What to call it

Hi Miss Snark:

I have a novel that takes place in two time periods (equal parts present day and 1832.) I’ve been calling it commercial fiction in my queries, but should I be calling it historical fiction? Semi-Historical? I think historical is too narrow, but semi-historical is too scary for an agent.

Your thoughts?

I think if someone queried me with "semi-historical fiction" I'd semaphore for the form rejection. It's commercial fiction set in two time periods. Call it that, and I'm more likely to read it.

Nothing beats plain straightforward description in a query letter. It's when you get all fancy that you shoot yourself in the foot. If your description sounds like a snotty wine waiter at an overpriced faux french bistro "a clever little novel drenched in atmosphere with an insoucient streak of historical je n'est ce quoi circa 1832" then you've just assured me that not only is the novel not quite right for me, it will need a trip to Lourdes to be publishable.


Anonymous said...

Yep, this blog is rude enough to have French!

Haste yee back ;-o

Anonymous said...

Damn lady! That was pretty good! Perhaps you're readying your pen for life after the lit agency. Maybe the next Maureen Dowd...

A Paperback Writer said...

Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book is set in both 1348 and 2056, but it's usually put in sci-fi because it involves time travel. It does have great historical fiction parts, however. Also, the sequel, To Say Nothing of the Dog, is set in the late Victorian Era and about 2060, so it's both sci-fi and historical as well as humor. However, I think it's always classed as sci-fi because that's what Willis is known for.
So what's my point? Just that I agree with the Great and Mighty Snark: it's best to simplify and just call the book one thing to get readers' attention (and, no doubt, agents' attention, too).

Maya Reynolds said...

Some years ago, members of RWA struggled with how to classify submissions to one of their most popular contests--one devoted to sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal books.

The question that caused the most discussion was how to classify a novel in which a woman traveled to the future. The contest in question had separate categories for futuristics and time travel. The writer didn't know which category to use for her novel.

After several lengthy discussions the membership agreed on a definition that is now used universally within RWA. To be classified as time travel, the protagonist MUST be able to return to his/her own time. If the protagonist is stuck in the future, it is a futuristic.

I'm sure other organizations have different definitions, but this one seems to work for RWA.

C. T. Adams said...

Dear Ms. Snark:

Greetings to you and KY. I just wanted to drop you a note to say THANK YOU!!! I have an agent, and a publisher, so I'm not soliciting you. (I also do not look like George Clooney and believe I am not your type.) A few days ago you responded with a rant to "passion writing." THANK YOU! I have been having a really hard time with people who think writing isn't a business at all, that I'm not REALLY working, "how hard can edits be?" etc. It was a relief and refreshing as he** to have somebody put forth the opposite opinion. Yes, writing is an art. But selling what you write is a business, and da**ed hard work!

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark, you always make me laugh...

but I was just wondering... wouldn't "je ne sais quoi" be the more appropriate phrase?

sorry, pardon my French!

Maryse said...

FYI: The correct spelling is "je ne sais quoi."


angrylil'asiangirl said...

people get wrapped up in pedantic word-play in regard to describing their own works because they think their own works are unique and stand alone.

like, chill! you're not that special, dude.