Sunday, September 03, 2006

How To Define Your Novel

One of the things that struck me this week in reading Miss Snark's Crapometer and various writers' loops is what a poor job many writers do in classifying their novels.

This is pretty important--and pretty basic. Agents and publishers are in business. This means they know their market and how to place a manuscript in that market. They need to know how YOUR novel will fit. When they pick up a query letter, it's with the expectation that you, the writer, can identify the genre of your own manuscript.

If you expect to be taken seriously, you'd better learn the terms used to classify your work. For the purposes of this post, I'm only talking about fiction.

First, a novel is always fiction. Don't ever say you are submitting a manuscript for "a fiction novel." It's like saying your pet is "a feline cat." It's redundant and makes you sound pretentious, or worse, stupid.

Second, think back on your last visit to your local bookstore. Remember how the books were shelved by category or genre?

When you are trying to interest an agent or a publisher in your novel, you need to be able to tell them where it will be shelved in the bookstore. Most agents and publishers specialize in certain types of fiction. When they read a query, they want to know if what you're offering is what they're looking for.

I saw a wannabe writer on a loop last week who identified her novel as an historical romance with horror and fantasy elements. Also saw another novel described as a suspenseful thriller and cozy mystery. Miss Snark critiqued a query today that the writer described as a mainstream novel with a science fiction premise.

I suspect writers who give a laundry list of genres think that the manuscript will have greater appeal. When I see cross genres, I wince. Agents and publishers scribble "No, thanks" and lay the query aside.

Pick the overriding genre and stick with that description for a single manuscript. If you're having trouble easily identifying your manuscript, it may be a warning sign that your plot is all over the map and needs tightening. Remember if you can't label it, an agent or publisher will have trouble marketing it.

Tomorrow we'll talk about some of the more popular genres to help you in making that decision.

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