Friday, October 29, 2010

Interview with Meeeee!

Hey all, in case you are in the mood for more Question Askin' Fun (or "QAF" as we call it in the biz), there is an interactive interview with me up on the Mother. Write. (Repeat.) Blog.  Have fun! 

On Rejection, part 2

I've been getting an unusual number of responses to rejections lately. "But I've done everything right, WHY don't you want it?" etc. 

This sort of question is basically forcing me to be rude to you. I either have to delete it with no response, or I have to give you an answer that you are not going to like. Probably "Because I don't like it." or "Because it isn't well-written." or "Because it is OK, but not good enough."  To be more polite would just be reiterating my original polite rejection.  And who cares what I think, anyway, if I don't like it, find somebody who does!

If you've sent one of these plaintive emails, I am sorry, but I just have to delete. 

And here is my lengthier post from earlier in the year on the very subject of rejection.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Big Ol' Genre Glossary

Q: Genre - it gets confusing.
Should I be labeling my work 'urban fiction', 'paranormal thriller', 'paranormal mystery'? I've read a few agent blogs where they mention not labeling it the correct genre gets a query the ol' form rejection.

How do we make sure we're getting it right?

I know it can seem daunting, but these words do actually all mean something specific. If I were you, I'd spend some time in the bookstore and figure out where your book really fits in. Meantime here's a glossary - keep in mind that these labels might mean slightly different things to different people, and some work is crossover, and some of the differences are made by marketing alone. Like, the difference between Historical Fiction and Historical Romance can be as simple as the color of the book jacket. So just get it as close as you can and then don't worry about it anymore.

"Genre" is a further classification beyond category. If I were to use a Biology class analogy (bear with me, I had to go to summer school for Biology) I'd say that in the taxonomic hierarchy Kingdom-Phylum-Class-Species, "Kingdom" is book, "Phylum" is format of book (electronic, hardbound, paperback), "Class" is category (YA, fiction, etc), "Order" is big-genre, "Species" is sub-genre. (And yes, there are even-more-specific sub-subgenres, but you don't need to get into that unless you are hardcore.)


DYSTOPIAN - These books are concerned with an end-of-the-world, or life-as-we-don't-know-it post-apocalyptic scenario. There might be mutants or bizarro creatures, but the stars are always humans struggling to survive in a terrible future-earth. Dystopian (aka "dystopic", which sounds terrible to me so I never say it) can have romance, but it doesn't have to. IF your book is NOT about a bleak futurescape, it is NOT DYSTOPIAN.

FANTASY is set in a different world from our own (sometimes VERY different) and the weirdness there is generally MAGIC, and creatures are MAGICAL. This world can certainly be earth, but it will be an earth that operates under different rules than earth and society as we understand it now, or set in a community on earth that "normals" can't see. (Hogwarts or Xanth, for example). Wizards & Witches are generally considered creatures of Fantasy, though they are human/humanoid, because they have magic. Fantasy can definitely be funny and fun, and romantic too!

HIGH FANTASY is usually set in a TOTALLY different world, and very often involves quests, swords, and people with unusually strange and strangely punctuated names. There is often a serious or "legendary" tone to High Fantasy. Lord of the Rings, for example, is High Fantasy.

HORROR Is your story scary? REALLY scary? If it was a movie, would there be blood on screen at any time, and would people scream and cover their eyes while watching it? That's horror. Horror can be paranormal or fantasy or realistic or historical.

PARANORMAL means that it is filled with human or humanoid creatures or human-something-shapeshifters in an essentially human or human-esque world, but they have extra SUPER-human abilities or powers. IE, psychics, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, kids who draw things that come to life, ghosts, visions, etc, are all paranormal phenomena. Vampires and Werewolves are arguably mythical creatures and therefore fantasy, but I'd call them paranormal actually, since they are humans that have changed into something else through some set of circumstances, not magic. (PARANORMAL ROMANCE is a little different, see "Romance" section).

Some things are sort of on the border between "paranormal" and "fantasy" - in that case I'd pick the one that you feel is the closest match.

SF/SCIENCE FICTION/SPECULATIVE FICTION- Sometimes confused with Fantasy or Dystopian, but IS NOT THOSE THINGS. SF generally seeks to answer a "what if" question, extrapolating things we know about our world and where future scientific development might go, or what might have happened if something was different in the past. Like, time travel. How would we do that REALLY, not using magic? What if in twenty years there was really a way to travel through time, and it was accessible to even high school students? Stories about space travel, aliens, time travel, faster-than-light travel, alternative history (ie, "What if England had colonized Mars?") fall under the SF banner.

