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View Full Version : Is it impossible to sell a fantasy novel with a clearly non-medieval/past-based aesthetic?



Nogetsune
12-10-2014, 08:28 PM
As the title asks. I really liked the setting of Final Fantasy VII. There where a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones was that aesthetically it was decidedly NOT based in any bygone era such as Victorian times/steampunk or the middle ages. When it came out, it's world, while one of magic and not science, had a clearly "modern" look to it. People didn't wear plate and flowing mage robes; instead they had somewhat flashier versions of what we would consider "modern" clothing. The bad guys had business suits and trench coats while the non-monster disposable mooks had modern-looking military uniforms complete with futuristic tech helmets that looked like something straight out of a Metal Gear game. The main characters had cargo pants, short skirts, combat boots and other "modern" clothing items. Instead of the world being ruled by an evil monarchy or corrupt church it was instead controlled by a giant corporation. The "magiteck" despite being powered by magic looked identical to what was then modern day technology; there was no flashy magical constructs that looked more "magic" then "tech" to be found. Heck, they even had modern day food items like Pizza!

My question is, while such a setting was "ok" in a visual medium like FFVII, would a setting somewhat like that fly in a fantasy novel? Pretty much every single secondary world fantasy novel I have seen, even if it has "magitech" has that magi-tech looking decidedly more "magic" then "tech" and has characters in ye old time clothing like the flowing mage robes and plate armor I mentioned before. I've yet to see ANY fantasy story that is not an Urban Fantasy/Modern earth + magic kind of deal with characters that have modern-esc clothing and/or a corporation rather then empire/kingdom, cult or other "traditional" enemy as the main antagonistic group.

So I'd like to know, would having a setting that is visually more like FFVII then Tolkein make a fantasy novel an extremely difficult sell?

Marlys
12-10-2014, 08:34 PM
Do the words "Harry Potter" mean nothing to you?

Nogetsune
12-10-2014, 08:40 PM
Harry Potter was set on earth so it doesn't count here. I'm specifically concerned with secondary world/non-earth-based fantasy worlds. HP is in the same boat as Urban Fantasy in that it can "get away" with it by virtue that it's actually happening on modern day earth and not another world that happens to have modern day clothing and tech and such. Even further, Harry Potter was hardly what I'd call a "modern" world aesthetically. It still had castles and robes all over the place; characters still used things like quill pens to write with. The list of blatantly "old-world" aesthetic elements the setting had goes on and on. Even their "magic car" was an an old fashion affair instead of a more modern design. So while it was on modern earth, it included a TON of aesthetic elements that where clearly past/medieval-based.

Lissibith
12-10-2014, 08:57 PM
Honestly, I'd categorize Final Fantasy as "science fantasy," which is a viable genre.

I don't know that there are many science fantasy books that look like FF, but I also don't suspect it would have any more difficulty selling than anything else in that vein.

ETA while they're not "Modern" in the way you mean, there are also some great fantasy series that use a Western aesthetic.

Sage
12-10-2014, 09:03 PM
Is there any reason for you to suspect that it wouldn't work? None that I can see. Has it probably been done many times before? Yes. Even if it hasn't, is there any reason you shouldn't be the first to write it? No.

(What makes you think that FFVII wasn't set on earth? And much of it was SF.)

Nogetsune
12-10-2014, 09:06 PM
I thought science fantasy meant that it had to be based, at least in part, in some kind of science? My story in particular is 100% totally scientifically impossible, but aesthetically/visually the world is a strange mix of modern day Japan, feudal Japan and cyberpunk. Like...there is a faux-Shinto priesthood that does go full out and wear the robes during ceremonies and when fighting Youkai and on "formal occasional" the nobility go and break out the kimonos, but most of the time people wear modern-ish clothing and there are things like modern-day school uniforms etc...

Even further, tech is extremely advance and while partly powered by magic looks very "tech-y" as appose to looking like some kind of fantastical magic construct. Admittedly this is because instead of being powered DIRECTLY by magic some of the tech is powered by electricity that is generated by a magical energy source, however, at the same time some tech is decidedly more magical, such as machines that extract magic out of the life force of living creatures, magitech space ships, and reality-warping computer systems that can influence things on a cosmic level.

