Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don't judge a book by its genre.

We've all done it before, right?  I'm guilty of doing it.  A lot. 

Me:  The Hunger Games is a dystopian?  Isn't that like science fiction?  No thank you.  I don't like science fiction. 

This is just one example of many.  I think every book on my top ten list is a book I initially wasn't too keen on reading.  I think we all have pre-conceived notions of different genres.  Sometimes, all it takes is one bad experience with the genre to turn us against it.  For example I hated the show Star Trek when I was little--all of them, including the spin-offs, so whenever someone mentions the words "science fiction," my knee-jerk reaction is "no thank you."  The same thing with urban fantasy.  A while back, I read a book in this genre that I was less than impressed with, so now I'm totally turned off the idea of reading something else in this category.

I'll be the first to admit this is wrong, which is why it bothered me so much when I read this 
article in Publisher's Weekly .  To summarize, it talks about the over abundance of YA paranormals, and how some agents and editors want nothing to do with this genre because of its over-saturation.

Is this really happening?  Are there literary agents and editors out there who immediately reject a book based on its genre?  You bet your favorite vampire novel there are!  Countless times I have come across agent profiles that include something along the lines of, "I am no longer interested in paranormals" or "no vampires".  This is just what gets posted--I can only imagine the "special" instructions given to agency interns who are weeding through the electronic slush pile. 

Yes, I can understand agents/editors not wanting to represent books similar to those out there, but a good story is a good story, right?  Also, the word "paranormal" encompasses a lot more than vampires, werewolves, angels, and demons.  Characters with special abilities . . . people and places that are cursed . . . all of this is considered paranormal. 

This isn't the first genre to get ostracised.  Chick-lit is no longer allowed to sit at the cool kids table, and I can only imagine that dystopian is heading in that same direction.

I like to pretend this isn't really happening.  That agents/editors are judging queries/manuscripts based on the quality of writing and the story and NOT based on genre.  But, as someone who is currently querying a paranormal, I can tell you the interest has not been great.  I realize there could be a number of reasons for all the rejections--my query, the concept, the writing--but after reading this article, it does make me wonder.


  1. You can always try to slant it as Fantasy in the query, since Paranormal and Fantasy are hard to distinguish sometimes. According to an RWA Workshop I went to at conference, 'Paranormal' has to involve characters who are 'not human' where as Fantasy involves characters who have special abilities, but are otherwise human. But in general these days it's hard to tell--like Fairies? They used to be strictly Fantasy, but are now considered both?

    Another trick is to describe characters in your query, not label them. For instance you mentioned a succubus in your last post--if that was say, your main character, you could say 'Suzie' who can control men with a single glance(or whatever she does) and not 'Suzie the succubus. Or Jonny who has to have blood to survive, not Jonny the vampire. Sounds like the same thing, but it can make it seem like you are doing new things with old ideas which can be enough to at least get you a second look.

    I do feel you though... I've been working on my next project which I have been considering Fantasy, and I sent it to my agent to read and she really likes it, but she called it Paranormal, and I kinda freaked out. :/ Shame on me!

    ...Wow, long comment! Okay, I'll shut up now...

  2. Hi Marian!

    When I was researching the two genres (paranormal vs. fantasy), the common explanation I got was that the difference had to do with the world in which the story takes place (real world=paranormal, world involving magic=fantasy). This site explains it really well:
    I suppose it's one of those things that can be interpretted differently.

    Also, thanks for the suggestion (describe characters as oppose to label them). I actually do both--I say what she is, but then I explain what she can do :-/ I'm almost tempted to take the word "paranormal" out of my query all together! Grrr . . .

  3. ARGH. I feel your pain Angela. I queried an adult vampire fantasy right around the time of the Twilight craze, and it has yet to see the light of day. Maybe Jenny can get it out there. It's so completely different than any other vampire story, but that just doesn't seem to matter. They see the word vampire, and they shut down.

    What really frustrates me the most, is that it's not the readers saturating the market with one genre until it's banned, it's the publishers. THAT makes me want to bite a few ankles. HEH.

    I hope you get some interest in your book soon!! I personally think it sounds spectacular!

  4. Hi Anita :o)

    You took the words right out of my mouth ;o) I was so excited during the writing phase of this ms, because there was nothing out there like it (in YA). I thought the concept alone would be enough to at least get requests to see more, but it seems like they get turned off the moment they see the word "paranormal."

    Like I said, it could be other reasons behind the rejections, but I just find it very odd that my very first book got more requests than this one is getting! It's just extrememly frustrating.

  5. Hey Angela- I completely relate to this post! When I was first querying agents, a few responded back with "no paranormal." So during the next round of querying, I avoided the term and just labeled the manuscript YA fiction. There were actually a few agents that said they weren't looking for paranormal but the idea intrigued them, and they asked for sample pages. Here's to hoping an editor feels the same way...
    Hang in there; I love reading paranormal stories, so I'm sure to be a fan of your work! Sending positive thoughts your way :)

  6. Ang, your concept is unique and it's VERY light paranormal, in my humble opinion.

    I hate that this is happening. No fault of Stephenie's, but she's ruined the future of a lot of writer's amazing books because so many editors jumped on the band wagon AFTER her book became successful.

    I can only imagine the paranormal genre will be like leg warmers. Eventually it will come back around, but only after people have had time to forget about it. (sigh)

  7. @A. Lynden Rolland--thank you for the positive thoughts--I can sure use them ;o) I think I might actually do what you did (take the word paranormal out of my query). At this point, I feel like it couldn't hurt :o)

    @Bethany--you know, I was just thinking the other day, it's a good thing Anne Rice wrote her books years (and years, and years) ago, or else she might be having the same problems (can you imagine?). Oh, and are you serious? Leg warmers are back in style? Figures, all these 80's fashions are making a comeback EXCEPT for big hair! WTH?!?! ;-)


  9. Bethany- Hahaha! Girlfriend, I could rock big hair back-in-the-day like it was nobody's business! ;o)

  10. My newest WIP is fantasy and I feel that some people don't want to represent that either. It's also hard for find someone that represents Young Adult Christian Fiction, most just want non-fiction or adult. I'd hope that a good agent could see past the genre and actually like the material. :)

  11. Ok, this is comment attempt #2. Couldn't get to it on my iPhone for some reason.

    Anyway, wow. Interesting. I haven't been querying so I am ignorant of what's going on out there in Agentdom. Really? They turn away at the mere mention of Paranormal? That sucks. I don't know what else to say to that. :(

  12. Krista, thank you--I hope so too ;o) And good luck with your WIP :o)

    Cherie--I know, that's pretty sad, right? Not ALL agents do this (I have gotten one full request after all), but I think the number of agents that WANT YA Paranormals is dwindling :o(

  13. Yes, there probably are some agents who simply aren't looking for certain genres anymore, but that doesn't mean it's off the table for everyone. I sat next to an agent who mostly reps romance (adult) at dinner during a conference, and I mentioned exactly this - that I was worried about querying a YA paranormal simply b/c I was afraid it was going to become a bad word, like "vampire."

    Her response - "I never have trouble selling paranormal romance to publishing houses. If it's a good query, I'll look at it."

  14. That's good to know, Mindy. The publishing industry needs more agents like that ;o)