So one of the things we hear all the time (relatively speaking) is that
a) publishers won’t buy fantasy that has other than a medieval-European-esque setting, and
b) this is because readers won’t buy other than same.
For example, from a comment here:
“I once heard a fantasy author talk about the fact that there’s so much pseudo-European/Tolkienesque stuff out there.
She said that basically, it comes down to the economic realities of the publishing business. The publishing houses who put out fantasy novels want to go with what they believe will draw their biggest audience, and 99 percent of the time, that’s European/Tolkien-style fantasy. She’d said that she once wrote a very detailed, dramatic novel set in a fantasy analogue of Egypt. After reading it, the publisher said, “This story is great, but the one thing we’d like you to change is the setting – we need it to be something more like medieval Europe.”
So, after a week or so of being upset about it, since she needed to put food on the table, she went ahead and reskinned the story as something with a more Norse/medieval flavor; and they published it.”
I don’t know. I like a good medieval-European-esque setting fine, if it’s well done, but I love a more exotic setting. Ever read BRIDGE OF BIRDS, for example?
And the thing is, many many many reviewers also say they love exotic settings. Every reviewer who raves about EON/EONA, for example.
So I don’t know. How much of this publishing / readership bias is real and how much is perceived? If I want to write a fantasy in a sort of Ottoman Empire-esque setting (which I do) should I? Or should I put that off in favor of a story with a more European setting? Or (worse) should I expect a publisher to want the story, but only if I change the setting?
As evidence of something or other, the nominees this year for the World Fantasy Award are —
a) ZOO CITY (Beukes), set in a near-future South Africa
b) THE HUNDRED THOUSANDS KINGDOMS (Jemisin), with a fantasy setting that is hard to categorize (if you’ve read it, how would you describe the setting?)
c) THE SILENT LAND (Joyce), with a contemporary European setting
d) UNDER HEAVEN (Kay), set in a barely-alternate 8th century China
e) REDEMPTION IN INDIGO (Lord), a Senegalese folktale retelling
f) WHO FEARS DEATH (Okarafor), set in Saharan Africa
What are we to make of this?
That publishers like exotic settings, as long as the books are good? It would be nice to think so.
Or that exotic settings may be a tough sell to publishers, but reviewers and award committees love ’em once they’re out? That seems believable to me.
Can we make any kind of extrapolation from this to what readers prefer? (My guess is maybe not really) (But hopefully many readers prefer great stories regardless of setting?)
I’ve ordered a) c) and e). I’ve already read b) and d) — both were great, but I’d vote for THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS over UNDER HEAVEN, which in my opinion had a weak ending. I haven’t ordered f) and don’t really plan to, because I read this author’s first book and just never really connected to the protagonist — though I did love the setting.
I really hope I love all the nominees and that none of them were nominated just because the exotic setting appealed to some committee somewhere. But this list does make me feel more like starting work on my (wonderful! fun! long and involved! with underground cities! and dragons!) Ottoman-esque fantasy, in the hope that publishers will turn out to agree with me that exotic settings are a great idea.