agenting · querying

Fantasy: The Slush Pile

This post is for all you fantasy writers currently querying to give you some insight into why it can be so difficult to land a fantasy project with an agent. While romance has the biggest market share, it often seems like fantasy is the most popular genre to write and that is part of what makes it so tough on the traditional side. I’m going to cover stats, inbox trends, the market, and what I’m looking for. And remember, some types of fantasy stories might be tough right now, but interest always comes back! The market shifts and changes CONSTANTLY. So don’t get discouraged.

When it comes to my slush inbox, and probably most inboxes of other agents who represent fantasy, fantasy tends to dominate numbers wise. For example my next most popular genre right now is historical since I did several contests for it in May (this may actually be skewing my historical stats higher than usual) and I’m pretty vocal about my love for the genre. I took stats from recent queries to show you just how far my slush skews fantasy. In that time that it took me to get 192 historical queries these last few months across adult and YA, I got 168 adult fantasy queries and another 161 in young adult. So together that’s 329 queries versus 192. The next highest genre was science fiction at 126 queries. All other genres I accept in that same period of time got less than 100 queries.

Because we get so many fantasy queries agents can fill up their slots for it fast, leaving less room for new clients. I often notice that a lot of my fantasy queries tend to sound the same, making them hard to stand out due to their numbers and similarities. For instance my slush is dominated by medieval fantasy, stories about rebellions and uprisings, other political intrigue to win the throne/save a kingdom, and a lot of characters with magic in a world where magic isn’t allowed. Recently there were a lot of books about the fae in YA fantasy. For a while there I saw every Beauty and the Beast and Peter Pan retelling you could imagine. This is what makes it hard to stand out, the amount of competition. The good news is if you write a good query and have some other eyes on it that can help you snag my attention.

In YA and adult, I’m hearing a lot of editors say they are tired of rebellions and political intrigue with royalty. They want something different. Currently young adult fantasy is much tougher than it was in the recent past. This is due to the recent young adult boom where the fantasy market got saturated. The end result is editors are buying less YA fantasy or taking a break on it altogether. Agents tend to be seen as the bad guys because houses force us to be the main gatekeepers, but editors have a lot of influence in our decisions when it comes to what to offer and take risks on. I might like certain fantasy stories, but if I have a client who already writes those stories and it’s a tough market (like right now in YA) I likely won’t add any other clients until the market starts to pick back up and it will in time. It always does.

The key to standing out in fantasy simply comes down to a great query and a polished manuscript. Focus on what makes your story unique in the query.

So what am I looking for right now in fantasy? Well you can see my wishlist under the heading “Literary Agent” at the top of the page for more info and I try to keep my Goodreads updated, but with that said I’m a sucker for historical fantasy with strong personal stakes like Enchantee. I would love to see fantasy with strong mystery elements. Maybe something set in Japan or based on Japanese mythology. I also greatly enjoy Incan and Mayan mythology. Pretty much anything other than Greek mythology unless it is historical fantasy (think Song of Achilles) instead of contemporary because it has been done to death and right now I’m craving something different. Otherwise it needs a good twist, like science fiction or a romantic comedy or something else. These days I tend to shy away from epic fantasy, especially on the adult side. Overall I want unique stories that stand out in the current market. Maybe something I didn’t even know I wanted.

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7 thoughts on “Fantasy: The Slush Pile

    1. Adult has its own struggles, namely fewer fantasy editors compared to YA which makes it the toughest genre for me to juggle submissions on if I have more than one out. That also means less options when it comes to editors.

      My advice is aim at whichever age group would fit your book the best since YA fantasy will swing back around. It always does and YA still gets those crossover readers from the adult side. Anything that stands out from the recent fad of stories like Games of Thrones and Holly Black-esque fairies stands a better chance of getting noticed in both age groups.

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  1. So… if you have a book which is set in a world where the Greek gods exist (present day), but the main plot is saving the world via time travel, is the book going to be hard to sell simply because one of the main characters is a Greek demigod?

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    1. That part is more of my personal tastes because I’ve been seeing a lot of Greek stories and now gravitate toward it more when its historical fantasy. I couldn’t tell you anything for certain based on a short description, but generally when it comes to Greek inspired things I’m hearing editors say they want something fresh, something that isn’t another Percy Jackson type story. A few editors have told me they are looking for books like Circe.

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    2. Also to add to my last comment focus on writing what you love. The market shifts constantly and personal tastes very. What might be a hard sell at one point could become very in demand a few months later.

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