How to Find Your Niche in Urban Fantasy

spent 17 years trying to get published in various genres before I discovered urban fantasy at the bookstore. The basic premise was a revelation to me: pick a critter from mythology or folklore, drop it into a contemporary setting amongst clueless humans, and hang on for the ride. When one considers the breadth of human belief and the staggering number of places those old gods and creatures can get into trouble in the modern world, the possibilities are endless—but if you look at the shelves, you’ll see that only a fraction of the territory has been explored so far. Most everything is happening in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and most of it concerns vampires, werewolves, demons, or faeries. Guest column by Kevin Hearne, author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, an urban fantasy series being released this year back-to-back from Del Rey Books. Hounded, which got a starred review in Publishers Weekly, was released May 3, followed by Hexed on June 7 and Hammered on June 28.
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Urban fantasy is a vast, undiscovered country that’s still in its early growth period as a genre. If you’re looking for a place to break into the market, I think nothing offers so many opportunities as urban fantasy—the “rules” are few and the editors are already looking for books that are a bit different from the early tropes that have been established.

Kevin is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Sue won.)

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Guest column by Kevin Hearne, author of The Iron
Druid Chronicles, an urban fantasy series being
released this year back-to-back from Del Rey Books.
Hounded, which got a starred review in Publishers
Weekly, was released May 3, followed by Hexed on
June 7 and Hammered on June 28. You can
visit his blog, follow him on Twitter, or find
him on Facebook.

I spent 17 years trying to get published in various genres before I discovered urban fantasy at the bookstore. The basic premise was a revelation to me: pick a critter from mythology or folklore, drop it into a contemporary setting amongst clueless humans, and hang on for the ride. When one considers the breadth of human belief and the staggering number of places those old gods and creatures can get into trouble in the modern world, the possibilities are endless—but if you look at the shelves, you’ll see that only a fraction of the territory has been explored so far. Most everything is happening in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and most of it concerns vampires, werewolves, demons, or faeries. To contribute something new, therefore, all you have to do is browse and see where there’s some negative narrative space on the shelf—a wee little niche that you can fill, that you want to fill—and then write it. I know it’s easier said than done, but honestly, it worked for me. I got a three-book deal by starting with this very basic market analysis.

One thing I noticed immediately in my review of the genre was that there were relatively few males writing about male protagonists. That would set me apart right away. Once I had that thought, my own fondness for Celtic traditions suggested a Druid in the modern world might be a good time. My quick scan of the shelves revealed that there were exactly zero urban fantasies featuring a Druid hero. I have since learned that there was a series at that time featuring a Druid in Boston who’d lost his powers, but I went to writing The Iron Druid Chronicles thinking I’d have no competition (instead of little competition) and my book would therefore stand out a bit from the rest of the slush pile. I had a blast writing it; compared to the baggage that vampires and werewolves drag around with them, Druids are practically blank canvases.

By the time I finished Hounded, the first book in The Iron Druid Chronicles, I’d been trying to get published for 19 years. When it landed me an agent inside of two months, I began to hope that maybe I’d finally written something ready for the market. It turned out to be precisely the sort of thing publishers were looking for: once my agent submitted it, Hounded sold in just two weeks in a four-way auction. It can happen for you, too.

There are still plenty of niches in urban fantasy that need filling. To my knowledge, there are no gay or lesbian main characters; there’s a profound lack of gnomish heroes trying to make a difference in a world dominated by human giants; there are no troll girls who think there must be something more to life than guarding bridges, and so on. Go see for yourself; the ideas are out there, waiting for you in the bookstore, between the books that are already on the shelves, screaming in all the voices of the world’s mythology that they deserve some attention.

And whatever you do, whatever you’re writing, keep at it and don’t give up.

Kevin is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you've won before. (Update: Sue won.)

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