The Amazing Genre-Morphing Query!

This entry has nothing to do with this cartoon.

But it’ll have to do.

So, let us skip beyond the common sense conversation about writing a query, getting contradicting information and advice, and figuring out about too many cooks in the kitchen. Instead, I wanted to ask if this phenomenon has ever occurred for you.

When I first came to the point of being pleased with the pitch for my novel, The Momentary Light Afflictions, it was only a few sentences long. As far as literary fiction goes, it is really important to get to the pulse of the story – what motivates moreso than what happens. I can’t remember on which agent blog, but I really agreed with what I refer to as the formula for capturing this particular novel. It admittedly was the equivalent of a comically overstuffed suitcase, convulsing precariously. But, really, I did like it – and some measure of it is actually used on the TMLA page located at the top right end of the banner (and linked here).

I still like it…and I think intelligent readers can easily interpret it. Or, intelligent readers who aren’t reading hundreds of such letters at a time. At which point, I could see my pitch being quite packed and requiring far too much analysis. Which is unintentional, by the way. So, anyway, along with the help of my siamese, Jordan; my bro-i-l, Andy; and my hubby, I started unpacking it. For me, the process isn’t over until I stop agreeing with the criticism – lest you think I’m lamenting over only the second incarnation. Hah.

But something strange seems to now be happening. The more I try to unwrap the query and talk about “what’s happening”, the more it sounds like women’s fiction. It’s…very misleading. How is this happening?

Do other literary fiction authors have this problem when writing a query?

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I won’t ask the most irrational question that’s occurred to me; I shan’t dignify it with my breath. (And for those of you inclined to the wisdom of “perhaps you’re just finding out that your novel is women’s fiction”…major side-eye. You’ll have to take my word for it.) Wouldn’t it be easier if the agent read the book before the query so they wouldn’t be misled?! Hah-ZAH! I have unearthed the antidote!

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28 thoughts on “The Amazing Genre-Morphing Query!

  1. I’m completely ignorant on this subject…but if it helped to find an agent couldn’t you categorize it as womens fiction? If an agent isn’t looking for women’s fiction and thats what they are interpreting your query as…I mean, in a bookstore there isn’t a fiction section just for women is there? Or, is there? So, it would just be in a the general fiction aisle after publishing…

    Now you may respond and show me how ignorant I sound! 😉

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  2. Lol – you don’t want an agent misled because they take something on based on what they can sell, the editors/publishing houses with whom they already have rapport. Among other reasons. Plus, I have mild aneurysms when misinterpretation occurs. Right eye…twitching…

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  3. 🙂

    I didn’t mean purposefully mislead…I don’t think. I hope you don’t take this as a insult (its a compliment) but the snippet of TMLA I read reminded me of the style of book which Oprah chooses for her book club. Which are not womens fiction but definitely appeal to women (or maybe just a byproduct of her demographic). So, can’t it just be a little of both? Query it as both general fiction and womens fiction?

    Again, I don’t know what I am talking about. But I like to learn!

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  4. Seeing as Toni Morrison is on that book list, I don’t take it as an insult, lol. She is the evening star. (ToMo, not Oprah.) But I don’t think of literary fiction as being “for women”, nor does it deal with relationships in quite the way one would assume if they were told it was “women’s fiction”. Sets the reader up for disappointment, which can’t benefit the writer.

    But you def need to know what your genre is. Don’t want to query an agent and say it’s “kinda this and that”. There’s no section for that in bookstores. 🙂

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  5. My most humble opinion, Bethany, is that “literary fiction” refers mainly to style, tone and voice whereas “women’s fiction” categorizes the subject matter. I feel an MS could be both. From what I’ve read, TMLA appears to be both–and that’s a good thing. Relax. Go with it so that God can deliver futher on the talent he gave you. TMLA is definite the work of someone talented.
    I live off the island, BTW. May I contact you via your yahoo account?

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  6. The book, however, is not. It’s paranormal YA. That’s how it was sold, is what I’m saying.

    This isn’t MY design or desire, lol. I just know keep up with agent blogs and take very seriously the differentiation between genres. And it’s unfortunate, but I think women’s is more commercially viable or at least thought to be.

    @Vaudreuil: Of course, you may. I’m sure you’ve found the contact page. 🙂

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  7. Yes. I found the contact page. Not at all surprising since I create websites as a hobby–which probably explains why I don’t have one, ha ha. Actually the implied question was: is the email address posted there active or do I need to use the comment section?
    I want info about your church (sounds suspicious in this day and age but it’s not) so I will be emailing when I get a chance this weekend. I’m a mother, wife and business owner as well as a writer of AA fiction so time is often at a premium.(forgive any typos. Son is home from school!)

    PS: I hope you realize that when your book is published it will be categorized (unfortunately)as: ~African American Studies~
    Go figure. Proof at agent Kristin’s blog below

    http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2010/01/publishing-is-not-color-blind.html

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  8. Lol, glad to give you info about our church: People’s Church of Montreal. They’ve got a great website, as well.

    Sadly, yes, that is the norm. More important to me than the words on the first few pages are the bookstore ghettos. I wrote a post about it a long time ago and reposted it: http://myspacearchive.wordpress.com/2009/02/10/rise-my-beloved-or-reposting-my-fury-over-bookstore-ghettoes/
    There are authors who write specifically to an AA audience. Having a section therefore isn’t immediately wrong, but not ALL fiction by a Black person is AA fiction.

    Thanks for the link. I check her blog regularly and also heard a lot about the whitewashing by Bloomsbury. O_O

    Thanks also for commenting today!

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  9. I didn’t comment today. I’m commenting tomorrow instead, please forgive the haste.

    Also, totally understand the query woes. Because. Yeah. Mine took months, and who knows how effective it is P.

    I am pleased that it doesn’t look like women’s fiction. Or a travelogue. I hope.

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  10. Just to be clear, I call my writing AA fiction because my main characters are Black from the US. My subject matters are universal, but I’ve learned through experience that only agents who represent AA or multicultural MSS will consider my work. I never mention my race but the assumption is there because my main characters are AA. Lately I’ve been omitting the color of my characters in my work.
    I’m glad I came across your blog. Another blessing among the several I’ve had so far today. Yes, I have one of those “a half-full glass” personalities, lol.
    Good night to you.

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  11. As you’ve gathered by now, I have very specific ideas and intentions. I’m not horribly concerned with what “usually” happens, nor do I think most people should be. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing today! Night!

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  13. I once queried and got a response from an agent that my novel sounded like YA.

    MASSIVE HEAD EXPLOSION!!!

    Alas, I was young and had not yet discovered the therapeutic qualities of gin.

    However, she was still willing to consider a full, despite genre-confusion. Also, it will be evident from your pages that the MS is literary. I wouldn’t worry if the query makes it sound like women’s fiction. Tell them it’s literary and they’ll believe you–at least once they’re read the pages.

    I guess some agents ask for query only.

    Unlucky.

    I think this is a common problem for authors. Let us know how you get on.

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  14. Before I decided to write yet another query, I received a question from an agent as to whether the book was being presented as YA. I. Think this was because I told the age at which Demetra became a mother, which is 19? Still, I was like…M.H.E. Hhahahahaha, that was for you.

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