J.K. Rowling's Secret of Writing Fantasy for Mainstream ReadersS

Sometimes we're apt to see fantasy and science fiction as eternally under siege and in danger of being driven out by a harsh, unforgiving market. But many SF/fantasy authors are doing incredibly well, and plenty of others are holding steady. Over at the Clarion Foundation blog, literary agent Russell Galen with Scovil Galen Ghoush Literary Agency gives one possible explanation for why some SF/fantasy authors connect better with wider audiences.

In a nutshell, it's because they're not aiming their works only at people who grew up reading speculative fiction. And the shining example of fantasy that doesn't intimidate the uninitiated turns out to be J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. Galen quotes an unnamed SF editor as saying that:

SF/fantasy fans expect to work harder. We know that certain passages have to be read with focused attention because they provide crucial information about the world...

[J.K. Rowling]'s clever instinct, the editor said, was to postpone the point where you need to learn a complex background in order to continue following the story. By then you would have absorbed so many small, easy-to-learn, easy-to-digest details that when you finally got to the Big Lesson, it wasn't intimidating.

It seems like something super-obvious and basic — until you realize how much many of us are trained to expect tons of world-building and explanation in our fantasy narratives. [Clarion Foundation]