That's the kind of aesthetic I am going for....modern/futuristic, more or less, with some Japanese influences....and just for the record, FFVII's planet was called Gaia, it was clearly not earth and even had a different continent layout. If it was actually earth, there would have been hints at that....and there wasn't any beyond the planet being named "Gaia." So any claim that FFVII is set on some kind of post-apoc earth is speculation at best.

Lillith1991
12-10-2014, 09:07 PM
Harry Potter was set on earth so it doesn't count here. I'm specifically concerned with secondary world/non-earth-based fantasy worlds. HP is in the same boat as Urban Fantasy in that it can "get away" with it by virtue that it's actually happening on modern day earth and not another world that happens to have modern day clothing and tech and such. Even further, Harry Potter was hardly what I'd call a "modern" world aesthetically. It still had castles and robes all over the place; characters still used things like quill pens to write with. The list of blatantly "old-world" aesthetic elements the setting had goes on and on. Even their "magic car" was an an old fashion affair instead of a more modern design. So while it was on modern earth, it included a TON of aesthetic elements that where clearly past/medieval-based.

Also, I think it bears asking. Have you actually written any of this idea or is this yet one of those plentiful, "can I do this" type of questions? Either way the answer is to write the damn thing. Write it and see what happens.

amergina
12-10-2014, 09:12 PM
Goodness, gracious. That kind of setting won't prevent a book from selling if it's a well-written, interesting fantasy novel.

In fact, such world building would be interesting, as it's out of the ordinary.

So, get writing.

Nogetsune
12-10-2014, 09:21 PM
That's the thing I'm afraid of, though...that it's SO different that publishers will be biased against it...specifically I'm worried about it being considered "too anime-like." That's what I'm afraid of...that I'll have a MASSIVE bar of bias to jump over when trying to put this thing out there.

Lissibith
12-10-2014, 09:31 PM
Actually, nogetsune, that sounds perfectly at home in the science fantasy range to me. Others may disagree, but there's those who disagree on science fantasy as a category at all, so... eh.

Which doesn't change the core answer. No, it's not impossible. It might make it difficult to sell to a specific publisher, but that's true of nearly every decision you make. But I don't think it will face any significant hurdle that every other sf or fantasy story doesn't also face. It's not doomed by concept.

amergina
12-10-2014, 09:42 PM
That's the thing I'm afraid of, though...that it's SO different that publishers will be biased against it...specifically I'm worried about it being considered "too anime-like." That's what I'm afraid of...that I'll have a MASSIVE bar of bias to jump over when trying to put this thing out there.

Don't worry about it. Seriously. To be very blunt, it's not like anime is some kind of new thing that publishers have never, ever heard of (I was in an anime club in college...25 years ago). Nor are modern secondary fantasy worlds a new concept. Or worlds that are SO DIFFERENT from a pseudo-medieval setting.

The hurdle to selling a book is never ever ever the world itself. It's always always always the writing, the characters, and the plot.

You could have the best, most interesting world *ever* and if the story is meh, it won't sell. No one wants to read a meh story.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (though SF as it's cyberpunk) has an astounding world. But it's the story and characters and writing that pulls you in.

China Miéville's Bas-Lag books are set in quite an amazing world, but again, the writing and the stories are what pull people into the book.

So get writing. Don't make it meh.

buz
12-10-2014, 10:03 PM
That's the thing I'm afraid of, though...that it's SO different that publishers will be biased against it...specifically I'm worried about it being considered "too anime-like." That's what I'm afraid of...that I'll have a MASSIVE bar of bias to jump over when trying to put this thing out there.

Nogetsune,

Most of the time, when you start threads, you seem to be looking for reasons not to write something.

Or rather, you are concerned that you'll never sell it, or it won't work, or something, which I suppose is "oh god is it too risky to write this"?

It's always risky, and there's always a decent chance it won't work and it won't get published. If it were easy, everyone would do it, that sort of thing.

Far weirder things than you are talking about have been published. Anthropomorphic animals on made-up continents wandering through a giant brain and so forth. I'm sure it was hard to find someone to champion them. But it happened anyway, so the risks that were taken paid out.

I have similar concerns crop up every so often. Sometimes it does stop me in my tracks because I really don't know what the market would be for something. What you're talking about doesn't seem that strange to me, though.

It might not work out, but it might. I'm not sure how you would be able to tell except to write it and try. So write whatever you want--just write something.

