Should you really be writing that YA High Fantasy novel?

Hello gentle reader,

Recently I have been researching agents as I am getting ready to query my YA High Fantasy novel The Last Queen. And when I check out literary agents’ websites to find out what genre they represent, I often find a note along those lines: “represents YA Fantasy, all subgenres, but no high fantasy please”. And I want to bang my head on my keyboard.

When asked why they don’t represent YA High Fantasy, literary agents will often give you one of these two answers:

–          The market for YA High Fantasy is very narrow: only a handful of readers buy those books.

–          The agent herself doesn’t read this genre.

The second answer is fair enough, and I wouldn’t want to be represented by an agent who doesn’t “get” my book anyway. But the first one? I beg to differ.

I went to check the Amazon’s Best-Seller List this morning. Not 6 months ago. THIS MORNING. And in the Top 100 Books for Teens, you find authors like: J.R.R. Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Cinda Williams Chima, Rick Riordan, Christopher Paolini and Laini Taylor. Most of them appear twice in the list. All of them but one appear among the first 40 best-selling books.

Then I checked the new releases to see how the YA High fantasy books released in 2012 are ranked by Amazon (according to their sales). Here is what I found:

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima (released October 2012): #318 in Books

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (released September 2012): #4,778 in Books

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (released August 2012): #6,184 in Books

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (released July 2012): #1,592 in Books

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (released June 2012): #4,436 in Books

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (released May 2012): #3,505 in Books

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (released April 2012): #10,834 in Books

NB: The books in bold are debut novels. All rankings are in Books (E-books sales are not taken into account).

You’ll notice that when the release date is further away, sales start to decrease. But even if we take this into consideration, I’d say these sales figures are quite impressive for a subgenre that’s supposedly dying. I’m especially interested in the ranking of debut novels such as Seraphina and Throne of Glass: these books sell really well considering their authors are unknown.

So is YA High Fantasy a subgenre that only a handful of readers buy? I don’t think so. Is shopping around a YA High Fantasy debut novel crazy? A little bit. But not crazier than shopping around a “regular” YA fantasy novel.

What do you think? Have you written a High Fantasy novel for Young Adults? Have you encountered agents who tell you you’ll never sell your book? Is YA High Fantasy dying, or is it the next big thing?

Feel free to leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

11 thoughts on “Should you really be writing that YA High Fantasy novel?

  1. I love reading high fantasy, but I think that it is probably one of the hardest genres to write well. There is such an incredible amount of worldbuilding that needs to be done and then tastefully slipped into the narrative.

    When high fantasy is done well, it’s a best seller. When it is done poorly, it completely flops. I don’t think there is much wiggle room in this genre.

    • EM Castellan says:

      I agree! I’ve read some dreadful high fantasy books as well as great ones too. I just wanted to say in this post that I’m surprised by the sheer number of agents who plainly refuse to consider representing high fantasy. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  2. Jordan says:

    I haven’t read YA high fantasy much myself, but I have read lots of these books written for adults. Seems if the adult market is healthy–which it is, with writers like George R R Martin, Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, and Brandon Sanderson–agents and publishers would want to attract younger readers to the sub-genre. I’m assuming they’re out there.

    Have you submitted to Pyr? Ari Marmell’s series that Pyr publishes is more sword & sorcery YA, but I’d expect them to be interested in YA high fantasy.

  3. I’m gob-smacked to hear agents perceive YA-High Fantasy as having a narrow market. In fact I just don’t have any words for it at all. Have you considered touting it to the adult high-fantasy market? Hopefully purveyors of well-written high fantasy would rep across the board. Best of luck – and some great stats!

  4. EM Castellan says:

    I didn’t want to name anyone in this post, but I’ve had a couple of “big” NYC agents (who say on their website they’re interested in all YA subgenres) tell me my WIP was great but given the market they didn’t want to represent YA High Fantasy… I was surprised too, hence this post…

  5. Lena Corazon says:

    Wow, this is so shocking to me. When I hit junior high, high fantasy was ALL I read. Thanks for sharing your research, EM.

  6. EM Castellan says:

    You’re welcome and thanks for stopping by 🙂

  7. I think it’s ridiculous that they think people won’t read YA high-fantasy. I agree that there aren’t many about but high-fantasy is my favourite genre and I’d like to see a lot more in YA.
    I am currently writing a high fantasy novel mixed with time-travel.. The main character is from our world, but she time-travels to a high-fantasy world which is the main setting of my novel. I also started writing another novel which was 100% high fantasy.

  8. Are you kidding? YA High Fantasy is my favorite genre! And Shadow and Bone is amazing, along with Cinda Williams Chima’s books. Two years ago, I tried to find an agent for my first novel, Amulet of Elusion, a YA High Fantasy, but was met with nothing but rejection. This isn’t meant to discourage you; my credentials as a writer/author are sketchy at best, so I didn’t really expect agents to take me seriously. But yes, it is difficult to find agents who accept high fantasy at all. I ended up just self-publishing my trilogy, but I don’t recommend it unless you have a lot of time on your hands, or a decent budget for marketing and what-not.

    Congratulations on your novel, good luck, and keep writing! 🙂

  9. Noah McDonald says:

    I love high fantasy (well, most ALL fantasy for that matter), and to see so many spit on it like this wounds me deeply. I intend to begin writing high fantasy, and I’ve spent the last four years of my 16 crafting my world, perhaps not with the same ability as one who is older and more able a writer than me… but still, I’ve put countless hours of thought into my world, rewritten the rules more than once, and researched cultures from around the world for inspiration, and I’ve barely even gotten started… But to see this, and many other stories like it, it saddens me greatly, I’m at times almost uncertain whether I should continue or not.

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