When I picked up a stack of loose leaf and a Bic gel pen a few years ago, I didn’t suspect that a complete novel would actually leak its way out. I didn’t suspect that I’d keep at it long enough to complete anything I’d be genuinely proud enough to show anyone. And I certainly didn’t suspect I’d spend the next few years actually researching the business side of writing.
Back then, I was still a reader. For me, writing and business only collided when I bought someone’s writing at someone else’s business. I never thought past the big categories of MYSTERY, ROMANCE and SCI-FI/ FANTASY when it came to genre.
Writing a book drastically changes a reader’s perspective. You stop browsing in bookstores; you become part spy, part hunter, and sometimes part stalker. I used to pick books to read based on their cover art. No kidding. If it had a Michael Whelan cover, I read it. (It’s probably one of the reasons why Melanie Rawn’s books are so near and dear to my heart. And that painting of the Crimson King gives me warm fuzzy shivers, which undoubtedly is the polar opposite of the feeling Stephen King originally intended.) Such is the power of cover art.
However, once BLEEDING HEARTS was complete and began to find success on the contest scene, my thoughts turned to publication. I remember an entire day spent looking at websites and blogs, searching for the magic bullet that would get me from writer to published author in no time flat before realizing: there is no magic bullet.
Marketing takes serious research, tons of know-how, and all the right connections. Getting published would take more than a morning of Googling.
I dug in. I Amazoned myself a massive library of books on the subject. I printed reams of references from the internet and every time I found the answer to one question, I found a dozen links leading to a dozen more topics I hadn’t even dreamed about. Genre. Word counts. Queries. Agents. Editors. Imprints. And before I knew it, I’d become a Secret Book Spy.
It felt so dirty.
Bookstores became secret ops training grounds. Instead of reading the jacket blurbs, I read acknowledgements. I ignored cover art and went straight for the imprint logo. Instead of peeking inside to get an idea of how smooth a read it would be, I scanned the covers for reviews and awards and author blurbs.
Forget the story; I wanted to know about the book.
How depressing is that? I’m still a reader, for crying out loud. I have more friends in books than I do walking and breathing on the planet. I daydream about books I read in my youth, ones I lost as I grew older, ones I forgot the title or the author and have no hopes of finding again. Writing my book has tarnished my youthful book-reading innocence.
I proofread books when I read now. I try not to. It’s not just rude—it’s blatant ingratitude. My favorite authors slave away at their stories, and all of a sudden I’m a big know-it-all who could actually have the nerve to point out opportunities for improvement. I should be horse-whipped.
Luckily, I recognize when I get that way and I usually stop myself. I should start wearing a rubber band on my wrist and give it a snap to stop my undesirable behavior. Or a shock collar like my dog wears. That would work, too. But, I digress. . .
Months of spying lead me to a piece of intelligence that changed my life forever—I needed a partner, a go-to guy, a man on the inside. In short—I needed an agent. An agent would have the connections I needed to get my book published. An agent would have the links, the insight, the expertise on positioning my work and getting it to the market. And an agent would only be found by querying.
During my Quest of the Query, I realized that months of spying had failed in providing me the single-most necessary piece of intel: what genre did I write? BLEEDING HEARTS is fantasy with a love story, but can I sum that up in a single genre?
I’d soon find out the answer was anything but simple.
For me, the easiest-to-define distinction between genres was the broadest: literary verses commercial, although my initial reasoning was, in itself, flawed—I figured that literary meant “summer reading list” material. That, of course, isn’t true anymore, considering that Harry Potter now appears on the list of Books Children Must be Threatened Into Reading.
Genres don’t stop at mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and romance, as I had assumed back when I was a reader. Oh, no. Genres split into categories and sub-types. (I remember reading over a list of category romance types for the first time and thinking: whew! Thank God I don’t write that. Oh, the bliss of ignorance…) Romance just didn’t fit well with a bittersweet ending, which, as a part of a three-book series, my first book has.
And fantasy didn’t simplify things, either. Once I began to research genres, I knew I couldn’t just slap a HELLO MY GENRE IS FANTASY label on the cover and send it off into the world because fantasy wasn’t quite specific enough for the manuscript. I quickly eliminated sub-genres like epic and high fantasy and took a breather at contemporary before deciding urban fantasy was a nice place to be.
Although paranormal covered the “weird” elements, I never saw the term paranormal fantasy—paranormal has a BFF named romance and early on I didn’t really let my book hang out with either of them (never mind that the love story is central to the plot.) To complicate matters, the urban fantasies I read all had kick-ass heroines and gritty action scenes. My main character admits she’s no Lara Croft—she craves safety and security over risky and dangerous (just turns out the world has different plans for her.)
And so it was that the Secret Book Spy came up against her greatest nemesis: the best-fit genre for a book that best fits neither. (Too bad there wasn’t a super-cool gadget to get me out of this jam.) Deciding which genre to query under would take a lot more research.
The mission continues…Watch for my next article “Who Put the ‘Urban’ in Urban Fantasy?”