Reading this discussion about portal fantasy on Rachel Manija Brown's livejournal has made me at least briefly pick up the pom-poms and start cheering. Ms Brown starts the post out with:
Yesterday there was a fascinating discussion of portal fantasy, in which a character from our world is transported to another world. The classic example of this is Narnia. I can’t link to the post, because it was filtered (the “portal fantasy” discussion was in the comments) but I offered to make a public post on the subject. I invite the participants to copy their comments to it.
There was a Sirens panel in which five agents, who were discussing their slush piles, mentioned that they were getting quite a few portal fantasy submissions. Two of them said those made up about a quarter of their total YA fantasy submissions.
I said, "This intrigues me, because I haven't seen a single one in the last ten years. Is it that editors aren't buying them? Did you pick any up?"
The agents replied that none of them had even requested a full manuscript for a single portal fantasy.
They explained that portal fantasies tend to have no stakes because they're not connected enough to our world. While in theory, a portal fantasy could have the fate of both our world and the other world at stake, in practice, the story is usually just about the fantasy world. The fate of the real world is not affected by the events of the story, and there is no reason for readers to care what happens to a fantasy world.
One agent remarked that if the protagonist didn't fall through the portal, there would be no story.
And, of course, I was thinking Stray. I never submitted Stray to any publishers or agents, not because it was portal fantasy, but because it was in diary format, deliberately rambly, and written originally in blog form.
I had no idea that the biggest bar against it was that it was portal fantasy.
An entire sub-genre. A sub-genre which is the basis for some of the most popular and enduring stories we have (from Narnia to Oz). And both levels of 'gatekeepers' were automatically not interested, had declared the sub-genre dead - and not told anyone.
I've had plenty of opportunity to fully appreciate the frustrations of the submission-go-round, and I'm so glad that this particular bullet is one I dodged.
The Touchstone Trilogy remains my most popular story. People read it end to end, and start over. I had one reader tell me it got her into reading science fiction. She went on from me to McCaffrey!
So, yeah, rah rah self-publishing. Here's to having multiple options, to that internet-wide hole in the fence beside that gate.