View Full Version : Mixed Messages about Fantasy

09-09-2005, 09:17 PM
After spending a great deal of time researching then writing a 91,000 + word fantasy / sci- fi novel complete with maps and other info to help the reader, I find this at a highly respected agency: http://pages.prodigy.net/jimcypher/fiction.htm (http://pages.prodigy.net/jimcypher/fiction.htm) It’s about writing in today’s fiction market.

Then I read about the success of Harry Potter. Has anyone got any numbers on the number of fiction vs. fact books being sold?

I’d think that people would want to read fiction, much the same way they’d want to go to Disney Land. It’s an escape from harsh reality.

09-10-2005, 12:55 AM
'Master your craft. Acquaint yourself with proven narrative and storytelling techniques and devices. Then employ them in your own writing.' ~ that's where i stopped. this essentially is telling people do follow the herd. good advise... if it's your goal in life to get published. this isn't contradicting the previous statement, paraphrased, that good books go unpublished all the time merely because the editor feels there's not enough of a market for it to sell the required amount of books.

in a nutshell, editors don't want to take a chance even on good books unless said 'good' books follow the formula, that is, 'mastering the craft.'

the advise, bottom-line? be a hack. colouring outside the lines will only get you smacked. i continually write stories i *know* doesn't have but a limited appeal. i'm like improvational jazz. yeah, and when's the last time you saw one of those guys on the front cover of a magazine with a circulation over a 1,000? you know what, though? i think i'd rather write stories i enjoy and get panned by 99% of the human race just to please that 1% and me as opposed to 'mastering the craft' (what a crass equation that is), roping in a bunch of readers *who then complain about there not being anything other than crap on the shelves* and being miserable while doing it.

it's just such incredibly fallacious thinking: if you offer one brand of something, and that's all people can buy, how do you know something else won't sell just as well if not better? and how, exactly, are these great writers supposed to be allowed to be great writers when the major restriction on them is writing a novel aimed at the common denominator?

maybe there's more to the article, but i had to stop there, lol. i have to take aggravation one bite at a time.

09-10-2005, 01:11 AM
Thank you for making this interesting article available. It is, on the whole, quite a discouraging article--especially since it is written by an agent who gave up representing fiction because he found it too hard to sell.

However, does anyone here know of a time when an article similar to this could not have been written? That is, has there ever been some golden age when agents would write, "There are lots of opportunities for fiction writers. Please send us your material so we can rush it to the eager publishers?" My impression is that it has always been hard for first-time authors to get published.

All we can do is keep plugging away, regardless of the obstacles.

One line in the article struck me as particularly good: "If characters come alive, what they do becomes the story." (I much prefer to write, and to read, character-driven, not plot-driven, fiction.)

09-10-2005, 01:23 AM
The article seemed sage advice. Mastering the form makes your work transparent so your genius can shine through. .

Was your original question really: "Why is it so competitive (and arbitrary) when books like HP sell so well?

Actually - IMHO - in part because of HP, which has taken up one book slot in the lives of most of our target readers.

Suppose the average SF reader buys 10 books a year. There's huge, global, competition for those slots. Knock off HP, Da Vinci and, say, 2 non-sf books, that leaves 6 books.

Say 2 of those are from existing series (good Ol' Robert J), now your book is competing with 100s of other books for 4 slots.

But wait! It gets worse! People don't buy randomly. They're influenced by hype, best-seller lists and word of mouth. A few books out of all the contenders will dominate those 4 slots.

End result: it's not enough not to be cr_p, or to be good. You need an added extra something. What Donald Maas calls Factor X.

09-10-2005, 01:26 AM
After spending a great deal of time researching then writing a 91,000 + word fantasy / sci- fi novel complete with maps and other info to help the reader, I find this at a highly respected agency: http://pages.prodigy.net/jimcypher/fiction.htm (http://pages.prodigy.net/jimcypher/fiction.htm) It’s about writing in today’s fiction market.This is one agent's opinion. I wouldn't take it as gospel.

Note that this agent's expertise lies in nonfiction. Could that be why he isn't keen on selling fiction? They're very different markets (nonfiction is a much bigger market).

Harry Potter, though read by adults, is a kids' series. There's no doubt it has boosted demand for YA and kids' fantasy; however, as far as I can tell it hasn't had any effect on sales of adult fantasy.

- Victoria

09-10-2005, 01:59 AM
'However, does anyone here know of a time when an article similar to this could not have been written?' ~ true. you could say the same thing to doomsayers. when was there not a time when some set of circumstances could be taken out of context to suggest the world was at an end? the fall of the roman empire? the black plague? WWI? WWII? my mom retired from GM, and her plant was 'closing' for thirty years.

'The article seemed sage advice. Mastering the form makes your work transparent so your genius can shine through.' ~ how can your genius shine through when it's formula that's all they want? were someone to do something truly unique, they'd probably be screwed, according to the first part. you can't count on the X factor unless you call that luck. and if it boils down to luck, why worry about conforming to the standard?

