Well, you probably don’t, unless you are incredibly clever. In my last post, I got all depressed about how what I am writing is not probably popular, and neither is what I read. According to people who should know, we’re in the midst of an epic fantasy sea change from the post-Tolkien ere to the post-Martin era. I’m still a bigger fan of the first, but you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.
Timing is everything, but you’re already too late
Now, if you happen to have written a bit of grimdark or game-of-thrones-clone, and you can get it out right now, well done! This is working for a lot of people, I’m sure. However, if you are just starting to write it now, you may be too late. (Unless you can write as fast as Jonathan Moeller, I guess.) Chances are the pendulum of taste will swing again before long, and the market will be looking for the next thing. With the long lead-times in traditional publishing, they probably already have some of it under contract.
Then again, if it’s good you can probably find a market for a while yet. I’ve also noticed that a lot of indie authors have done well with things I wouldn’t call cutting-edge, so there’s a good chance that there’s an actual market out there for what is critically and commercially passe. I mean, hey, vampire fiction still sells, just not as well.
So what might the next big thing be? In the podcast, Kameron Hurley puts her money on heroic fantasy making a comeback. I’m on board with the idea that people will tire of endless grim, dark books full of antiheroes and shades of grey. I never entirely warmed to them, myself. I’m not sure if taste really is a pendulum (as I said above), or a wheel (as people often say), but if it was I suppose you could try to predict when certain genres would come back into fashion. Or, at least, cross your fingers and hope things will swing back in favour of your farmboy fantasy.
Or, you could write YA, I guess, because those kids don’t know any better!
I think what’s interesting is watching sub-genres splinter, sink, swim, merge and generally evolve in a more chaotic fashion than pendula or wheels allow. Flintlock fantasy is now a thing, but will it stand the test of time? New weird already seems to be fading, but then I’m not completely sure what it is. Vampires are back in their underdark, but of course will never actually die. And does it even matter if sub-genres last? The books will always be there.
Some influences are bigger than genre–the GRR Martin sea-change I mentioned earlier will affect everything. His setting and genre elements aren’t what set him apart, but the mechanics of what he did within tried-and-tested boundaries has blown everyone away.
Other people are challenging assumptions within boundaries as well. Kameron Hurley’s massively-hyped book pushes so many envelopes in fantasy she probably has her own post office (update: it’s definitely worth a read). Indeed, work like that starts to redefine fantasy completely, because for so long fantasy was about the conservative and science fiction about pushing boundaries. I suppose this is where genre-blending ‘Speculative Fiction’ label applies, and I expect it to become even more evident.
Riding the wave or making waves
Maybe you are writing the defining work of the next hot sub-genre right now, I don’t know. What I do know, is that it’s probably not worth worry too much about it. Most of the best books are the ones nobody could have predicted, rather than the ones we expected. Just write what you want to write, make it as good as you can, and see if people like it.