22 October 2012

Portal-keeping

I don't usually indulge in the rah-rah-down with gatekeepers blah-de-blah which so many people associate with self-publishing.  Trade publishing has brought me many good books and I hope that it continues to do so.

But.

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.

10 comments:

  1. Jennifer Fallon's latest series is a portal fantasy, I would have thought.

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  2. There's actually quite a few portal fantasies which have been published in the past few years. But evidently quite a few agents/publishers who consider the sub-genre "not sellable".

    I'm just cringing at the thought of me spending a few years submitting to those particular agents/publishers. Bullet dodged.

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  3. 'There is no reason for readers to care what happens to a fantasy world'?!

    It makes you wonder what sort of fantasy world they are living in...

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    1. One wonders how any high fantasy gets published, giving the lack of cares those readers are giving.

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  4. I came into fantasy more or less through a portal story (Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster). I wasn't particularly fond of that book (or the second and third ones), but I became enamoured with the idea of being sucked into another world and being a hero there, or a princess or something. If I really thought on the matter, about half of my fantasy collection is portal fantasy.

    That said there is a lot of bad portal fantasy out there--but then there's a lot of bad EVERYTHING out there and I can't imagine editors ONLY get so much terrible portal fantasy and nothing else to make it a loose rule. Until Stephenie Meyer hit it big with Twilight I remember there was peevishness about receiving manuscript after manuscript of 'paranormal trash'.

    Like one of the commentors said, a series just has to grab the populace at large--whether its good or bad, if it becomes commercially viable then we'll see that flood on the shelves as well.

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  5. Go Andrea! from you to McCaffrey. Well done on increasing the science fiction readership.

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  6. Just wanted to comment that I recently stumbled across a review somewhere of Stray and when I found it was free on Amazon I took a chance and I am so glad I did. I really loved this story, I thought it was truly excellent, and the melding of tech with a YA heroine saving the world was brilliantly done. The little touches of humor that made me LOL (Om Nom Nom Nom is my favourite!) and the feeling of 'realness' that you got from the diary. I thought I would hate that but you did it really well.

    I did something I have never done before, at the end of Stray (and Lab Rat One) I went to the end of the book on my Kindle and IMMEDIATELY bought the next one. Thats how much I needed to know how the story ends.

    Waves Hi from further Downunder :) You have a converted fan here!

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it Anon!

      I know some people are put off by the diary format, but it added immensely to the realism for me too.

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    2. Sorry, I had forgotten why I disliked commenting on Blogger entries so much, the comment interface sucketh mightily!

      Anon here again, hopefully less anon. Just wanted to add I discovered Gratuitous Epilogue and downloaded and devoured and finished after I got home from work. Two nights in a row I have delayed cooking dinner until I had finished your books! I loved the epilogue, how you finished the story, loved all the presents at the end (the packets of seeds were genius) and I cried at the end of the story. One of the best YA stories I have ever read, thankyou SO MUCH!

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    3. I love knowing what happens next.

      Next year some time I'll be putting out a short story from Ys' point of view, about 6-8 years later than GE. [Hopefully.]

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