Friday, June 4, 2010

Question from a Writer - We have two!

I'm curious though to your opinion as an agent. Do agents look beyond the mislabel?

For example, the story is queried as romance, but it's really a suspense with romantic elements or perhaps women's fiction (a love story maybe). In general, if the genre is one an agent represent, do you think he/she forgives the writer for screwing up and considers the work for what it is?

I get submissions like this all of the time from writers and in a simple and short answer - yes.

With that said, I do think that when someone submits a story to me that is mislabled, this is telling me several different things that could potentially reflect upon the writer.

The first stems from a lack of knowledge about the industry. In other words, the writer really doesn't know or understand the sub-genres in the business. He or she simply sat down, wrote a story and called it something. I see this more than anything with writers using my online form and calling their writing category because it fits into a category of romance. In this case, they just don't get it.

The second issue stems from a writer not doing his or her research. At the recent conference, a writer pitched me a story that she called a women's fiction. Another agent had thought the story fit that category since it didn't fit the definition of a romance. While I agreed with that agent on the fact it wasn't a romance, I did not agree with the idea of it being women's fiction. In this case, the story was focused on a guy and we weren't learning more of what it was to be a woman dealing with women issues. Because of this, I labeled it a novel with fiction elements, general fiction, or something in that area.

Now here is where the research comes to play. Before pitching a story to me, the writer needs to review what I think the story would be and pitch the story to that target. That's research.

The final issue stems from a story that really could go multiple directions. In those cases, I tend to be a bit more relaxed about it and will consider the story from both directions. If it is a romance, I think about where I might send it, and if not, I try it as women's fiction or another genre. I will have to admit, in most of those cases, I tend to pass on the story because it simply doesn't fit either.

The deal though is that we aren't going to reject you simply because you mislabel something, but that wording you use in the query tells the potential agent or editor a lot.

Subject: Hero/Heroine First Meeting

I've recently learned a certain publisher has an unwritten law that the hero and heroine must meet in the first five pages. Is this pretty much true for any romance genres except women's fiction?

Along with that question, I'd like to ask, is it all right to have short scenes where you introduce the H&H to the reader doing their thing but they don't actually come face to face for say 12 pages or Chapter Two? I'd be interested in your thoughts on this.

These are two interesting questions and, unfortunately, there is no correct answer to this one.

As far as the first goes, this is far from a rule that goes from one publisher to the next. I would have to say, the odds are, without knowing the publisher you speak of, that the books are relatively small in size. In other words, we have to get the story moving quickly so introduce the characters fast. Obviously, the longer the book, the more chance we have depth of character development so we might not meet the characters until much later in.

That, of course, ties into the second question of when we see the two characters together. Again, this deals with the publisher and the size of the book.

In either of these cases, it is up to you as a writer to do a little bit of research and really see how the publisher you are targeting deals with these situations in general. Find those trends within that publisher and write toward that.


1 comment:

  1. One of the problems though is that the information about the subgenres isn't always available or is sometimes conflicting. For years, I picked up books in the mystery section of my bookstore, and I wrote a book like the ones I read. But everything I read on mysteries told me that whatever I'd done wasn't a mystery. The story was a thriller, but there wasn't any information on that--and a lot of it was conflicting. I saw one agent say it was a subgenre of mystery, and another say he took mysteries but not thrillers!

    Now I'm in urban fantasy, which has similar problems. I can find tons of stuff on fantasy, but nothing on the subgenres other than what I find by getting books from the fantasy section of the bookstore. Mine has magic but not supernatural, and I have seen books billed as urban fantasy that are similar. But I've also been told it's a contemporary fantasy by another writer.

    It's not from lack of knowledge, but a lack of availability of information. I grab up any articles from official sources like PW, but it's still just darned hard to find information. Maybe it's just me--I tend to look for a list that says, "UF should have X, X, and X." At the moment, I do the agent research and ID it either as UF or CF, depending on the agent.