Andrew Wheeler has Taken on Patrick of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, about the socalled changing of the guard in fantasy, that is, the idea that there is a top tier of bestselling epic fantasy writers and whether or not the people on the top will be replaced anytime soon or not. Andrew Wheeler thinks this is the wrong question to ask, but also says that the people obsessed with this question have missed what did happen:
However, there has been a changing of guard over the past decade, and the folks obsessed with epic fantasy have missed it. Who's the new breed? Laurell K. Hamilton and the several dozen writers following in her footsteps.
She has two bestselling series running now, and has hit #1 on the Times list. Her backlist is already deeper than Jordan's, so I wouldn't be surprised if she's selling more units annually than he is. She also has created a new, very popular subgenre in her wake: the contemporary or urban fantasy. Many of the first-wave writers in that subgenre (Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher) are bestsellers as well, and even some second-wave writers (Patricia Briggs, Rachel Caine) are hitting the lists.
Epic fantasy isn't quite a backwater, but it's not the only game in town anymore, and it's not where the real excitement and splashy successes are happening, either. But urban/contemporary fantasy is mostly written by women, mostly about women main characters, and (presumably) mostly read by women, so it's obviously not important...
To be honest, I always thought, based on some possible misremembered sales data and anecdotal evidence, that epic fantasy itself was also a quite "woman friendly" genre, in that quite a few of its readers were female, though perhaps not a majority.
With Hamilton, I seem to remember most of her early fans, based on observations in rec.arts.sf.written and the like were female; she also seemed to be popular with those who liked romance novels, again mostly female. Hamilton therefore appealed to (mostly female) readers who liked epic fantasy, but who found that what they liked in epic fantasy could be found in much greater proportion in Hamilton's work, while simultaneously, readers who would not be caught dead reading epic fantasy because it was a bit too fantastic for them, also liked Hamilton more "realistic" setting. In short, she fused the romance novel with urban fantasy and created a monster....
And since romance is a genre in even lower esteem than epic fantasy, it is easy to dismiss her, especially when it all degenerated into not-so-softcore porn for a while.