I was asked in a recent interview if there was a genre of literature I wasn't getting enough submissions of and, conversely, if there was a genre of which I had too much.
The first one was easy: send me literary fiction, historical non-fiction, and women's literature. I consider works from many categories and those three are particularly underrepresented. The second part of the question, however, presented me with a conundrum: what do I have too much of?
The first--and easiest--answer was fantasy, but it also wasn't entirely true. I have a reputation, earned or not, as the fantasy guy--out of context that statement could make me sound sexy--and so I do receive a ton of fantasy manuscripts, but because it's a genre I enjoy the submission volume is not a problem per se. Nor is the writing, which is often even better than I anticipate. So, no, I don't get too much fantasy; I get too much fantasy that is, pardon the expression, by the book.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a dancing elephant. It is not cleaning itself, or munching on leaves, or nudging its newborn along, but dancing. It is also, thankfully, relevant to the topic at hand, which is a good thing because the moment I saw it I knew I was going to post it here even if I couldn't find a way to work it in.
The elephant is dancing. Had it been doing anything other than the foxtrot, it would not have infatuated me and I would not have spent 45 minutes coming up with an excuse to make you look at it. It's dancing. It's still an elephant, but behaving in a most un-elephant-like manner, and therefore it caught my attention.
Such is the case with fantasy. Fantasy, like elephants, is inherently awesome, but if it sticks too close to what everyone expects it to be, people are likely to ignore or throw peanuts at it. So it needs to dance.
Like this bearded man.
I can't tell you how many manuscripts I've gotten about awkward adolescent males who are transported to another--usually medieval--world where they learn they are the chosen ones of an ancient prophecy and foretold to save all creation. The manuscripts are good, sure, and even publishing's favored child, Harry Potter, is a variant on their formula. But the same story can only be told so many times. If you're going to do fantasy, shake it up. Be a dancing elephant. Be a bearded man in a dress.
In case you're wondering where you might find an example of such shaken-up fantasy, I give you someone who is both a dancing elephant and a bearded man in a dress: George R.R. Martin.
For those of you who don't know, George R. R. Martin (often referred to as GRRM) is the author of the phenomenally successful A Song of Ice and Fire series, which features a wide array of characters battling for the throne of the fictional continent of Westeros. At first glance this seems like typical fantasy--medieval setting, queens riding dragons, magical swords being wielded by knights. It's not, though. The brilliance of the series is that it focuses on multifaceted characters interacting in a complex political environment. These characters and the world they inhabit are portrayed in so relatable a manner that the flourishes of magic they encounter seem believable.
For its fantastic setting and incredible premise, A Song of Ice and Fire is a human drama. It's fantasy with a twisted edge, fantasy that does not ignore sexuality or financial reality or the nature of man. It is, in essence, a dancing elephant--still an elephant, but way cooler than any other elephant you're going to come across.
That is the kind of fantasy I'd like to see; not a knock-off of Martin's achievement (or of A Game of Thrones, the rocking TV show inspired by his books) but fantasy that challenges fantasy conventions.
I, meanwhile, have decided to shake up my client catalogue--by adding a horror writer! I don't want to name names because we haven't crossed the Ts and dotted the Is, but it's happening and I can't wait to brag to you about it. I've also received my first blog-referred editing client. Remember that you can find my rates and editing contact information here.
I'm off to be a literary agent and will return around this time next week. Keep those elephants dancing while I'm gone.