Here’s a thought. Pitching fantasy is hard.
I know, pitching everything is hard (unless it’s super high concept, but even that has its challenges). And every genre has something that makes pitching it hard. But especially lately I’ve been noticing it with fantasy (across all age groups).
I get a lot of fantasy coming through the slush pile. Which is fine. I like fantasy. I read and write a decent amount of it. But for how many fantasy queries I get, I request very few. Especially when it comes to high or epic fantasy.
Why? Mostly because a lot of the queries start to sound the same. Most have
- Similar plot structures (the chosen one must save the world from an evil dictator)
- Similar world-building (medievalish Europish world with elves, dwarves, wizards, ect.)
Which isn’t to say those type of stories are bad. Some of them find their own ways to be unique, and plenty of them still get published. But it’s hard for me to read three paragraph summaries of these types of books and not think “Haven’t I read this before?”
And there are a TON of these stories. When I talk to authors about the first book they ever wrote, many say that it was basically a wannabe Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. My own first novel was in the vein of LOTR (and bad in so, so many ways). I guess our brains are just wired to imitate before we’re ready to write more original stuff. Anyway, there are a lot of debut manuscripts like that floating around, and it’s easy for a manuscript like that to get drowned out by all the noise, even if it is polished.
So what do you do if you’re trying to pitch a story like this? Focus on whatever it is that is unique in the novel. And there should be something unique about it. Tolkien has already written Lord of the Rings. You don’t need to do it again. Whether it’s an aspect of the setting* or the magic system or the character or whatever. Make sure the unique bit stands out in the query.
And that, actually, is a good lesson for anyone pitching anything.
*Side note on setting: I once had very lengthy discussion with a friend about how the best fantasies are the ones based on real mythologies. Tolkien’s world was heavily influenced by the mythologies of the British Isles, and he knew his stuff. Other greats, like Lloyd Alexander, have also used this mythology (Alexander was particularly inspired by Welsh mythology) and they knew. it. well. Super well. A lot of modern fantasies seem to take place in sort of made up European land. Many of these settings would be made stronger by delving more deeply into the existing European culture or by placing it in a different culture.
Multicultural literature is a rant for another day, but I’ll just say that the Asian, African, Island, and Native American settings and mythologies are all VERY underutilized. I’ve seen a lot of great stories based on these lesser known mythologies and they stick out (as opposed to a million retellings of the Grimm fairy tales that I see all the time). For instance, I think Avatar: The Last Airbender was way cooler in an Asian inspired setting. It gave the series a nice flavor.