Urban Fantasy: Vampires Kill Elves

Publisher and always-readable genre commentator Tim Holman reveals the full scale of the change that is sweeping through fantasy in his blog The Publisher Files. A lot has been made of how fantasy book sales are booming, but it now seems that the vast proportion of this is down to urban fantasy. Definitions are always hard to come by when you get into the sewers of genre classification, but I think what we’re talking about here is the books of, say, Charlaine Harris, which are burning up the charts in the UK on the back of True Blood, as opposed to traditional fantasy in an urban setting.

Not only that, but the trend is increasing. With sales of urban fantasy rising, Tim makes the point that it’s only natural that publishers will follow the dollar/pound/euro/whatever and buy less epic fantasy and more of the thing that most readers want.

Genres always move in cycles. Stories get tired and readers get jaded as publishers heap on more of the same. But for me, urban fantasy is really the new horror – the successor to the Stephen King-fuelled horror boom of the eighties, and drawing in some of the same kind of readers who walked away when that cycle died.

Which does cast an interesting light on next year’s World Horror Convention. The convention seems completely to have ignored urban fantasy and opted for a celebration of horror that is rooted firmly in the distant past, if the guest of honour list is anything to go by. At the least it’s a missed opportunity. At the most it’s a comment on why horror is perceived as a dying genre by many in the industry.

0 thoughts on “Urban Fantasy: Vampires Kill Elves”

  1. I wonder how much those original stats are skewed by a mere few authors – especially Meyer. She was an immense amount of the general book market, so it would be good to see such figures without her contribution. Lest we adopt the Bloomsbury model and put all our eggs in one Potter-shaped basket…

  2. There are probably as many successful urban fantasy authors as *straight* fantasy authors, I reckon. Charlaine Harris has eight of the top ten paperback titles in the UK, which must be making Gollancz all kinds of pleased.

    But, sure, as someone who did an economics degree I can guarantee that statistics are the devil’s own!

  3. Mark C N: Stephenie Meyer wasn’t included. I only included books published in the adult SFF categories. There are inevitably a few UF authors outselling others quite considerably (as in most genres and sub-genres), but UF has a presence in the US market that goes well beyond its bestsellers.

  4. That’s very interesting, Tim. I wonder how much longer territories can be separated out, particularly in genre where the knowledge market is increasingly global and international communities of like-minded spirits are rapidly building. Will UF in the UK become just as dominant, on the back of the US engine?

    My own UK sales have gone up following the attention I’ve been getting in the US recently. Just thinking aloud…

  5. I’ll admit, I’ve noticed this trend from a booksellers perspective.

    A few authors in particular always seemed to sell especially well (Harris, Hamilton, Armstrong) with other books in the Urban Fantasy & Paranormal Romance seeming to sell better than their more traditional, ‘straight-up’ fantasy counterparts.

    Interesting side-note: Mark C you mention in the initial post about how you see Urban Fantasy as essentially horror (a valid POV), and a good number of the authors who we had to move into PR started out in Horror…

  6. I suspect that UF will continue to grow in the UK. Generally, there is remarkable consistency internationally in the SFF market. I think this might be partly owing to the global nature of SFF communities, partly to the nature of the books themselves (containing fewer local reference points than “mainstream” fiction). Perhaps the US/UK discrepancy in contemporary UF is related to the fact that UF does have these local references …

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