Tor Books Now Offering Urban Fantasy Novels, But They Always Have, Too!

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Urban Fantasy novels like Twilight, Turn Coat and Skin Trade and have become mainstays at the top of the bestseller lists. But urban fantasy is actually a blending of horror, fantasy and romance that can appear on various shelves in a bookstore. Deciding where to shelve a book has become a challenge for publishers as genres blend and merge--including science fiction and fantasy publisher Tor Books.

It might be the first spine identifier, but Tor has always been a leader in urban fantasy--just not under that name.

Urban fantasy has become the darling of the shelves. Authors such as Stephenie Meyer (Twilight series), Laurell K. Hamilton (Anita Blake series), Charlaine Harris (True Blood series), Jim Butcher (Dresden Files series) and many others regularly hold the top positions on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. An enticing blend of horror, fantasy and romance, urban fantasy is marked by the imposition of the paranormal or supernatural world into the "real world", turning the mundane existence of one or more primary characters (as well as readers) into a wild joyride of fear, exhilaration, and adrenaline.

Yet, many have been surprised that Tor Books--a leader in science fiction, fantasy and horror novels, just released its first urban fantasy in S.J. Day's "Eve of Darkness" (April, 2009). "Actually, that's not quite true," revealed Tor Senior Editor Melissa Singer. "It might be the first spine identifier, but Tor has always been a leader in urban fantasy--just not under that name." When asked to explain, she revealed that "urban fantasy" doesn't actually exist as a shelving classification or category in most bookstores. Even though books with all the qualifications of urban fantasy have existed as far back as the 1943 classic "Conjure Wife" by Fritz Leiber, editors have had only the shelves of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Romance to select from. Where a book was shelved sometimes depended on the sole discretion of the sales team at a publishing house, meaning that books with similar elements were often in entirely different areas of the store. Charles de Lint, Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey are all considered to be among the "founders" of the genre, yet de Lint's 1991 novel "Yarrow," and Bull's 1987 classic "War for the Oaks" are shelved in fantasy, while Lackey's "Burning Water" (first in the Diana Tregarde urban fantasy series) is shelved in horror. And when Tor re-issued "Conjure Wife," it appeared in the science fiction section of the bookstore.

Some of Tor's urban fantasy authors, such as USA Today bestsellers C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp (Tales of the Sazi and Thrall series) are even on the romance shelves. "Choosing the category can be dangerous ground," says Heather Osborn, romance editor at Tor. According to the Publishers Weekly article "When Love is Strange: Romance Continues its Affair with the Supernatural," (Gwenda Bond, 5/25/09) for an urban fantasy to end up on the romance shelves, there must be more than just "romance." According to Osborn, "My number one consideration is if there's a resolution of the romance at the end of the book. If there's no resolution of the romance, and it's in the romance section, readers will let their anger be known."

Some claim paranormal romance is just another offshoot of the current urban fantasy trend, with authors trying to "force" a romance into an otherwise fantasy novel just to reach the larger market demographic of romance. Not true, states Osborn. "We already see romance readers go to the science fiction and fantasy section for books. Fantasy readers will buy from displays, but not go into the romance section. There's no need to force in romance to draw in new readers. They're in the fantasy aisles anyway."

It's just such a blending that has caused changes for some authors. Tor has high hopes for Adams & Clamp, the 2008 Career Achievement Award winners in paranormal romance by Romantic Times BOOKreviews magazine, as they move out of the romance aisles into fantasy. Their upcoming novel "Cold Moon Rising," August, 2008, is blurbed by #1 New York Times bestselling urban fantasy author Jim Butcher, and under the pen name of Cat Adams, will be releasing a new series in trade softcover called The Blood Singer in the summer of 2010, also spine-identified as urban fantasy.

What do the authors themselves think of their books? Adams & Clamp revealed that they never intended the first book in the Tales of the Sazi series, Hunter's Moon, to be romance. "To us, it was always urban fantasy. It's just that the guy got the girl at the end, which is a classic element--whether in fantasy, westerns, or science fiction. We know that even with our new pen name and shelf, readers will be pleased that our books really won't change at all. We're just moving the books to where they really belong." O'Shea considers her book to be an "action-adventure paranormal with a strong romance ending." S.J. Day knows just where her book should sit. "There's romance in the book, but no resolution, so romance readers wouldn't be pleased if they weren't forewarned. It's definitely urban fantasy. To put it on the romance shelves would just be asking for criticism."

So does that mean Tor will be re-issuing more books as urban fantasy to keep up with the genre trend? "Spine identifiers really have no meaning to readers," admits Singer. "They're only useful to booksellers. Until bookstores have a shelf for urban fantasy, we'll probably keep doing the best we can to shelve similar books together for the convenience of readers. Whether that's in fantasy, horror or romance, readers will find them, as long as we keep publishing good stories and our partners in the bookstores tell readers where they are."

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