Before anyone writes in to complain or express disagreement or outrage, the following blog is solely the opinion of the blogger and any similarities to fact are purely coincidental.
There are loads of words beginning with the letter F that, when blurted, can cause serious offence depending on the temperament of the recipient. In the world of publishing, there is a certain F word that prompts violent reactions from all mainstream editors and literary agents when spoken out loud during a telephone query or appearing in a covering letter. From the odd raised eyebrow, to the derisory sniff; from the stifled titter, to a broken nose by a slamming door, there is no other word more anathema to a publisher than the one beginning with “F” and ending in “antasy”.
“Fantasy” — there, I have said it, and the furious bolt of lightning has seemingly missed me. It appears that, despite a big presence in the movies and many established authors still selling well, few readers are enamoured with the new stuff. In fact, according to one literary agent, Sci-Fi (a genre that was considered passé about 10 years ago) is in and new fantasy is struggling to survive in the book world. Apparently, the British readers are gorging themselves on a three-course menu of thrillers, crime and diet books — enough to give anyone a serious dose of indigestion. I jest, of course, I really need to go on a diet. Add to this the difficulties, frustrations and humiliation an unsolicited author (especially one that has no dubious celebrity status) faces in breaking into the publishing world, and you have a recipe for probable disappointment.
So, what is wrong with new fantasy fiction? First, I think, perhaps, that there are too many people doing it. Whether they are writing it badly or not, most precious fantasy submissions — and they are legion —end up at the bottom of the dreaded slush pile, many without even being read. Secondly, fantasy readers are Orced-out. Elves, dwarves, dragons and ethereal faery creatures of shadow and light have all been done to death and are simply becoming variations on a jaded theme. Thirdly, there are relatively few literary agents and publishing houses that actually deal in fantasy — most expressly forbid it. Fourthly, those literary agents that do work with fantasy generally stick to the same formula that has brought them success in the past (go back to point 2).
A bleak picture indeed, but that optimistic streak I find cowering in a corner inside me (the one behind the disheartened murmur) tells me that, like every dog, a good book will eventually have its day. I just hope that it will not be a posthumous one.