Unimportant
12-10-2014, 10:05 PM
That's the thing I'm afraid of, though...that it's SO different that publishers will be biased against it...specifically I'm worried about it being considered "too anime-like." That's what I'm afraid of...that I'll have a MASSIVE bar of bias to jump over when trying to put this thing out there.
Jean Auel probably worried about that when she wrote stories set in the Stone Age. Terry Pratchett probably worried about that when he wrote stories set on a world held up by a turtle and four elephants. Anne Rice probably worried about that when she wrote a dialogue/interview that was over a hundred thousand words long.

You've started I don't know how many threads about "will this type of story sell". We can't answer those questions other than to say "Yes, it CAN sell. If it's well written and entertaining and compelling, it will almost certainly sell. If it's badly written, it won't sell." And we can't tell you whether or not it's well-written until you write it.

Hell, by the time you've written it, such stories may well be The Big Thing and you'll be behind the curve.

But, if fear of market expectations is paralysing your ability to write, then write to market. Whatever that might be.

Unimportant
12-10-2014, 10:24 PM
I'm specifically concerned with secondary world/non-earth-based fantasy worlds.

Here's one (http://www.amazon.com/Broken-Wings-L-j-Baker/dp/1933110554).

Now, I know what you're going to say. "Oh, but that book doesn't have a wizard." Or, "Oh, that book has no evil corporation as the antagonist." Or, "Oh, but that book isn't like the one I want to write because (insert specific detail here)."

That's because no one but you can write the book that is in your head.

If "a wealthy artist-celebrity dryad with a tree-top condominium and a sporty, late-model flying carpet" can sell, so can wizards in blue jeans.

rwm4768
12-10-2014, 10:41 PM
It's all about bringing that world to life and making it consistent and believable. In fact, you'll see that a lot of agents are looking for fantasy that has different settings. Write it well and it will sell.

(Or at least it will have a good chance.)

Roxxsmom
12-10-2014, 10:54 PM
Why don't you ask Django Wexler, Brian McClellan, Jaida Jones, NK Jemisin, Kate Elliott, Francis Knight, Ann Lyle, Mary Robinette Kowal (not to mention all those people who write urban, contemporary and steampunk fantasy). Even Joe Abercombie's world has more of an Early Modern feel than medieval, though it lacks gunpowder weapons for some reason.

Oh, and I think there's a pretty famous set of blockbuster book with a contemporary boy who discovers he's a wizard that did pretty well too ;) [note] I saw your response to that. But the presence of all these different settings for fantasy suggests that it's a pretty flexible genre.

Actually, a number of the writers who have emerged in the past several years write in settings that aren't medieval.

I think there is a lot of interest in non-standard settings right now.

Filigree
12-11-2014, 12:06 AM
To answer the original question: nearly anything is allowed, if you make it work.

JustSarah
12-11-2014, 02:16 AM
I was wondering something similar for future reference. Thanks for asking!:D

I would have asked about Star Ocean though. Which should tell you just how wide fantasy can be.

zanzjan
12-11-2014, 06:54 AM
Because this comes up a lot, some deeply scientific graphs to help provide answers.

When asking what the odds of selling ANY novel you haven't written yet are:

http://www.zanzjan.net/images/aw/graph-unwritten-novel.gif

Why we tell you to write it:
http://www.zanzjan.net/images/aw/graph-written-novel.gif

As you can see, your chances of selling a novel you've written are much better than your chances of selling one you haven't. Voila!

Filigree
12-11-2014, 07:31 AM
Trust Zanzjan's graphs. They do not lie.

I had an art prof in college who started his business section of the course with this maxim: 'You cannot sell it if you haven't finished it.'

'It' being whatever value of weird/wonderful you want to write.

I've been hanging out at SFF conventions for nearly 30 years, off and on, and watching a particular type of panel attendee do everything possible to convince themselves *they should not write* the incredible, golden idea burning in their brain. They have a dour, fearful answer for every positive discussion up on the panel.

I know a person from another forum, who has been stuck in slightly different versions of the same idea for at least 20 years. Not because the story is hard to tell, or boring - but because the writer is literally afraid they will cause harm to the ghost of the long-dead Real Person who inspired the opus.

