4.21.2007

More on category

Dear Miss Snark,

I'm often recognized as Satan's sister, so I feel that a question to my brother's agent isn't too far out of line.

If the description in a query letter reads: It's the story of a selfish, but sympathetic, younger woman married to an older stodgy man who meets a handsome young officer, falls madly in love, and runs away with him--would that be mainstream or romance? Because actually it can describe (albeit badly) anything from Anna Karenina to an episode of Desperate Housewives.

So in categorizing a novel that's mainstream, but whose description shortened to fit a nutshell (no insult to agents intended) sounds like a romance, how does one go about it?



This is neither mainstream nor romance; it's boring.
Tone, language, pace and word choice tell me more about category (and your writing strength) than all those slacker nouns and flabby adjectives.

"Chic Central Park poodle collides with overbearing, snotty and yet oddly enticing puggle on the downtown B train to Barkville" is a romance.

If you can't see why that's a romance, you need to read more, and think about how you talk about your writing.

"Killer Yapp is alone. Frantically searching the six thousand stiletto heels on Central Park West at rush hour, can Killer Yapp find the only two that can save him from evil Dog Catcher of Central Park?"

That's a thriller.


Use the language, tone and pacing to convey what your work is. If you're not setting out to write a romance novel, don't call it that.

19 comments:

a romance writer said...

Also, study a bit more about genre. Genre romances are never about adulterous relationships.

Julie said...

Also, is it the selfish but sympathetic younger woman running off with the handsome young officer, or her older stodgy husband? Proper modifiers (or possibly comma placement; that entire sentence needs reworking) are our friends...

ORION said...

And
"a day in the life of a poodle full of angst and introspective combativeness with his unresolved entire self, neutered self, place in the universe and his examination as to his inability to come to terms with his own existence..."
is literary fiction.

Anonymous said...

Who runs off with the young officer, anyway? The sympathetic young woman, or the stodgy older husband? See, we've added a whole level of intrigue here with one little misplaced modifier.

Kit Whitfield said...

'Selfish but sympathetic'? How so? The two are mutually exclusive unless your writing can convince people otherwise. It's perfectly possible - Scarlett O'Hara being a hugely popular example - but it's probably best to go on the show-don't-tell principle here: her actions should convey that she's selfish, and her presentation should make her sympathetic. All of which is in the writing rather than the cover letter.

Of course, you might not be planning on putting it like that in the cover letter, in which case I'm telling you something you don't need to hear. Good luck, anyway.

Maria said...

Uh, Miss Snark? Killer Yap found you okay, didn't he?????

Anonymous said...

So the stodgy-old husband is running away with the handsome young officer? That's at least a different sort of romance.

Though I do believe that genre romance still frowns on adultery...

eviltwinjen said...

As the romance writer noted, it's extremely rare for a romance heroine to be married already (unless the husband dies on page 1!). If you want to avoid making it sound like a melodrama, focus on the heroine's conflict in her marriage rather than the fact that she ran off with Handsome Young Officer.

snortingwithlaughter said...

LOL, orion!

Anonymous said...

I used the word "romp" in my brief query. I tried to reflect the tone of the novel in the query, and started off with title, genre, and all that stuff. Is romp a useful descriptor, or is it a slacker noun?

pulp

CM said...

Genre romances are never about adulterous relationships.

Really?

Try Esme in Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James.

Never say never.

j h woodyatt said...

Needs dinosaurs.

michaelgav said...

Pulp, "romp" sounds to me like reviewerspeak. (You didn't use the word lighthearted immediately before it, did you?)

WriterForHire said...

"KY, true heir to the throne of Doggonia, has lived most of his life on the streets of New Yorkie, having been banished for using a spell he didn’t cast. When Princess Goldendoodle sends a message to tell him the kingdom has fallen under a curse and the cats have taken over, will he be able to forgive those who betrayed him and save his kingdom from the evil rule of Kitty Catticca?” soooo... fantasy adventure?

McKoala said...

Orion - neutered? Say it ain't so! What about my plans for a poodle/koala crossbreed? A koodle. A poala.

Anonymous said...

I did not understand your post at all, but it sounds as if you are looking for novels about lost dogs in Central Park.

Am I right?

I can't write books about lost dogs but I can write books that ARE lost dogs.

You don't get enough of those, do you?

Should I query?

Do I HAFTA enclose an SASE?

Don't know about your dog, but I LOVE your blog.

Dave Kuzminski said...

j h woodyatt: Nah, needs more sodomy.

In-joke among SF writers. ;)

Janny said...

My favorite query letter mistake is still the "I've written a fictional novel" sentence...nitwittery that goes beyond category. :-)

Janny

Fuchsia Groan said...

I showed my query to a friend who showed it to a well-known romance novelist, and they both agreed I had to specify the genre... thriller? sci fi? horror? satire? To be honest, I don't know; I've always thought of its going in the general literary/commercial fiction section of the bookstore, because that's the section where I buy books, and many of them have futuristic/suspenseful/satirical elements. I mentioned to my friend what I read in one of Miss Snark's earlier posts about not needing to mention genre, but he wasn't convinced. Of course, he's an English prof, not an agent!