impromptu and unscientific focus group for books

Somewhere in reading the large number of comments (all of which I certainly did not get through) on the various query-related posts several days back on different agent blogs, the idea of focus groups for consumer marketing came up, and it was suggested that publishers don’t use them (though I know that some have). It was also suggested that editors and agents are out of touch with what book consumers really want (thought it could be argued that editors and agents may be one of the largest groups of those consumers, or at least, I know I am).

So, here’s your chance to be part of an impromptu, and probably very unscientific, focus group (which will also not cost the mega-thousands that researching a new cereal would). Tell me in comments what kinds of novels I, as an ever-so-progressive agent, should be looking for, or something you’d snap up in an instant if you found it in the bookstore. Conversely, feel free to mention things you are tired nigh unto death of seeing in the bookstore.

Keep in mind the following caveat: I’m not looking for people to pitch their own books, here, but for suggestions as readers, not writers (though you could also be a writer who reads).

161 responses to “impromptu and unscientific focus group for books

  1. Frankly and honestly, I’m sick to death of the endless trite Urban Fantasy novels that plague the bookshelves “Weres and Vamps” are the biggest sinners of this lot, although there are others.
    There are plenty of good Urban Fantasy novels (and some of them are written by your clients!) but there is, IMO, a glut on the market of them.

    • Totally agree. I think we’ve been meyered in these cliches for too long.

    • Some of them are poorly written with terrible plots and/or 2 dimensional cliched characters, but there’s a lot of good stuff out there, and personally I snap up a lot of them. Any time I find an urban fantasy with an interesting plot and well written characters it’s likely that I buy it immediately. Particularly if it has flawed but likable characters. I think that urban fantasy gives authors room to play with a multitude of differing and complex themes without becoming a lesson or message book. And, as a reader, I love that. Bring ’em on, because as a reader I don’t foresee myself getting sick of them any time soon. I think while some people like the poster above disagree with me, there are just as many that are on my side of the urban fantasy fence. This is one trend I doubt will die out any time soon.

  2. I’d like something meaty, characters that I can get to know and sink my teeth into as it were. I can read fairly fast, so a novel might be something I finish is a day or a weekend. I always find myself wanting to know more, what happened next? What about their kids? What problems came up? How did they get solved?
    At the same time, if I can be contrary, I hate novels that go on too long or have lengthy periods of unresolved tension. I’m an adult and I want things to reach their logical conclusion, whether that means two characters getting in bed together or a character dying. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Janet Evanovich, and you, Stephenie Meyer.)

  3. I put in my vote for space opera.
    Walking into a bookstore these days, the selection is weighted toward the F side of F&SF, and while as a fantasy author that’s nice, as a reader I’d like more variety. That’s why I was so happy to see Laura Reeves’ debut novel Peacekeeper on the shelves last month.

  4. I too will say that I’m a little tired of Urban Fantasy, although in fairness, I will also say that Urban Fantasy was never a big hit for me in the first place. And by “urban fantasy” I suppose I mean the “tough chick battling her inner demons while wrestling with outer monsters” shtick. (I was never a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer either, although I love Joss Whedon with all my heart.) Urban fantasy in the vein of Charles de Lint’s The Onion Girl is always welcome though. (Can that be labelled urban fantasy?)
    Personally, I love fantasy with an intriguing and different world, one similar to ours but different in significant ways. I would also prefer to see fantasy books without supernatural beings/creatures in the vein of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series. (You can see I don’t shy away from enormous volumes. I like them a lot.) I also like heavy political intrigue and fantasy books about war rather than fantasy books about relationships (although relationships DO matter, thank you!).

  5. I’m getting a bit burned out on urban fantasy in general, myself. What I really, really want is… Well, what I wrote and want to write, but without having to write it and edit it and get it published. Or… Something that I can read that will drown out the characters in my head in a good way. Something as interesting, or more-so, to what I can imagine.
    I would like to see more merging of romance-fantasy/SF, but with the Fantasy/SF tropes more to the fore than the romance ones. (Or at least the romance ones I’ve read.) A bit more edge on whether the couple really will get together or not. (Bujold’s The Sharing Knife series does pretty well in everything but that last edge.)
    Mysteries lapping over would also be interesting, but I can’t point to any one thing and say, “That. Like that.”
    Less Generic Medieval Europe in fantasies. More cool alien SF viewpoints. (I’ve always loved the non-human viewpoints…) For that matter, more non-human viewpoints in fantasy; give me a centaur or two, instead of the usual elf/vampire/werewolf.
    Personally, if I like a book and author, fatter is better. Barbara Hambly’s name is on the spine? Bujold’s? Om nom nom! I like a long vacation somewhere. (On the other hand, plot that goes somewhere is also useful; I’m losing track of where Laurel K. Hamilton’s fairie smut series is next. Though if I miss a book, I suppose I won’t have skipped much plot.)
    I think… Low, intricate fantasy — not “gritty,” but earth-shaking magic isn’t making the earth shake for me so much. On the other hand, ultra-technology SF is light on the ground, and when I picked up a Lee-Miller book (I think it was) the other day, it made me happy to see gadgets. Tricky to straddle the line between “magic in tech’s clothing” and “sense-of-wundar tech,” but the latter’s what I’m looking for, I think.
    Religion-as-magic — the Kushiel series, Bujold’s Curse of Chalion and sequels — doesn’t get enough play.
    Something I haven’t seen hardly any of, and not done straight, is magic-as-technology. D&D had the Spelljammer stuff, which sort-of approaches the matter, and IIRC Toxic Spell Dump did it for humor… But magic-powered starships, blindfolded seer navigators… Yes, it might be earth-shaking magic, but it’s leashed and harnessed like the lightning that powers the city…
    However, as always for me, Character is King. If I want a Cool Setting, I’ll go buy a roleplaying game module, or write it myself. The setting needs a tour guide, and at least enough of a plot not to wonder why this is in the SF&F section of the bookstore and not the RPG section.

  6. Enough Kissing – Get on With the Maiming!
    I want more intelligent supernatural stories – especially thoughtful ghost stories. Genuinely creepy books (but not gore-fests), without misogyny masquerading as humor, and without a Mary Sue protagonist, please. (Sooooo tired of the Buffy clones.)
    I’d also like some humorous and light-hearted books, heavy on the supernatural. Dark humor is acceptable, as well. (A. Lee Martinez is the king of light-hearted, well-written books of this type, especially A Nameless Witch and The Automatic Detective.)
    Scary vampire novels (see also: Sunshine by R. McKinley) as opposed to vampire romance. I’m not opposed to a little sexiness, but please, no more 650 page porn novels with 0.05% plot and repulsive sexual politics (if you know what series I mean, and I think you do.)
    Alternate history is a favorite of mine, as well. I loved “Court of the Air”, and I’m quite enjoying “His Majesty’s Dragon”.
    In conclusion: Supernatural, spooky, intelligent, humorous.

  7. i want what every publisher and agent would wet themselves over:
    the next harry potter or the next twilight… not just more stories about vampires or magical boarding schools (on the contrary… *Gag*)… i want the next book [series] that really expounds upon and gives a new twist to classic “mythology” and fairy tales with new characters to get a chance to delve into and learn more about…

  8. This is not only unorganized but possibly a bit nonsensical.
    I’m remarkably addicted to a good urban fantasy. Keyword being good. The market is flooded with some seriously awful stuff right now. I’m just touching my toes into romance after writing my first one on contract. I’ve noticed that I hate most of it, but I’ve become fond of Megan Hart. As for epic fantasy, Sarah Monette. In fact, nevermind, just Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear in general. That’s where I’m seeing the wave of the future in SFF.
    I want more equal representation of sexual identities and more female characters with purposes other than being the walking rape-object or damsel to be rescued. I also want those things in a story that moves and draws me in instead of just preaching the themes at me, or turning into someone’s slash fantasies, though I do enjoy a good sex scene when it’s necessary and properly used.
    I want less of the same bland, boring narration about vampire hunters and demon slayers and all of that crap. I am tired of red-headed, green eyed firey courtesans. I am v. v. tired of vampires in general actually, and that was BEFORE the Twilight fiasco.
    I guess I’m saying what all agents say: I’ll know it when I see it.
    There is no one idea that I want to see so bad I’d buy a bad book. I’m for good writing that draws me in above all else. Of course I also recognize that rejections mean I need to go back to the edit board and fix whatever is wrong with the story, especially when the agent says “I love your writing but your worldbuilding sucks.” *g*
    (Favorite book of last year, or maybe the year before, I forget when it came out: “The Bone Key” by Sarah Monette. I don’t want to see more of these style books persay, I just want to see more of HER books in this style.)

  9. Personally, I’m sick of the books where the cover art, copy, etc., all but say “This book is just like every other book in the genre.” Similarly, I’m sick of any book with a gay character being filed under “gay/lesbian” and any book with an ethnic minority as the lead being filed under “ethnic studies/ethnic fiction” etc.
    What I want to see is a book that sells itself as a fresh take on something comfortable and familiar. Space opera that grapples with issues space opera heretofore hasn’t. Mystery that brings us characters that go beyond the stock mystery “types.”
    In short, I like to see something that is both familiar and new. I’m not going to pick up something wildly experimental, nor am I going to bother if it’s just another Sue Grafton wannabe. And it’s vital that the cover tell me what’s different about this one, while reassuring me that if I like the genre/author/etc. I will still likely enjoy this particular book.

  10. Enought with the vamps, zombies, and futuristic “abilities.” They were fun for a while, but I’m done.
    I want more stuff that does NOT fit into a genre. Surprise me! Invent a new genre! Suck me into a world or a way of looking at the world that isn’t “a new twist on” (fill in the blank) but comes out of the writer’s devious lizard brain. Please?
    I suppose one reason I write what I write is that I have to. If anybody else is, then it’s not getting published.
    I think I became a writer because even as a little kid I was an avid reader, and to get what I wanted to read I saw that I would probably have to write it myself.

  11. I’d love, love, love to see urban fantasy that draws on traditional myths and legends for it’s main focus. I’d also like to see urban fantasy with a heroine who’s a little bit weak, at least at first. Kick butt heroines are all well and good… the first twenty times around.
    I’m SO SICK of vampires, werewolves, and, again, kick butt heroines. I like girls who can stand up for themselves and fight as necessary, but I’m tired of leather, tattoos, and knives all over the place. =P

    • Stacia Kane’s “Personal Demons” is uf without a kick-butt heroine. She’s more like a normal person, but she’s psycic. She stands up for herself and is smart but runs away from danger if she can, which I thought was funny. And there are no weres, vampires, leather, tattoos, or knives in it either. Just a suggestion.
      Personally I love UF but I am also tired of the super tough heroines, and none of them seem to have real serious problems (it’s always this overly dramatic stuff, it seems, these tense personal relationships), and there is always the big Hot Guy who is all over her all the time and you know he will be the hero because he’s so handsome. I want to read and plan to read UF for as long as they keep publishing them, I love them alot, but the vamp slayer/half vamp/demon slayer thing gets a little old for me too.
      Luckily I have seen alot of very different books being talked about as coming out in the next year or so, so I think the books will get better and better.

  12. What I’d like to read is more utopian SF coming into conflict with dystopian SF. I have a guess this really isn’t a huge money-making idea though.

  13. A couple of months ago, I looked unsuccessfully for a book set in a boarding school — I wanted something with the readability of Prep and the mood of The Thirteenth Tale or Dead Poets’ Society. M. E. Kerr for grownups. Something like Roald Dahl’s Boy, with lots of details about the traditions of the place. English or American — didn’t matter. Boys or girls — didn’t matter. It could be a YA book, but I’d want a good meaty one. I haven’t found anything yet that made me happy. I’m sure it must be out there, and if I found it in a bookstore, I’d buy it.

    • p.s. I realize that’s not SF or fantasy, and that’s mostly what you work with, but — when I read the question, it’s the thing that came foremost to mind.

