Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tripping over genres

This may sound odd or, sadder, not sound odd. I've completed a manuscript ("Ack! Another one! Quick run away!!!") and am about to seek representation in North America.

I've written a supernatural mystery, but have a question about genre. It is an unwarranted imposition, but would Supernatural Mystery be used and universally understood in the industry or would I be better advised going with Paranormal or just staying with the umbrella of Fantasy? Are there genre identifiers that should be avoided? What is common parlance in the publishing industry today?

You know better than anyone, the publishing and agenting worlds have changed. Ten years ago there were a dozen subgenres of Science Fiction. Today there are scores not counting the sub-subgenres.

'Supernatural mystery' sounds pretty clear to me - it's a mystery story with supernatural elements, yeah? I guess you could call it 'paranormal mystery' if you prefer, but then you'd want to make sure that it conforms to the (many, it seems) rules about the paranormal genre.

'Supernatural' probably gives you a bit more freedom and - newsflash - no one is going to reject you if you don't get your genre just right, unless you send this supernatural mystery to an agent who only looks after romance novels or one who only does non-fiction. When someone sends me something with a genre on it, I use it as a guide but only that, because if I take on the manuscript and submit it to publishers, I may have to change the genre anyway to suit what the publishers are used to. Genre is a fast-and-loose proposition these days.

As always, though, the most important thing is your writing. If you have written a brilliant paranormal romance and somehow labelled it 'supernatural mystery', will I care about the genre mis-identification? No. I just care about the writing. Of course, if you have a screaming match with me about the fact that you want to call it supernatural mystery when it's clearly not, then may change my mind about wanting to have you as a client ... but the problem there is the screaming, not the genre itself.

1 comment:

David Thornby said...

It worries me that we're so frightened of getting something wrong in our queries and submissions. It gets to the point where we can even start to talk ourselves out of submitting something, in case we transgress some rule or criterion we've failed to completely understand. This seems like a good illustration of that.

It has to be better to submit and get it slightly wrong (assuming it's all done politely) than to avoid submitting something out of fear of offending. But the pool of people potentially to offend (ie people and companies taking submissions, especially in Australia) is so small and so apparently interconnected, the possibility of getting it wrong seems like a big risk to take -- is it unreasonable to fear that a mistake will affect all your future submissions as well as the current one? It seems hard to condemn someone for overthinking it, the way it is in the publishing industry at the moment.