How many genres can you name and do you know yours? Here are a few we came up with: literary fiction, commercial fiction, women's commercial fiction, mystery, cozy mystery, thriller, suspense, African-American fiction, manga, chick lit, magical realism, young adult, middle-grade, children's picture books, poetry, memoir...
Your blog is great. I have a question I was hoping you might address. When you were querying, did you pitch your book as fiction or as a specific genre? I'm struggling a little with this question, and Amy's book, Tethered, seemed to share some of the cross-genre issues, as it sounds a little darker than women's fiction, more literary than a genre mystery, etc. Thanks.
For so many reasons, (see Amy’s response) you will need to know your genre. And you’ll need to know it very early in the process of trying to land an agent and a book deal. If you don’t know yours, start by finding comparison titles. In one of my first meetings with marketing, a member of my team suggested that fans of Deep End of the Ocean and Good Grief would love Life Without Summer. (These were the comparison titles my agent and I came up with for her original pitch.) Without getting into the pros and cons of branding, knowing your genre—and being comfortable with it—is something you should take control of early. The way you take charge is to identify your niche, and then to own it. It will follow you for the life of your book, and beyond.
Oh, and Life Without Summer—upmarket women’s fiction.Amy MacKinnon
Great question. I wish we could market books as good stories, but people need labels to simplify their worlds. Agents need to know in that query letter because they have to make a snap judgment about requesting pages; editors need to know because they need to decide if it suits their list and how to pitch it to marketing (yes, it's true, the marketing department helps decide if a publishing house will buy a manuscript); bookstore buyers need to know in order to properly shelve it; and readers need to know because they very often have narrow tastes and little time.
My book does cross many genres yet I had to pick one so I melded two: I queried it as literary suspense. But if I had my druthers, I'd put it on the shelf marked good story.
YA or middle grade? That was the choice I faced when I queried agents. YA is edgier, but my first attempt at a novel was pretty tame. (That's changed a bit). But middle grade? That sounds like something my nine-year-old would read. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, and if memory serves, I queried with both. One agent was offered YA, another agent middle grade for the very same book.
Thankfully now, I'm solidly in the YA category, at least with my 2 WIP's. But the series I'm working on with my nine-year-old son...that's a whole new question. Sigh, I think I'll have to ponder that a bit further...
Tess Gerritsen pitched her first novel as a mystery with no luck. Then she changed one (1) word in her pitch. Cross out mystery, replace with thriller, and bam! Interest. On the other hand, Lisa Scottoline once said to never pigeonhole your story in a query. Describe it in your brief paragraph with key plot points and enough flavor of the work to let the agent decide for him or herself, especially if you're walking the literary-commercial line. I'm with Amy. I'd be happy to sum up reader responses: made me laugh, made me cry, made me think, couldn't put it down. Wouldn't it be great if we could label them as to where they'd fit in Hallie Ephron's book 1001 Books for Every Mood?