Wednesday, October 25, 2006

If You Don't Know Your Genre...

I am from India and my novel is set in contemporary India. It doesn't
fall into a conventional genre like
romance/thriller/historical/sci-fi, etc. and I am apprehensive about
calling it literary fiction as it isn't all that high brow.
Would my best bet be querying agents who handle multicultural fiction,
or is there some other category I should look out for?
Basically, I am looking for an answer to: You should query agents who
handle _______ genre. Please fill in the blanks.

It is probably contemporary fiction. Unless the agent's profile specifically indicates that they only handle specific genres (agents who only do sci-fi/fantasy, agents who only do romance, etc - but there's very few of them), go ahead and query.


ORION said...

One of my first conversations with my agent was her asking "Where do you see your book fitting in?" She asked me which authors more closely resembled my writing and what kind of writer did I see myself as. Trust me. If YOU don't know - nobody else will. This is when having more than one manuscript and story idea helps you. Go to the book store - spend all day if you have to - look at books, read the back blurbs and skim the first chapters. Find out where you fit. Then that is how you present yourself to agents.
I guarantee you will show your amateurism if you say that your book is like no only shows that you are unfocused and do not have a clear vision of the type of writer you are. It also is a give away that your book is unfocused too.
Agents do not have time to figure out who you are or what your book is like - that is your job.

Kimber Li said...

This can be a really tough one! With mine, it's a conflict between whether it's science fiction or young adult. Since Young Adult/Science Fiction is a tough sell these days, I decided it's just straight science fiction. The confusion arises because the heroine starts the story as a teenager, but so does Luke Skywalker. But, the truth is her parents have their own plot thread and it's very adult. I needed a lot of feedback before a I figured it out though. I'm still submitting it to agents who represent both science fiction and young adult at this point. I'm told space adventures, in general, are a tough sell. I'm hoping Miss Snark is right that good writing trumps all and that my writing is good. Isn't it wild how the Polishing phase of revision just never sends to end?

Kimber Li said...

To the original questioner, I named a nebulae in my book after India's first woman in space, the one who tragically died on the Columbia. Just my tiny way of hoping that her courage will never be forgotten.

Anonymous said...

With respect Orion, I think the advice you have offered of going to a bookshop and skimming through novels is sound only in the US. This author is unlikely to find the wide selection of US books necessary in a bookstore in India

Kimber Li said...

Maybe so, but she could check out Amazon, Borders, or Barnes & Noble on-line.

writtenwyrdd said...

The problem with checking out books on line is that you cannot see where a bookstore would shelve them. That pretty much defines what genre you'd present your work as, I think-- where stuff goes on the shelf.

ORION said...

I did not necessarily get the impression that she lives in India - only that her novels take place there. If she intends to get a US agent / publisher I think my advice is valid and can also be accomplished online as kimberan suggests. The idea of "where your book fits" is not necessarily only a physical one. Amazon, B&N etc. give a ton of information on books that anyone can access. You can figure out where the similarities are. My point is that an agent wants to know where your book fits in before reading it - in your query letter.
It may be more difficult to figure this out from another country but it can be done.

Anonymous said...

It frequently fascinates me how much difficulty writers have w/ reading? I see it everywhere. Possibly it speaks to the inability to follow submission guidelines on agent web sites. You know, when they say ql, only and a would-be writer says, "Oh, what the hell, I'll send the whole ms, anyway."

Then they grumble and wonder why they never get a timely/or any response. Which leads to the inevitable irritate the assistant phone I rambling? Sorry :)

Opening words: I am from India and my novel is set in contemporary India.

My conclusion, unless otherwise stated, she indeed resides in India. But, that's just me :)

Finding your genre isn't always so simple. For example, the ms I'm querying, it was suggested that it's romance. No, it is not. Why? 'Cause it's got a story behind it. Therefore, it's women's fiction. Before arriving at that, there was a bit of discussion, which is good.

When you say it's amateur hour to not know what writer's you're like, that's hard to define, too. For myself, it's a matter of, dare I say, arrogance. I'm more confortable w/ others comparing me than myself doing it.

My 2nd ms is a mystery and yes, I've been compared to other writers. When asked, those are the names I will use. But not because I said so.

Rejecter, it's tough when you don't get responses, for months, from queries. Courtesy is a two-way street, don't you think? By months, I mean since Jan. and Mar., respectively.

What I find encouraging, from your blog, is that many of the things you've discussed, I'm currently employing. One thing is for sure, I'd be too nervous to call an agent to find out why they hadn't responded. Quite presumptuous.

You really do need a pup, even in NYC. Yup, I'm INSANE! I'm in CT and dog walk to support my writing :)
Large pups in the city, I've never understood, though.

ORION said... in Hawaii you can be "from" somewhere and can "live" somewhere else. I prefer not to read into a post.
The reality is an agent WILL ask you which author you see your books sitting next to.
It is not arrogance it is simply fact - it is not saying you are "as good as" it is simply a descriptor. Agents need to know this information.
jm - your post sounds a bit annoyed with me - I am just trying to help. I wish someone had told me one of the FIRST questions an agent would ask me on the phone would be "Where do you see your books fitting in. Which authors do you see next to your books."
I would have been better prepared with my answer.
Whether someone compares you to another author or you make the comparison - My point is you have to have a vision for the kind of writer you are so your agent can shop your book.
This is what my agent has told me.
This is what my published friends have told me.
It is just our collective experience.

Anonymous said...

I'll chime in on this to add that, in determining your genre, it would be likely that the author can think of a book they read which seems to them like their work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. Just to clear the confusion, I live in India and I am a "he", not "she" :-)

Guess I will have to find out by proxy. Where do you see Indian authors shelved in bookstores in Borders or Barnes&Noble? Do you see Indian authors bunched together, or separately, depending on the subject? I don't think there are Indian authors writing genre fiction anyway. Say Salman Rushdie, or the new Booker winner Kiran Desai... where do they sit in the bookstores? [Not that I am necessarily equating myself to them.]

Anonymous said...

I don't think you absolutely have to be able to compare your work to published authors, or be able to tell an agent what part of the bookstore it should be.

I've worked with several agents over the past 2 years and this never came up.

I *did* know my genre, and while the list of author blurbs I had compared me to several well-known authors, the AGENTS' take was that my work is unique and that's why they wanted it.

There is no one size fits all here. Write a great book, a good, professional query letter, cast a wide net, and be flexible wrt suggestions and editing - and you'll have a good shot at publication.

As for Indian where Indian authors are shelved in the U.S. - well, there have been a fair number on the "award-winner" tables, the bestseller lists, etc. :)

Kaylea said...

I'm responding to the question about where an Indian author's book might be shelved, since I'm a bookstore junkie. My own experience is that in American bookstores, authors are rarely grouped by nationality/ethnicity. There might be a special promotional table when a given author or topic is popular, but that's just a marketing thing.

Genre is the biggest separator. However, I've seen separate sections for "literature by/about" sections created for African-American, Hispanic, and Gay/Lesbian readers.

Beyond genre and maybe large minority groups, books seem to get split between "literary" and "popular" fiction sometimes, but not much else. In the bookstores I've been to, Jhumpa Lahiri and Arundhati Roy (those are the two Indian authors I'm most familiar with) sit on the same shelves as Michael Ondaatje, Orhan Pamuk, Naguib Mahfouz, Ian McEwan, and Zadie Smith.