      • Hmm … I tried to read the first one and couldn’t get into it, but that was a few years ago, so who knows what might happen now. Thanks for the suggestion!

        • My own interest petered out midway through the second book. πŸ™‚ It came to mind as something that might fit your criteria, though!

          • Okay, Libba Bray’s “A Great and Terrible Beauty” is another example of a FANTASTIC premise and TERRIBLE follow through. THAT’S what I’m sick of as a reader. There’s been a lot of talk on this thread about what’s hot and what’s old, and not enough talk about excellent storytelling. When I pull my favorite books off the shelf, they aren’t even in the same genre, let alone “all vampires” or some such.
            What I want as a reader is a story that sucks me in and never lets go. Flaws in narration, character building, or plotting all remind me that I’m just reading a story, instead of what I should be doing. Experiencing it. The market could be flooded with (fill in whatever you’re sick of here), and yet if a similar story is written by a writer who kicks a** in the storytelling department, people will like it.
            Why don’t we see more books like this? In my opinion, it’s for the simple reason that despite all the manuscripts flung at agents these days, very few measure up to this standard. Writing a flawless book is HARD, and not many writers are up to it. At least not on their own. Back in the day, agents and editors had the time to build writers of promise. Few have that luxury anymore. So we’re all left looking for trends to carry the day. But my point of view, as a reader, is simply this: I don’t care what your story’s about, as long as you know how to cast the storyteller’s spell. When I open a new book that’s what I’m hoping I’ll get, regardless of where it’s shelved in the bookstore.

  14. I’m another reader who’s tired of BAD urban fantasy. I’m tired of the Anita Blake clones. I’m tired of reading the SAME book which meanders through a paper thin plot which isn’t so much a plot as a weird ramble through fights and sex scenes. I’m tired of these plotless wonders being narrated by a “snarky” woman (who manages never once to be witty, profound, or even that likeable) with powers or something who somehow always manages to mention that she’s wearing leather pants or thigh high boots even as she’s running for her life or fighting some big nasty.
    And just for reference, I think using Buffy as the object of frustration is wrong. Joss Whedon got Buffy, as a character and as a show, mostly right. It’s those people who thought that adding a dose of chick-lit to the urban fantasy genre who are to blame. If they’d actually studied what made the show so successful and wonderful, we’d have a different discussion going on.
    I’d like it if there were urban fantasy narrated or at least inhabited by heroines who are a bit more like me and other people I know. More heroines of color, heroines who are lesbian, bi, or even trans. Heroines who maybe are of size. Or aren’t supermodel beautiful or always complaining about their looks.
    It’s not the vampires and werewolves that are my issue. After all the bad books, I’m still fascinated with them. It’s the bad writing I’m tired of. I’m tired of agents and publishing houses who keep putting out the same old crap and then saying “well, that’s what sells”. It sells because it’s all that’s there sometimes.
    I’d really love an urban fantasy novel narrated by a heroine with a voice that doesn’t grate on my nerves. Most do, because they attempt to be very hip and colloquial and “snarky” without being at all amusing or interesting. I want a heroine that doesn’t read like a Mary Sue. That actually tells a story instead of winding through related events all while giving irrelevant details as though every little thing about her life is important.
    I’d love it if there were urban fantasy novels that understood consequences and weaknesses and real flaws, not just the made up ones.
    I’d also love it if the surroundings in said novels were not there just because the author thought they’d look cool.
    Honestly, I want to see someone do for Urban Fantasy what Watchmen by Alan Moore did for comics and the very tired trite superheroes tropes. I’d like to see someone really sink in and apply intelligent and thoughtfulness and humanity.
    I’d like an urban fantasy with a heroine that reads like AN ACTUAL HUMAN BEING. Or at least written by an author who knows what the hell they’re doing with the first person narration, because most really don’t.
    If I saw something with a really compelling, unique voice that did away with the “Well, there I was in my Gucci boots fighting this vampire who was really sexy” type stories, I’d buy it.
    Also, I’d really love to see high/epic fantasy that isn’t based around Saving The Kingdom With Mages and European Medieval Settings. I’d really love some fantasy based in other cultures, preferably written by people FROM those cultures. I think Liz William’s Detective Inspector Chen series was really wonderful, but it’s hard to find. I wish a big publisher or big name agent or something would find more books like that.
    I’d love science fiction that I can enjoy as much as I do fantasy. I’d love character driven, uniquely plotted science fiction that I can feel like I really relate to. Even better, I’d love it if the covers of said science fiction novels didn’t all look really laughable. I’d love science fiction that is written by authors of color and women. Because honestly? I started reading the speculative fiction genres when I was younger, but got tired of it almost always being written for, by, and about white men.

    • That’s right about where I was just going to go. I’m not at all tired of urban fantasy (or paranormal romance, which is what most people using that term here seem to mean). Reason is I’ve read almost none of the current batch of it, because everything I’ve looked at looked like cookie-cutter trash. I’d love to see a paranormal romance that looked like it was written to the quality and originality level of Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, with rich characters and real consequences.
      On a different tangent, most of all I’d love to see more fantasy of manners, stuff in the vein of Stevermer and Kushner. I’d be thrilled if there were about five like authors of their quality writing a book a year.
      (And now I have a sudden vision of combining this two fields, and getting something like the Jane Austen of vampire novels….)

    • Have you read Cobwebs by Karen Romano-Young? Because it seems to me very similar to what you say you want. It’s urban fantasy, but the writing is meditative, it’s set in New York, and it feels like New York to me, even thought I’ve only been there once. I don’t think the word ‘sexy’ is ever mentioned. The supernatural elements are the spiders – but the main characters are the spiders, and they’re just as human as anyone. But they weave, they heal, they have silk, they like heights or are afraid of open spaces, or they jump. The colours I associate with is are blue-grey, grey, terracotta, the dark green of ivy and the colour of rust ^^
      Or The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okarafor-Mbachu. It’s post-apocalyptic-ish fantasy set in sub-Saharan Africa. With other worlds and real consequences, as you put it.

    • Yes! This is exactly why I have ambivalent feelings about urban fantasy. I would also like to see more LGBT and non-white protagonists.
      More generally, I would like to see vivid, unusual fantasy stories that stretch the imagination and really make your mind boggle. I’m thinking particularly of Hal Duncan, China Mieville and Sarah Monette here.

      • What would you say to , oh, an urban fantasy (not a romance) with a middle-aged black male protagonist, set in a Midwestern city, involving no werewolves, no vampires per se, and not one single person in leather pants or high-heeled boots?
        Honestly, I’d read that. Does everything have to be sexy, or a romance, or have a spunky, kickass heroine?

        • Sounds shiny! πŸ™‚ I’m fine with sexy, and even spunky if it’s done well, but Snappy Sue? Not so much.

        • What would you say to , oh, an urban fantasy (not a romance) with a middle-aged black male protagonist, set in a Midwestern city, involving no werewolves, no vampires per se, and not one single person in leather pants or high-heeled boots?
          Depends. What is he doing?

          • Dealing with whatever comes along, probably solving a mystery in the process, and averting crises of which the general run of mortals surrounding him were largely unwaware. Hauntings by angry ghosts, invasion by supernatural entities, unrest among the unseen local population of fantasy beings, Strange Doings Downtown, who knows? As a bonus, perhaps he’s doing it as a complete sideline to his regular job; for all I know, maybe he’s a bus driver by trade. Or a waiter, or an emcee in a comedy club.
            Hey, it’d be different.

  15. Like everyone else, I’m really tired of the Urban Fantasy. There are about three authors I still read that do Urban Fantasy because they do it well. I’m also really tired of a lot Urban Fantasy focusing on sex and forgetting that plot is essential for a good book. It’s irritating.
    I don’t think I really have a prefrence in a type of writing I’d like to see…I’d just like to find something that’s addicting. Where I actually care about the characters and they have a hint of reality to them. A new twist on a plot, or something that mixes writing styles. Tough gals are awesome, but when every book has one, it gets old and even starts to seem really unrealistic. Even in Fantasy, there has to be a belivability. I think some of that is being forgotten as of late.

  16. As stated above, a SF/F-romance which is as much of one as the other. With well-drawn characters, a compelling story and a decent length…perhaps even a series.

  17. I will limit my suggestions and comments to the spec-fic genre, because that’s what I read most of. For all I know, the folks in crime fic are doing wonderful things that I’m missing.
    Books I’m tired of:
    1. Anything with a leather-clad hottie on the cover (my continuing enjoyment of Kim Harrison’s series notwithstanding, of course!)
    2. Anything with a partial face (female) and mist on the camera lens.
    Oh, you mean contentwise? πŸ˜‰
    3. Melodramatic retellings of fairy tales or old legends. (Playing them for laughs is fine.)
    4. No elves, dwarves, dragon-people, cat-people, genetically enhanced chimeras, rebellious androids, or other creatures inspired by a combination of Tolkien, Heinlein, and auctorial wish-fulfillment.
    5. Books where literary style is more important than a rollicking good story. I like a good turn of phrase, but too many authors are running at a level I just don’t want to deal with. I read to relax. Standard, straightforward English, please.
    6. Books where the main character is all emo. Angst and inner conflict is good, but not when the character lies down and wallows in it. Inner conflict should spur the protagonist to protag.
    Stuff I want more of:
    1. Better characters. Give me people who are interesting and clever–they do not necessarily have to be likable. They should be subtly and surprisingly complex, and should NOT be (a) slaves to the plot, nor (b) marionettes to act out some larger statement that the writer is trying to make.
    (This is why Clever Thieves are still entertaining to me, despite being stock characters. They rarely kowtow to the author.)
    2. Better worldbuilding. I love a world that is unlike others I’ve read about, and yet isn’t full of weird crap the author can’t quite describe and I can’t quite picture. I want the world to be complex–show me multiple consequences of each aspect of worldbuilding, and at least hint that there is much more that we simply don’t have time to include, because the story doesn’t take place there.
    3. Multiple layers of plot. I want threads to be hinted at in chapter three, and then reappear in chapter ten, and perhaps make a big difference to the ending. I want the consequences of a character’s actions to dog him all through the book until and unless he does something to change it.
    3.a. Political intrigue. Yummy, yummy plotting and scheming is much more interesting to me than Saving the World or Saving Our Love. But it has to be clever. “How do we put the boy king on the throne” is not as entertaining to me as “How do we put the boy king on the throne while tricking the Grand Vizier into getting himself killed?”
    3.b. Caper stories. I loves me some caper stories. This is why I love the Miles Vorkosigan books: at heart, they are all caper stories.
    4. Shorter wordcounts via tighter writing. Books are getting longer, but the plots aren’t any more complex nor the characters any more interesting. Nine Princes in Amber is 75,000 words of very complex story, characters, and worldbuilding! If someone set out to write that today, they would make it two bloated books of 150K each.
    Yes, for me it all boils down to the quality of the writing. I want concise and interesting, in a straightforward style that digs at the gut, not the intellect (teasing the intellect is a very nice add-on, but should not be the main point). I can read anything if it’s written like that.

  18. Look for a movement in black/African American literature.
    It’s coming….I’m just sayin’.
    Outside of literature… my question is what is the next step in the evolution of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy sub-genre. The canon of PR/UF has started to solidify and authors/agents/publishers should be looking for the next…
    Anything with media cross-over potential. Options, options, and…more contract options. But you didn’t need me to tell you that.
    I would love to see steampunk (gearpunk/ clockpunk…whatevers…) solidify in the market and take off. For my own personal love I’d kill to see Weird West or western/fantasy crossovers. But that’s just me being selfish.
    Look for hard horror and strict paranormal (ghost tales) and grab anything about a paranormal investigative team (in Rome, in London, in Outer Space…wherever).
    Watch for these movements to trickle over into the YA/MG crowd. Especially PR/UF — as it is doing, as we speak…
    I am not a publishing industry professional though I am sometimes allowed to pretend I am one on other people’s blogs. O.o
    (Also, I question where Military Sci-Fi and Hardtm Sci-Fi are doing in the market… )

    • Also, with the growing number of Spanish speaking peoples in our country…where are the #$&% translations and translation rights. See: options. Test market heavily populated regions and saturate with SF/F.