I am both jaded and optimistic. I hope everyone's new ideas are bright and shiny and worth pursuing. But I've also become super-sensitive to perennial doubters with an ingrained fear of success. I recognize that I'm far from qualified to help them, so I tend to stay away from them now.

jjdebenedictis
12-11-2014, 07:35 AM
Look, do you want to be a writer?

If the answer is yes, then you must write. That's the non-negotiable requirement for a person being a writer.

And this idea is as good as any other, so go for eeeeeet.

ETA: And if your answer is that you only want to be a writer if you can be published, then recognize you've essentially said you don't want to be a writer. You want to be published. It's important to know what you're really after, because it helps guide you toward the path that will make you happy.

Marian Perera
12-11-2014, 08:02 AM
That's the thing I'm afraid of, though...that it's SO different that publishers will be biased against it

I'm not going to tell you to write this, Nogetsune, partly because everyone else said it already and partly because I believe that if you really want to write, you'll write.

I'm just going to ask : okay, assume your worst-case-scenario is true. Publishers don't want your work. What do you think you'll do then?

Lillith1991
12-11-2014, 08:19 AM
Ok, look, you've started an aweful lot of threads with variations on the same question. Invariably the good people here give you the best advice we can, read widely and and write. So far, to my eyes at least, it seems like you're shunning that advice because your book is somehow special and can't compare to anything ever. And I have got to be honest, I'm really doubtful about that. Genres, genre families, subgenres, and individual stories don't exist in a vaccume. They build on what came before. Without Romantic Fiction we would not have Fantasy and Romance, and without the split between Romantic Fiction and Gothic Fiction we wouldn't have Horror or SF or Mystery. Without the genre groups of the Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian periods we wouldn't have evolved the system we use now. That is how things are, nothing exists in a vaccume, including your story.

It would do me and others a great favor if you actually took our advice.

Brightdreamer
12-11-2014, 08:19 AM
That's the thing I'm afraid of, though...that it's SO different that publishers will be biased against it...specifically I'm worried about it being considered "too anime-like." That's what I'm afraid of...that I'll have a MASSIVE bar of bias to jump over when trying to put this thing out there.

So, you have a "MASSIVE bar of bias" to jump over. Plenty of people have. The only ones who clear it are the ones who try... and keep trying, if they miss.

It looks like you have two options, with subcategories.

1 - Write the story and go through query/submissions like everyone else.
1a - If an agent and/or publisher bites, you're good to go.
1b - If nobody is willing to take a risk, then believe in your story enough to self-publish.

2 - Don't write the story because you might be the Special Snowflake who will Never Be Understood, so it would be a waste of time to attempt it. Or simply because your fear of failure is greater than your drive to try and possibly succeed.

You can always find reasons not to do things. Sometimes they are valid reasons. (For instance, there are valid reasons not to hug a rabid tiger, or juggle live hand grenades.) Sometimes they are not valid reasons, but we choose to legitimize them because they give us an excuse not to expend effort we didn't really want to expend anyway.

But you can also always find reasons to do things.* This thread alone - and most of the others you've started, IIRC - is chock full of these reasons. Why not spend a little more time looking for them, instead of latching onto the excuses?

* - Except for the tiger thing. Don't do that.

zanzjan
12-11-2014, 08:34 AM
I've been hanging out at SFF conventions for nearly 30 years, off and on, and watching a particular type of panel attendee do everything possible to convince themselves *they should not write* the incredible, golden idea burning in their brain. They have a dour, fearful answer for every positive discussion up on the panel.

Oh, very much ^This.

The thing is, writing is extremely hard work, and sometimes dull, and sometimes frustrating, and often makes us doubt. The act of physically creating the story from beginning to end is necessarily transformative of the original idea. (It can also can be transformative of the writer.) All ideas lose something in translation, but in the process of turning them from an idea into a story, they gain as well.

Things like genre, setting, worldbuilding, etc., are like the set on the stage that you move your characters through. They're important, and when they are unique and well-crafted they stand out, but unless the story is satisfying, complete, and well-told, they're not ever going to be enough to carry the work. And you won't know if a story works until you've made that jump from idea to actual words.

Or, for more analogy:

Writer: Hey, will a car run well if it's blue?
Us: Well, start it up, take it for a spin around the block, get it up to speed, see what it does, then you'll know.
Writer: well, but what if it's a blue car with racing stripes? Or would it be better if it was red?

