Shawshank Redemption: The Walls Are Your Friends
-How did he escape?
-He put Mr. Darcy and zombies in the same book, sir.
While trying to get published, something I've learned alot about (and no, it's not how to spell "a lot") is the gargantuous amount of importance that is placed on defining your genre.
When pitching your manuscript, be it to an agent or publisher or whathaveyou, it is critical that you state exactly what genre your book will be eligible to sell in. You have to establish in your query letter that you have a complete and full understanding of what your genre entails. In fact, you know more about your genre than any other writer! You know so much about it that...
...you've been able to construct a book that can appeal to readers who also bought and loved "this book", "this book", and "this book" of "this genre." And yet, while your book fits perfetly into said genre, your book brings something entirely fresh and fierce and original to the genre that no other book has in the history of the genre because your book is so incredibly different and awesome and original and oneofakind...
...Oh, but of course, your book is not TOO different and awesome and orginal and oneofakind, because then it wouldn't fit in with the rest of the books in the genre.
Sounds unnecessarily exausting, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it is. But it can be simplified by knowing immediately what kind of genre you are trying to squeeze into.
"But!" You might interject, "My book isn't like anything else out there. It is a unique work of art and doesn't need to be labeled and shoved into a category just to satisfy some industry's corporate-customers'-grab-happy needs."
If you write that in your letter, it will be shot, fried, and flushed down the toilet.
It's great to have artisic integrity, and it's wonderful if you have created something that is so prodigiously unique that it cannot be defined by the boundaries of genre (see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Tori Amos, VALIS).
But if you truly want to publish, the confines of genre must become you and your artistic baby's new best friend.
HOW TO DEFINE YOUR MANUSCRIPT IN DIFFERENT STAGES:
1. If you are just beginning a manuscript.
- Establish your genre immediately. If you already have an idea of where your book will fit on the bookshop shelves, research that genre right away to make sure you can fulfill all the reader and publisher expectations while you're constructing your first draft. While you're exploring the genres, observe what has been done before and what hasn't. What book is the godfather of this genre? What are some influences and inspirations you would like to pursue or avoid?
2. If you are midway through or finished with your manuscript:
- Review your manuscript, then research the different genres you think it might fit into. If there a couple of different ways you can go, let's say you've written a Science Fiction Crime Thriller, then research the several genres you could fit into and choose one. Is your story a hard core science fiction drama set in the future on another planet with a crime plot within it, or is your story a detective crime story with elements of sci-fi embedded within which later prove false when your protagonist discovers a Sherlockian/Scooby-Dooian solution?
Which way do you want to go? If your manuscript fits into neither, then go back and revise until it does.
3. You are finished with your manuscript and have declared your genre.
-This means it's time to search out an agent/publisher who works in that particular genre. Do research on them to make sure your book will appeal to their taste. What other books have they published? Will readers of those books like yours as well?
Remember, don't let the requirements of a specific genre cramp your writing style. It is still important to let your manuscript develop organically into its own kind of monster. Let your ideas, characters, and story flow out of your during the first draft, then worry about the hassles of molding into a genre later. You may begin your story as a victorian mystery, but it evolves into urban fantasy. You may start out writing historical fiction, but shift over to steampunk.
Write what comes naturally, let your voice express yourself and your characters grow. Just bear in mind that no agent will be thrilled to hear the phrase, "fast-paced-western-ghost-story-futuristic-noir-high-fantasy-banshee-meets-Frankenstein-romance."
List of main genres:
High Science Fiction
Low Science Fiction
Middle Grade Fiction
Young Adult Fiction
What sort of genres are you interested in? What genres do you have questions about? Do you see a particular genre that I've left out?