    • Neutron,
      I’m part of that movement…lol. I’m researching for my next WIP, which will be getting started in Feb.:-) Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, and Brandon Massey write horror, L.A. Banks writes Urban Fantasy and Paranormal, and Steve Barnes writes sci-fi. There are only a few more AA authors who write in these genres.

      • I wasn’t addressing genre in regards to an A.A. movement—I was specific to literature. It’s been gaining momentum, or rather like a spring it’s been compressed to the point that it’s ready to release its PKE.
        There is a larger Caribbean writer movement coming in genre and I’m excited to see where it goes.

  19. No More Vampires, Please
    I’m a huge fan of the Twilight saga, but when I was browsing through Amazon’s top teen books, many of the other 50 were a variation of vampire. I sort of grimaced and said, “Do people read anything else?” We’ve had a great wizard series, a great vamp series, and now it’s time to move on with both…
    I agree with a few other posters who have said they want more myth/legend-based works. In YA, I’ve read historical, vampire, Potter, and just plain old fiction about day-to-day life, but never anything that involves a setting from an actual myth. In my opinion, anything in El Dorado or Lemuria or Avalon could be epic. I’ve talked to my friends about it, too, and many of them feel likewise.
    And being 18, I’m torn between what section to go to when I want to buy a book. I’m not old enough to appreciate proper adult fiction (honestly, the plots are oftentimes too dull for teenagers, and I can rarely relate.) At the same, when I go to YA, I pick up a book and sometimes feel like I should be in 8th grade again. The writing is so simple. I don’t like reading it. I feel my IQ drop… What I am DYING for is an amazing YA plot with slightly more advanced writing. I speak on behalf of most Honors and AP students when I request this.

    • Re: No More Vampires, Please
      Couldn’t have said it better myself! I am sick of seventeen year old characters thinking/talking like they’re twelve.

    • Re: No More Vampires, Please
      I’m not old enough to appreciate proper adult fiction (honestly, the plots are oftentimes too dull for teenagers, and I can rarely relate.)
      –>It’s not your age. Those plots are oftentimes too dull for me, and I’m more than twice your age.
      Also, the divisions between publishing categories are clearly getting fuzzy if the AP students are still looking in YA. I don’t mean you’re not advanced enough! I mean that the publishers are now sticking things in YA that thirty years ago were in the grown-up section. Ignore the labels and just ask around for books you might enjoy.
      I can only offer the things I loved when I was 18, so they’re all at least 20 years old, and perhaps less appealing to a contemporary 18-year-old. Still, if you’re looking for things that delve into myths, you should probably hunt up much older books (translation: “classics of the genre”).

  20. Genre distinction is killing good literature. Harry Potter is not good writing, and it is not good story telling, and it isn’t literature, it is the latest craze like a video game or a radio talk show or reality television. The unfortunate thing about publishing is that it’s all about the money.
    I’m not bitter, I’m sad. I want more Vonnegut, more Saroyan, more Bukowski, and more Mark Twain. I want writers. Bradbury is a writer. I don’t want to hear about science-fiction as his genre, it’s just a vehicle he uses to carry his stories. Drop the importance of genre.
    I want to walk into a bookstore and see two sections: Fiction and non-fiction. And I want the books to be well-written. All of them.
    For your survey, I am a writer who reads.

  21. Less cookie-cutter genre explorations and instead more new ways of looking at genre — including mash-ups of existing genres (China Mieville’s “New Weird”, for example — not quite SF, or Fantasy or Horror, but something neither fish nor fowl….).

  22. I love con artists and caper stories — Miles Vorkosigan and Locke Lamora are favorites — and would love to find some more SFnal stories along those lines. A space opera caper would really grab me. (I still miss Firefly and Farscape like whoa.)
    Romantic comedy banter gets me every time, no matter the setting. Heyer, Crusie, Bujold, Loretta Chase… give me a snarky couple and I will give you my wallet. Other than Bujold and Lee/Miller, though, I don’t see many SF writers doing this well.
    I also really enjoy Jacqueline Carey’s books and have not been thrilled with the stories that seem to be marketed as similar works. I think those authors are ignoring the rich pseudo-historical context, complete with the cast of thousands and the political intrigues, in favor of a lot of explicit sex. I grant you the sex is probably what sold Carey’s books, but it was the political threads that kept me reading.
    I’m not sure I can articulate what made me enjoy Elizabeth Bear’s and Emma Bull’s alternate histories so much even though I hate most of that subgenre. Maybe it’s that the stories had more to do with the characters embedded in those settings rather than with some big technological idea. At any rate, I’d love to see more of it.
    I’m amused by the person upthread who suggested “just Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear in general.” I’d be good with that. πŸ˜‰
    Like a few other commenters, I’m pretty much done with urban fantasy. I’m sticking with a couple of favorites and chucking the rest.

  23. Brilliantly written short adventure fantasy without misogynistic undertones.
    Romance that’s about realistic people working through realistic obstacles to grow a worthwhile relationship.
    Above all, shorter and better-written books.
    Tired unto death of: Men abusing children and women. Dead or dying people. Cancer. Women healers.

    • Totally agreed, except for one thing:
      make them *longer* and better-written books.
      I’m sick and tired of paying ever more for ever fewer words (and I don’t mean filler, but story). Some books are so pared down there are clearly important bits and pieces missing. We were easily able to read 100-120k works 25 years ago and we can still do that. No need for that 70-90k stuff!

      • YES! I want a STORY for the $. I don’t want something cut and cut and cut to fit that 70-90K word count. That’s not a book–it’s a synopsis!

        • What (sub)genres are you guys reading? I’m into historical fiction and fantasy. (I gave up on literary and women’s fiction because of all the abuse and dead/dying people.)
          I would love to find 70-90K. Where is it???

          • I’m with mpe on this one. Too many bloated books!
            I’m perfectly happy with 150 thousand words if it’s 150 thousand necessary words.
            Some of this may simply be a matter of taste, but it’s been years and years since I found something of that length that wasted no words.

  24. I have just read several good novels recently after not being able to get through the first 50 pages of everything I read for a long time, so the question of exactly what it is I am looking for is a fresh one for me.
    The general answer is that I’d like to read YA contemporary fantasy (or adult) with a main character I wouldn’t love to hate. Kick-ass heroines are awesome. Sexy heroes are even more so. However, they are becoming a little tedious, IMO. I’d like heroines who aren’t kick-ass, but who stand up and do what they need to do; and heroes who are ordinary — or even sexy without appearing over-the-top sexy — and who have their own quirks that make them different from all other heroes out there. I’d like to read a fantasy novel that’s heavy with intrigue rather than action, and soft, underlying romance rather than passionate sexual tensions that result in sex.
    Also novels about beings other than vampires and werewolves in urban fantasy. Vampires and werewolves are nice (and if done well, wonderful), but I’d like to see other supernatural beings well explored, especially ghosts.
    One thing that might have been overdone, but that which I always crave, however, is good fairy tales re-tellings. Emphasis on good. It doesn’t need to be exceedingly original, although a new twist or two is nice, but it should at least presents believable and well-developed heroine and hero with a catching plot. Bonus points if set in a contemporary setting.
    It’s the characters who “make” every novel for me, however. If I like the characters, I’ll probably like the novel no matter what. If the novel is chock-full of characters that are just cardboard cutouts of every other character ever written, the plot has got to be very very interesting to keep me going.

  25. I’d love to see more YA books with male protagonists who are “normal.” It’s so hard to find a book that will interest teen boys where the protagonist is not a drug-addicted, sex-addicted, parent-hating, anti-social freak. Doesn’t the success of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, etc., (though these books might be viewed as middle grade, most teen boys I know are reading them) show us that the market is desperate for them?

  26. I love characters-strong-not phyically-but come to life-jump off the page, easy to see characters!
    I adore fantasy. But more fun loving, rather than Urban. I want plot, love, betrayal, duty.
    Somthing along the lines of old and new mixed together perfectly.
    I want to be transported into a world, not just told about it, I want see it, feel it and smell it!
    Most importantly-I want to care-pull at my heart strings or have me root for the underdog, make se scream*don’t go in there*while I’m alone in my room!
    This is the kind of book I crave-I’m starving for actaully!

  27. p1. I’m an aspiring SF/F writer who reads all kinds of non-fiction and fiction mostly of the SF/F kind. I’m answering the question as asked. (In case you care: I have not ever sent you any queries, nor do I have any plans to do so.)
    p2. I don’t share the oft-heard complaint that agents and publishers are out of touch and don’t know well enough what the market wants to read.
    p3. I generally dislike bestsellers. I often buy used books long after the title is out of print. I always buy hardcovers when available, and I’ll order them if that’s what it takes.
    That said…
    A) It annoys me that bookstores make me grovel over the whole inventory to find the cramped and stuffy corner where they hide all their SF/F titles, way in the back of the store, under a flickering fluorescent lamp, behind all the carts loaded with unsold Regnery trash, and vaguely smelling like cat urine. To the point where I’ll go well out of my way to shop at stores that treat me like I’m a real citizen with real money to spend. This is not the fault of agents or publishers, but it annoys nevertheless.
    B) Like , I’m tired of seeing covers sporting photoshops of distended canine teeth. Except: I was tired of this trend over ten years ago. I have completely failed to be warmed by repeated exposure to it.
    C) I’m hoping for a reboot of the cyberpunk subgenre at some point. I didn’t get enough of it the first time around before it got really trite.
    D) Is it really that goddamn tough to find fantasy authors who’ve paid attention during a college-level political science class? Note: this is really just a specific annoyance of the general category: why isn’t Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide To Fantasyland required reading for all fantasy authors? We could eliminate the entire Wizards Of The Coast author stable just by enforcing that.
    E) New rule: I’m really freaking tired of SF authors who’ve given up all hope of technology ever being able to contribute improvements to our aggregate standard of living and political/economic freedom. Rediscovering a sense of scientific adventure would be a welcome change. It would be especially welcome from the American authors goddamnit.
    F) I can has fewer interminable multi-volume epics where each volume cannot stand by itself? I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t start reading them until after I’ve seen proof of the author’s death. Plzkthxbye.

  28. Things I would like to see the back of:
    – Urban Fantasy with a girl-meets-ancient-being plot – I don’t mind the crossover between reality and the supernatural, but can we have older women and male protagonists, and can not every story revolve around or end in Romance, please? Particularly with relationships with a two-hundred-year age gap?
    – In general, Romance tropes and Romance plots in Fantasy – some, a very, very few writers can pull it off, but I want to read external plots, and I want to not know in what relationship status (much less with whom) the protagonist is going to end up at the end of the book – rather than know it by page ten and watch the ‘will they won’t they.’ Sorry, Romance readers/writers: what works for you doesn’t work for me. PLZ not to take over my genre.
    – In the same vein: I am not the only reader who dislikes graphic sex. I can recall one (1) book where I felt the sex contributed to the characterisation. This stands against several hundred with exchanges of body fluids and graphic, mechanical descriptions that I could have done without. I realise that not all readers think alike; but please can publishers realise that, too? I want the emotional impact; I can imagine the physical details which, when you’re not involved, are often either ridiculous or sordid. A strip tease is more erotic than a nudist beach; I want the literary equivalent of the former.
    – Not every protagonist has to save the world. I’d like to see not quite so many high concept stories (they all end up looking alike after a while), and more, dare I say, literary stories. Joanne Harris writes wonderful stories with just a little magic – she’s filed under ‘literary.’ (Anyone who writes from the PoV of a bottle of wine surely must be writing fantasy?!). Alma Alexander’s Secrets of Jin Shei (not, by any means, a short novel – wonderful, inspiring, richly textured, and correspondingly long) likewise slipped into the literary genre although Alma is a fantasy writer – why? Why can’t I find smaller, quieter, more reflective, and beautiful stories in that vein on the fantasy shelves?
    – While I understand the backlash against overblown, wordy, drawn-out quest stories (I don’t like them myself) the latest ‘books of 100K, don’t go over 120K’ trend makes me tear out my hair in frustration. Nothing against short novels, but I like novels that are more complex. 120K is, to me, a good mid-point in the kind of stories I like – many are around that mark, some are shorter, some are longer. I cannot see how the most skilled writer could cut 20K from Pride and Prejudice (around 120K) without turning it into something radically different and, dare I say it, less rich and less complex.
    I’m afraid that I tend to buy books on reccommendation these days, and that’s to a great degree because I do not find anything in high street bookstores that I want to read. I love, love, love the books on my shelves and love many books I read about in the blogosphere, but I cannot find them in the stores, and have mostly given up looking.

