2.05.2006

No More Spinach for you Miss Popeye

Ms. Snark:

I am trapped in the Twilight Zone of genre definitions.

My MS is a romance novel set in the late Regency Period which coincided with the early California Gold Rush Period. Since it was set in a certain period of history, I thought it was a historical romance. I ran the Synopsis through the Crapometer where it was posted as #97. I have been querying agents about the work.

One agent replied that I could send him my first 100 or so pages and he would review them. He was honest in his request, saying that he wasn't taking on new historicals just now, so mine would have to floor him for him to consider it. He wrote back that he really liked the story, but his historical list was full. Essentially, the MS didn't knock him off his feet. Just this weekend, I did equeries to some other agents who specified that they were looking for historicals. Two of them replied that my MS was not a historical because it has a male protagonist and that makes it a mainstream love story and not a historical and they are not looking for mainstream.

My MS has a strong female love who ultimately proves wiser than the male, at least in matters of the heart, which is sort of my view of the universe. However, I can't deny that the male figure is central to the story, and it is essentially his conflicts that are at the heart of the
obstacles and resolution.

What exactly is a historical romance verses a mainstream love story? Frankly, I thought the historical market generally was shrinking, and a mainstream love story might have a wider market base, which would be a good thing. But I find this whole thing to be a lot like the Twilight Zone. The same MS has been rejected by one agent because it is a historical and he's not taking on more historicals and then rejected by two others because it isn't a historical and they want historicals. The whole situation has me feeling like my law school roommate's hamster who spent a lot of time running around his little wheel and never getting anywhere.

I emptied the gin pail but that just left me frustrated and hungover, so I've come to the great one for help. (more gin is the cure for a hangover...that's why you buy pails not paltry little bottles)

Thanks in advance,


Unlike Popeye ("I yam what I yam") genre isn't genre. I can't tell you the number of times I've called something "a western" or "chick lit" when I really think it's something else, but hey, if I can make a persuasive case that it IS, who's to say it's not.

Categories can be fluid, but the trick is to remember to focus your query or cover letter to emphasize the parts that reinforce the genre you're pitching. In a western I emphasize the setting is (duhh) The West; that the heroine runs a ranch; that she's beset by evil lien holders. All are standard tropes of The Western.

I can also pitch this as chick lit, romance, and on days I need to really run on the hamster wheel: science fiction (ok, just kidding about that).

If one agent is looking for historicals, you pitch that. If his historical list is really full, you pitch to the side that isn't.

What you don't say is "this is a historical with elements of ..and then a long list". Pick ONE thing for each query, and assemble your case that this book fits that category for that query letter.

Genre bending is something I see a lot of now, particularly in mystery. Charlie Huston's dead detective makes him a vampire, but honest to dog, it's a mystery not a horror novel even though there are zombies.


This is very similar to wearing a Chanel suit to a negotiation. You're the same person you were in your bunny slippers but people are prepared to take you tad more seriously cause of how you present yourself.

14 comments:

Catullus said...

Genre bending is something I see a lot of now, particularly in memoir vs. fiction.

Mark said...

Yes we are. But this is appropriate for nonfiction too. History, journalism, and so on. Pitch whatever angle works.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Miss Snark!

It's totally confusing (not to mention limiting) to attempt to catagorize 'genre', at least to me. I much prefer your nearly Zen-like approach of it either IS, or it isnt. ie, it's Good Writing or it's Crap; and you can call it whatever the hell style you like.

signed, One who writes literary-modern-chick-
pseudo-mystery-space-cadet-
boonie-bunny
type fiction. Magz (grin)

Dave Kuzminski said...

Bending genres can be fun. I had a lot of fun writing a story where a dragon is a police detective working undercover on present-day Earth. ;)

I. J.Parker said...

I'm doing a double take on "late Regency" coinciding with "early goldrush." Two different countries? Two different historical eras? The regency is 1810-1820. Gold was discovered in California in 1848.
That probably wasn't the problem, but who knows?

Stephen said...

The regency is 1810-1820. Gold was discovered in California in 1848.

