Thursday, January 31, 2008

Martian Zombies with Heaving Bosoms and Dynamite: A Question of Genre

Writtenwyrdd and Bernita have both alluded to something that has perhaps baffled many of us lately: splitting hairs when it comes to labeling genres. Written has a great post about fantasy vs. urban fantasy vs. Christian fantasy, etc. In response, Bernita raises a great question: how does one know who to query when these categories start to become so arbitrary?

I first saw the term “urban fantasy” last year and thought it might have something to do with magical realism, such as setting a story with elements of fantasy in a real environment. I thought of W.P Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe, the basis for A Field of Dreams. Well, no, because Shoeless Joe doesn’t have much to do with an urban setting.

I have always thought the lines between thriller and suspense were intentionally blurred by publishers in order to get a marketing edge for various titles. And then there was Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story last year, which was supposedly King’s first foray into romance. The dust jacket even had an endorsement by Nicholas Sparks. I read the book and thought it was a typical King story (apart from endless repetition and a questionable editing job--SK switched editors for this one). Yes, it had a romantic slant but was by no means a romance IMHO. In fact, it bore a very strong resemblance to his Bag of Bones, based just as much on romance as Lisey’s Story, but which was clearly marketed as horror. Lisey's Story seemed a shameless attempt at cross-marketing by manipulating its genre designation. I guess a publisher can do that when the author gets a sixteen million dollar advance.

As several have commented on other blogs, genre comes down to an agent’s definition. Unfortunately, agent definitions don’t always tally. The more I think of it, however, the title of this blog just might stand a chance in the slush pile. It might grab someone’s attention for that all-important thirty-second first impression! I hereby copyright the title and will take everyone out on my yacht when I make my first ten million bucks. I mean, it can’t miss, right?

Picture: public domain.


Bernita said...

Bill, it's all about shelf space on one hand, and "cutting edge" on the other.

Billy said...

Bernita, you're right about the shelf space. As for "cutting edge," I think that's another term that changes with the shifting sands of the literary marketplace.

~Nancy said...

I hereby copyright the title and will take everyone out on my yacht when I make my first ten million bucks.

Promise? ;-)

Thanks for visting my blog, BTW. :-)

I guess the reasons for positioning Lisey's Story were twofold: Because he's a Name Author and because romance is especially hot right now.

But, yeah, how do you position your book when you're sending a query off to an agent? Label it as just a general "fantasy novel" and let the agent decide? And if the agent is wrong - with the result that that particular book doesn't sell?

Oy. Talk about making a frustrating business even more frustrating!

Nice blog - and good luck with your book! :-)

Billy said...

Nancy, the yacht ride is for real ... as soon as I've gotten the advance :) And thanks for stopping by my lil ole dog and pony show. Every now and then, the metal plate in my head gives me a good idea!!!

writtenwyrdd said...

The original idea of genre, as I understand it, is to make it easier for the sellers to sell product and for readers to find product. But, honestly, the whole morass of definitions is getting sillier by the moment. I think Bernita has a good point, though, that giving it a spiffy new name that makes it "new" and "cutting edge" might also be at work.

Billy said...

Written, I agree with you and Bernita completely as for the rationale, but I guess I'm old fashioned. Rearrange the shelves and let a book be what it is (at the risk of being curmudgeonly) -:)

Lane said...

With a post title like that, you deserve that 10 million, pronto:-)

Billy said...

Lane, I am almost tempted to try this title with an agent--for real -:)

Charles Gramlich said...

All I know is that I didn't care much for Lisey's story. I certainly didn't see it as a romance really. but this cross genre thing is interesting. Seems like the only ones who can pull it off, though, meaning sell it, is the ones with big names already.

Billy said...

Charles, I heard King switched from Chuck Verril, his agent and editor, to a female editor at Scribner's to get a female take in the editing process. I thought the pacing was totally screwed in Lisey.