  29. Since i read most of your SF/F list… About what you’re doing now, although i wouldn’t say no to more mil-sf.

  30. I love urban fantasy, but I’m getting a little sick of vampires (especially vampire romances), and would love to see new things in the genre. I feel like most urban fantasy being released has the same feel to it, and I’d like something a little different.
    I also don’t think there’s enough YA urban fantasy out there, though I’m guessing that there’ll be a rush of that published soon in Twilight’s wake.

  31. I love fantasy, but I’m also tired of the endless stream of urban fantasy I’m seeing in the bookstore right now. Werewolves and vampires are all good in moderation, but I am to the point where I only pick up the books with the chick-in-tight-black-leather covers after I’ve looked over other choices. There are a few series I have come to like and look forward to, and I don’t want the subgenre to disappear — I just was more balance in what’s available.
    I still love sword & sorcery fantasy best and that’s what I look for first. I like female protagonists but gender isn’t a huge sticking point. (Recently finished Sharon Shinn’s “Twelve Houses” series — loved it.)
    I like cross-over SF or fantasy, too — with mysteries, romances, spy thrillers — but only if well-done. Dark fantasy is ok, too.
    I pick up SF but only if it seems to be strongly character-oriented. (Recently finished Paul Melko’s “Singularity’s Ring” & loved it.)
    Whatever it is, it must be decently written. I will sometimes slog through novels with good characters or interesting plot despite faulty writing, but I’m always irritated about ’em. (Read “Twilight”… all 4 books. Probably won’t ever pick them up again. Another example: “Poison Study”… interesting plot, awful writing.)
    If I’m not feeling like fantasy or SF or just can’t find something I want to read, romance is my back-up genre. Regency romance. With hot sex scenes, please. If I’m reading romance I’m looking for a reasonable plot, non-boring characters, and steamy sex scenes.

  32. I like the concept of urban fantasy, but when I read the back covers most of them sound like the same thing. That, and all the covers look the same – half-faces and skinny leather-clad rumps. I don’t have any interest in vampires or werewolves. I also don’t care for that much sex in my books unless it seems like it has a point in the plot. Sometimes, it’s enough to see them kiss and the door shut behind them.
    I think it’s easier to say what I DON’T want than what I want. I guess it’s one of those issues of I-will-know-what-I-like-when-I-see-it, which sounds an awfully like an agent’s logic in looking at query letters.

  33. Something upbeat. I’m tired of dark and angsty. And a little whimsy never hurt.

  34. Here are things I’m really tired of seeing in books (mostly urban fantasy):
    1) Vampires.
    2) “Bitchy” as a synonym of “strong” when it comes to “characterization of the heroine”.
    3) Multiple, on-camera sex scenes, and relatedly, a lot of blatant description even between the sex scenes about how hot the heroine finds the hero.
    4) Gritty, dark darkity darkness as an overall story flavor.
    What I’d love to see more of:
    1) Non-standard supernatural creatures in starring roles.
    2) Comedic urban fantasy. Anton Strout’s Dead to Me was a great recent example; Tanya Huff’s Keeper novels were a great somewhat less recent one. More of this, please.
    3) Urban fantasy with a heroine who doesn’t have to be a combat badass in order to be a strong and interesting character.
    4) Novels in general where, if you’re going to promise a protagonist of dubious morality, you deliver this. And yet make the protagonist nevertheless utterly complex and compelling, so much so that you’re not at all sure if you like this person or not, yet you cannot stop reading. and The Queen’s Bastard, I’m looking at you.
    5) Novels with lesbian protagonists. Note re: point 3 in the first list that I do not want blatant description. But it’d be nice to have the occasional book where the romance is between two girls. Boy/boy couples have gotten the occasional nod, but I can count exactly one novel in my entire adult reading life where the romantic leads were girls. And only one where there was a pair of girls as a secondary, yet still important, romantic couple.
    6) Novels that have an overall flavor of optimism even if they’re not necessarily comedic.
    Thanks for giving us all the chance to express our thoughts on this. πŸ™‚

  35. Gosh, I can’t tell you how ecstatically happy it makes me to see all these people commenting that they’re sick of urban fantasy eight full months before mine comes out.
    But enough about (gulp) me: What I’d like to see more of are heroes who charge into the fray. Over the last few years, I’ve read a bunch of novels where the protagonists fret and dither about their problems. Give me a protagonist who dives right in.
    If the book is set in (what seems awfully like) out world, I’d like to see the politics of made-up organizations minimized. Obviously, that’s not an option in a book set in the mystical world of Fleekenor or the Hub of the Galactic Hegemony (or whatever), but if they’re dealing with problems in our world, a plot centering on who will become the new Vampire Duke isn’t going to be all that compelling. Let’s match the setting, and make use of it, too.
    You know what else would be nice? More agnostic settings. Once a character repels a vampire with a cross, you’ve pretty much established a Christian universe. Why can’t we see more settings where the characters’ magic abilities and experiences lead them no closer to the Truth About God than my experiences as a trash collector and help desk monkey.
    There are other things, too, but I’ve already put them in my books, so I’m going to leave those out.

  36. If I never so much as heard the word “vampire” for the rest of my life, that’d be just peachy.
    I’m interested in well-crafted literary fiction with elements of sci-fi/fantasy/magic realism/alternate history. Think Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, etc. (As has been mentioned above, I like books that aren’t easily categorizable in a single genre.)
    I’d love to see a fantasy book with a completely original type or types of supernatural critters (i.e., NOT vampires, fairies, werewolves, elves, dragons, etc.) and/or powers. And I agree with everyone who’s already said so about the sorry state of most genre fiction covers.

  37. How about some books WITHOUT sex? It would be nice to walk into the SF/F aisle and find a clean book or two.

  38. I’m tired of “kickass heroines”. I’d rather have heroines who are more like real people. They can kick ass, sure, but they shouldn’t be superhuman about it. Most heroines only seem female because we’re told they’re she’s. Otherwise they could be robots for all we’d know–indefatigable, always up for a fight, invulnerable, non-menstruating, emotionless, boring….
    I’m even more tired of stories where the only answer, or the best answer, is violence. Can’t we have more creative problem-solving? Also, can we stop pretending that “a good king” (or whatever) is a long-term solution?
    Also, one-dimensional villains who are evil just “because”. Add something to that because, please!
    I would like to see more stories that explore social ideas, like UK Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed”. More stories with realistic and well-thought-out magic systems (think the opposite of Harry Potter). Tanya Huff does a good job with magic, imo. No objections to dragons. Steampunk also good.

  39. my preferences
    What I want: I want old fashioned sci-fi that’s about explorations, not giant flying trees and weird alien monsters, and old fashioned fantasy about unlikely heroes, magic and love.
    What I would snatch up in an instant: apocalyptic and post apocalyptic fiction, considering 2012 is getting close. Especially if it’s not about brutality and gore, but about people, maybe with some romance. If it’s somehow relevant to current events, all the better, but really I want a store of people surviving, exploring, falling in love, etc.
    What I’m sick do death of: weird fantasy with bizarre characters and plots, science fiction in which you have to read half the book to understand the first few pages (and I don’t mean because of complex science). Most importantly, I’m sick of vampires.

  40. Vampire novels of almost any stripe.
    Civil War and World War II alternate histories (other alternate histories are welcome).

  41. Really great high fantasy along the lines of LoTR or Janny Wurts. Maybe I haven’t found the right books, but the back cover blurbs all read the same (although there are a couple in my to be read pile that look very interesting).
    More Connie Willis or something along the same line with alternate reality and mind bending themes.
    Books with the same command of the English language that Dickens or Jane Eyre had.

  42. Want and Sick of
    I want:
    Sense of wonder, complicated characters, interesting worlds that do not feel like Hollywood backdrops. I want a sense of history, and a sense of future. I want humor and adventure, panache and real emotion rather than sentiment. I don’t mind my heroes being heroic as long as the adversary is worthy, and the winning is by wit more than brawn. I like generations.
    Sick of: so-called sexy vampires and werewolves, especially raping one another. Sick of post-Apocolypse, which is too often is used as an excuse for a total lack of a sense of historical and cultural change. I’m tired of so-called gritty realism that is an excuse for moral cowardice. I’m really sick of historicals that pose postmodern protags as “enlightened” as opposed to Those Stupid People stuck in a superficial distortion of the old paradigm. Kickass heroines with as much personality as a robot are as boring to me as the fiftieth retread of Matrix.

  43. Looking for good psychological thriller here, with a heroine I can really relate too — strong, vulnerable in some ways, real. Throw in some romance, a strong sense of setting/atmosphere — that’s what I’m after as a reader. Something that really suspends belief/takes me away. I want to be thinking about the characters and long after.

  44. I love adventures that border fantasy or space opera but can be explained to the point of believability.
    Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, Stargate, and my all time fav – GOONIES.
    Granted these have all been made into movies, but that is what I want…a book that will be a movie it’s so good!

  45. I agree with the more ordinary hero. And I’d like fantasy to lighten more again. Not Douglas Adams or Keith Laumer tongue-in-cheek, or even Patricia C. Wrede’s wryness-something a little more subtle. But I want a chuckle in amongst the action.

  46. Authors I buy on sight include Bernard Cornwell, Thomas Perry, and Francesca Lia Block. I read and enjoyed SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE but still thought it a weak novel; there’s room on my shelf for a good literary novel about superheroes.

    • Agreed about SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE. I went on a superhero-novel jag a few months ago, and this was by far the best, but the action tapered off too far in the last few chapters. And it just wilts in comparison to WATCHMEN. πŸ™‚

  47. Whatever the opposite of Stephanie Meyer is!
    Anything character driven. I like books with quirky characters etc.
    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a good example (although I would have bought that one based solely on the title)

  48. Good writing. Good writing. Good writing. Why does that now seem to be the last consideration?
    The cycle seems to be a generation falling in love with a major work, then the genre, then the genre being flooded with indifferent writing and the generation moving on to literary fiction. Or to not reading. Then another book sparks another genre into prominence for the next generation. From Tolkein to Anne Rice to J.K. Rowling. Over and over. Now publishing is just waiting for the Next Big Thing they can mine and copy to exhaustion.

  49. I’d like to see more victorian era and steampunk urban fantasy. This seems to be selling in the ya market a lot more recently, but I’d like to see a lot more adult stuff too.
    Also excellently written urban fantasy with non-western mythology, though I’ve heard that’s much harder to pull off.

  50. Some good, fairly serious fantasy novels. I miss the Valdemar series.
    Supernatural stories that aren’t solid porn, aren’t funny, and are actually creepy enough to make you get goosebumps if you read them at night.
    Stories with non-human lead characters. I like to see a more alien mind-set.
    A story that doesn’t end with a wedding or the main characters falling in love. I love Terry Pratchett, and Mercedes Lackey, etc. But I *am* noticing that wrapping up a story with a “and they lived happily ever after” feel is coming up a LOT in these. It isn’t that I haven’t read them and loved them…but it’s been done. Often. Too often. Let’s see the books wrap up neatly without relying on this so much.
    Older characters. Maybe a husband and wife team! *gasp* Having “the young hero” saving the day isn’t cutting it so much anymore. Having a middle aged or even elderly hero or heroine who actually has experience/money/transportation would be nice.
    A lesbian lead or a female character who can be soft and still strong would be nice. As well as having friends who are not completely stupid around her would be nice as well.

