Fantasy novel trends not to follow

I read two years’ worth of Publishers Weekly fantasy novel reviews and noticed some trends. I also picked up some querying advice.

Looking through clouds at the sun

If you’ve ever queried a novel (tried to find a literary agent who’s excited enough about it to represent you), you’ve probably agonised over comp titles.

Now I can say “me too”.

What are comp titles?

Comp titles are books that are similar to your book in some way and are either supposed to tell agents the vibe of your book or tell editors how many copies they’ll be able to sell.

Depending on who you ask, comp titles should be books–or movies or TV series (or definitely not movies or TV series)–that:

* are less than five years old, less than two years old, less than ten years old, or not so new no one knows them

* are well known but not so well known they’re a phenomenon (or are either Harry Potter or the Hunger Games)

* are debuts (or need not be debuts)

* match your novel in genre, tone, style, favourite colour, secret phobia, and celebrity crush

* or match your novel in plot, theme, or hairstyle.

A woman with intensely curly hair.
Find a comp title with the exact same hairstyle as your book. Or die.

Where do you find comp titles?

How do you find these unicorn books?

Read everything that’s been written in your genre in the last ten years. Search Amazon and hope. Failing that, you could try reading the past few years’ of book reviews in Publishers Weekly.

My usual reading didn’t turn up anything suitable, and all Amazon could recommend was Harry Potter and Sarah J. Maas, so I turned to Publishers Weekly.

I had to pay to get what I needed ($15 for a month of access). I also spent three days back-and-forthing with their help desk trying to get their prehistoric site to accept my subscription. (They were no help, but hubby fixed it.)

Then I read a mountain of reviews for new fantasy books.

In doing so, I noticed certain elements came up over and over in recent fantasy books. Yes, trends are real.

And authors are always told not to write to trends, so…

… here are some trends in fantasy books. Now go write something else.

1. Eco-fantasy or climate fiction

This might be because the population at large is cottoning on to the fact we have broken our planet. These books come in various flavours, ranging from “hope lives” to “this is the end”.

I find the real world depressing enough. I’m not sure I want this in my fiction, but many people do.

2. Space operas

(Not fantasy, but science fiction and fantasy reviews are in the same section.) I’m not even sure I know what a space opera is. I think it involves a lot less singing than you’d guess from the name. Disappointing.

Don’t write one because these are everywhere. Or write one because these are everywhere.

3. Revolutions and secret or lost heirs

Every epic fantasy I came across seemed to involve the risk of a revolution, and every other one involved an heir to the empire or kingdom who was in hiding, ignorant of their heritage, or otherwise an ordinary farm boy/girl.

I’m happy to report my WIP features no risk of revolution (well, only a small risk), and the heir to the kingdom is happily ensconced in their palace. But the main character doesn’t know her parents. Perhaps in the sequel…

4. Romantasy, specifically enemies-to-lovers

Everyone knows romantasy, a non-specific mix of romance and fantasy, is big right now. But did you know this is virtually all enemies-to-lovers?

Why so limited? There are dozens of options. You can have friends-to-lovers, lovers-to-enemies, stalkers-to-lovers, siblings-to-lovers, hallucinations-to-lovers…

I think I’m starting to understand.

5. Desert settings

Western Europe is out, desert settings are in. And by “in” I mean “everywhere”.

I confess I started writing one of these, but I ran into major issues. I may come back to it, but my eye has been captured by a Shiny New Idea. Though first I really need to finish editing my current WIP.

City in a desert

I have a (new) query letter

Unrelatedly, I have new draft of my query letter for the book I’m finishing editing any day now (haha).

I found a useful thread of query advice on Twitter.

Then I lost the thread.

Then I found it again and quickly took screenshots.

For your viewing pleasure:

Combine that with a bit of advertising:

I have no way to verify the claim of 90% full requests (though I’m sure everyone tells the truth on Twitter–I do), but this is a better statistic than I’ve heard anywhere else, so I thought for $10 I’d give it a go. (It was actually more like $18 for me because the New Zealand dollar isn’t worth anything.)

Cardigan got my draft query back to me in a day or two with some useful advice on which parts didn’t work (not the parts I was worried about) and why, and my revised version met with their approval. It’s too early to say how effective it will be, but I’ll keep you posted.

Cardigan may or may not still be on Twitter, but if you’re interested in a query critique and you have $10 you can contact them at cardigan.queries@gmail.com.

What trends have you noticed in recent fantasy books? Do you love them or hate them?

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Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

6 thoughts on “Fantasy novel trends not to follow”

  1. Space Opera aligns with Soap Opera (endless series of life problems with a rotating cast of characters, originally sponsored by soap companies) and Horse Opera (white hats, black hats, horses and six-shooters). Star Trek was originally pitched as “Wagon Train to the stars,” making the connection from horse to space. The original space opera is probably E. E. (Doc) Smith’s Lensman series. A Space Opera has starships, laser blasters, space battles, etc. Star Wars also fits the genre.

    1. I’ve never heard of a Horse Opera. Now that I have, I’m disappointed the horses don’t sing. But most people probably prefer laser blasters and space battles.

  2. Ten bucks for a query critique seems like an amazing deal to me — almost suspiciously so. But based on the screenshots of Cardigan’s advice that you supply, it looks like they know whereof they speak. So, if I move to New Zealand with my American dollars will I be rich?

    1. You probably don’t want to know how much it’ll cost to fill the tank of your car in New Zealand… (It’s currently over $2 per litre here in Australia: ~US$4.60/gallon)

    2. I thought it was a great deal too, so worth the punt. Plus I kept coming across Cardigan on Twitter and they said a lot of pretty sensible things.

      Sure, if you come to New Zealand you’ll almost double your dollars, but I still wouldn’t recommend it because the cost of houses and food and pretty much everything else are insane.

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