9.30.2005

Nomenclature for novels


Is it harder to sell a novel that doesn't really fit a genre? I may have asked something similar to this earlier, but your comment about Nick Sparks caught my interest.

Given the current market, is it more likely a genre offering - say a cozy mystery - is more likely to find agency representation, than an offering closer to say, Nick Sparks?

(since a Sparkian would, by necessity, be classified as Mainstream/Contemporary?

and are those easier to sell, or harder?)

I ask because I sent my novel off to an agency who liked the book, but, because they were more limited in their fiction than their web site indicated, said they couldn't figure out a good editor to submit the book to.

Thank you in advance for your Snarky response.


Genre is a word we use to distinguish only a few kinds of writing: SFF, romance, mystery (and all derivations like thriller, cozy etc) and western. Chick lit isn't a genre. Commercial fiction isn't a genre.

Nicholas Sparks is classified as "commercial fiction". Commercial is the key word. I hear that over and over again when I talk to editors. Phrases like "upmarket commercial fiction" about The Lovely Bones means it was literary fiction that sold well. The Historian, this years new hot book, is commercial fiction but you know darn good and well when she was writing it she thought she was writing genre fiction (vampire and mystery...gotta be genre right?).

The dissonance here is not about the writing itself. It's the description of the writing. I can call a western like "An Unfinished Life" literary fiction, and I can call a mystery like "The Rule of Four" commercial fiction. What I call it when I'm talking about it to editors has to be a close approximation (spaceships in a western better be part of a dream sequence) of what it IS, but any creative agent comes up with ways to make a project sound as widely appealing as possible.

So, again, and I've been saying this over and over again till I'm so blue in the face I look like a Scot warlord ...Just Write Well. Good writing, regardless of genre, category or description will find a home with an agent who loves it and can figure out how to describe it so other people will too.

And all novels are hard to sell. Cozy mysteries aren't impossible, but there's a limited number of editors looking for them. Commercial fiction has a much wider pool of editorial choices.

2 comments:

Mark Pritchard said...

I was intrigued by your reference to "a limited number of editors looking for them." Based on this, would I be correct in thinking that one way you look at the market is by the sheer number of editors -- rather than the presumed number of readers --interested in a certain type of book?

And what's a "cozy mystery"? Sort of like Miss Marple?

Elektra said...

That's actually why it took so long to get a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie. Until Men in Black came out, Hollywood didn't think you could sell a mixed genre like sci-fi and comedy