Ask The Agent,  elaine spencer

Ask the Agent

Sorry for the delay but here it is your Ask The Agent for this week.

If a manuscript is queried as belonging to one genre, but after reading the partial, you feel it belongs to another, what would you do?

This is something that actually happens more often than one would think. One big piece of advice I give to writers who ask me about query letters is to make sure they are familiar with what they are writing. This also ties directly into being familiar with the market that you are writing in.

The short answer to this question is if it is a good story and the writing is strong and sellable I don’t care if it was “mislabeled” – “I’ll say to the writer, hey you may think you have that, but in fact you have this, now here’s what we can do with it to get it sold!”

Now that I’ve said that, I’m going to mention several of the ways authors shoot themselves in the foot by not knowing what they write. They have a great story but they send it to an agent that doesn’t represent the genre that the story falls in. They pitch it to an editor who falls in love with it but isn’t able to acquire a manuscript that is outside of their line. In both instances not only is the author wasting valuable time, but they are perhaps ruining their chances with someone else in an agency/house that may be the perfect candidate to acquire the project.

Also, if one doesn’t know the real genre that their story fits in how can they be aware of the market demands for that genre? Yes, it is true that everyday someone says “bring us something fresh and different”, however, it has to fit within certain parameters to be able to market the title correctly to an interested audience. ::And here I will insert my weekly disclaimer, yes, there are exceptions to everything I’m saying. Please don’t tell me “well I know so and so who sold Title X and it didn’t follow any of the rules”:: It is invaluable for an author to be informed about genre rules: word counts, POV standards, plot structure, primary characters, secondary characters, plots, secondary plots, conflict, etc etc.

Every genre is a little bit different and what works clearly in one does not always work in another. I don’t care how good your paranormal world is, if it takes you 200k words to build there is little I can do to sell it. You may have the best romantic suspense in the world, but if I don’t meet the hero until page 200 its not going to be what the romantic suspense editors are wanting to see.

In light of all these things if I see an author who is blatantly pitching their work as something that its not I will usually point out their error and explain the reasons that I feel it is something else. Then if it is something that I am interested in, I will work with them to get the novel up to the standards of its true market. I will spend time educating and referring the author to sources that will help them understand wherein lies their error and how to correct the problem or avoid it in the future.

As a final thought, and this ties to several of the other questions that I’ve seem posted on the thread and I may go into deeper in a future question. Don’t try to be sneaky. Lets use Chick-lit as an example – If you have a story that is no-questions-asked chick-lit, call it what it is. I know it’s a tough market, but trying to disguise the story as something else isn’t going to make it sell any quicker. If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, it is a duck – you aren’t going to be fooling anyone. Editors and agents read all day, every day in the genres they represent – they are going to know within pages if someone is trying to “trick” them into reading, and they aren’t going to be impressed. As a professional in the industry you are to present your project honestly and accurately.

So take the time to know your stuff, educate yourself on the market, and familiarize yourself with your competition. IF you think you are writing women’s fiction, take some time and read the most praised best women’s fiction writers, read the bestsellers, read what people are saying. Then sit down and honestly look at your work and see if it fits the pattern of all the other examples you are seeing on the shelves

Thanks so much Elaine. Please be sure to post your new questions in the comments section. See ya next week!


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