09-10-2005, 06:26 AM
There's a difference between using "proven narrative and storytelling techniques and devices" and writing cliched stories with cliched characters. It seems like what he was in favor of there was more along the lines of studying good storytellers to see how they got their story across and got the reader to understand what is going on. Having a detective tell a mystery story complete with assorted sarcastic remarks in first person is a proven narrative technique. Attempting to tell a story by making your entire 150,000 word novel a chatroom transcript, complete with the typical spelling and interruptions that one sees in such an environment, is not.

But he then says he isn't looking for copies of other stories. His #1 critereon is "I'm most impressed by something I haven't seen before: a new idea, a new voice, the electricity one feels at encountering something unique, the totally unexpected." And a lot of his other comments seem like the sort of things you'd hear in the Uncle Jim thread.

It sounds to me like this is just a tirade written after dealing with a slush pile of second rate novels. Not a call for fiction by the numbers.

Sharon Mock
09-10-2005, 11:18 AM
Except that fresh, original stories that play havoc with formula get published all the damn time. They tend to have a lower profile than formula work, and generally appeal to fewer people, but they're out there. (Then there's Susanna Clarke...)

Now, granted, by "original" I mean telling less-than-familiar stories in less-than-familiar ways. I don't mean abandoning narrative cohesion and character appeal. (Or typographical standards. But that sub-topic will get me ranting -- and actually not at you, preyer -- and I'm not in the mood.)

Writing to be read -- writing for an audience -- is not the same thing as writing to a formula. No more so than, say, speaking Portuguese in Brazil is speaking to the Brazilians' formula.

09-11-2005, 02:25 AM
Formula? What formula? (a*a)+(b*b) = (c*c)? :Shrug:

09-11-2005, 04:00 AM
yep, exactly. it's why when you've finished that fantasy trilogy you feel as if you've read it before. you have. :)

09-11-2005, 04:02 AM
Heh. Try reviewing them...

09-11-2005, 04:25 AM
no, thanks! at least then i'd be getting paid and not paying to read it. otherwise, it would be like having to listen to bluegrass all day long.

Diana Hignutt
09-11-2005, 04:07 PM
Novel writing is art. Never forget that. To call it a craft cheapens it. Yes, before everyone jumps down my throat, there is the work of a craftsman to be done in all art, but there is a difference. Yes, the books stores are full of fantasy books written by craftsman, I prefer books written by artists.

Write what's in your heart. Sure, use the prevailing customs to do it, but write what's in your heart. Then your book will be an artisitic success if nothing else. You can't write for the market, because the markets always changing...

That's what I do. Sure, I'm not a huge success yet, but I've received some postive industry attention. I'll just keep at it, and do my best...I'll get there...or I won't. Whatever. Just do your best and don't let anyone discourage you.


09-12-2005, 05:53 PM
Of course fiction is an Art, but there are big craft elements to it - as with conventional representational art where you need to know how to mix paints, handle perspective etc etc.

The craft elements of fiction vary over time, but they aren't subjective. They are determined by the mindset of the readers - a bit like the way programming languages change over time.

If you reinvent the craft elements, then that's what will stand out about the novel - fine for literary fiction, but less so for this genre.

On the other hand, if you master the craft elements, you can tell an original and subversive story in such a way that the readers get sucked along for the ride whether they like it or not.

Gene Wolfe's Torturer's Apprentice series is a good example of this.

So fine, write what your Burning Muse puts into your heart. But think twice before you reinvent the wheel.

09-12-2005, 08:32 PM
check out my story 'the lawyer's letter.' it's long, stylized, supposed to be humourous, and doesn't really follow any strong storytelling 'craft'. as a result, it's roundly panned by all who read it (here, at least. it's been read before by a few people who really liked it). at the same time, i knew this when i wrote it. personally, i thought it was okay, however i know, too, that's it's the equivalent of improvisational jazz when it's pop that gets all the buzz. i certainly can't unwrite it, nor do i have the umption to rewrite to fit mass appeal. i wouldn't have written it in the first place were that my goal, though i'm sure i could have gotten positive reactions if i had 'sold out' on that level. not that it couldn't have been better, but at the same time it wouldn't have necessarily been the difference between 'what the hell is this?' and 'oh, i get it now.'

now, i'm rather proud of the story. i know people loathe it. it's not my best, not my worst. it is what it is. it was one of those things i had to get out of my system. i don't see how i could ever submit it anywhere for publication, though, with any real expectation it would be picked up. there are just too many stories with too much 'craft' involved which is really where my story falls apart.

the point is, when i'm being 'arty', i know i'm putting a lot of doomable features into the thing and in the end i'm writing for myself and perhaps entertaining a very, very small segment of readers. when i'm practicing hackery, that is 'craft,' my odds go up expoentially of it being accepted. what's truly ironic about writing is the best that a person can do will still get panned by *someone*, while the worst hackneyed, purply, cliche-riddled nonsense will get *praised* by someone else.

'ya know ya can't please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.' ricky nelson, the song 'garden party.' words to live by.