It’s time for our yearly prophecy—predicting the next big trends for sci-fi and fantasy books! What genres and subgenres are readers going to be lining up at their virtual bookstores for? What topics are aspiring authors going to gravitate towards as “the next big thing”? (FYI, we don’t recommend jumping on trends as writers. Write what you love instead!)
We’d love to see any of these topics in our query inbox. Speaking of which, we’re open for submissions right now. Send us a query if your story falls under one of these categories! Even if it doesn’t, we often don’t know what we’re looking for until we see it. As long as it fits our submission guidelines, we’re happy to take a look. Without further ado and in no particular order, here are the genres and topics we think might explode in 2021:
It is absolutely unavoidable that the event which globally dominated 2020—COVID-19 pandemic, would you please stand up—will be influencing our writing for years to come. While 2021 will likely be too soon to see many stories explicitly pandemic-set (give it a few years of distance before those come out), the elements of isolation, panic, natural disaster, global instability, and social upheaval that accompany a global disease will definitely show up in spades next year.
Human-like robots have always been popular with sci-fi, but I expect we’ll see a rise in A.I. fiction with the advancement of the technology that is currently happening in the world. Machines that can learn, reason, apply logic, and be creative are quickly becoming a reality. What impact will this technology have on healthcare, manufacturing, workplaces, art, society? A.I. will also impact publishing itself, as this technology will be capable of writing articles, blog posts, and even books.
On the heels of another incredibly successful season of The Mandalorian and the recent proclamation of a potential Firefly reboot, expect an influx of readers wanting more space westerns. This is not a new genre, but it is certainly a niche that has been getting more attention lately (rightfully so). There’s a lot of room for the graphic novels here, too. This is the way.
Mainstream fantasy is getting tired of societies organized around a patriarchy. When worlds are populated by wizards, dragons, and elves, gender equality is hardly an unbelievable element to include. Power structures don’t have to be oriented around gender. Authors are getting creative with the forms oppression and socially-dictated roles in their novels, and we are excited to read about them!
Books written about diverse characters by diverse authors are already on the rise, and I am excited to see this trend continue. It’s crucial to see minority voices lifted in all genres, and for everyone to have the opportunity to see themselves in their heroes. Fantasy and sci-fi have been defined by words like “white,” “heterosexual,” and “privileged” for too long.
Authors of traditional Cyberpunk tend to build their worlds with dark and gritty edges, but after 2020, I think we’ve all had enough of grim-looking futures. Enter the Post-Cyberpunk narrative. Think everyday life, complete with functioning governments, economies, and business, but with technology embedded into nearly every aspect of your existence. In the Post-Cyberpunk genre, society hasn't descended into mayhem, but is similar to what it is now, just with cooler gadgets that add flair.
Speculative fiction, fantasy in particular, has a reputation for existing only in the form of giant tomes, ten to a series. But this is changing. Duologies, standalone novels, and even novellas are becoming more and more popular. With people busier and more exhausted than ever before, it can be intimidating for a reader to commit to a lengthy series. Not to mention that the assurance of a story’s conclusion in a single volume can be appealing. If you’re a writer, don’t feel compelled to stretch a single novel into three because you feel like trilogies are the only things that sell—that’s less of a reality than ever before!
Having survived a grim year, readers need spirit-lifting novels more than ever. The lighter side of sci-fi may show its face often in 2021, with sarcastic narrators, quippy characters, and Douglas Adams-inspired plots filling the query inboxes. Tropes we're particularly excited to see embraced in this genre: sarcastic robots, planets being destroyed, arrogant captains with hearts of gold, and pirates. Space pirates.
While we may be on the lookout for lots of lighter stories, there's still room for grimdark! Perhaps indulging in a realm that is even darker than our own makes us feel a little better. We’ve been battle-hardened by this past year and laugh in the face of grimdark fantasy with the knowledge that we could survive this world too. Maybe. If we had to. I guess.
Since standalones may be on the rise, crime fiction is the perfect format for wrapping up a story in one novel. Books like Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files have already proven that readers are eating up these stories within the fantasy genre. A dash of mystery with a hint of magic—who's not going to love that dish?