  51. o I read a lot of different types of literature. In YA fantasy, heroes like Megan Whalen Turner’s Eugenidies in her The Thief series, or Henry Neff’s The Tapestry. Sherwood Smith is also another excellent author of that genre. Complex characters and authors that know their mythology is always good. Megan McCafferty, Lara Zeiss and Sarah Dessen are also excellent storytellers.
    I enjoy Urban fantasy but it seems that erotic Urban Fantasy is also taking off as well. As a romance reader, I enjoy Regency writers like;Stephenie Laurens, Julia Quinn and Eloisa James. Authors who have complex character, but that are also funny and create interactions between characters that are believable.
    British authors, Australian authors and Kiwi authors are underrepresented on our bookshelves.

  52. In Fantasy: No more vampires. Enough already. Also, stories with a more fairy tale feel. I’m pretty much tapped out on political intrigue. Done, done, done–and by some pretty brilliant minds (ahem-hem GRRMartin.)
    In science-fiction: And this is probably unfair because the techy stuff doesn’t usually grab me anyway, but enough of the super-cool cyber-speak. I know it appeals to the technologically saavy, but it leaves readers like me in the dust.
    In mainstream: Enough of the whiny characters that go nowhere, do nothing. Whine, whine, whine. There are lots of great therapists. We DON’T need to read, yet again, your psychotherapy. Find one.

    • I should clarify that the vampires I DON’T want to see are the wronged heroes, the lovers, the misunderstood good guys. A good old bloodsucker–ok. πŸ™‚

  53. Paranormal where the protagonist and other main characters aren’t supernatural themselves, but have to deal with the supernatural. Nice normal human beings, thrown into the paranormal.
    [joins the no-more-urban-fantasy chorus as well]
    Real People [tm] (meaning characters who come across as).
    And can we please have some good historical fiction doorstops? Pretty please with sugar and a cherry?

  54. Posting before reading comments here…
    I like first contact novels with believable alien viewpoints. I like believable alien viewpoints in general, in both fantasy and SF. I like alien cultures that aren’t totally dystopian–these ones can’t love! These ones eat their babies!–or utopian, but include some people you might want to spend time with.
    I have no resistance to a good first person snark, or Victorian British third person snark. They are good company.
    I want more SF where the science is social science, and where the author knows what they’re talking about.
    I still love urban fantasy, portal stories, and anything else where people from our world meet people from a fantasy world. I still prefer stories about smart people to stories about stupid people. I still like optimism and gooshy love stories too, as long as all the characters involved appear to be real.
    I rarely have patience for authors who tell you how you’re supposed to react, 3-foot hole plots, or amnesiac protagonists.

      • Thank you. And I forgot to add one of the biggest things that I never see: mature, working, romantic relationships and friendships that are not about to break up in huge soap opera drama. Characters that have already gone through the will-I-find-my-someone angst and are on to the next stage. People who stay up late saving the world and then have to make sure their kids put on matching socks in the morning.

  55. Women in the underworld. Women who never break through to where the rich/noble people are, but who continue to have to negotiate and gamble and wheedle because they never leave the game. (Sarah Monette’s underworld is an excellent one becuase it’s both drawn on history and completely unsentimental.)
    I bought Michelle Sagara’s *Cast In Shadow* (whichever the first one was) because something about the cover and theme reminded me of Tai-Tastigon. I was very, very happy to be right and reread them over and over.
    That’s a button of mine that almost never gets pushed.

  56. What I read
    Please give me characters that I enjoy reading about. That means multi-layered with complex backstories, problems that aren’t easily solvable. Likable without being wimpy, strong without being arrogant jerks or irritating witches.
    This is a no-brainer for romances since they are so character-centered, but I’m irked to no end when SF/F or mystery authors seem to think their riveting plots will make up for ho-hum characters. I don’t care how exciting the action is if the characters are dopey.
    Never could get into vampires (been there, done that 35 years ago when I read Dracula and Lord Byron’s story fragment). I do love other unique paranormal elements (e.g., gargoyles–but please don’t buy 200 ms about gargoyles). Really, anything that’s well-written with intriguing characters.

  57. What I want to read
    I want a book with great characters and torturous conflict. I don’t care how it’s dressed up, I just want to read something riveting!
    Cheers, Julie

  58. A moratorium on vampire/werewolf urban fantasy would be welcome.
    I would love to see urban fantasies with a more frightening edge. Where the horrific side of all these supernatural creatures are explored more fully. Gritty realism, more of a film noir sensibility, more fear and uncertainty and other such human reactions to the impossible and terrifying!

  59. Too many vampires and ‘alpha’ heroes – I like strong men, but they don’t have to be so unrealistically perfect. Give me a sweeping historical, ala early Woodiwiss or an international thriller like Ludlum.

  60. Ooh. I have so many wants.
    I’ve been reading a lot of YA in the past few years because I suspect that those authors have been pushed toward doing just what I want: tightening up plot. I just read Graceling, which I enjoyed and would have read a sequel to, because it stood on its own but left open threads for more. I also loved The Hunger Games for the same reasons. I don’t want melodrama, but I do want things to think about, like in Shusterman’s Unwind, for example. I suppose another reason I’ve been gravitating to YA SF and fantasy is that the sex has to get moved off the page, leaving more room for plot. (I read romance for decades and got a little burned out on romance as plot, so I have pretty high standards for that now.) I’d like to find more plot-driven SF and fantasy in the adult section, or find that these sections have been folded together. I’d definitely like to see more women’s names on the covers of the books in the SF/fantasy section. Heck, more diversity in general. Sure, I can special order titles by women, but I want to browse them as well. I agree with women/girls with swords, but I also like spies, steampunk, humor and friendship stories.
    What I don’t want: names I can’t pronounce, Twilight, Potter knockoffs, books where people act unreasonably or stupidly, or angsty first-person teen stories where everyone gets pregnant and keeps the baby and lives happily ever after.

  61. I’m really interested in secondary world fiction where the author has multiple stories that span generations.
    Authors who do this: Katherine Kurtz, Terry Brooks, David B. Coe, Sherwood Smith.
    Also, epic fantasy with a myriad cast of characters, lots of POV characters, though ones that have very distinctive narrative voices, such as George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie.
    I want to spend a lot of time in a well crafted world.

  62. I’m totally sick of the twenty-six-year-old kickass heroine. Don’t care what genre she’s in; she irritates me and I won’t buy the book.
    I like a good mystery crossover,one where there really is a mystery and not a convenient body that allows the hero and heroine to meet and therefore fall in love while chasing the bad guys. I’d buy alternate histories that make sense and aren’t excuses to have the aforementioned kickass heroine sleep her way through the vampire court that is really in control of Victorian England/Roman Empire whatever. There isn’t enough scary horror.
    I do like urban fantasy. I don’t like the heavy romance angle. Several decent stories were overburdened with romantic entanglements that did not advance the plot or provide meat for a character arc.
    I’d sure like to see protagonists in a wider range of age groups than what I’ve seen on the shelves lately. And protagonists who have limited powers. There’s no need for the shapeshifter who is a powerful magician and can see the dead and can control the weather and, of course, is kickass and sexy and bores me to tears.

  63. I’ll add my voice to the survey…
    What I want to see is:
    1- better characters- with actual motivations and personalities. Too often in genre literature, the characters just do stuff for no discernible reason.
    2- world-building that is actually thoughtful and considered instead of the world as a set piece in the background.
    3. Joining in on the less “Urban fantasy” (in the current definition of vampires and werewolves and kickass women- I’m fine with the magic in urban settings stuff)
    4. good writing AND innovative ideas/concepts. Too often, I feel like a book has a great concept (the SF “big idea”) but the writing makes reading it feel like work instead of enjoyment. Or that the writing is lovely, but the plot is hackneyed and so riddled with cliches and stereotypes that I just cannot go on reading. Good writing and good ideas are not mutually exclusive.
    I have friends who have basically given up on reading SF for this specific reason.

  64. What I love to read are novels based on myths or fairy tales. Mercedes Lackey has a couple of series like this that I love, but Robin McKinley is also very good. This might sound a little strange but I sometimes look specifically for a book that is not part of a trilogy or series. Sometimes I just like to read a single book to decide if I like an author. I have also picked up new authors (to read) by buying a book of short stories featuring an author I already like. That’s how I found C.E Murphy. She had a short story in a book with Mercedes Lackey. I have started to enjoy some collaborative works and would like to see more.
    I am tired of everything being part of a trilogy. I am also tired of long, detailed, descriptions of clothing or really anything else. Lately I have noticed authors repeating themselves in the same description. I am sick of a character thinking for pages and only a couple of seconds have passed. It’s boring. I am also starting to tire of elves and vamps. I don’t like all good or all evil characters in fantasy. I like a little good with my bad or bad with my good. You can usually find a little bad with the good but rarely do you see good in the evil character. How about a new humanoid invention in fantasy?
    How about a main character who really has no special talent?
    Thank you for asking,
    Kristine Duffey

  65. I’m going to chime in with the fairy tale retellings. Love those, especially the light-hearted/romantic ones. I’m a romance reader (and writer) so I don’t want all the sex/romance stripped out of my read, darn it! But just because it’s sex-filled doesn’t mean it’s romantic, and just because it’s romantic, doesn’t mean that people have to be doing the horizontal mambo every three pages. I want the romance. Sex is optional but pleasant.
    I would love more books like Suzanne Collins’s HUNGER GAMES. Dark, gritty, post-apoc/dystopian but with a completely relatable heroine and an easy to sink into world. More *accessible* post-apocalyptic fiction. Doesn’t have to be YA, just as long as I don’t need a PHD to follow it.
    That’s all. πŸ™‚

  66. I do love paranormal or Urban Fantasy. However, I’m tired of vampire novels. Charlaine Harris is great. Laurel K Hamilton’s First 5 (or 6?) Anita Blake were great. But there are so many out there now and everybody’s in love with a vampire.
    I like the paranormal, but I’d like to see other areas explored.

  67. Echo the comments on vampires and urban fantasy…
    I love gossipy stories in first person when you feel like you’re being let in on a secret. What happened to well written chick-lit? I think the New York society girls killed it. Bring it back and set somewhere new. Indianapolis… Atlanta… New girls, different careers, (skip the shoe shopping), but let’s have some fun.
    I also miss good, old fashioned, scary horror. How about a literary ghost story, something that keeps me up at night looking in my closet.
    Anything funny and well written. And please, not all protagonist need to be likable. They need to be INTERESTING, there’s a difference. I love FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, that book was a lot of fun but I didn’t want to be Hunter Thompson’s best friend. JEN LANCASTER is another example of funny without necessarily being likable.
    I also have enjoyed books broken in parts like JOY LUCK CLUB. These stories within a story make it easier reading when you don’t have time to read the whole book at once.
    And – I echo an earlier posters comment about drawn out suspense. It’s annoying, I usually just end up flipping forward to further chapters.
    Finally, a well-written historical epic romance.
    What are you looking for Ms. Jackson that you’re not finding?

  68. Alternate histories. I pick those up almost always, especially ones like “Farthing” and “Ha’penny” by Jo Walton.
    More strong female protagonists who are not teenagers or Mary-Sues. “Paladin of Souls” by Lois McMaster Bujold and “Gibbons Decline and Fall” by Sheri S. Tepper are examples.
    Books that cross genres, like a mystery, thriller, or horror story in a science fiction or fantasy setting. Much more interesting!
    More werewolves that aren’t hopelessly patriarchal!

  69. Books where the “happily ever after” doesn’t mean the main characters get married and have kids yet still have regular, awesome, mind-blowing sex. What’s wrong with “I’m just happy with you”?