While the actual Regency was declared in 1811 and ran until George III's death in 1820, the literary Regency is usually held to cover the period from about 1780 to 1830, and can be pushed a bit further in each direction, if the subject matter is of the right sort. Probably not beyond 1837 when everything became Victorian and we had to cover up the table legs for fear of giving offence.

That does however leave a bit of a gap to 1848. Maybe communications were so bad that nobody in California realised that they were Victorians until 1850?

Dixie said...

Remember, I'm an English major, not a history major. And I'm happy to call it "English Society" and toss out regency altogether.

That being said, my research showed that the political regency was quite short, from about 1811-1820.

The cultural regency was much longer, without precise dates or timelines. It is widely regarded as having begun at the time of the French Revolution, extending until either the age of reform, the latter part of the 1800s or the turn of the century.

All of that being said, ENGLISH SOCIETY, suits me fine.

Ms. Graham said...

I really liked this post, too. I have a lot of trouble with genre as well--I write YA Fantasy, and agents usually just list YA. Some agents include YA fantasy in the list of YA, some consider YA fantasy a whole seperate genre, some...argh. Anyway, it's good to know that these labels are bendable.

The Green Cedar said...

However it gets published, I want to read this one!

Thanks, though. You speak for a lot of us who wander lost in the genre maze.

Anonymous said...

I have to ask - "What and where is the crapometer?" I've seen a number of references and my curiousity is definitely engaged.
On another note - how do you define the genre you're writing and the associated markets? Believe it or not I've combined computers, murder and horses together for what I'm calling a cozy mystery, but have no idea as to potential markets. Thanks!

Sal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sal said...

The Crapometer was originally dubbed the "Is It Crap" meter, and took its first spin back in July, when it sucked up and spit out cover letters.

Is It Crap...cover letters.

This week let's take a look at cover letters.

If you'd like to send yours to me, send it in the body of the email. Attachments require endless html reformatting.

In the email, you must tell me it's ok to publish it on the blog.

I'll leave out your name, your title, and anything that personally identifies you unless you say it's ok.


The Crapometer wasn't sporting that name at the time, but you can find the results of that exercise using a Miss Snark search for "is it crap" "cover letters"

The second spin back in August came when Miss Snark was fresh as a doozy, just back from vacation.

To have your first page run through the Is It Crap meter, it must be:
From a novel (ie no non fiction, no memoirs, no essays, no poems)
Less than 300 words.
Emailed to me. misssnark@earthlink.net
---in the body of the email, no attachments.
---sometime during the 24 hours of Sunday, 8/285, eastern time.

Tell me what kind of novel it is in less than five words ie thriller, science fiction, women' s fiction, lugubrious self referential fiction...yanno, the usual.

You must tell me it's ok to post it and make comments about it on the blog.


See how that works?

The third flurry for the Crapometer was in December when Miss Snark -- on a seasonal lull -- goofily offered to critique synopses. In a forty-eight hour period, a hundred or so sacrificial lambs threw their synopses on the Crapometer altar, awaiting singeing.

Both forays with the Crapometer have been educational not only for the sacrificial lambs but also for those watching from the sidelines.

Crapometer posts from Miss Snark's blog The first-ever-mention is at the bottom of the page. You can work your way forward in date from the beginning by moving upwards through the list or, if you'd rather move back in time from today's mention, use this sort.

If you haven't wandered through the Snarkives, you are missing out on an experience. Start at the beginning and continue on. (Only the most recent 990 or so posts are available of the 1,172 posts Miss Snark has to her name. The Blogger search engine is set up with a limit of 1000 posts and cuts out at 990.)

If you have a specific question, Blogger provides a Blogger search field in the upper left corner of Miss Snark's posts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sal - I feel somewhat nitwitish because Miss Snark posted a response a few posts after this one that included the most detail on the Crapometer.
In the next lull in my training I'll be going through your post in more detail and all associated links. Thank you again!

Rick said...

Stephen writes, Maybe communications were so bad that nobody in California realised that they were Victorians until 1850?

They weren't Victorians, or not very good ones. A rhyme my mother taught me:

The miners came in forty-nine,
The whores in fifty-one;
And when they got together
They produced the Native Son.