Kevin Hearne is the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, an urban fantasy series being released this year back-to-back from Del Rey Books. Hounded will be released April 19, followed by Hexed on May 24 and Hammered on June 28. He teaches high school English when he isn’t writing novels, but he promises not to correct your comments—unless you misuse apostrophes. If that happens, he cannot be responsible for his behavior. You can visit his blog at Writers Grove and follow him on Twitter @kevinhearne.
If you’re looking for a new story idea, it’s waiting for you at the bookstore. All you have to do is browse and see where there’s some negative narrative space on the shelf—a wee little niche that you can fill, that you want to fill—and then write it. I know it’s easier said than done, but honestly, it worked for me.
I got into reading urban fantasy a few years ago, though I was writing epic fantasy at the time. The urban fantasies were quick reads and usually very entertaining, but I started to notice a pattern after a while: 1) most of them featured heroines, and 2) most of them involved a vampire, werewolf, demon, fairy, or some half-human version of the same, and while I did enjoy them, I was starting to get a little restless with the selection.
“Dude,” I said to myself one day in Barnes & Noble, “where are all the dudes?” This comment caused a passing bookseller to ask if I needed help. I said I wanted an urban fantasy with a dude in it, and she pointed me at Jim Butcher’s series featuring Harry Dresden. Those were great books—loved ’em—but there wasn’t a whole lot else out there that caught my attention in terms of male protagonists, and the nugget of an idea was born: The urban fantasy market has a shortage of dudes writing about dudes. That was my first, unsophisticated inkling that there might be a niche here to fill.
As I mulled it over, I thought about what else was missing in urban fantasy—such as protagonists that weren’t vamps, doggies, fae or infernal, or that weren’t lusting after one or more such creatures. That’s when I dropped my book, agog (I’ve been wanting to use the word agog for about three weeks now) at the enormous potential in urban fantasy: you simply pick a critter, drop it in an urban setting, and see what happens. But strangely, only a limited number of creatures were being mined for fictional gold. Was there something else I’d like to write about—and read about—that didn’t fall into one of those ruts? Heck yes! Druids! Druids are cool!
Once I had that thought, my quick scan of the shelves revealed that there were exactly zero urban fantasies involving a Druid protagonist. I have since learned (just last week, actually) that there was a series at that time featuring a Druid in Boston who’d lost his powers. But I went to writing The Iron Druid Chronicles thinking I’d have little or no competition and my book would therefore stand out a bit from the rest of the slush pile. I had a blast writing it; compared to the baggage that vampires and werewolves drag around with them, Druids are practically blank canvases.
What I’m hoping to get across here is that it’s possible to follow the canards of “write what you know” and “write what you want to read” while also tailoring your story a bit to supply a demand the market isn’t filling. You’ll have to know your target market very well to spot the niches, but once you see them, the potential is there for you to distinguish yourself from all the people who are trying to write “the next Twilight.”
One of the attractions of urban fantasy for me is that there’s still so much room for expansion. When you consider the wealth of material out there in mythology and the staggering amount of trouble those old gods and creatures could get into in the modern world, there’s simply no reason for writers to hobble themselves with the same few character types. If you’re a writer, I hope you find your niche soon!