Science Fiction and Fantasy Readers: more fantasy, less romance


Research on how readers 
influence writing.

Last year, I began a science fiction and fantasy readers survey aimed at understanding readers’ desires. My university praxis prompted the research. I wanted to understand what reader’s preferred and observe how this influenced my creative choices.

While the research continues and the survey remains open to participants, I’ve been asked to share the responses provided so far. If you have any problems viewing the screen captures, click on the image to enlarge it or subscribe below to receive access to the full results.

Age of science fiction and fantasy readers

On the internet, demographic discussion for science fiction and fantasy readers discuss gender differences more than age. I chose to only ask respondents about their age for this survey as my research focuses on changing the age target of my story.

Originally, my story began as an adult book. The aim of my research was to alter this age-related genre to encompass the targeted age of the new adult reader. Most definitions of new adult fiction, describe the reader as between 18 to 25 years, the same age bracket as the story’s protagonist.

SFF Reader Survey - agea
Ages of readers completing the survey

The percentage of respondents appears to reflect the stereotype that older people read Sci-Fi. Mark Niemann-Ross on the other hand discovered a common interest across all age groups in a survey he conducted.

If I repeat this survey for my next book, I will look at collecting more social demographics on the reader, rather than just focusing on the reader’s desires.

Popular science fiction and fantasy genres

There’s no surprise that readers of SF&F prefer the sub-genres of futuristic, science fiction and fantasy. Speculative fiction, however, returned a slightly less favourable result than historical fiction.

Genres that SF&F readers like
Speculative fiction returned a less favourable result.

Perhaps the result for speculative fiction reflects the confusion associated with the category. The category also remains absent from popular genres accepted by the Book Industry Study Group as at 2016.

In the graph above, ‘Cross genre, some literary’ and ‘Non-fiction’ relate to two ‘Other’ responses added by participants.

Preferred characteristics for a lead character in SF&F

The choices, ‘Male’ and ‘Any age’ stand out in the above results. Not as popular, a ‘Female’ lead isn’t that far behind, but percentage wise the result is significant.

While the ‘Under 18 years of age’ result for the lead character received only three responses, the more popular ‘Any age’ represents readers’ likelihood to read across age-genres. Only one reader in the 14 to 17 years bracket selected ‘Under 18 years of age’ for their preferred lead character, with no other age related genres or gender selected.

Likewise, of the 8.33 % that specified the ’18 to 25 years of age’ for the lead character, 5 readers preferred either male or female leads with one reader who specified male only. Two readers gave no opinion on the choice of gender.

‘Other’ responses included:

  • Don’t have a preference
  • Well written, everything else optional
  • Any as long as its interesting
  • Awesome
  • Empowered
  • Criminal
  • Growth and relevance
  • Any vocation

Goodies vs Baddies

Readers were asked to choose the statement they most agreed with in relation to the type of cast they prefered.

When it comes to the type of cast for a story, a slight majority of readers like to mix it up. They like reading books with small or large casts, with one or multiple villains going up against one or multiple protagonists who may or may not have a romantic liaison.

The remaining 49% of science fiction and fantasy readers have more particular tastes with 16.3% preferring multiple villains. Another 14.3% like multiple protagonists but light on the romance, while only 4.1% of readers prefer to see their protagonists fall in love.

Themes readers enjoy

Readers were asked to select the themes they enjoyed reading the most. Popular themes with readers included:

  • Magic 59.2%
  • Quest 57.1%
  • Supernatural 51%
  • Dying world / post apocalyptic 46.9%
  • Alien contact 42.9%
  • Artificial intelligence 42.9%
  • Mystery 42.9%

Themes readers least enjoy

Likewise, I asked readers to select the themes they least enjoyed reading. The least popular themes included:

  • Romance 53.1%
  • Political / governance 40.8%
  • Small town prejudices 38.8%

Types of settings

Following the strong thematic response for magic, fantasy also had a strong result as a preferred setting. Alternative Earth and futuristic also led the preferred types of settings.

Despite urban fantasy occupying its own section as a subgenre of fantasy in many book stores, urban as a preferred setting scored the least along with utopian.

Magical realism was added as the only ‘other’ choice for this question. From my understanding of magical realism it includes real-world locations.

Prefered subgenres of science fiction and fantasy

Of the subgenre choices provided, high fantasy came out in front, followed by post-apocalyptic. Supernatural and dark fantasy tied for third.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction describes the holocaust subgenre as including stories where a catastrophe caused by human and sometimes alien action occurs. This has similarities to apocalyptic fiction, yet holocaust scored the least out of the available subgenres.

Readers suggested four ‘others’ including:

  • Secondary world
  • Swords and sorcery
  • Low fantasy
  • Jack Vance (Not a genre but an author. Perhaps a crafty shout-out as well?)

The most important thematic element

Nearly half of the science fiction and fantasy readers considered quest to be the most important thematic element. Found in mythology, the quest theme includes journeying in search of an important item, knowledge or a person.

The ten respondents (20.4%) who answered ‘Other’ gave answers that reflect different elements of storytelling:

  • Growth.
  • Internal discovery.
  • World building.
  • Intrigue.
  • A sense of otherness.
  • The characters!
  • None – I don’t like themes to be evident.
  • A fantastical sci-fi setting.
  • Character growth.
  • Sociological themes.

What attracts science fiction and fantasy readers?

The final question in the survey asked readers what attracted them to the science fiction and fantasy genres. The most popular responses included escapism and creativity, but there were also other responses that provided an insight into readers’ motivations. These included:

“Imaginative fiction offers a temporary escape from the mundane. It’s a safe and exciting escape from reality. Yet, oddly enough, upon my return to said reality, the very best fantasy and science fiction help me to see the real world’s past, present and even its future, from a different angle.”

“Solutions to conflict not limited by current social/technological standards.”

“Exploration of worlds different from ours (with magic, etc) and extraordinary, fantastical experiences through characters who share a common humanity with ours.”

“The Otherness of the characters/worlds.”

“When the author bases the fantasy or fiction on real life history.”

“The creativity that goes into world building and bringing ‘otherworldly’ characters to life in a way that we can identify with.”

Online sources used to promote survey to SFF Readers

The 49 participants to date have been sourced from social media hangouts, including Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Links were also submitted to:

  • Science Fiction and Fantasy forums.
  • Student discussion boards at Swinburne University of Technology.

Where happens with this data now?

A new online campaign to attract more responses begins in Feb 2017. It will be interesting to see if the results of the survey change and how this affects my creative choices as a writer.

For now, the research into my writerly practices continues.

Please support my enquiry by sharing the link to my survey. You can copy and paste the short link: to social media or your blog.

If you would like a full copy of my fantasy readers survey results in spreadsheet form, please email me at:

tina @

(Remove the spaces when emailing.)

5 thoughts on “Science Fiction and Fantasy Readers: more fantasy, less romance”

  1. Just a very big thank you for all this information- it will not change what or how I write but it may greatly help me to decide how best to promote and who to!

  2. I am pleased with the existence and the foci of the survey, but as I’m sure you know already, it will be necessary to get a much larger number of respondents. If the survey has been finished and there are full results from a larger sampling of readers, I’d be very pleased to see it.

    • Hi Todd,

      I absolutely agree with your assessment that this survey needs a larger response from readers for it to be meaningful. I’m currently reviewing the questions as it pertains to my writerly research practice and will be looking to focus more attention on my research and Praxis in 2021. I’ll keep you informed of developments. I believe I will start over with the survey since this one was collected some time ago for post-graduate studies.

      All the best,


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