How hard is it to get into the market for science fiction/fantasy books?
The market for science fiction and fantasy is huge! And it’s very popular. Lots of publishers are looking for books that fit these genres. Plus, there are so many subgenres that writers have a lot of room to be creative. (See my recent post on speculative fiction subgenres.) And if you can come up with an interesting twist, so much the better. What publishers don’t want to hear is “this is the next Twilight” or “the next Harry Potter” or “the next Hunger Games.” Always try to make your book stand on its own.
And do your homework. Know what genre you’re writing and what books the publisher has put out so that if you get the chance to meet an editor or agent, you can tell them about your story in a quick, sales-pitchy kind of way and explain how your book will fit the types of books they publish.
I'd also like to suggest that you don't write fantasy because it's popular. You need to write what you love. If you love fantasy, great. But if you hate fantasy or feel kind of "blah" about it, you probably shouldn't write it. Be who you are as a writer. Be yourself. And if you don't know who you are, take the time to find out.
I’m having trouble knowing where to start my fantasy novel. Since it’s in a made up world that people can’t relate to, how do I know what to write about?
I feel that ever great fantasy needs to have a great storyworld. Think about it. Narnia. Middle Earth. Alagaesia. Prydain. (Click here to explore the map for my medieval fantasy world Er'Rets.) Since I adore the maps in the front of fantasy novels, I always recommend starting a fantasy novel by drawing a map to start creating your made-up world. Put cities on the map. Write up backstory of the different rulers. Which rulers are at peace? Which are at war and why? What trades are popular in each place? Ex: mining, farming, ranching, fishing, etc.
This will give you an idea of how the people in each place make a living. A character who was raised in a fishing town will be different from a character raised in a mining town. And while the majority of readers who’ve had jobs at fast food restaurants might not relate to living on a farm, they will find it fascinating. You reader doesn’t have to relate to everything about your characters and story. They just need to be able to imagine themselves in your character’s situation. And if you give your character a goal, your reader will follow along. I mean, how many of us can relate to being a hobbit? None! But we might know what it feels like to be small or to be brave or to be asked to do something we'd really rather not do.
Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that fantasy novel plots are all that different from contemporary ones. A plot is a plot. Whatever genre you write, work on creating an interesting main character and give them a goal. It’s as simple—or as complicated—as that.
Hi, I’m currently working on a fantasy story, but I’m a bit stuck. I need a period-appropriate name for my character. I’ve gone through dozens of sites and stuff, but I can’t find any!
Naming characters depends on the time period of book you are writing. For fantasy, it’s fun to use different languages. I used Hebrew words to name some characters in my Blood of Kings trilogy. For my bad guy, I looked up the words that defined him, “evil,” “torn,” “divided,” “liar,” and eventually settled on naming him Esek, which means “dispute.”
I also came up with themes for different cities. For example, Carmine is a city that makes wine. It’s all vineyards. So I brainstormed a list of words having to do with wine: Vert, Rioja, Pinot, Basalt, Malbec, Terra, etc., which gave me a nice list of character names. For a wild forest-dwelling people, I used Inupiat/Eskimo names. For a coastal town, I names one family’s children, Riif, Shoal, Gil, and Aljee, playing with ocean-types of words (reef, gills, shoal, and algae.)
Things like this help you give your different cities character from one another. Another trick for fantasy names is to use an atlas and look up different countries like Russia, India, or Argentina. Use cities, lakes, rivers, or mountains as they are or by changing them a little to get very different sounding names. It’s a good idea to look up the meanings of such names, though. That way you won’t accidentally name your characters a word that means something gross or derogatory in another language.
If you’re writing a historical piece, it’s easy to find names online. Simply Google “popular names 1850” or whatever year you’re looking for. I recently looked up "unique British names" and found a number of fun lists, including some from the sixteenth century (click here to see that list). If you can’t find what you’re looking for, a good trick is to look up a historical event around the time of your story. An article on the Civil War will name soldiers and generals and perhaps inspire some names from that time period. When I was looking for first and last names for a steampunk novel, I Googled a list of thepassengers on the Titanic. That gave me a wide variety of names from 1912, both upper and lower class.
If I’m writing a contemporary fantasy, I have a baby name book I use—though you can find dozens of baby name sites online. I also have an old Los Angeles phone book that’s a great tool for finding first and last names.
Hope that helps!
And I've been meaning to mention—and keep forgetting—but for those of you with mp3 players or who like to listen to audio books, I podcast my Blood of Kings fantasy trilogy one chapter a week for free on my blog. I'm currently almost finished with book two. But if you'd like to start at the beginning, you can see all the chapter archives by clicking here and then clicking on By Darkness Hid, to start with book one.