Kristi Charish: Oversaturated and Overloaded


Author Kristi CharishFrom Chelsea/VBC: We’re so happy to have Kristi Charish back on the blog. We adored Owl and the Japanese Circus (read Margaret’s review), and we’re ready for more adventures with Owl. The next book—Owl and the City of Angels—releases on Tuesday, Oct. 6, and we’re lucky enough to get Kristi to swing by again to talk about writing urban fantasy in a time when the market is flooded with options.

I suggest pre-ordering a copy of the new book, but in the meantime get a sneak peek at the behind-the-scenes of writing genre fiction in today’s market. With that, I’ll turn it over to Kristi:

How do new UF series/authors get published in an oversaturated market?

Urban fantasy is still a hot seller at your local bookstore and through the digital behemoth also known as Amazon. There are tables, book clubs, and an online horde of blogs dedicated to all things contemporary fantasy.

But it has also become one of the most saturated book markets out there. As a new author trying to sell my first book I received the same rejection letter dozens of aspiring UF authors get every day:

This looks interesting but we can’t sell urban fantasy because the market is oversaturated.”

And they’re right. There is an abundance of UF hitting the shelves every month, hundreds of new titles, each and everyone clamoring for readers’ attention. And that’s not just the debut authors. Those are mostly books from an established author stable, writers who come with a ready reading base built in.

So what is the aspiring UF author to do? Give up? A lot publishing pros and agents might say that…but if writing UF is what you love there are other ways to squeeze yourself in. My first UF book came out last year and I now have two UF series, and seven books total under contract with major publishers. The thing to keep in mind is that regardless of how saturated the market is, everyone is still looking for one thing—a good book.

Though I don’t know if there is any sure fire rule of thumb for breaking into the UF market as a new writer, I’ve included below five things I think have really helped me.

A Little the Same and Different

One of the most infuriating things aspiring authors hear as they enter the ‘sell your novel’ game is that everyone is looking for something unique, that really stands out!…But it also has to be familiar…you know, new and different…but not too new, and recognizable…like an original take on Star Wars… can you write one of those?

Any author out there reading this is probably about ready to throw a book at the computer screen. ‘Original but the same’ is the demand. If it brings to mind images of Goldilocks and bowls of porridge you aren’t far off. It is very much the line authors try to hit: not too new, not too familiar, just right.

And it’s infuriating.

It also makes a lot of sense (I can hear books hitting the computer screen now).

When an agent or publisher is trying to sell a book to and editor or a target audience, they need to come up with something called a pitch. A pitch often involves comparative pieces of work. For example, an agent might refer to a new author’s novel as a “A teenage version of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan that will appeal to fans of The Vampire Diaries” or something along those lines. Unfortunately, “Completely new, never seen anything like it before” is a hard sell…Who will they sell it to?

Does that mean you need to binge watch The Vampire Diaries on Netflix, then figure out a way to fit it into 90,000 words? Of course not, the golden rule of write what you want to write still applies. But it doesn’t hurt to think about comparable works when you’re ready to start pitching to those editors and agents.

Owl and the City of Angels by Kristi Charish // VBCKnow the Genre

This one doesn’t get talked about as much as it should. For the aspiring UF authors out there do you know who Jim Butcher, Laurell K Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, Stephenie Meyer, and Patricia Briggs are? On second thought you should probably add Faith Hunter, Ilona Andrews, Carrie Vaughn, and Larry Correia to that list.

If none of the above names are familiar to you and you are an aspiring UF author, you may have a problem. They are some of the names behind the biggest UF series out there. Not only are they all bestsellers, each and every one of them has done something unique and different in the genre. If you aren’t familiar with these names you aren’t familiar enough with the genre to be writing it well. How can you be unique if you don’t know what’s been done before you? It behooves you to know what your target readers like before you set out to write for them or try to sell it to a publisher.

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone.

My agent isn’t an UF agent. After striking out with a handful of agents who specialized in UF, I approached an agent who represented a mystery/crime author I adore and who’s clients were mostly writing mainstream, commercial fiction.

And has it ever worked in my favor. When everyone else in the UF game is trying to sell their UF authors through the regular channels, it doesn’t hurt to have an agent who has a wider field of tastes and contacts. It means that they can think outside of the box—and so can the editors who desks your book might cross, who haven’t read twenty new urban fantasy books this week.

When everyone else is using the red door it doesn’t hurt to try the blue.

