BLOG – Rambling Prose Ep 4 – 3 Urban Fantasy Genre Writing Tips

Hey there! I’m sharing the transcript (almost but not exactly word-for-word) of my latest episode of my Rambling Prose YouTube channel.
On this episode I discuss very briefly the background of how I got into the urban fantasy genre and give 3 quick tips for those who want to write the genre as far as how the market currently stands. I am a YouTube newb so the quality will get better as time goes on. If you find my videos helpful, please click subscribe, like, and share on social media. Thanks so much!

Hi, and welcome back to another episode of Rambling Prose. I’m Kasey Mackenzie, author of the Shades of Fury series for Penguin Random House under their Ace imprint and I’m represented by Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown. Please check out my Phoenix on the Rise series – I’ll pop the links where you can find it below. I write mostly urban fantasy and paranormal romance, but I do also write fantasy, science fiction, and romance.

Today, though, we’re going to focus on urban fantasy, which is my absolute favorite genre to read and write. Don’t get me wrong, I love many other genres, too—but this one definitely holds the keys to my heart. At its simplest, urban fantasy mixes magic and the real world. It has its roots going back to ancient mythology, when cultures all around the world looked to explain the inexplicable natural phenomena around them in a way they could understand. I will often describe what I write to those completely unfamiliar with the genre as Harry Potter written for an adult audience. Now don’t go getting the pitchforks and mobs. It’s completely okay that many of us adults also enjoy Harry Potter! It’s just something that even people who don’t read fantasy are pretty familiar with.

I think that the first books I remember reading as a child that started me on this path of loving urban fantasy were The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper and the Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis. Of course, the second series was more a portal fantasy where children from earth were transported to the magical land of Narnia, but I still credit it with really instilling that love in me. In my teens, I really loved Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde books, and I think those are the first books that I read that I would consider modern-day urban fantasy.

The early 2000s saw a huge wave of urban fantasy and the closely-related paranormal romance genre sweeping across the publishing industry. Some of my personal favorites included Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, her Merry Gentry Series, Kim Harrison’s Hollows series featuring Rachel Morgan, Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld books, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Files,  Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark books, Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels books, Patricia Briggs Mercy Thompson books, Charlaine Harrison’s Sookie Stackhouse books, Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden books, and really I could go on and on and on. I’m sure I’m forgetting other favorites, but I don’t want this video to go on forever!

I had already been writing fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy even before that wave started, but once it hit—whoa! It was so completely gratifying to see that the genre I’d always loved so much was finally getting the attention it deserved. I started getting serious about getting published (which had always been a dream of mine as long as I remembered) in the early 2000s. I was fairly strategic about it in that I read widely, started researching writing as a craft and publishing as a career, and began submitting books as I finished them very slowly, making sure to tweak my query letters and then start the next book each time. I probably received way fewer rejections than the average author simply because every time I realized that a book wasn’t quite there yet, but that I’d learned a lot of valuable skills, I moved on to querying the next one a little more enthusiastically.

I wrote three books that I queried with growing success as far as partial and full requests go when I wrote THE ONE. The book I could tell was special, had a great hook and voice, and was the most likely one to get me agent and editor interest. I was right! That book was Red Hot Fury, and I was lucky enough that it got me multiple agents offering on it and then, after I signed with the amazing Ginger Clark, three editors bidding on it. I can’t tell you how excited I was, and how rewarding it’s been to have my dream of getting published come true.

Of course, dreams rarely turn out quite the way we expect them to, even if we wouldn’t trade the experiences. Unfortunately, publishers have become increasingly less willing to publish urban fantasy as the years have gone on, and those three books I sold back in 2008 were the only ones published in that series. Of course, this hesitation on the traditional publishing industry’s part to publish much urban fantasy these days doesn’t mean readers aren’t out there clamoring for more well-written, innovative, and just plain fun urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Fortunately, the indie publishing industry has provided entrepreneurial authors who love this genre an avenue to continue writing and publishing fantastic books that urban fantasy lovers devour.

So, what advice would I give to new writers who are interested in writing urban fantasy? Let’s go with three quick tips to get you started, since I already spent some time fan-girling about my favorite genre! Tip Number 1, which is good advice for any genre: Read widely in the genre. Read a variety of urban fantasy and paranormal romance books, from a variety of authors, and by that I mean not just cisgender heterosexual white women and men. There are a ton of great authors out there in this genre from all cultures and backgrounds, and reading widely means that you’ll get exposed to common tropes and elements often seen in this genre. Having this understanding and appreciate for the genre will make it easier for you to skillfully work with these tropes—or even better, turn them onto their heads or break them entirely. But I feel like it’s super important to understand them first. You gotta use the training wheels before you take them off your bike.

Tip Number 2: If you’re serious about publishing traditionally, I would advise you to write something other than urban fantasy for the time-being. Seriously. Many of the already-established authors I know (including myself) are having an impossibly difficult time settling urban fantasy to the traditional publishers right now. Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule, so your mileage will vary with this advice. I just think that if you can write some other genre to market to agents and traditional publishers right now, you’ll be better off in the short term. My recommendation is to either sit on your urban fantasy books that you’ve already written or want to work on now for when the cycle spins back around and publishers are excited about this genre again.

That brings me to related Tip Number 3: If you are passionate about publishing urban fantasy RIGHT NOW, and you have an entrepreneurial heart, you may want to look into indie-publishing it yourself. This can be even more appealing if you’re someone like me, who has already been published by traditional publishers. This isn’t for the faint of heart, however. Indie publishing requires a lot of time, dedication, self-education, marketing, and investing money up front. If you’re going to do it, you need to do it right. That means writing as cleanly as possible, hiring professional editors or finding some other way to get a professional-level edit, potentially also hiring proofreaders, and for darned sure you need to hire a professional cover artist or you may as well not even bother. (Assuming you aren’t a professional cover artist yourself.)

These last two tips may seem a little doom-and-gloom, or like I’m telling you not to pursue what I already said was my favorite genre. That’s not true. You just need to have a clear picture of the state of the genre right now. Only then can you make a good, well-informed decision for yourself. I’m feeling more hopeful about writing in the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genre than I have in ages, but that’s because I’m not afraid to invest this time and money into indie-publishing. I also have a great, supportive community of fellow indie authors who are working in this genre. I’m paying attention to their advice, taking what works for me, discarding the rest, experimenting with different things, and taking a patient long view of this process. The odds that I’ll be an overnight success are slim, but I’m doing what I love and writing the genre I adore. And that’s something to be enjoyed and celebrated.

All right, that’s enough rambling for today. If you love urban fantasy as much as I do, don’t give up. Just figure out how to chart your own course in this market and keep rambling with your own prose!

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