  70. I would definitely like to see more witty writing in my favorite genres! I can never get enough humor in F&SF books.
    Also, it’d be great to see more main characters that are a) some version of GLBT or b) from a mixed heritage. They’re real identity issues for many people I know, and I wish I could see them in the books I read.

  71. Sick of first-person narration
    Particularly in YA lit and books with YA protagonists, and most especially when it sounds like Holden Caulfield redux.

  72. What I want:
    Worldbuilding like Sherwood Smith or Ysabeau Wilce (and points for using non-Western sources and tropes)
    Captivating characters, even if they’re not entirely likeable, like Sarah Monette or Megan Whelan Turner
    Alternate history, like Naomi Novik
    Smart, catchy writing, like Diana Wynne Jones
    Complex and intelligent political backdrops (most of the above)
    I hate Mary Sues (yes, I’m looking at you, Twilight), I despise bad writing (Stephenie Meyer, omg), I think editors need to do their jobs and edit the damn books (Robin McKinley’s Chalice had real problems that should have been confronted at the manuscript stage. And don’t get me started on Deathly Hallows).
    I don’t like how every new fantasy title seems to be envisioned as book 1 of a series, but at the same time I do like multi-book character and plot development, as in Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series. And I am forgiving when the concept seems big enough, as in Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series.
    I don’t have the same fiery hatred of vampire novels that others upthread seem to, but maybe I haven’t read as much. I like Charlaine Harris and Patricia Briggs and think they bring to the table characters I can care about.

  73. I like fantasy and science fiction written in a savvy, sarcastic voice. I don’t find nearly enough of it. (And yes, I do write it, but that’s the only way I get to read it! Very few authors feed me this particular book!crack.)

  74. I’m in the camp of readers who think that neither agents nor editors are up-to-date on what readers really want.
    One current example is that they are still churning out paranormals with kickass heroines with tramp stamps, when any interested industry insider could have found ample evidence at least a year ago that readers were getting tired of the same old, same old. The argument is that same old sells. Look shiny big sales numbers! It’s *proof*, *this* is what readers want.
    However, I cannot buy what publishers don’t publish. If we like to read a certain genre, but if the only thing out there to read is stuff we aren’t all that interested in (any longer), we continue to buy it longer than we really want, which then makes the industry ‘insiders’ think we want more of the same.
    And when we tell them it’s not, we get told the sales figures say differently. Well, duh! We are readers, we are addicts, we crave words, so we will take inferior words if those are all that are available, at least for a time. And romance readers are extremely loyal, so they’ll stick with an author long past the time they should have given up (that’s where most (not all) UF/paranormal originated and/or is now coming from: romance authors) and the readers have transferred loyalty to non-romance writers.
    This may sound harsh, but as a reader and observer of genre fiction for coming up on 30 years (first fantasy, then SF, then romance, then all three of them with an emphasis on romance now), I have seen how publishers operate and producing the next bestseller is all that counts in this day and age. That kind of thinking has gotten worse with every merger and every takeover of a publishing house by some kind of conglomerate with no knowledge about or interest in publishing aside from making money.
    UF and paranormals started selling a few years ago; in their usual fashion it took the mass of publishers a few years to catch on, so now, when the excitement, newness and genius have worn off, they keep throwing mediocre to outright piss poor stuff at us because they want to make a quick buck. Because paranormal is hot.
    Well, UF/paranormal *was* hot. A couple of years ago, when stories were written by folks who wanted to write them, not by authors who think (or whom their agents tell) that while they prefer to write X, they really need to write paranormals, because only those sell, whether the writers have ability and story for an UF/paranormal or not.
    Traditional print publishing takes time, that’s understood, and also that unless publishers fundamentally change their way of doing business there always will be a considerable time lag between acquisition and publication, *but* why on earth are agents and publishers still buying (generic) UF/paranormal *now* to be published a year or 2 from now, when this subgenre is clearly annoying masses of readers?
    That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a market for good, innovative, non-derivative UF/paranormals, but even that is shrinking, because readers are getting mortally offended by having to read crud and are starting to stay away from entire subgenres because they feel insulted that publishers think they can serve them low-quality crap ad nauseum.
    I haven’t read UF since Wen Spencer, so I’m not talking about any of your current UF/paranormal producing clients (haven’t read any of them), but am purely going by what I hear and see over and over again with increasing frequency and annoyance level from my paranormal and UF loving friends which is also an exact replica of the same cycle that other genres/subgenres have gone through over the last couple of decades.
    It’s pretty mind-boggling to me that publishers never learn from their ‘latch (late) onto the next ‘new’ thing, over-saturate the market with books of lesser and lesser quality/innovation, realize the next new thing doesn’t sell any more (dropping good authors like flies and destroying their careers), move (late) onto the next ‘new’ thing, rinse, repeat’ failures. Any other business would have gone belly up long ago, if they so blatantly ignored their target audience’s interests.

    • “…we continue to buy it longer than we really want, which then makes the industry ‘insiders’ think we want more of the same.”
      You do realize, yes?, that if you’re continuing to buy the product when you no longer really want it, that you certainly must have ‘issues’ which agents and editors have a financial incentive to keep you from working out for as long as possible.

      • I don’t, continue to buy, that is. Never did with UF/paranormals and I stopped buying the other kinds of genres/sub-genres in which I didn’t find what I’m looking for.
        But I know many readers who want to read, and want it badly, they *prefer* to read different things, but if those different things aren’t publish, they will buy what’s available, even if that’s not their choice.
        The whole point of my post was that sometimes it pays to actually listen to what people SAY rather than go by their buying behavior, because that buying behavior can be misleading.
        Obviously, I wasn’t clear enough if you didn’t follow my argument.
        Let me try again. I’ll posit an easier scenario:
        the only food available in the store is bread; you prefer wheat bread, but after a while all that is sold anywhere is rye bread.
        What do you do? Do you buy rye bread because you are hungry and you need to eat, when by doing so you reinforce the idea of the grocery store that you absolutely LOVE rye bread, because that’s all you buy and thereby making it unlikely that the store will ever stock wheat bread again? Or do you starve to death because you prefer wheat bread?
        We cannot buy what the publishers do not publish. They will not publish (enough of) what I like because they think what’s being published now is enough for the readers. If I communicate I prefer other things, I get told, but look at the sales figures, what you want doesn’t sell.
        Yeah, well if it’s not offered (or promoted), naturally the sales figure is ZERO. Chicken and egg. Vicious circle, name it whatever you want. Publishers are making decisions of what we readers get to see and in my honest and very unhumble opinion as a consumer they are not putting enough effort into finding out what their target audiences want or if they do they are several years behind the curve.
        Hope I was clearer in my argument this time.

        • “What do you do? Do you buy rye bread because you are hungry and you need
          to eat, when by doing so you reinforce the idea of the grocery store that
          you absolutely LOVE rye bread, because that’s all you buy and thereby
          making it unlikely that the store will ever stock wheat bread again? Or
          do you starve to death because you prefer wheat bread?”
          Let me tell you what I did when the product at hand was beer, not bread: I bought some barley malt, some hops, some spring water, and a very specific culture of microorganisms peculiar to the beer I wanted, and I made my own.
          I don’t think it’s fair to say that agents and publishers are “out of touch” with the market, when they are clearly providing product to the market that customers are paying real money to consume in large volume.
          In short, I don’t much like the lagers that account for about 90% of the American beer market, and I don’t ever buy them. However, I don’t complain that brewers and distributors are Out Of Touch with the market because I can’t find the beer I like to drink at any of my local bars.
          p.s. this was for a specific subvariety of beer, mind you, and yes, the analogy is pretty thin, because once I’ve eaten a loaf of bread or drank a pint of beer, it’s gone, whereas once I’ve read a book, I still have the book.

  75. Realistic pace ships. Modern planetary science informing the text. World-building that doesn’t give me the impression the author was booted out of the Daleks for their negative attitude towards humans.

  76. Okay, so I mostly read YA fantasy, but it’s not because I object to sex in books – I just find the characters more entertaining (unless they’re whiny a la Harry Potter circa Book 5), the writing tighter, and the tone more humorous. If I could find a book like that written for adults, I’d be over the moon. (Caveat: I hated Twilight, so that’s not what I’m talking about here.)
    I’m also surprised by most of the commenters’ mentions of urban fantasy, and I can only conclude that I’m unfamiliar with their definition – I always thought urban fantasy was along the lines of Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere and American Gods, not Stardust). I guess I don’t actually know what the commonly-accepted definition of urban fantasy is, but I certainly hope it’s not the same as mine, because I would LOVE more books set in the “real world” but with elements of magic/fantasy. I’m not huge on totally alternate-universe sci-fi/fantasy, and one of my hugest pet peeves is a bunch of people/place names I can’t remotely pronounce.
    Another thing that would be great is if more writers could incorporate elements of non-European cultures. African/Latin American magical realism is one of my favorite genres, and I think there’s so much to explore – modernized fairy tales get written all the time (much as I love the well-written ones), so why can’t we have some modernized legends from other cultures? This would also help solve the representation problem by including more characters of color. And while we’re at it, can we have some LGBT characters too? It would be especially great if the story didn’t focus on their queerness and just let them be queer – one of my favorite recent series is Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle Trilogy, which is a pretty good example of what I mean by this.
    One big quality that I look for in all genres is humor. Not slapstick, and definitely not secondhand embarrassment, but sarcasm and intellectual humor a la Terry Pratchett. Other authors whose style I love, in addition to all those previously mentioned: Gregory Maguire, Tamora Pierce, Diane Duane, and Patricia C. Wrede.

    • Ooh, I definitely agree with Patricia C. Wrede. I love all her books and am looking forward to the newest one coming out this April.
      I always thought urban fantasy was along the lines of Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere and American Gods, not Stardust)
      That’s what I thought, too, and that sort of urban fantasy, I don’t mind either; however, it seems the definition of “urban fantasy” that is in the forefront of everybody’s mind is one following the “Buffy” line. I also wish there were more urban fantasy along the line of Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman. πŸ™‚

  77. I’m tired of walking down the “Science Fiction and Fantasy” aisles of the local Barnes and Noble and seeing rows of books with nearly the same cover. A sexy young woman standing at an angle looking away from the camera, wearing low-cut leather pants that show off the tatoo on her lower back.

  78. These are authors I automatically look for: Nnedi Okarafor-Mbachu, Sherwood Smith, Karen Romano-Young. Diane Duane. Diana Wynne Jones. Tamora Pierce. Catherine Fisher. China Mieville’s (although I’ve only read Un Lun Dun). Patricia C. Wrede, although I can’t find much of her stuff here.
    I like steampunk and cyberpunk, urban fantasy, most fantasies actually, I have a soft spot for whatever you call the type of fantasy that takes place in a city that’s a bit like Vienna or Venice or both, in a time period before the 1800s – or any sort of analogue, like in Sarah Monette’s Melusine and the sequels.
    I hate it when random sex scenes are thrown in that are completely pointless and really detailed – or either, really. An example of that would be in Curse the Dark by Laura Anne Gilman. If it’s pointless, it’s gratuitous, and it’s tasteless. I’d like stories to be about stories, not sex.
    I like strong characters, I like it when female heroes are allowed to be female and still kick ass. I don’t like it when the heroine hates pretty dresses and that means she’s somehow better than all of the girls who like them – when pretty dresses are used as a symbol of women who are conventional and boring and not brave – that worked when I was seven, but I’ve grown up some since then, and I like pretty dresses, I just don’t wear them every day.
    I don’t like infodump. Mercedes Lackey is a big offender – often you can skip the first chapter of any of her books entirely, because it consists largely of the main character feeling sorry for his/herself and telling you exactly why s/he is so hard done by, who all the important people in their life are, what the political/economic/social situation is that’s making them so hard done by, the name of their dog, the history of their country to the nth year –
    I don’t like generic heroes/heroines who have no defining traits and no given personality or appearance so you can fill in all the details yourself and feel like an imaginative and inventive person. This happens in Twilight and the sequels. This is what Bella is to my mind.
    I like stories that leave me with a happy fizzy feel, like Cobwebs by Karen Romano-Young – meditative stories with people who feel real, bittersweet endings, and supernatural events or people that fit so when into their surroundings that they seem real.
    I don’t like stories that, halfway through, make you feel like they’re about to end, but then drag on for another 2-400 pages. All of Charles de Lint’s full length novels that I’ve read do this, although The Blue Girl and Promises to Keep don’t.
    I don’t like emo, excessive angst, or gratuitous kick the dog, rape the dog, kill the dog’s pet, shoot the dog, then jump on the corpse treatment of the main character. Or any character. Even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones, especially if that’s what turned them bad in the first place. I like it when author’s treat their character with respect, and I like it when authors like their characters.
    I don’t like it when the thing that interests me most in a story is some throwaway comment, a character we see once, a place briefly described and then left, some minor detail – it means the story isn’t doing it’s job, it isn’t dragging me in, it’s leaving me thinking ‘well that was a waste of time.’
    I don’t like it when the author knows so much about the world that their spending more time on that than the story. When there are four or five races , and even though only two are relevant to the story, the history of the others is given anyway. When there is some-one watching, but we never find out why or who and it’s made obvious at the end of the book that there isn’t going to be a sequel.
    I like political intrigue. I like it when thought is given to the socio-political climate, and when there are subtle displays of power… I don’t like it when things are shoved in my face and explained in tiny words.
    I like seeing books where characters grow. Where they mature, where they change.

