Here are two actual conversations I've had with agents at two different conferences who, in their bios, claimed to love what sounded (at least to me) exactly like the type of book I write.
"This is a women's suspense novel about . . . etc. "
Agent: "What's women's suspense? There's no such thing as women's suspense."
Me: "Yes, there is. Think of it as the softer side of suspense."
Agent: shakes head, unwilling to discuss; rolls eyes, otherwise lets me know I just don't get how the publishing world works.
Agent: Who's the audience for this book?
Me: Primarily women, aged late twenties and up.
Agent: That's not an audience.
What were both of these agents trying to communicate to me? Neither of them actually articulated it, but I realized later they were both saying "We work with a set model based on genre. We can sell specific genres to publishers, but we can't even knock on the door if it doesn't fit the model." In the first conversation above, that's obvious. In the second, it took me a while to understand what the agent was actually saying, which was, "is your audience mystery readers? or suspense readers? or romance readers? pick one."
Before telling you about an interesting article I read in Publishers Weekly this week about new publisher interest in cross-genre books, I have to put a little disclaimer in so you don't think I have a negative opinion of agents. I don't. Almost all my interactions with agents have been positive. I've found that good agents are deeply committed to finding good books and authors they can promote, and will do whatever they can to support a project they believe in. I'm actually deeply grateful to the two agents referred to above, too, for helping me understand how important it is to be aware of the business model they operate from—not so that I can try to write a book that conforms to it, but so I know what the important points of contention may be so they can be addressed when shopping a book.
The fact is, if you don't write a book that fits neatly into an identified genre, you will run into roadblocks (unless you are truly a brilliant writer). I've read so many blog posts and email comments from writers who are frustrated because the traditional publishing world is not interested in cross-genre fiction, that I know there are many of us facing these issues.
Finally, here comes some great news for cross-genre writers, especially if you write scifi and/or fantasy. In "Crossing the Streams,"
by Rose Fox in this week's issue of Publishers Weekly
, we learn that there are both small presses and imprints of big publishers that are dedicating themselves to cross-genre fiction now:
is a small press that is publishing Ink,
by Sabrina Vourvoulias,"a literary novel that blends dystopian science fiction and magical realism."
is bringing out Vale of Stars
by Sean O'Brien in December, which blends "hard science fiction with social and political commentary and debates over ethics and morality." The president of JournalStone says that the press's authors "are blending horror, action/adventure, romance, and comedy, using science fiction as an 'anchor' genre."
Atria Books (imprint of Simon and Schuster):
"There has been an increased interest from readers for historical novels with a fantasy element, where facts and fantasy are combined in a seamless manner," says Atria's V.P. and senior editor.
is a Canadian speculative fiction press that is especially interested in one of the most popular ways of blending historical and fantasy—steampunk.
Viz's Haikasoru imprint
is interested in more recent history being explored by speculative fiction authors and has no problem with lines being straddled between literary and genre.
Small Beer Press
(publisher of the amazing Ursula K. LeGuin) often publishes books that blur the line between genre and literary fiction.
is publishing attorney Jill Archer's Dark Light of Day
in their mass market line. It's a blend of fantasy and legal thriller.
is also publishing a fantasy/legal thriller blend with Max Gladstone's debut, Three Parts Dead
Of course, as the article's author points out, SciFi Thrillers are nothing new.
But there does seem to be new energy behind blending genres. The romance genre also supports blending with other genres, using romance as a base. May the trend grow!