Urban Fantasy

Dear Miss Snark,

As an aside, I was watching a television show (Dead Like Me) yesterday and one of the characters was killed by a stiletto heel flying into their forehead. It reminded me of you. (Miss Snark's shoes are registered with NYPD as lethal weapons)

But more properly, I have a question for you regarding genre. I write novels set in ordinary settings but extraordinary elements. I think this is called urban fantasy, based on what I read at this blog. (which is not mine, though I wish I'd come up with the phrase "elf-shagging.") Furthermore, I've been digging through internet articles and have read a couple from editors who say that this sort of blend of young adult/ children's fiction with fantasy is very popular right now.

So here's the question (finally, thinks Miss Snark as she motions for KY to bring the gin pail closer). As I'm mowing through stacks of publishers and agents that say "absolutely no fantasy," does that mean me? I have not so much has let my pen scribble their names onto my list of "to query" up to this point. And I may quibble, but I think my novels (which I think would be better called "supernatural" fiction . . . or something) bear no resemblance to the high fantasy trilogy and quintuplets and endless series to which these listings refer.

Is the cluegun now pointing at me with a flag saying "Follow the rules" poking out of the barrel?

Miss Snark does not claim to know anything about urban fantasy. Her idea of a good urban fantasy involves Mr. Clooney and Venice.

However Miss Snark is clever enough to know Miss Rachel Vater who does indeed know a thing or two about urban fantasy. Miss Snark sent Killer Yapp over with an engraved invite to "be Miss Snark". Herewith:

Are you actually querying publishers and agents at the same time? Stop it.
Focus on agents.

"Novels set in ordinary settings but extraordinary elements" could mean almost anything, even literary fiction like THE LOVELY BONES or THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. Then there are paranormal thrillers (Heather Graham), romance novels (Sherrilyn Kenyon's DARK HUNTER series), and chick lit (Annette Blair's KITCHEN WITCH books). And yes, there's urban fantasy (Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES series.) To clarify what is meant by urban fantasy: there's usually a mystery or suspense element, usually a touch of romance, usually in a setting that's similar to our own modern cities in all their urban grittiness, and there's a pretty strong element of fantasy (vampires, magic, ghosts, werewolves, whatever) that's taken for granted as being part of that world.

Read some samples and figure out where your book would be shelved. If the agent handles other things in that genre, shoot 'em a query. The worst thing that can happen is you'll get a form rejection or no response. They will not put a number on your head or burn your house down out of spite if you send them a query outside of what they handle. They will probably not even bother to scrawl on your rejection letter, "What part of absolutely no fantasy don't you get, you time waster?!"

If you want to spare your ego the uncertainty, do a little research on the books those agents have handled and see if any have a spark of magic in them. What you're trying to do in sending out a query is to target agents most likely to be interested. You shouldn't have to send out 300 query letters to do that. So why focus on those who sound as though they wouldn't be interested? (How many agents are actually saying "absolutely no fantasy" anyway? If they're that adamant about it, why would you want an agent who doesn't like fantasy if you have a touch of fantasy in yours?) Choose agents who've handled and sold books you liked reading that had a similar style to yours, and write the strongest query you can. If you've got a good hook, you're most likely to get requests from those agents. If you're running out of agents to query and getting nothing but form rejections from everyone, then go revise your novel or your pitch and try again. If you've already done that, write your next novel, make it even better, and try your favorite agents again.


victim of the 60's said...

Ha. Here's another urban fantasy: High density housing creates a sense of community.

Anonymous said...

Victim, good one!

Princess Haiku said...

Did you say what color those heels were? :)

sara said...

"my novels [..] bear no resemblance to the high fantasy trilogy and quintuplets and endless series to which these listings refer."

Excuse me, but fantasy is a lot broader as a genre than just epic fantasy. (Only people who don't read fantasy think all of it must be either like the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.) I'd advice you to check out what these agents actually represent; I guarantee it's not all (or even mostly) epic quest novels.


whoisnot said...

you might want to check out the (definition of the) genre of slipstream as well, perhaps that is what you write, and knowing this might help, as it matters how extraordinary those fantasy elements that you use are.

see, for example:

Shots said...

I used to write urban fantasy. Sigh. Then my agent said it was too hard to sell so I moved on to urban literary. I'm happy and published but I do miss the magic. I agree with Miss Vator. Find an agent who's with what you're about.

Michele said...

Urban Fantasy isn't necessarily vampires and werewolves. It's setting fantastic elements (vampires, fairies, etc) in an otherwise ordinary urban setting (or perhaps contemporary urban setting). Dresden and Buffy are perhaps whas Miss Snark is thinking of, but Charles de Lint has a very different style.

John B said...

HAHAHA! I watched Snakes on a Plane last night (don't bother) and a guy got stepped on by someone wearing stilleto heels. The heel, of course, broke off in the man's head. The funny thing is, I, too, thought of Miss Snark!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Rachel Vater deserves a pair of stiletto heels and a gin pail of her own for her response! Thanks for that!

Kate Thornton said...

"Come with me to Venice," Mr. Clooney whispered hoarsely against Miss Snark's pale, trembling throat. For a moment she considered it, but then remembered that he meant Venice, CA, a stone's throw from the Culver City Studios and the Hyperion sewage treatment plant. Oh, well. The roses might mask the smell.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, many, many, many agents stipulate "no fantasy or science fiction" in their listings. They vie with screenplays and poetry for agents' least popular property.

Jenny said...

Stuff that's called "magic realism," "interstitial fiction" and "slipstream" all get put on the fiction shelf at my local megastores. I want in on that action, but nevermind. Actual urban fantasy such as the Dresden series and Charles DeLint's works get sheleved squarely in the middle of fantasy.

Stuff that's labeled "Neil Gaiman" is crammed into every possible category it can fit and a few it can't. Reading his works backwards reveals the contract Gaiman made with the devil, a new bestseller and a time portal which would finally allow him to simultaneously attend three signings at once. I have a feeling you're applying the "but Neil Gaiman can do it!" rule to the categorizing of your fiction. Don't do that - it's the writer's equivelent of the Godwin argument - you've lost as soon as you use it.

Miss Vater, by the way, is clearly brilliant.

A Paperback Writer said...

Oh wow! cool! Now I have a "label" for what I'm writing: YA urban fantasy.
(I might never use the label, mind you, but I feel so fulfilled just having one.)

Anonymous said...

"Her idea of a good urban fantasy involves Mr. Clooney and Venice."

You might want to add a sewage treatment plant to your fantasy. Venice has no sewer system. Toilets are flushed straight into the surrounding water, which sorta takes the romance out of a gondola ride.