    • That was too long for one comment
      I like whimsy – see Diana Wynne Jones up there on my ‘I want more’ list. But I don’t like it when the whimsy goes into the plain ludicrous and and unfunny and – I don’t know, when it starts to make me feel the author doesn’t like the characters. That the characters aren’t important. Like Frank Bedor’s Looking Glass series. It’s impersonal, it’s cold, it’s mean-spirited.
      ‘Swashbuckling’ is a word my sister and I have never been able to define. But I think some of it is in people being able to run away and not be cowardly. To not fret about consequences every now and then. To be able to pull off improbable feats without being superpowered or particularly brave. To be able to laugh afterwards, even if it is giddily and mostly hysterical. A sense of humour. I’d like to see more of that.
      I’d like to see less of ‘the adults are useless’. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the kids are useless, sometimes they aren’t.
      I hate character whinge. This is the Oh I Am So Hard Done By that I mentioned earlier, with added emo and angst. When the characters dwell in it. When they expound on it. It’s a lot more touching when it’s just brushed over lightly, even brusquely. Those are the things that are tearjerkers, for me. Those times when it’s just touched, lightly, and given room. Those are the ones I like.
      The only examples I can think of here are fanfiction and graphic novels. In Fruits Basket there are a few times when this happens. In the last volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, The Wake, there are some examples; especially Calliope talking about Morpheus; ‘I am not here to mourn the loss of the man I loved. I did that a long time ago. I am here to say goodbye to a stranger who once did me a good turn… and to the man who gave my son the death he longed for.’

  79. I have to agree with what a lot of people sad about urban fantasy. Especially in YA. Not that it’s bad, but I was going through the Barnes and Noble new YA book list last week and everything seemed to be Vamp, Fairie, or some other Urban Fantasy. And it was really hard to find a new YA comedy, romance, or non-fantasy book. I know there’s several good ones supposedly coming out this year, but I’d personally like to see more.

  80. Single-Book Epic Fantasy
    I really enjoy epic fantasy (and epic space opera as well) but I really hate the fact that to read these kinds of stories I have to buy into a long series where my questions are only going to get answered right at the very end. I want to be able to pick up a single-book and be able to get a whole story from it — with lots of adventure and maybe some political intrigue and a bit of romance. And I want characters that I can root for. It’s all very well that characters need to be more multi-dimensional and not be cookie-cutter good/bad but I still want someone I can get behind (flaws and all). If they’re too ambiguous, I just get bored.
    Anyway, if I had to give examples of previous books that are along the lines of what I’m looking for it would be David Gemmell’s books(high fantasy and the series are always short) or something like Scott Westerfeld’s ‘The Risen Empire’ (a one-book space opera with loads packed into it).

  81. Ooh! I’m looking for:
    Good modern cyberpunk / other techpunk detective / crime stories.
    YA SF with spaceships and adventures and the possibility of death and utter failure – but On! To Triumph over the Bad Guys!
    Epic fantasy which is complex, somewhat political, non-European-based and definitely doesn’t rely on the (adoptive) son of a (insert name of trade here) turning out to be the heir to the throne, the best magic-wielder ever, etc etc.

  82. This is a fascinating comment thread. Thank you.
    I think I’m a little simpler in my desires than most, though I don’t think it’s actually *useful*, since as far as I can tell, it’s what we’re all looking for. (So maybe I’m just happier with being vague.)
    I want books where the prose doesn’t make me want to take a spork to my brain and stir — either from the badness or boringness.
    I want books I can pick up and go “Oh neat!” instead of “I’ve read seven books just like this.”
    And I want them to have pretty covers. πŸ˜‰

  83. Steampunk, but that’s me. πŸ™‚ I like fantasy with a bit of science. Urban fiction, but not with vampires. Give me other obscure creatures, please? Alpha females are always appreciated though, but I love snarky. And third favorite is fantasy, but not epic fantasy.

  84. I love historical fiction set in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s….would like to see more of it along the lines of Memory Keeper’s Daughter, What I Saw and How I Lied, Ten Cents a Dance, etc.
    I would also like to read some good old-fashioned coming of age…Patron Saint of Butterflies, Because of Winn-Dixie, Greetings From Nowhere.

  85. Such a great question!
    I’m a picky reader. If a story doesn’t bring in the conflict or plot catalyst within the first 50 pages, I stop reading because it feels like it’s being dragged out for too long. So a book that quickly brings the reader into the story and the conflict is important.
    The characters also need to be three dimensional and make me care about them. I have to connect with them and their plight if the book is to be finished.

  86. I agree that I’d like to see more urban fantasy with creatures besides vampires and werewolves, or at least ones that quit doing the creatures-as-sexy-heros or, as already stated, ones with the too-cool-for-her-own-good heroines.
    I’d also like to see more diverse traditional fantasy. I think here of Tamara Siler Jones’s wonderful Dubric novels, which have a traditional fantasy setting with unique world-building aspects and a mystery. More fantasy mysteries, generally, would be fun. Not your regular old quest or palace intrigue novels.
    I’d like more women’s fiction geared at younger women that isn’t chick lit, like a younger version of Barbara Samuel or Joshilyn Jackson. (Not that they’re old, mind you, and I enjoy them a lot, but I can’t think of many novels with 20-something protags who are concerned with more than getting the man or the job, etc.)
    (The idea of a writer who doesn’t read flabbergasts me.)

  87. Like many of the others who have commented, I’d like to see less formulaic paranormal romance that masquerades as urban fantasy taking up space on both the publishers’ lists and the store shelves.
    I don’t care whether the supernatural creatures used in those novels are vampire, werewolves, demons, angels, mermen or anything else, because it’s the formula that’s the problem, not the window-dressing. Of course, the problem is also the fact that for too many of those books, the supernatural bits are just window-dressing. That, to me, is the difference between real urban fantasy and paranormal romance.
    There are probably other things I like to see less of, but that’s the one that annoys me most.
    What I’d like to see more of is a tougher question, because there are constantly things that it would never have occurred to me to ask for that I end up loving, a couple of random examples being Brian Francis Slattery’s SPACEMAN BLUES and Ekaterina Sedia’s THE SECRET HISTORY OF MOSCOW. Beyond that, I want books that are well-written, where the prose succeeds brilliantly at whatever it’s trying to be, whether that’s dense New Weird or fast-paced action.
    Of course, that’s hardly the sort of thing that’d be helpful in a focus group, so I’d end up saying that I want more writers like Jay Lake, Caitlin Kiernan, Neil Gaiman, Ian McDonald, Ekaterina Sedia, M. John Harrison, Cherie Priest, Jim Butcher….and I guess I could go on and on.
    In the end, as is probably the case for most readers, I want more books that are like the books I love, and at the same time I want new books to love that are different from what I’ve already read. Sounds simple enough, right? *grin*

  88. More urban fantasy that is actually “urban”, where the city is an integral character, not just a setting for modern fantasy.
    Less fantasy based on Tolkein/medieval Europe.
    Less fantasy based on the tropes original to White Wolf games – vampire councils, eco-warrior/tied to the land werewolves, etc…
    Monsters that are actually monstrous, not romantic heroes in disguise. There should be a down side to vampirism/werewolfism/faeriedom etc… I like Barbara Hambly’s vampires, who remain creepy serial killers even when you kind of like them.

  89. If I never see another vampire romance I will count it a blessing. And I hate tragedies.
    This may be a backwards way to go about it, but. I care about well written stories. They must have good characters, good plots, and the characters must go through some emotionally compelling times. I’m not terribly particular on genre, though I prefer books with open countryside and green places, and I tend to avoid books that are too scary.
    How do I find books that work for me? I’ve learned to trust certain editors and agents. Meisha Merlin was a goldmine for me, and I was very distressed when they went under. You are another of my goldmines. I’m working my way through your clients because I already like half a dozen of them.
    Rather than changing your buying strategy, I’d prefer you to do what you’re doing. Take on clients you like to read, and I’ll buy their books.
    Adrianne Middleton

  90. Something that ISN’T Fantasy or Sci-Fi
    I also wanted to say that I’d like to see more historical fiction or just regular fiction in general. I don’t even go near the fantasy aisle–it’s just not my thing, even though it seems to be the “it” thing to publish and what people are wanting now. (Please don’t hate me, Fantasy/Sci-Fi fans!) There are a number of readers who don’t read fantasy or Sci-Fi. πŸ™‚

  91. No more angsty sexy vampires.
    Elmore Leonard should write a Fantasy novel. That I’d read.

  92. Lighthearted, fun, realistic romantic comedy without paranormal elements.

  93. “Conversely, feel free to mention things you are tired nigh unto death of seeing in the bookstore.”
    Books about werewolves and vampires: mainly vampires.

  94. Definately another vote for space opera and another vote against first-person spunky-and-sarcastic urban fantasy heroines.

  95. What I’d like is more fantasy for adults with the imagination and originality of world/idea/magic that I see in YA fantasy/sf.
    By adult, I mean the opposite of children and teens, not something that earns an R or NC-17 rating.

  96. Really thick, intellectual multi-generational historical fiction like James A. Michener wrote. One solution to my frustration about not finding much of this is working on my own (though it’s a lot less intellectual); in the meantime there’s Edward Rutherford, but I don’t many others out there who write in that vein.

  97. I’d like to see more horror novels that aren’t gore, but contain subtle horror, like Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House. More UF that has a different story line/plot. Something completey out of the norm. πŸ™‚

  98. Genre busters. Yes, those books that no one knows where to place on the shelves. I’m not talking SF/F steampunk, I’m talking genre combinations that haven’t been tried before! Mystery, thriller, detective/crime, fantasy, alternate reality, science fiction past/present/future, space opera, anything and everything all mixed up and tried new ways.
    But well written, with solid worldbuilding and characters who are deep and feel real.
    That’s what I love to read, even though genre busters are so hard to sell, I do understand that….

  99. When I look for a book I want something that feels absolutely real while at the same time being much much more exciting than what life is usually like. I don’t want drudgery and hopeless endings, death and mayhem and real life trials are great but I want there to be purpose and adventure and romance as well. I want to get to know someone on the inside of a book that I talk to my husband about as though that character were a real person.

