For some writers, choosing the genre or style of their book is easy. Mysteries, thrillers, romance . . . easy-to-define genres with somewhat universal formulas that say to the literary agent on the hunt for new material, “This is what it is.” Fortunately for the easy-to-define genre writer, agents are usually very clear on what work they represent. A little homework can pay off for writers seeking time efficiency, who research what genre agents represent. What a waste of time and energy–possibly for a number of people–for an agent to reply to a query, “I appreciate your children’s story, and it may very well have promise, but I only represent non-fiction.”
Burgeoning novelists who cross genres face the challenge–correction, additional challenge . . . as if they need more of those–of determining exactly what genre their book is. (Writing instructors insist you should have known this before you started writing it, anyway.) How do you pitch a cross-genre book in an elevator pitch, a.k.a. “the thirty-second pitch”, when you’re nervous as hell and you’re trying to keep it simple and compelling? I’ve discovered expressing the book with a surplus of genres is indeed a great way to make an absolute idiot of myself. “This is a commercial fiction upmarket novel that delves into urban fantasy and romance with some action and suspense and a little bit of supernatural.” Oh my God, my own head spins writing it. As groundbreaking of a story as I may think (read: hope) it is, come on! There’s got to be an easier way of describing The Silent Partner.
Now, I’ve never really used the term, “upmarket”. I remember the Writer’s Digest Conference where I had first heard someone use it. (I’m still not entirely sure of its exact definition, being that everyone explains it differently. Perhaps agents have a clearer definition than the writers I’ve come across.) The ambitious confusion that fills the minds of writers pitching their work for the first time is interesting to watch. For those of us pitching our work multiple times and stumbling through our multi-genre pitches, the experience is nothing short of tragic.
This is what I’ve learned: If you’re going to cross genres, try to keep it limited to two of them. Spend the rest of your time focusing on the relatable and compelling parts of your story. This can hopefully lead to questions regarding character and motivations through the narrative drive, rather than confusion over elements of genre. In the end, an agent may better appreciate the other ingredients seamlessly woven into the story. If anything, there may be one more literary-appreciating person who reads some of our work, which is what it’s all about.
PS: Chick-lit, I hear, is dead. Don’t use it.