STEAMPUNK Steampunk concerns itself with alternative history, usually in a Victorian (or Victorian-esque) setting where steam power and clockwork are used, but featuring anachronistic technology & fictional machines. So like, if your story has clockwork beetles with razorblade teeth who try to bite you to death onboard the dirigible you've hijacked, but you put on your goggles and spray them with your special Aether Gun... that's steampunk. Jules Verne or HG Wells were the original "steampunk" writers, though I am pretty sure they just called them Stories. There is much popular steampunk - think of LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, or the new (Robert Downey Jr) version of SHERLOCK HOLMES, or Scott Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN, for just a few examples.

URBAN FANTASY is always set in a city, and features um... FANTASY scenarios. For example, faeries that are addicted to drugs and live in the subway system. Or trolls who hang out in clubs and impregnate human chicks. Or whatever. If you haven't written a dark and gritty fantasy set what we would recognize as a human-style city, you haven't written an urban fantasy.


A mystery is by definition... mysterious, and often involves a crime or problem and a "whodunit" question. Mysteries can be either historical, or contemporary; realistic, or fantasy, or even paranormal. Something can be just a mystery, of course, but sometimes a book falls into a subsection of mystery, like one of the following:

COZY Cute mysteries, usually in series. Sometimes there is a theme to the books, like a cat solves the clues, or each book includes crossword puzzles or cookie recipes or similar. Sometimes the main character is a nice older person who lives in a cute town where trouble just seems to follow them around (think Father Dowling, or Jessica Fletcher from MURDER SHE WROTE), though modern cozies often have younger, hipper characters. Cozies may include crime or murder, but there is likely to be little to no bloodshed "onstage" and little to no sex, violence or profanity.

LOCKED DOOR MYSTERY A sleuth is given a set of circumstances that seem impossible - murders have happened in a sealed room, inaccessible to anyone, and the only possible suspects are ruled impossible, etc. Like MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE and similar. These stories are usually historical or just old (see "traditional mystery")

POLICE PROCEDURAL/FORENSIC/LEGAL A species of crime/detective novel that involves... well, POLICE, and how they go about solving a crime or crimes. Sometimes the perpetrator is known at the outset of the story and the book is more about the profiling, dna testing, forensics, and "manhunt". Anything where there is a crotchety old captain who is counting down the days to retirement, and a rookie wise-ass who doesn't want to ride a desk for the rest of his life... well, you get the idea. SUB-SUB-GENRES: If there is a lot of forensic or autopsy type material or a medical examiner at the heart of the story, it is acceptable to call it a "forensic" mystery. If there is a court case at the heart of the story, you can call it a "courtroom drama" or "legal thriller."

THRILLER is a fast-paced story usually with a mystery/crime element that is inherently THRILLING, often involving a hero who must solve a problem, or find clues, generally via adventure, daring, escapes, karate, CIA training, etc. Thrillers can be legal, or forensic, or historical, or true-crime, or actually of these CAN be thrillers, because extremely fast pacing is what really makes a thriller. (Cozies and Traditional Mysteries cannot be thrillers.)

TRADITIONAL MYSTERY like Agatha Christie or similar - a sleuth (Poirot for example, or Maisie Dobbs) who is given a crime and a set of suspects and clues, often with a specific location (train, Italian Villa, girl's school, etc) and a time frame (the end of the train ride, the end of the holiday, the end of school term) in which to solve the crime, and everything is wrapped up neatly at the end (possibly with all the suspects in one room, red herrings discussed, and villain apprehended.) "Traditional" mysteries of this sort do not necessarily have to be historical, but they often are, or they are just literally old books, and were contemporary in the 20's or whenever they were written.

TRUE CRIME This is actually non-fiction but is often shelved next to mysteries in a bookstore. Nonfiction about, well, A TRUE CRIME (duh) - but written in such a fast-paced and compelling manner that it could be fiction itself. Like DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY, or the new to paperback DOGTOWN, or HELTER SKELTER.


Here's the thing that separates ROMANCE from all other kinds of fiction: It is literally ABOUT the romance. It doesn't have to be about SEX, mind you -- just romantic relationships. If you took the relationship(s) out of the book, there would be little, if anything, left. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is a romance, because if you took Elizabeth and Darcy and all talk of marriage and love and related machinations out of the book, there would be . . . like three scenes of annoying girls talking about hat trimming. Feh. There are about a million sub-sub-genres of Romance, but I am just going to hit the highlights.