  100. Oh, hooray. πŸ™‚
    Things I want:
    I want to read urban fantasies set outside of the US, with the flavor and culture of major cities in South America, Asia, and Africa.
    I want to read short, thoughtful horror a la Jekyll and Hyde and Dorian Gray.
    I want to read classy old-fashioned mysteries set before Google. (Honestly, I just want Agatha Christie to still be around.)
    I want a return to early 20th-century discretion, where you know darn well Sam Spade is boinking Brigid O’Shaughnessy but you don’t have to watch.
    I want Christian genre fiction as good as its secular counterparts.
    I want hilarious middle-grade books about boys who are dealing with nothing more tragic than growing up, a la Skinnybones.
    I want funny historical novels a la Three Men In a Boat.
    Things I never need to read again:
    Ass-kicking woman enters cross-species relationship with alpha male.
    Kid finds artifact, saves world.
    Cancer as plot.
    Shadowy vampire organizations. Boy, do I have a beef with modern vampires.

    Now I’m going to go read this entire thread front-to-back, because it looks fantastic.

    • Something else that occurred to me, since I mentioned humor. I don’t consider an informal tone unique enough to be “voice”, and I don’t consider a breezy or sarcastic tone inherently funny. Lemony Snicket, THAT’S funny. Bertie Wooster, THAT’S voice.

  101. what I can’t find
    I read science fiction that features a strong female protagonist. And I’m finding it harder and harder to find that on the shelves. I think I’ve read all the current ones. There’s plenty of paranormal and fantasy with dominant female characters, but not as much science fiction.
    Lisa Iriarte

  102. Women characters who haven’t been raped, traumatized in their youth, are concubines, whores, or sexually promiscuous (epic and urban fantasies are guilty), have stable families (parents might even love each and other and still be together), and don’t kill everything in sight.
    The gun carrying, sarcastic urban fantasy heroine needs to go. Why can’t she be a normal girl suddenly thrown into the supernatural who uses her brain? It’s also okay if she’s afraid. The monsters are scary–or used to be. I’m not sick of vampires per se, but of the angsty type that’s taken over the market.
    Can the monsters *enjoy* being monsters again and leave the reader unsure whether he (or she) will hurt the protagonist? I crave *well written* urban fantasy that actually delves into the psychology of the human and supernatural dynamic and shows us the realistic complications that come along with it.
    I’d also love a good gothic novel ala The Thirteenth Tale with a vampire or werewolf that isn’t bloated or pretentious ala The Historian. Let’s go old school to Bronte or Du Maurier instead of the industry giving us the same “bad ass chick” material.
    Complicated epic fantasy that is not a Martin/Jordan knockoff, or authors who are being called “fresh” ala Rothfuss, Abercrombie, Lynch, Durham, Sanderson, etc.
    Less gratuity (sex and violence).

  103. I can do without vampire romeos and arrogant, kick-ass chicks that can roundhouse kick 5 baddies then dispatch them all to hell with her sai without breaking a sweat.
    I love a strong heroine but give me one I can believe in.
    More books with different mythological creatures and folklore from different cultures would spice things up.
    Regarding historical fiction, I’m disappointed that the Bloody Jack Adventures by LA Meyer are not doing as well as that wizard boy series. Big Jackie Faber fan here!

  104. i am so glad that you asked
    I read a lot of the other comments and I have to say that I agree with the opinions that have been expressed. I am of the opinion that there needs to be a little bit more of everything, but it must be fine tuned to keep the minds of readers fresh and ehthralled. I will outline one of my biggest problems in one of my favorite genres. The Urban Fantasy that is on the shelves right now is deplorable. I honestly feel like it is all the same. A woman in her late 20’s to early 40’s has powers, someone wants her head on a stick and she has a few men that love her, one is usually clean cut the other is a rebel but they are equally handsome. Wow I think I just fleshed out a plotline.
    I love vampire novels but they must be exquisite. No more vampire/werewolf/zombie gone good and saving the world. Its annoying.
    I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine that finished her internship with Random House and we were complaining about the genre. She is of Middle Eastern descent and I am of South American descent and we both feel that we are not represented in the genre and it is frustrating.
    I am trying to break into the literary world and vampires are it for me, but I worry because so many other writers have done the same thing over and over again. I can’t help but wonder if a newbie like me even stands a chance.

  105. Ditto on sick of urban fantasy, especially of the werewolf/vampire/fey variety. Give me *real* fantasy. The reason I read fantasy is to escape from the real world, not to be reminded of it.

  106. I just want to have fun. I don’t want to try too hard to read the book (life’s hard enough, reading is something I do to relax).
    I don’t want social commentary shoved in my face. Weave it in thoughtfully if you must, but if you’re any heavier-handed than Animal Farm you’re doing it wrong in my book.
    I don’t care about genre divisions. I want a story.
    No more sex. Please. If I want sex, I buy Mills and Boon or Judith Krantz.
    I love epic. Epic fantasy. Epic science fiction. Epic general fiction if I can get it. I loved Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, simply because the idea of gods at war tickled me to no end. (Strangely, I wasn’t as keen on Good Omens–it was cool, but not OMGYES.)
    I’d like more mystery novels a la Holmes and Poirot. Murder on the Orient Express is one of my all-time favorite books, because trying to piece everything together is just so much fun.

  107. I couldn’t care less what genre I’m reading. I like them all from literary to SF&F so long as they are well written. I think too many writers are writing to please the market instead of writing stories that are really inside them, and so we see a lot of contrived characters and plot. I want more honesty in character, relationship, sequence of events. Even the fantasy has to come from a place of honesty.
    I feel like hard language and pumped up sex scenes are frequently used for shock value. Rarely do I feel it serves a purpose to either character development or plot. A great writer can create a mound of sexual tension without unbuttoning a single button and they can make language light up a page without a single expletive. This is not to say that sex scenes and language are always inappropriate or never serve a purpose, rather, they are rarely woven into a story with purpose and craft. There’s too much trash in the market.
    So I guess in short, what I’d like to see is evidence that writers are writing from an honest place, which can only come from them, instead of worrying what everyone else wants to read and trying to fill that need. I see through that in about five pages.

  108. This is a fascinating thread for anyone who is writing currently. What I’m gathering people want:
    1) ‘Good’ writing, plot, characters, setting etc.
    This has been mentioned a lot, but is so idiosyncratic, that it’s a hard thing to apply to choices about what should be represented or published. Surely most editors and agents pick what they think is good…
    2) No more paranormal romance / urban fantasy (depending on your nomenclature).
    Vampires, werewolves and fairies are repeated mentioned in conjunction with this, and specifically the ‘kick-ass heroine meets supernatural alpha-male’ story seems to be highly disliked. Porn pretending to be SFF also gets the thumbs down a lot. Interestingly, though, as a side-note a good number of people have mentioned that they would like to see more urban fantasy like Gaiman and de Lint. Both of those names were brought up a lot.
    3) Some calls for traditional, good old-fashioned fantasy and/or space opera epics – usually in conjunction with a request for it also to be a little bit different in some way.
    4) A few calls for mystery-SFF crossover. Can’t say much about this. Have never thought about it as a genre. Could we all be sick of the glut of mystery-SFF in ten years? Who’s to say…? πŸ™‚
    5) A few calls for ‘caper’ or ‘swashbuckling’ stories. Again, not too many, but a few.
    6) This one surprised me, but there have been a few calls for intelligent SF, different perspectives, thought-provoking stuff. I presume that SF along the lines of Le Guins ‘Left Hand of Darkness’ or ‘The Dispossessed’ or some of Bradbury’s stuff, or maybe even books like ‘Cat’s Cradle’ or ‘Forever War’. This is a genre I like. I think that there is a problem with calling for more of it though, because there seem to be only one or two geniuses in every generation who turn out truly thought-provoking stuff. I guess I’d assume that any agent anywhere would be likely to snap up such a book – the problem is they don’t come along often.
    7) Non-western based fantasy settings and/or non-western urban fantasy were mentioned a fair amount. I’m reluctant to endorse this because as much as I like reading Aztec folk stories and Maori mythology, the act of appropriation *into* a conflict orientated, westernized story always changes the fundamental psychology of the ‘other’ anyway. The other is almost always transformed into the familiar, regardless of what a writers tries to do. The only example I can think of when this didn’t happen was Le Guin’s ‘Always Coming Home’. But I bet hardly anyone here has read it cover-to-cover…
    The second suggestion, more magic realism in the South-American, Spanish and Portuguese style fantasy is easier to answer. It’d suggest to me that establishing a relationship with a like-minded Spanish or Portuguese language agent in order to hunt down translation rights to less well-know, new or young magic realist writers would be a thing to think over.
    You know, though actually, I guess the same thing could apply to young and fresh Japanese writers or Blackfoot writers or Nigerian writers. Maybe there’s a market for hunting out the modern fantasy being written in all the far-flung corners of the world? Not sure.
    8) Non-caucasian and/or non-heterosexual and/or non-everyman characters were mentioned a few times. Mostly in the context of the character being real and not destined to revolve entirely around his/her minority quirk.
    Does that about cover the major themes? I bet at least another ten comments have gone up while I’ve been typing this.
    Anyway. Very interesting.

  109. Maybe there’s a market for hunting out the modern fantasy being written in all the far-flung corners of the world?
    Let me direct you towards the Guardian series, a Japanese fantasy series. The first volume, Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Spirit), was animated (26 episodes). Balsa is a kick-ass female heroine, one of the best ones ever. Non-white. No intentionally bad characters that I can remember–everyone had a “want” that was logical, and everything behaved rationally. Great seeding.

  110. I’m just starting to read UF and I’m already seeing that much of it is by-the-numbers boring. I don’t mind vampires so much, but werewolves make me snore. If I get one more lecture on pack politics I will throw the book down in disgust. I really like Patricia Briggs, but I get bored with all the werewolf stuff–and that’s a big part of the series.
    I’d love to see more light-hearted fantasies. Funny is good, swashbuckling (as someone commented earlier) is good. I’m getting really tired of unremitting grimness in every fantasy I pick up.
    I hate epic fantasy, but then I always have. I especially hate books that are 120k words with 80k of plot and character development. I’d love to see shorter books available–between 70 and 80k, maybe. A well-written shorter book is much better than a padded-out doorstopper. I don’t measure books before I buy to see if I’m getting a good deal on price per page.
    There’s a lot of ground between epic fantasy and urban fantasy, but I just can’t find enough secondary world fantasies with a more modern, UF feel. When I do find them, I snap them up and reread them over and over (Lisa Shearin, Moira J. Moore, Ellen Kushner, just off the top of my head). I’d love to see more of this kind of book.

  111. buy in a second vs kiss of deathly death
    I would happily buy:
    1. intelligent, well-plotted epic fantasy that isn’t choking on new, weird social constructs, bizarre and irritating naming conventions;
    2. intelligent period mysteries with engaging main characters that are ethically clean enough/not so twisted, so that I can empathize with them and not feel like I’m swimming in a cesspool;
    3. more historic adventures a la the Richard Sharpe series or Master & Commander;
    4. intelligent, dry humor a la Wodehouse, without getting into all that modern American nihilism (which is just about the most boring thing in modern writing);
    5. another Andre Norton, but with better writing.
    Here’s what I won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, while wearing a hazmat suit:
    1. vampire fantasy (yawn);
    2. nihilist murder mysteries (the kind where the protagonist is just as much of a loser as the antagonist);
    3. serial killer stories (yawn).

  112. Well, is there really a way to d an effective focus group for publishing??? Isn’t that the reason the publishing world has always been and will always be an entity all to itself?
    There are just too many opinions and veiws on what makes good literature. What I describe as a sensual, emotional love story – might be a step just over pron to someone else. E.A.P. is my favorite author while my brother finds him boring – and yet we noth like intense, creepy even odd books.
    What should you be looking for??? Who the hell knows.
    Candi Wall

  113. Less Vampires, we need something just as exciting, another teen love story/ magic adventure but not another nock off of twilight. There are so many,TO MANY, vampire/ witch books. While they’re entertaining, they are just over done. I’m searching the teen book shelves for something with teens with cool powers and Romeo Juliet impossible kind of love. Something new, a series, about the underdog rising to the top to save everyone. Something like that, πŸ™‚

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