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Sunday, November 15, 2009

What's in a name?

     Ah, Bill. Why is it that one man can be quoted for every single situation mankind has ever faced, and with such eloquence, too! But I digress. Much as I wish it otherwise, this post is not about going on and on about Bill's (Yes, we're on that kind of first name basis with one another) virtues with the pen. No, this post is about genres, and the naming of them.
     As part of my quest (not for the Holy Grail) to becoming published, I must define my book by its genre, and apply it correctly to agents that represent that genre? Yet genre is not so simply defined any longer. Western, mystery, romance, and science fiction used to have clear delineations. Science fiction then spawned fantasy, it's anachronistic cousin (child?) so that booksellers always listed (and most still do) the two together, an awkward Siamese situation where the two will never be separated despite being near opposites.
     The delineations began to snowball from there. Some clever authors realized that a story doesn't have to stay within the artificial boundaries genre, completely. Fantasy and science fiction melded with romance. Horror blended with sci-fi. Horror blended with romance. Mystery and horror. Mystery and fantasy or science fiction. The list goes on in just how these genres have collided recently, giving rise to new sub-genres that are not so easily classified by agents and publishers, let alone booksellers. The contemporary urban fantasy, or the paranormal romance, or the science fiction romance, etc. are difficult to really classify when selecting an agent.
     As for myself, I find myself taking a particular existing sub-genre and mixing it with a relatively new sub-genre: hard-boiled mystery and urban (or contemporary, as some have labeled it) fantasy blended together into a new creation. I am not the sole writer in this genre, but it is still relatively new when compared with the host of others out there. Who, then, do I target in my agent search? Agents generally abide by the classic definitions of: Mystery/crime, science fiction, fantasy, adventure, action, romance, historical fiction, etc. The best I can figure is to select the crime and fantasy genres, hoping that the agent is receptive to this new rose, yet I do not know if, to the agent, it will smell as sweet.
     In the end I know my story is just that, a story. Sub-classifying it to the nth degree seems almost futile, but it is something that must be done if I am to get published. Yet this seems like another one of those hurdles that seems exceptionally awful for an author to jump. Writers, as a general rule, are ill-equipped for breaking into the publishing game. Reducing a novel, almost business-like, to a letter the size of a memo---miniaturizing all the twists, turns, and character developments to a line or two---is an agony all its own, and then to package the story neatly in the genre box is difficult as well.
     I can understand the flipside, that agents are inundated and need these formalities in place to help them do their jobs and weed through the infinite piles of queries on their desks, but I wish the guidelines were easier for the writers to comply with, or at least more clear guidelines could be written. I have come, at last, to understand the perfect query letter from an agent's eyes. It is much like the ruling of the United States Supreme Court who so sagely pronounced about obscenity "we'll know it when we see it". So, too, do agents recognize a perfect query when they see it, yet its ineffable qualities make it nearly impossible to describe and thus proscribe to future authors, much to the regret of both writers and agents, everywhere.
     However, I soldier forward, nearly ready with my own query to send out to agents, hoping to be one of the lucky few who manage to be one of the few picked as deserving of reputation, not unlike winning the lottery.

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