As a writer you will invest a lot of time and energy in your stories; spend as much of it behind the wheel as you can. At some point you need to stop browsing the lot and dithering and just pick a car and jump in.

Treehouseman
12-11-2014, 09:11 AM
LOL, Nogetsune, thou must team up with the strange fellow who was doing the Serene/Serena porny Sailor-moon story. I have to give it to him, he put the time in to write it...)

Write your Yu-Gi-Oh fanfic/shared universe. Nobody has to give you permission, good sir!

(Sweeps out with magi-tech flowing cape, to where the Zilla Corporation car is waiting.)

Roxxsmom
12-11-2014, 11:53 AM
So while it was on modern earth, it included a TON of aesthetic elements that where clearly past/medieval-based.

So you want a fantasy set in a magical world that is like the modern world in terms of the technology and how people dress, but it's actually a secondary world? Sure, why not?

The thing with written fantasy (as opposed to fantasy in media that is more visual), the aesthetic is often less central than the characters and story. And readers will want to know how your world has shaped your characters into being the people that they are. You can describe your setting, but readers may still "see" things differently than you do in your mind's eye.

Maybe you should just start writing this story and see where it takes you. Remember that things like fashion and those little world-building details are easy to change when you edit. I know my notions about my own world changed and evolved quite a bit, morphing from standard-issue quasi medieval to more of an early modern era-ish setting, but with many important cultural and social differences.

Mr Flibble
12-11-2014, 03:13 PM
So you want a fantasy set in a magical world that is like the modern world in terms of the technology and how people dress, but it's actually a secondary world? Sure, why not?

Well I sold a series sorta like that, so I think I'll have to say it's not impossible. :)

I have cars, and factories, and guns (and flamethrowers) and and engineers and electricity is an exciting new thing for the scientists to play with/blow things up with. It not exactly analogous to Now, but I don't think it's really analogous to Anywhen Else either -- it's a second world so things develop at different rates. Ie they've only just bothered with electricity because they historically used magic as a power source, then something else which turned out to be poisonous, so maybe they should look into this sparks thing...

But yeah, why the hell not?

sunandshadow
12-11-2014, 05:43 PM
I'd personally consider FF7 to be science fantasy, with an alternate history element in there since the setting is quite earthlike. Can you sell a novel like that? Yes, absolutely. While there may be more examples of this kind of setting in anime, graphic novels, and video games than novels, there are many examples of published science-fantasy novels. Melissa Scott's Roads of Heaven trilogy and Robin D. Owens' Heart Mates series are two examples that immediately spring to mind. (In both of those the Earth does happen to exist, but isn't the main setting.) There are also multiple lines of roleplaying-inspired books that have a setting that blends high tech and magic.

(I personally am interested in biofantasy, alien historical fantasy, and magitech fantasy, though much less grim and gritty settings than FF7. I have a biofantasy MMO concept and am currently running a roleplay that has common elements with FF8, if you remove the mercenaries/war aspect.)

Alexandra Little
12-11-2014, 09:01 PM
I'm going to be blunt: have you written anything? You have posted quite a few questions asking if it's okay to write this or that, but the answer shouldn't matter. At some point, you have to get over your fear (or whatever emotion is holding you back) and just write what you want to write.

CobraMisfit
12-11-2014, 09:43 PM
Don't worry about it. Seriously. To be very blunt, it's not like anime is some kind of new thing that publishers have never, ever heard of (I was in an anime club in college...25 years ago). Nor are modern secondary fantasy worlds a new concept. Or worlds that are SO DIFFERENT from a pseudo-medieval setting.

The hurdle to selling a book is never ever ever the world itself. It's always always always the writing, the characters, and the plot.

You could have the best, most interesting world *ever* and if the story is meh, it won't sell. No one wants to read a meh story.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (though SF as it's cyberpunk) has an astounding world. But it's the story and characters and writing that pulls you in.

China Miéville's Bas-Lag books are set in quite an amazing world, but again, the writing and the stories are what pull people into the book.

So get writing. Don't make it meh.

This.


To answer the original question: nearly anything is allowed, if you make it work.

And this.


Anything can sell if it's written and written well. A good story is a good story, no matter what.

usuallycountingbats
12-11-2014, 10:08 PM
Well, the entire Dresden Files are magic/fantasy set in the 'now' and they do ok.