Finding a Literary Agent For Your Novel – The Importance of Understanding Genre

September 24, 2016

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Genres can be More than a Little Confusing

There is perhaps nothing more perplexing in all of writing than trying to understand genre. While preparing this paper, I ran across the following sub-genres for Romance: Suspense, Paranormal, Fantasy, Time-Travel, Futuristic, Licensed Theme, Medical, Regency, Medieval, Highland, War, Gothic, Western, and Mail-Order Bride. And these are by no means all that fall into the Romance bailiwick. There were a couple dozen more.   In the Mystery category we have the Cozy, Police Procedural, Forensic Hard-Boiled Crime, Serial Killer, Suspense, Thriller, Legal Thriller, Medical Thriller, Technical Thriller; and other further Mystery subdivisions that include Science Fiction, Gay, Military, Political, Paranormal, and so many more that the separation becomes quite blurred. To confuse anyone to the point of no return, read a Writer’s Digest list of genres. And it, too, is not all-inclusive.

What makes Genre even More Complex is that it is often Not Specific to a Particular Publisher

The editor-in-chief with a major publisher indicated to me that one of my novels was rejected because it did not fit into a tight enough genre, since it had military, espionage, and medical underpinnings. What was really meant was that the book did not follow the exact template for their Thriller program, as was also indicated by another work I recently presented to this publisher. This firm’s Thriller program (sic, imprint) does not model the Thriller definition, since books under that imprimatur follow the “gruesome murders by a serial killer who is being tracked down by a cop” pattern. Traditional Thrillers involve international intrigue and a life-and-death struggle to save the planet (or close to it).

An Author must Determine the Genre and Relevant Sub-Genre in which the Novel is Written

The point is obvious. A writer must determine the sub-genre in which his or her work is written, and then tailor the presentation to the agent and/or publisher to whom the material is being presented–as this relates to books that particular agent has placed or the publisher has printed. This requires parsing books on the agent’s or publisher’s list to make certain the submitted novel is indeed complementary. An author who makes this effort can eliminate the major hurdle of being informed that a submission is not a solid match, since the writer will know this could not possibly be the case. (A side-note here is not to imply in your query letter that you write like a specific author, but that your work mirrors the genre’s characteristics. This will be covered in detail during an upcoming article on the nuances of effective query letter writing.)

Robert L. Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write(TM)

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