Several times a year, authors pitch their stories to agents and publishers in 240 characters or less on Twitter. #PitMad and #FaithPitch have helped authors make those connections without having to shell out hundreds of dollars for a writing conference. As a publisher, there’s something exciting about sifting through tweets in search of one that really grabs your attention (though I imagine it’s stressful for the authors who have to compose them).
To make it easier for publishers and agents, the organizers of these events created specialized hashtags to help sort through the pitches: #CON for contemporary, #DS for dystopian, #ML for military, etc. Because I work for the women’s fiction imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas (LPC), I naturally searched for #WF.
It didn’t take long to realize a lot of authors don’t understand the women’s fiction genre. It took even less time to realize a lot of authors don’t understand genres at all.
If you’re not writing literary fiction, you’re writing genre fiction, so you must understand what that means. Merriam Webster define genre as: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.
Read that last part again: characterized by a particular style, form, or content.
I like to say that genre is a promise—when you tell people your book is a specific genre, you’re promising them that your book will meet certain expectations and requirements. If it doesn’t, you’ll lose their trust because they won’t know what to expect from your books.
The most obvious genre requirement happens in romance novels. Romance novels are the best-selling genre, so it’s tempting to slap that label on your book to draw the most attention. However, the hero and heroine must end up together at the end of the novel. If they don’t, it isn’t a romance. It doesn’t matter how you want to define romance; the genre already has certain expectations that need to be met.
In my time as a managing editor at LPC, I’ve noticed two big issues with genre that are tanking authors’ submissions. I saw the same issue on Twitter with the mini-pitches. When you can identify these issues and correct them in your own manuscripts, you’ll increase your odds at snagging an agent or publisher’s eye.
- Learn about genres. Study genres. Read them. Figure out what sets them apart from other genres and incorporate those aspects into your story. Publishing professionals can tell when you haven’t done your homework, and that can ruin your chance of getting a contract before anyone ever reads your manuscript. If you submit a story with a male lead to a women’s fiction imprint, you’re sending all the wrong signals; it tells publishers you’re either too lazy to do the necessary research or you’re expecting them to do work that you should have done. There are other possible reasons, and none of them look good for the author. Don’t send that message.
- Narrow down your genre. Another common mistake is thinking that adding elements of lots of genres will broaden your audience. The opposite is true. A romantic suspense, post-apocalyptic, time slip story won’t appeal to readers of romance, suspense, historicals, and speculative fiction novels, thereby tapping into four audiences; it will only appeal to people who read all of them, thereby reducing your audience significantly.
Most authors can usually combine a couple of genres (historical suspense; romantic fantasy), but it takes a master writer to create a truly compelling romantic suspense with supernatural elements that won’t tick off readers. Don’t risk it.
When you understand these elements of genre, you’ll improve your chances of publication not only demonstrating your understanding of that genre, but also by submitting your manuscript to the right agents and publishers.