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Finding the exact origins of the fantasy genre can be as elusive as defining its boundaries in today’s marketplace.

While it was once an add-on to the realms of science fiction and horror, the popularity of fantasy fiction, with all its variations, continues to grow. touted 2022 as a “spectacular year for fantasy fiction.” A January 2023 Publishers Weekly article noted that adult print unit sales of fantasy titles in 2022 jumped 17.4 percent over 2021. And in a post titled Fantasy Book Sales Statistics [2023] stated that “fantasy books, along with science fiction, generate $590.2 million in sales each year in the U.S.”

The majority of authors interviewed for this article agree that a turn came for the genre in the wake of movie and television adaptations of such works as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

“These ultra-popular series catapulted fantasy into the publishing mainstream. Since then, subgenres of fantasy have proliferated in both young adult and adult fiction,” Brenda Hiatt, who began her YA Starstruck series in 2013 after a 20-year career in historical romance, said. She characterizes the popular series as “science-fantasy” — contemporary science fiction with a fantasy feel.

Marie Andreas, who published her first fantasy eight years ago and now has 27 titles available, believes that the “arrival of indies” added to the growth of sales for the genre.

“Indies are more likely to be going into smaller niche sub-genres that readers enjoy, but publishers don’t want because the margin of sales is too low. So the field is now extremely broad,” Andreas said.

Defining fantasy fiction
Though dragons, faeries, wizards, and vampires are most often associated with fantasy fiction, today’s offerings are wide and varied.

Dylan Doose, an Ontario-based author of the ongoing dark fantasy series Sword and Sorcery, believes there is “something for everyone” in the genre.

“Fantasy encompasses epic, dark, grimdark, sword and sorcery, dystopian, urban, magical realism, and paranormal romance, to name but a few,” Doose said. “Well-told tales cross boundaries of age, language, and perceived gender preference.”

While fantasy’s deepest roots span the ages and are burrowed in the mythology, religion, and folklore of our world’s cultures, it has only been in the recent past that marginalized writers creating works out of their own cultures have been given commercial space. No longer is Western European-based fantasy fiction the norm. Characters of color and of varied gender and sexual identities are being highlighted. What is more, these titles are selling.

Internationally bestselling Jamaican author Marlon James brings ancient Africa to life in his Dark Star trilogy, telling three different parts of the same story as he draws from African history and mythology. The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab covers centuries and features pansexual main characters.

E.C. Ambrose, author of Drakemaster and the Dark Apostle series, has paid attention to trends through the years.

“To me, it feels like there have always been some threads running through the genre tapestry: epics and quest novels (inspired by medieval stories like the Arthurian legend—which recurs in fantasy periodically); portal fantasies, where a modern person ends up in the fantasy realm; secret histories, where the fantasy elements exist in our own world, but not openly; contemporary works (not always urban) like Charles DeLint; “low” fantasy or sword and sorcery, with swashbuckling adventures that show kinship with the narratives of Dungeons and Dragons or similar episodic stories,” she said.

Becoming a writer of fantasy fiction
Doose knew early in life that he wanted to write fantasy. “That dream only burned stronger as I got older,” he said.

His advice for writing in this genre is to not take yourself too seriously. “The great thing about fantasy is that you get a chance to truly create your own world. To do this, take elements from our world that are recognizable and let your imagination twist them and make them unexpected.”

He warns not to make that world more complicated than necessary. “Don’t rename a fork with an unpronounceable alternative name without good reason. Keep the world and the people in it relatable,” he said.

Ambrose also cites world-building as key. “Craft a striking and vivid setting from which your characters arise and infuse it into every aspect of your storytelling,” she said. “I think readers now have less patience with the long passages of description that often marked those epic fantasy works, but they still crave the experience of entering into a strange realm and shutting the door behind them. They do also want to see themselves reflected in that remarkable new world in terms of varied characters and social constructs.”

Urban fantasy writer L.A. McBride says the one thing she loves most about urban fantasy is, “It is a big umbrella with room for diverse stories. From dark, gritty tales to fun stories packed with quirky characters and snark, there’s room for a range of voice and styles.”

Her best advice for authors who want to write in this genre is to read widely, connect with other writers in the genre, understand reader expectations, and take risks.

“It’s also important to write a story you’re excited about,” she stated. “If you love the characters and are all-in on the adventure, it’s much more likely that readers will come along for the ride.”

Kel Kade, who has been writing epic fantasy for about eight years, suggests that authors “write what’s in your heart and imagination, not what you think is popular. Fantasy is about creating a piece of yourself without rules or constraints, and it most benefits when people write with passion.”

Hiatt believes an author must enjoy world-building to succeed in the genre. “Readers really seem to respond to detailed, well-thought-out worlds that are different from our own,” she said. “Otherwise, there’s a lot of freedom in this genre, so you can let your imagination go wild!”

Claiming your own place in fantasy fiction
J.T. Ellison, who writes urban fantasy as Joss Walker, long held a dream of writing in this genre, which is the one she most loves to read.

“When a solid idea burst into my brain—a librarian recruited into the CIA after she touches a grimoire and returns a long-cursed magic to power—I felt the frisson of excitement to my bones. Jayne Thorne, CIA librarian, was borne,” Ellison said.

Creating a new pseudonym in a genre other than the one where she has made an indelible mark hasn’t been easy. “I know some folks look at me like I’m nuts—why would I spend creative time on something that’s not directly attributed to the ‘brand’ I’ve spent years building? The thing is, magic is fun, fantasy is inspiring, and I find my craft elevated by challenging myself to write in two different genres,” she said.

Kade agrees and shared the following outlook: “It’s hard to predict what kind of success someone will have in this genre, but it’s not unreasonable to hope to be able to support yourself as a full-time writer



Lindsay Randall creates historical and contemporary romances, though dreams of one day crafting a fantasy novel. This article is from the August 2023 edition of Nink.

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