CATEGORY ROMANCE, aka SERIES ROMANCE: These are books often found on supermarket or Target shelves, usually published by Harlequin in the US with a very similar look to them. New books come out in these series monthly. They are generally short and cheap. They might be sweet, they might be Inspirational-Christian-themed, they might be sexy, but whatever they are, it will be VERY clear from the cover, title and description, exactly what you'll be getting.  For example, Harlequin American Romance will generally feature small towns, everyday women, Cowboys and Navy SEALS, and storylines like "surprise baby." Harlequin Medical Romance is about Doctors and Nurses finding love.

If a romance novel is NOT part of one of these types of series, it is often called a "Single Title Romance" -- which means generally longer, more complicated, and less "cookie-cutter-esque" -- and though yes, most popular authors expand their "single titles" into series set in the same family or world, that still doesn't make them "category" or "series" romances... Just trust me on this.

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: Do I really have to explain this? Romance, set in the here and now, with zero vampires, spaceships, etc.

EROTICA: It's allll about the sexytimes. If your book does not feature A LOT OF SEXYTIMES, it is not erotica.

HISTORICAL, aka REGENCY ROMANCE: Lots of people call all historical romance with ballgowns "Regency Romance" (I am guilty of this myself) -- but if course that is wrong. These books might be set in Victorian times, Edwardian times, Revolutionary War times, etc. And if you are talking to somebody who has WRITTEN a book set in Victorian era, they will probably get irritated if you call it Regency. The fact is, these are all sub-sub-genres of Historical.

True "regency romance" in the classic Georgette Heyer, "inspired by Jane Austen" sense probably doesn't have sex in it. Modern "regency romance" and historicals tend to have lots of steaminess and sexytimes. Personally, I'm just in it for the tempestuous heiresses, ballgowns and banter, and I'm fine with calling ALL of this "Historical" despite the fact that probably actual history had way fewer Hot Crime-Fighting Dukes and way more Hot Cases of Syphilis.

PARANORMAL ROMANCE - Does your story have smoking-hot werewolf sex, or a vampire/human love that defies the boundaries of time and mortality, or a ghost who makes out with his living girfriend in the school locker room, or forbidden incestuous desire discovered while fending off demons? That'd be Paranormal Romance.


If you don't think your book falls into ANY of these categories, but it is fictional... you can just call it fiction.

CHICK LIT This term is so out of fashion at the moment that if your book IS chick-lit, you'd probably be better off finding a different way to describe it. But basically, chick-lit is aspirational, fun, usually comedic and romantic, often a romp, often featuring a girl aged 20-38 and her search for the perfect guy. And perfect shoes. And mis-steps along the way to both. I happen to really like these books, but I think they were overpublished earlier in the decade. If your book could have shopping bags, heels, or a diamond ring on the cover, it is very likely chick lit (or another type of fiction wearing chick-lit clothing.) I would personally prefer to call these stories Romantic Comedies.

HISTORICAL Come on, you know what this is. Historical is stuff set in the past. YES, the 80's count as the past and are historical. YES, that means you are old. Historical can be romance, or fantasy, or mystery, or just fiction.

LITERARY FICTION - A term I hate! How pretentious sounding. And my first definition was very cranky. But it really is a term that people use all the time, no matter how much I personally don't like it. So I will use the words of genius Nova Ren Suma, who says, "Hard to define, but to me litfic has more of a focus on language, often voice—sometimes to the detriment of plot. It's often about HOW the story is told or crafted rather than simply the story, the action, itself."

MAGICAL REALISM Is your story basically realistic, but with one or just a few elements that are gently magical? Like for example, everything is like normal in your big huge family, except when Auntie Rosita makes her special stew, people fall in love, and when Uncle Pedro strums his guitar, watch out, because children start to dance on air... literally! Magical Realism is usually somewhat romantic and has heightened language, and is most associated with authors like Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, though certainly the books/movies CHOCOLAT, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and BABETTE'S FEAST are good examples too.

URBAN FICTION Urban Fiction is always realistic or at least semi-realistic fiction, often featuring hot sex, violence, thug life, gang themes, corrupt bajillionaires, gold-digging women, drug use, people doing time, etc. Often there are cars, legs, dice or guns (or some combo) on the covers. If you haven't written a book like this, do not call your book Urban Fiction.

WOMEN'S FICTION Whoa do I hate this term. I think ALL fiction is women's fiction. But this is a real marketing term, and this is the world we live in, sooo... "Women's Fiction" can be translated to mean "Fiction about Middle Class or Wealthy People and their Families and Relationships (and/or obsession with romantics of another era), usually with pastel umbrellas or rainboots or daisies or a hat on a hook or some other cutesy thing on the cover, favored by certain types of book clubs." "UPMARKET WOMEN'S FICTION" is the same thing, but more likely to win an award and/or sell a ton of copies.

