Finding Your Niche

by Kevin Hearne

Urban fantasy is a vast, undiscovered country that’s still in its early growth period as a genre. If you’re looking for a place to break into the market, I think nothing offers so many opportunities as urban fantasy—the “rules” are few and the editors are already looking for books that are a bit different from the early tropes that have been established.

I spent seventeen years trying to get published in various genres before I discovered urban fantasy at the bookstore. The basic premise was a revelation to me: pick a critter from mythology or folklore, drop it into a contemporary setting amongst clueless humans, and hang on for the ride. When one considers the breadth of human belief and the staggering number of places those old gods and creatures can get into trouble in the modern world, the possibilities are endless—but if you look at the shelves, you’ll see that only a fraction of the territory has been explored so far. Most everything is happening in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, and most of it concerns vampires, werewolves, demons, or faeries. To contribute something new, therefore, all you have to do is browse and see where there’s some negative narrative space on the shelf—a wee little niche that you can fill, that you want to fill—and then write it. I know it’s easier said than done, but honestly, it worked for me. I got a three-book deal by starting with this very basic market analysis.

One thing I noticed immediately in my review of the genre was that there were relatively few males writing about male protagonists. That would set me apart right away. Once I had that thought, my own fondness for Celtic traditions suggested a Druid in the modern world might be a good time. My quick scan of the shelves revealed that there were exactly zero urban fantasies featuring a Druid hero. I have since learned that there was a series at that time featuring a Druid in Boston who’d lost his powers, but I went to writing The Iron Druid Chronicles thinking I’d have no competition (instead of little competition) and my book would therefore stand out a bit from the rest of the slush pile. I had a blast writing it; compared to the baggage that vampires and werewolves drag around with them, Druids are practically blank canvases.

By the time I finished Hounded, the first book in The Iron Druid Chronicles, I’d been trying to get published for nineteen years. When it landed me an agent inside of two months, I began to hope that maybe I’d finally written something ready for the market. It turned out to be precisely the sort of thing publishers were looking for: once my agent submitted it, Hounded sold in just two weeks in a four-way auction. It can happen for you too.

There are still plenty of niches in urban fantasy that need filling. To my knowledge, there are no gay or lesbian main characters; there’s a profound lack of gnomish heroes trying to make a difference in a world dominated by human giants; there are no manticores struggling for acceptance in a world full of prejudice, and so on. Go see for yourself; the ideas are out there, waiting for you in the bookstore, between the books that are already on the shelves, screaming in all the voices of the world’s mythology that they deserve some attention.

And whatever you do, whatever you’re writing, keep at it and don’t give up.

Kevin Hearne is a native of Arizona and really appreciates whoever invented air-conditioning. He graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and now teaches high school English. When he’s not grading essays or writing novels, he tends to his basil plants and paints landscapes with his daughter. He has been known to obsess over fonts, frolic unreservedly with dogs, and stop whatever he’s doing in the rare event of rain to commune with the precipitation. He enjoys hiking, the guilty pleasure of comic books, and living with his wife and daughter in a wee, snug cottage.

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