On Querying and Originality in Fantasy

NB: this was originally posted on There And Draft Again in January 2014, but I have tweaked it slightly to share with you again today.

Hello gentle reader,

If you’re a writer in the query trenches now or if you’re planning on looking for an agent and getting traditionally published in the future, you know that getting rejections is part of the process.

For the purpose of this post, we are going to assume the Querying Writer has done her research, finished and polished her manuscript, written a professional query letter and put together a list of relevant agents to contact, along with their submission guidelines.

There are many, many reasons for an agent to send the Querying Writer a rejection, and for nearly every single one of them there’s a solution. Sometimes, the agent will tell you what’s wrong with your submission: it’s called a personalized rejection. Other times, the agent won’t tell you why she’s rejecting your manuscript: it’s the infamous Form Rejection.

Thankfully, a few agents use Twitter to reveal the most common reasons why they reject a submission. They use the #10queriesin10tweets or #tenqueries hashtags. And one reason that keeps popping up when it comes to Fantasy manuscripts is this one:


The premise isn’t unique/original/inventive enough.

In a sea of submissions, agents and editors are looking for a Unique Concept. Or a Familiar Story With An Unexpected Twist. They want the Unfamiliar. They want to be Surprised. As we do, as readers.

So how do you avoid being rejected for lack of originality? Here are a few pointers:

  • Research the industry: find out what’s on the shelves right now or what will hit the shelves in the next 18 months. This will give an idea of what agents/editors have already seen and aren’t looking for.
  • Avoid tropes in your writing: I recommend this website to find out which writing devices have been overdone.
  • Read: writing a Fantasy book requires reading Fantasy books, to avoid the annoying predicament which consists in writing a book that already exists.

Are you worried about how original your manuscript is or isn’t? Have you had rejections stating your premise felt too familiar? What have you done to ensure your book was as original as possible? Feel free to leave me a comment below!

3 thoughts on “On Querying and Originality in Fantasy

  1. Lack of originality is something I’ve thought about from time to time, but I’m not sure if it’s just my ego nagging at me or it’s a truly real fear… The WIP I’m working on is inspired by “journey” stories like LOTR and The Hobbit, but it definitely has its differences: a female protagonist, Faeries the size of humans, more spells and magic. Plus, the protagonist has emotional wounds and a hidden agenda (from the other characters, not from the reader) that partly drive the story in the direction it heads in. So, the story has some familiar roots, but I’ve made every effort to make it branch out and become unique from there… I hope! *lol*

  2. EM Castellan says:

    If you’re worried about your WIP’s originality (or lack thereof), here are three things you can do: 1) Go through the list of most common tropes and check whether they appear in your MS or not. 2) Ask your beta readers to read your MS with these tropes in mind and to let you know if they spot any. 3) When you query, make sure you point out what’s original in and specific to your story, what makes it unique. Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

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