Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We're On To You

(Not posting much recently has been largely due to the Jewish holidays. Longtime readers probably guessed that)

In your query letter, if you describe a novel with an obvious sci-fi premise, and then write, "But it's not science fiction!" you either don't know what science fiction is or you are deluded into thinking we're really, really dumb.

And having "Book 1" in the title of your book - not the subtitle but the actual title - is pretty much an instant reject. Or, I've never seen a case where I didn't finish the query and immediately reject it.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is a novel like Timeline by Michael Crichton really science fiction? The core idea is based on time travel so I suppose it must be, but it's set in a mixture of the present day and 14th century France. The science is just a device to link the time periods. When I think of sci-fi, I think of authors like Peter F. Hamilton who create complex worlds and social structures and are very different to something like Timeline which I see as a techo-thriller not science fiction?

Thomas said...

I am now motivated to write a series of short stories all called "Book 3," each with a different subtitle.

"Book 3, part 2: the return of part 1."

The Rejecter said...

Technically, Crichton is sci-fi. He definitely wrote fiction about science, with the exception of Rising Sun and the Great Train Robbery and possibly some other books I'm forgetting because I stopped reading him around 1993. However, unlike most sci-fi authors, he was able to escape the dreaded "science fiction and fantasy" shelves that most new writers would not like to see themselves in for one reason or another. Harry Potter and Twilight escaped it by being YA.

Agents look at it not so much as "is it technically sci-fi?" as "can I sell this to one of the editors I know?" Agents who don't handle science fiction or fantasy might not want to bother trying because they don't know enough editors they think would be excited about the book. And that's the agent's job - to sell the book.

Anonymous said...

The reason I asked the question is that my own writing tries to do what Crichton has done so successfully; researching real science, and then moving it on an extra step as the premise for a story set in the real world.
I was hoping to avoid ever mentioning the words sci-fi in a query, but it looks like my mainstream thriller (techo-thriller at a push) is going to have to 'come out' as the science fiction, I suppose it really is :)

Anonymous said...

"...researching real science, and then moving it on an extra step as the premise for a story set in the real world."

This is a good description of SF, (not sci-fi, please). The genre covers a lot of territory, and your description fits right in.

Colin said...

This is interesting, because it seems the more you get into specific cases the less you can clearly define certin genres.

Neil Gaimon's work is often called "sci-fi," but it seems to fit the criteria for literary or even urban fantasy.
How much of this is authors not knowing the best genre descrition of their work and how much is them trying to pull a fast one?

error7zero said...

Book One, indeed.

Dear Agent: Enclosed is my trilogy. Book One and Book Two are guaranteed best sellers, Book Three will be considered a masterpiece.
Please mail my advance below.
Christian Bale ought to play the lead character.
I can send you a copy of the music I composed. Also some drawings.
When do I get my advance?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for calling it sci-fi, I don't read a lot of SF, but I do read a lot of thrillers that have SF as a important part of the story. Look at Dan Brown's Angels and Demons - an imaginary anti-matter explosive device. An atomic bomb would still have worked with that plot but assume he added something he thought readers would find more interesting. I think there's real confusion amongst authors trying to categorise a book that has a SF premise, but is written for a wider audience. Is Angels and Demons SF? I don't think authors are trying to pull a fast one, I really didn't think I was writing SF, but that's the (publishing) world we live in and maybe The Rejecter can let us know the best way to query this type of SF-lite book?

Anonymous said...

The reason for calling it SF instead of sci-fi, is that it can stand for "speculative fiction" as well as science fiction. This was a debate from long ago, the 60"s I think, before even my time. How do you categorize fiction that includes possibilities that don't yet exist but takes place in the present or near-present, or fantasy elements in what might be a main-stream story in every other way? Or stories with both? It's meant to be inclusive of anything, well, speculative. What ifs, in other words.

It's also a way of telling if someone reads SF or not. To me, sci-fi means movies. Usually bad ones.

Ivy said...

Would superheroes be considered sci-fi? This is something that confuses me...

The Invisible Writer said...

Ivy, I've seen some agents say Superhero or "Mutant" books are SF, some say you can go ahead and call it a superhero book, and one call it urban fantasy.

Yay for clear deliniations! :)

Anonymous said...

The high holidays are over, Rejecter. Please come back ...

Anonymous said...

Of course when the debate over what to call this genre was going on, superheroes were only in comic books. I have no idea how to categorize that as a story in novel form. If you go by the strict definition as I understand it, speculative fiction covers anything that contains elements existing in the future, or that are scientifically improbable and/or impossible.

Plus, sci-fi is being used so much and SF so much less, mostly by hard-core science fiction/fantasy readers, or old fogies like me, it seems to be becoming the standard term. It still bugs me when people use it to refer to books, though. SF is such a useful term. It cuts out a lot of confusion over genres and I'm definitely for fewer rather than more genre classifications.

Micah said...

Damn, just my luck that I would discover you and your blog after you'd retired!
Best wishes from South Carolina, which needs it, too.
Micah