The Resurgence of Tough-Guy Urban Fantasy

Four months ago, I released the first book in a passion project that had been building for most of 2015. The first 90 days are a key indicator of a book’s success (and Christmas Eve is a notoriously bad day to launch novels), but DEAD MAN remained in Amazon’s top 10k with only scarce promo at the end to coincide with the launch of the sequel.

A funny thing’s happened since then.

Tough-Guy-Urban-Fantasy

Several other male-driven urban fantasy series have sprung out of the woodwork right alongside DEAD MAN. They each have their own take on a niche with surface-level similarities – what I like to call tough-guy urban fantasy: The hard-nosed tough guy who’s neck-deep in a conspiracy. He might suffer from amnesia, be beholden to a dark power, or be trying to solve a murder mystery. He’s almost certainly a smart-ass. One thing’s for sure: He’s gonna plow through whatever supernatural beasties stand between him and answers.

This is a fascinating trend, and readers have responded positively.

But what gives? The Dresden Files certainly isn’t new. For many, it’s the father and benchmark of male-driven urban fantasy. But this is a niche dominated by a few traditional authors like Jim Butcher. Don’t get me wrong, UF has long been popular with indie readers, but this new wave that I’ve labeled tough-guy urban fantasy establishes a darker framework than much of what’s currently on offer in the indie scene. For whatever reason, even if it’s as simple as a back-to-basics mentality, readers are proving they want it.

So what should you do? Ride the wave, of course! Might I humbly suggest starting with the book that first kicked off 2016? DEAD MAN: Black Magic Outlaw Book One.

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  1. Reply

    Yeah, been tracking this development myself – pretty interesting to say the least. I wonder what triggered this sudden parallel development – maybe the success of the Faust series and Strange Magic? I guess 2015 saw Strange Magic and my own series Occult Assassin (even though Assassin gears a bit more toward horror-action with one foot in dark fantasy). Out of all the titles, Dead Man and Raw Power are still the best titles out of the bunch in my opinion. Keep ’em coming.

    1. Reply

      I’m friends with Craig and James and have definitely learned a little bit from both of their series. As far as the timing, I posted about my success on kboards and that inspired a lot of people to follow suit. Thanks for the rec of Raw Power! I already bought it but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Looking forward to it.

    • Buddy on May 6, 2016 at 4:23 am

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    Works for me, I am outlining my own series in this sub-genre. I love the name tough-guy urban fantasy. Watch for my first book, The Conjure Chest! It will be about a thief, just out of prison forced to steal what will become a series of magical artifacts.

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      Yeah, I think the name fits. Your series sounds interesting. Get to work! :)

    • Buddy on May 7, 2016 at 12:08 pm

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    If you get the time, I’d like to read your thoughts about this genre’s tropes and memes and writing to market.

    1. Reply

      I was planning on doing a series of posts about that kind of thing, but I’ve been swamped with the audiobook and Book 3. Time’s starting to free up now.

    • Buddy on May 15, 2016 at 3:04 am

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    And I presume the new cover for Shadow Play is a response to the market and those other covers?

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      Partially. I tried to do something a bit different but strayed too far from the mark. The biggest problem was the old cover looked more like a historical fantasy than something modern.

    • duncan on May 15, 2016 at 5:21 am

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    Very familiar with Miami since the eighties when Miami Beach and Washington drive was a run down area populated with senior citizens, (nothing against them) through the 90’s to present. Loved your story’s setting and the changes noted in Miami over 10 years while Cisco was being zombied around.

    1. Reply

      This is awesome to hear! I grew up in Miami before moving to LA about 12 years ago. Still visit quite a bit, actually. Funny fact is that Cisco’s absence more or less coincides with my own. Of course, I’ve managed to keep in touch.

  2. Reply

    It’s really weird. I was gearing up to create a follow-up UF series to my Lockman Chronicles, and then decided on a whim to haunt Kboards–something I hadn’t done in a long while–and the first thing I saw was your post about the Dead Man series. I thought to myself, “Cool, looks like I’ll fit right in.” Then I heard about another male UF series, and another, and…

    I have a feeling this is how big trends get started in trad pub, too. A combination of weird luck, mutual inspiration, and uncanny timing.

    My new one comes out this summer. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    1. Reply

      Part of it is definitely reader demand. I mean, you wouldn’t hear about a lot of these books if they weren’t selling. So you’re right that it’s some strange confluence of factors, and then all of a sudden it’s a trend.

      It doesn’t mean automatic success by any means. I’ve just started seeing a book or two in the same niche that isn’t taking off. You still need good presentation to stand out. Good luck with the new series!

    • Dana Fraser on May 22, 2016 at 4:49 pm

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    I wonder if part of what is driving it is more male readers switching over to ebooks. It might also be gaining some audience members from romance where really bad boys are going stronger than ever. Have you any idea what split your audience is by gender?

    1. Reply

      You might be on to something since many of the male-led books have been trad-published. I don’t have good audience metrics but 50/50 wouldn’t surprise me. Women by far dominate the reading market in general, though, and plenty read Black Magic Outlaw.

  3. Reply

    Good post, Domino. I’m still listening to the Dead Man audiobook and enjoying it.

    I like the monicker you gave the niche, “Tough-guy urban fantasy”.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Adam. It does seem to be an automatic fit, doesn’t it?

    • Scifibookguy on June 14, 2016 at 11:09 am

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    I always used the terms Urban Fantasy vs. Paranormal Romance to differentiate, but I like your description of Tough-Guy Urban Fantasy. I just finished reading the first three Black Magic Outlaw books, and signed up to your Reader Group to know when the next one hits. My favorite genres are Military Sci-Fi/Space Opera and Tough-Guy Urban Fantasy :) For TGUF, I read William Massa’s Occult Assassin series, Steve McHugh’s Hellequin Chronicles, Craig Schaefer’s Daniel Faust series, Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series, John Conroe’s The Demon Accords series, and others. However, I’ve also enjoyed Tough-Woman Urban Fantasy like Melissa F. Olson’s Boundary Magic series. Anyway, I look forward to reading more about Cisco Suarez :)

    1. Reply

      Heh, William Massa posted a comment above! That’s a good list of recommendations, a couple of which I’m not familiar with. I need to squeeze in more reading time!

    • E. R. Marrow on January 7, 2017 at 5:16 pm

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    That’s what I write too. My first book (5 years ago) was Male Toughguy UF. For me it was an extension of all the noir detective stories I enjoy. Also, if you look at the charts, until recently most UF was woman as main character. I wanted a mystical Mike Hammer. I also like having a love element, but I don’t like romance. I read and enjoy all the recommendations above.

      • Scifibookguy on January 8, 2017 at 12:48 pm

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      E. R. Marrow, I figured I’d check out your books on Amazon, but I only see one: “Love the Sinner (The Infernal Tapestry Book 1).” Is that you, and if so, why no further books in the series?

        • E. R. Marrow on January 9, 2017 at 8:51 am

        Yeah that’s me. I had a bad stretch of day job problems, compounded with trouble finishing things I write. I’m in a good writing stretch and should have something coming out in near future.

        • Scifibookguy on January 9, 2017 at 9:39 am

        Ah, sorry to hear about the job problems :( I’ll keep an eye out for your next book :)

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