conundrum. There is plenty of speculative that is neither what we traditionally think of as fantasy, nor remotely about science. Usually they’re our dystopians–allegorical or political.

    “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “1984, “Animal Farm”, “Watership Down”, “The City and the City”, “The Plot Against America”, “The Time-Traveler’s Wife”…

    I get what the editors are asking for. Something ‘softly’ alternate but with mainstream appeal.

  3. Phoebe said:

    Like Lauren B, I’m not hugely fond of avoiding the sci-fi label like this. I’ve long ascribed to the “if it quack likes a duck” system of genre labeling.

    But then, I’m a huge dork who has no problem buying a book covered in space ships.

    Or writing them. So, like, yay.

  4. M.P. McDonald said:

    I hope they’re right about speculative fiction because I love reading that genre. I like that sci-fi/magical realism angle but with the story firmly set in present or near present day–unless it’s time travel from here to another time–that’s okay too!

    I will be so happy to have more to sort through than vampires, werewolves and zombies. I still like dystopian though, so I hope more of that comes down the pipeline–but aimed at adults, not YA. I’m tired of 16 yo girls saving the world.

  5. Jen Daiker said:

    Oh I love to hear about new things. I’m off to the drawing board to write what you seek… See you in six years when the idea of brilliance rolls in.

  6. Elena Gleason said:

    As a couple previous commenters have said, “speculative fiction” has been a term long in use as an umbrella category encompassing sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. I’ve used it in that context myself for years, and it bugs me when people use it as a synonym for science fiction, because it isn’t.

  7. Elizabeth said:

    Phew! I feel better now. I’m getting ready to query a project I was starting to think might have been too realistic to pass off as sci-fi. I think you just saved me a bottle of xanax.

  8. Rebecca Kiel said:

    Thanks for the update. It is always good to stay on top of what editors want and what they’re calling it! Hotter than heck here too!

  9. Lucy said:

    Kristin–if you drop a couple ice cubes into a vinyl glove and tie it shut, and wrap a napkin around it, it won’t melt all over your blouse, and it won’t freeze your skin. (Yes, it works. Sports bras work best. Sorry if that’s also TMI. 😀 )

    For something simpler and a tad less likely to embarrass anyone, go to the pharmacy first aid section. You can get instant cold packs, or reusable cold compresses that go in the freezer. There’s one called CryoMax that’s supposed to last for eight hours (Rite Aid), and comes with a strap that can go around your middle to hold it in place.

    Good luck! 🙂

  10. Karen Duvall said:

    What would be really cool is an alternate history YA, which is very spec fic. I’d LOVE to read one of those. I wrote an adult one that has fantasy elements and it was so fun to write.

    Ten years ago, spec fic was a buzzword in the sff community, but was usually greet with a “huh?” response from agents and editors. It’s about time everyone caught up. Ha! 🙂

  11. Suze said:

    The ‘hot new thing,’ no matter what it is, in an insult to everyone– writers, agents, editors, publishers and, perhaps most significantly, to readers.

    The ‘hot new thing’ squeezes the very lifeblood out of the creative process and leaves a wake of scribes confused about whether to write what they feel in their bones they need to write– and hence will be worth reading– or to write what agents have been preprogrammed to take a look at. Why? Well, because it’s the ‘hot new thing.’

    The ‘hot new thing’ is a device which shortchanges the entire process. It’s lazy but manipulative, deadening but potent in ways it should never be and a royal bore.

    May the advent of self-publishing give the ‘hot new thing’ a run for its decrepit, tired, farcical, undeserved money.

    How’s that for a pub rant? 🙂

  12. Kristi Helvig said:

    Today was perfect in Denver (sunny and mid-70’s). If you return in the next few days, it’s supposed to be the same!

    Interesting editor input–I loved Ender’s Game and think a modern take on it would be awesome.

  13. Ted Cross said:

    Sounds like the sci-fi I’m currently writing might be just what most of these editors are looking for right now. Too bad I’m not finished and I have to spend two months in transit between moves this summer.

  14. Emma Cunningham said:

    They say speculative fiction because that encompasses sci-fi, fantasy, horror AND dystopian. It doesn’t just mean sci-fi. They’re not “avoiding” any words or genres.

  15. Andali said:

    It just keeps getting better and better. I need more time in the day. Once I’ve finished polishing its query query query

  16. Andrea Coleman said:

    I’m taking a minute to say a prayer of thanks I broke out of my comfort writing zone and am working on a YA speculative fiction. Yay!!!! Bless you, Kristin. You’ve made my night!

  17. Taryn said:

    *pumps fist* I have a speculative and a psych thriller!

    I do think mysteries with romance will be a hit as Mara Dyer is coming out in September.

  18. Lucy said:

    RE: my earlier comment/user report

    CryoMax doesn’t last for eight hours with continuous use–that’s only if you stick it back in the freezer between applications. It does, however, cool you down nicely for a couple of hours. If it’s super hot out, I recommend two: one in back and one in front.

    Not envying you in that heat, at all….

  19. Amanda C. Davis said:

    They say speculative fiction because that encompasses sci-fi, fantasy, horror AND dystopian. It doesn’t just mean sci-fi. They’re not “avoiding” any words or genres.

    Quoted for truth! Using the term “speculative fiction” casts a broader net and acknowledges that some of the best stuff doesn’t hew closely to genre preconceptions.

  20. Liz said:

    Wow. I’m surprised to hear someone in the industry talk about speculative fiction as if it’s a new term.

  21. Anonymous said:

    i guess everyone knows what “literary but with a hook” is???? I immediately turned to the comments section expecting THAT to be the most discussed. Because I have no idea.