Rules are There for the Breaking…

When I first began pitching my novel there was a giant red flag that people who worked specifically in the UF genre kept throwing up. The word count. The unspoken rule of thumb for urban fantasy is that the length should be between 90,000 and 110,000 words. No more, no less. Mine clocked in at 140,000. Every novel I’ve written has clocked in at close to 140,000. I had agents reject my novel specifically because of the word length.

Once my novel was picked up however (by my awesome agent who was used to varying lengths of works—see: outside your comfort zone above) and sold to a publisher, I never once heard a peep about that pesky word count again.

The reason I bring this up is there is a tendency for authors when they’ve gotten the ‘almost or maybe if’ responses from editors and agents to go and rewrite an entire manuscript, often because of a cited unwritten rule, all to try and appease a single person. I caution authors to think really hard on that one. I was told by one agent that they wanted to see my novel IF I could cut 50,000 words. I was tempted for all of 20 seconds, when I realized that it would be an entirely different novel. I couldn’t do it.

Good thing I didn’t. One of the things that have made my debut stand out this past year is the length. It’s meatier than a lot of other UFs and has side plots/loops that are probably more comparable to what’s in a thriller or adventure novel (which often have a comparable word count of above 120,000 words). It makes my novel different but still familiar.

And that’s what you’re aiming for. The next time someone says a perspective needs to be changed or the length shortened, remember that the majority of bestsellers out there break one of the unwritten rules. Be real certain before you start rewriting that you’re making the novel better, not trying to pound a circle through a square. Nothing good can come of it.

And Please, For the Love of Fantasy, Be Polite…Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish // VBC Review

This is more of a general guideline than UF specific but it’s important enough to mention… and sadly doesn’t go without saying.

At conferences you often hear about three qualities a writer’s career is based on: Likeability, Talent, and Productivity/Punctuality. The saying goes that as a writer you need at least two out of three to be successful. For example: An author who isn’t likeable but is highly talented and punctual has a strong career ahead of them, likewise, an author who is incredibly engaging and likeable, talented, but never hands a damn thing in on time can also have a strong career ahead of them.

I’d like to stick an addendum onto this saying: even if you can’t muster being likeable (and not everyone can- let’s face it, writing is a solitary sport) it is in your best interest to be polite.

You have no idea how many writers out there send off snarky emails to their editor/agent/marketing team after something ticks them off (they didn’t get a ½ million dollar marketing budget, there isn’t a full page add in their national newspaper, their editor used a red marker…the sky is the limit on this one). Don’t. Will it affect their efforts on your current project? Of course not, they do their jobs like everyone else and that is selling books. But next time, on the next project that is getting shopped around…

There is a lot of competition out there…Do you really want to be remembered as the author who threw a hissy fit and is a jerk to work with? Being polite doesn’t cost you anything and might just brighten up someone’s day.

Last Thoughts

I want to leave off with a question for those authors aiming to break into the UF market. Why are you writing UF? Is it because there is a shelf filled with UF at your library or bookstore and it’s what the cool kids are reading, or is it because you adore contemporary fantasy and couldn’t imagine writing anything else? For those of you in the former category I caution you to rethink your writing goals. The UF world is a harsh, competitive mistress. But for the later category? Just remember that regardless of how competitive the market, there is one thing every agent/editor/publisher is itching to get their hands on: a really great story.


Kristi is the author of OWL AND THE JAPANESE CIRCUS (Simon and Schuster Canada/Pocket Books), an urban fantasy about a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world. She writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. The second installment in the Owl series, OWL AND THE CITY OF ANGELS, is out Oct 5th 2015, and the third and fourth installments, OWL AND THE ELECTRIC SAMURAI and OWL AND THE TIGER THIEVES, will be released in 2016 and 2017. THE VOODOO KILLINGS, book 1 in her second urban fantasy series, KINCAID STRANGE (Random House Canada), about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle, is out May 10, 2016.

Kristi is also the Canadian co-hosting half of the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing Podcast and has a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. She is represented by Carolyn Forde at Westwood Creative Artists.

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3 Responses to “Kristi Charish: Oversaturated and Overloaded”

  1. Margaret says:

    I actually started laughing when Kristi said the length made the book stand out, though not because she’s wrong. I read a digital ARC and didn’t notice the length at all. I think if I had that would mean the plot was dragging and I was thinking “when will this end?”

    But I won a signed copy a month later and was shocked by how BIG the book is. It’s even a little bit taller than the one next to it on my shelf. It’s also a fiery orange while the rest of the books are mostly black. It definitely stands out on my bookshelf!

  2. Susan says:

    Great interview and advice. The market is definitely saturated with UF, but there’s always room for more. Your book sounds like it would be good a good read!

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