I hope that this has made things MORE clear instead of less. If there are genres I am missing, let me know and I will add. If you would like more clarification, I can edit. This is a work in progress.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

To finish, or Not to finish?

Two different questions (that are really the same question) came up on the open thread:
"I know there have been a good number of sales to publishers based on partials. How does this happen? Are agents willing to sign up a client based on a partial only if those pages are truly outstanding?"
"I've attended several writing conventions in the past year and some of the information passed along from agents/publishers re:querying has been dramatically different. On a whim, I pitched my MS to an agent in attendance. She loved it and asked for a partial. Problem was, none of it was written. She said NEVER do that but earlier in the day, another agent said she welcomes it.

So, my question. When do you query? Once complete, or with a partial?"
First of all, here's a quick quiz for Fiction writers (non-fiction is a bit different):

Would any given random editor or agent recognize your name and know the title of at least one of your books without being told, and smile when they thought about it?

Have you written and published any books that have had wide acclaim and great sales and/or won major awards?


IF the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then by all means submit a partial.

In fact, if your sales are good enough or you are famous enough, don't even bother with that, just jot your great idea on a dirty cocktail napkin and call it a day.

If on the other hand you are a debut or barely-published author of fiction, what are you, nuts? You want to play reindeer games? In this economy? Who do you think you are? Do you know how many great FINISHED books we have to look at and sell?


Monday, October 18, 2010

Open Thread, October

Hi guys - once again, a place for you to ask whatever crazy or not-so-crazy agentish questions you might have, make comments, etc. Short answers I'll do in the comments, long answers may merit a blog post. I know some folks are still asking on former open threads, so this way your question and answer won't be buried.

Use responsibly. ;)


Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Little Something About You

I get a variation on this question quite often:
"I've been asked to provide a brief bio, but I have no novel credits... what do I do?!"
First of all, take a deep breath. This is not a trick question, and nobody is going to get mad or look down on you for not having credits. Everyone had to start somewhere. Personally I think NO credits are far better than half-assed ones.

If you write for magazines or newspapers, you need not mention them by name unless they are major national or international publications that there is a good chance I've heard of. You can however generically say that you are a "freelance magazine writer" or similar without getting in to the nitty gritty of a bunch of mags I've never laid eyes on.

NO: I have published short stories in the Bloomington Intelligencer, and recipes in the Lafayette Advertiser, and my quilting group put together a book of riddles and games called THREADING THE NEEDLE WITH FUN! that we had published by and sell at the local farmer's market.

YES: I have published short stories in The New Yorker and Paris Review.

OR: I am a freelance magazine writer.

OR, if you aren't: Don't mention anything.
You don't need to put your educational background unless it directly relates to your work, ie, if you write about wildlife refuges, and you have a degree in Zoology, it is a good thing to mention. As for writing degrees, if you have a masters or higher you might as well mention it, but if you don't, do not fret, nobody cares.

YES: I have an MFA in Writing for Children from Randoma College in Coldweather City.

YES: I am an expert in [book topic] and have [an advanced degree] in [field of study related to book topic]

NO: Anything else.

Keep it short and professional, and don't worry about it too much. This is NOT in lieu of the paragraph describing your book, and the main thing I want to know about is your book, anyway.

"I don't really have any publication history per se but I went to junior college and studied dental hygiene and I write a semi-annual tooth newsletter for my local tooth-enthusiasts forum. I am also a superenthusiastic mommy and I read my kids my stories about HENRY THE SQUIRREL WHO DIDN'T FLOSS and they just love them, so I know that though this is my first foray into the world of children's book writing, my toddlers laugh and laugh at my work, AND they learn a lesson, and I took this to a first grade classroom and read it to THEM and they just loved it too, and everyone will buy a copy!"

"I am a kindergarten teacher and freelance magazine writer in Skokie, Illinois. MY BRILLIANTLY RAD NOVEL ABOUT FIREMEN was inspired by my many years as a volunteer fireman's pole-waxer, and is my debut work of fiction.

Optional add-on: I am currently working on another novel, SOMETHING SOMEWHAT MORE MYSTERIOUS IN SPACE, a thriller about a troupe of mimes on a mission to Mars who must band together when one of their own is turned inside-out by invisible spacemonkeys. A synopsis is available upon request."
Did this make sense or did I muddy the waters even more?