Iain Banks doesn't write sf for the money

SF/thriller writer Iain Banks has weighed in to quash a rumor that he only wrote his amazing SF novels to pay the bills because the (also amazing) high-brow literary thrillers didn't bring in enough:

I wish I did have the time to reply to everybody individually but I don’t. I think I’ll only comment on any of the posts if there’s something factually wrong mentioned in them, and so far the only point I can remember is one where an ex-neighbour of ours recalled (in an otherwise entirely kind and welcome comment) me telling him, years ago, that my SF novels effectively subsidised the mainstream works. I think he’s just misremembered, as this has never been the case. Until the last few years or so, when the SF novels started to achieve something approaching parity in sales, the mainstream always out-sold the SF – on average, if my memory isn’t letting me down, by a ratio of about three or four to one. I think a lot of people have assumed that the SF was the trashy but high-selling stuff I had to churn out in order to keep a roof over my head while I wrote the important, serious, non-genre literary novels. Never been the case, and I can’t imagine that I’d have lied about this sort of thing, least of all as some sort of joke. The SF novels have always mattered deeply to me – the Culture series in particular – and while it might not be what people want to hear (academics especially), the mainstream subsidised the SF, not the other way round. And… rant over.

Banks is dying of cancer, and it's an awful shame.

20 May Update from Iain (via IO9)


    1.  мy clαѕѕмαтe’ѕ αυɴт мαĸeѕ $8З нoυrly oɴ тнe coмpυтer. ѕнe нαѕ вeeɴ wιтнoυт worĸ ғor ѕeveɴ мoɴтнѕ вυт lαѕт мoɴтн нer pαy wαѕ $15882 jυѕт worĸιɴɢ oɴ тнe coмpυтer ғor α ғew нoυrѕ. reαd мore oɴ тнιѕ weв ѕιтe Zap2­2­.c­o&shym&shy

      1. xkcd #386

        Hey, I’ve just realised that Mr Munroe is just like that silent order of monks forced to tell jokes by reference number.

  1. It’s also obviously the comment of somebody who’s never actually read those “trashy” novels. I’m only sorry to hear the Culture novels didn’t make him rich. I bought my share!

      1. I am reminded of the scene in Surface Detail where the rich bastard asks the Culture ambassador what it would cost to buy a Culture ship. Like her, I find the question extremely amusing.

  2. Well, I’ve bought every novel he’s published (that I’ve been able to find anyways, there may be some out of print or something).  His SF is really superb, the mainstream stuff is sometimes sublime, other times not at all.

  3. I don’t know how anyone could have come to that sort of conclusion. The Crow Road and The Wasp Factory were massive hits (in my part of the world, anyway) while the Culture novels didn’t make such a splash.

  4. SF rarely sells enough to pay the bills. There’s only a few SF writers who are successful enough to do it full time. Iain {M} Banks isn’t one of them; he’s only a part-timer ;)

  5. In general, SF and Fantasy account for around 7% of the sales of all fiction. (Of the two, Fantasy outsells SF 2:1.) Crime, Mainstream, Historical, and Mens’ Adventure/technothrillers each sell on the order of 10% (plus or minus a bit). The biggest share by far goes to Romance — which accounts for around 50% of all fiction book sales. The Romance/SF subgenre alone outsells the SF genre itself.

    Around 40% of all royalty payments in SF/F go to: Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, and the J. R. R. Tolkien estate.

    The rest of us who write SF/F don’t exactly do so in the hope of striking it rich — if that was our goal we’d have better luck training as chartered accountants!

    1. Around 40% of all royalty payments in SF/F go to: Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, and the J. R. R. Tolkien estate.

      Jo Rowling?

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