Know your genre

I received a form letter email rejection today from an Jessica Regel. Mind you, I thought this had the potential to be a reach. She is cool with fantasy if it's YA/Middle Grade, however, she seems to prefer Contemporary Fantasy versus other forms of the genre. She likes her stories rooted in our world. While I like to think of The Children of Midian as contemporary fantasy, our world plays a role only initially until Elliot stumbles through a portal into the parallel world Midian. So, technically it's High Fantasy.

The classification of stories into genres is a topic, which I imagine both frustrates and challenges writers to pigeonhole their stories. I once had a short story rejected by a magazine because it was too sci-fi for them. This was in my very early and naive days of writing and trying to get published. I had honestly never thought of my short-story-on-the-verge-of-novella in terms genre. It took place here on earth with regular people, only the planet turned out to be a computer simulation that needed rebooting periodically. In retrospect, I suppose it was sci-fi.

I've gone to three writing conferences over the last three years and I've learned two often contradictory lessons.
  1. If you want to get published you might want to know in which hole to stuff your pigeon of a story.
  2. The story and good writing is what's important. So, just send it.
The problem with #1 is that, like most things in this world, not everything is black and white. It is often difficult to typecast a novel into one tidy little spot, plus that tiger actually grows new spots over time, and his old ones have to shift around to make room. Make sure you get it right and make sure what you query with matches what you say it is. Don't bother sending a query about your urban fantasy to an agent who is looking for that genre, and then include a synopsis in which a farm boy rides a dragon as it does battle with a Krakken in the North Sea. She might notice.

As for #2, well, not everyone agrees with it. Secondly, someone has to actually read a few of your chapters to get a feel for the quality of the story and the writing. In many cases, you need to get past the query and onto a partial for this rule to apply. If you make an unbelievable pitch in your query, you've at least piqued their interest, and it's also a good sign of your writing skills, or at least your sales skills. :-)

This of course goes beyond genre or literary category. If you write books for kids - well you've got numerous categories there - Middle Grade, Young Adult, chapter books, transition books, and so on. There is even rumor of a new category that is somewhere between Middle Grade and Young Adult. You see? A new spot on the tiger forcing the other spots to get out of the way!

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