Monday, June 30, 2008

Querying if You're Not Sure of Genre

I currently have a fantasy manuscript that I wrote with no thought of a sub-genre. After having a few beta readers mention my work leaning towards the YA side of fantasy, I now begin to wonder if I should worry about the word count. It was meant to be a full-length fantasy at 100K words, but I know most YA novels are at least 20K less than that (typically).

Do I go ahead and query this as a fantasy with no mention of YA since it's possible it could go either way, in hopes an agent will find the shine in my work and say, "Hey, this is good! Let's try and work it to the YA audience though. Cut it down to 75K"?

Does this even happen? Would an agent do that? Or is the market more flexible nowadays that the manuscript could be pitched as both, or as a YA but still acceptable with such a big word count?

Or (yet another or, sorry!) do I query it as YA, with the big word count and cross my fingers?

First let me address the word count issue. I don’t represent YA and haven’t done YA in years, but I think I can fairly and honestly tell you not to worry about it too much. Fantasy has always been a genre that tends to run a little longer than other genres.

What’s great about this conundrum is that it opens more doors for you. I would simply pitch the book as fantasy and see what kind of reaction you get from agents. If it seems that over time you are getting comments or suggestions that the book might be better suited for YA you can start pitching YA agents. Or, if you’d like, you could pitch fantasy and YA agents at the same time.

It is very possible that an agent might suggest to you that the audience you thought you were shooting for isn’t the audience she would consider. In fact, I had a mystery recently that I have pitched as three different genres—paranormal mystery, fantasy, and romance, depending on the publishing house.

I don’t think the word count is that much of an issue here. I can’t tell you how to query your book, I think you need to read more fantasy and YA fantasy to make sure you have a feel for both genres and see what you think. Otherwise, pitch in both directions and see what happens.

Good luck!



Anonymous said...

"In fact, I had a mystery recently that I have pitched as three different genres—paranormal mystery, fantasy, and romance, depending on the publishing house."

Can I ask what genre the author used in the query to you?

Anonymous said...

I'd probably pitch it as (adult) fantasy first and see where that gets you. There's more to YA than just word count -- but yeah, 100k for a YA is a bit much, even in fantasy, which runs larger word counts.

Typical CONTEMPORARY (non-fantasy) YA books are not 80k. They fall more in the 50-70k range.

Is your main character a teen? He/she needs to be if its going to be considered a YA book. I don't write fantasy, but maybe someone else can speak to the neccessity of this for fantasy books?

Mark Terry said...

This can be a major headache. As I'm discovering in wrapping up what I thought was a YA novel...

I have had a number of readers read it, one of them being a successful author of YA, middle grades, young-YA, and early grades books, and we got all tangled up in exactly what type of book I had written, which apparently had some conflicts among all the different sub-genres of books for kids. I read a fair amount in the category thanks to two kids age 10 and 14, but I didn't realize the industry had dissected itself into so many different fragments.

Mysteries have been nicely broken down, more or less, into cozies, hardboiled, softboiled, procedurals, etc. for some time, even though they can get ridiculous when they try to pidgeon-hole books too tightly.

I can understand why the publishing industry wants to categorize a book to its most promising market, but I don't understand why they're so willing to eliminate the possibility of cross-selling to other potential readers.

Melinda Leigh said...

To Mark Terry,
Librarians, book sellers and parents will often steer younger readers away from the YA section, as those books may contain material inappropriate for their age (ie-drugs, sex, etc.). So keep that in mind when you are labeling your book.

J Scott Savage said...

The first novel in my upcoming fantasy series is about 107,000 words, which is long for a first YA fantasy novel. In later books you can get away with a higher word count because you've built up an audience. But usually the first book should be under 100k.

That being said, I agree that you’re better off to pitch it as a fantasy novel and let the agent decide how to position it.

I've had two reviewers look at the same information and say, I only do kids' books this is too old, and I only do YA, this is too young.

Karen Duvall said...

Someone I know wrote a long Asian fantasy novel and queried over 100 agents over a period of about 3 months. One of those agents took on the book, determined it was YA, and got her a 3 book deal with Harper Collins in less than a month. Such good fortune doesn't happen for everyone, but it's heaven when it does. 8^) said...

I love this answer. Sigh.

Kristin Laughtin said...

You mentioned pitching a book in three genres. But is it a good idea for a writer to pitch a book to an agent that way? For example, what if the book combines, say, urban fantasy with science fiction? Do you pitch it as one or the other depending on the agent's preferences? That almost seems misleading if the agent doesn't represent both genres. (If they do, it seems like this would be less of an issue.)

Karen Duvall said...

Before I got my agent I'd sometimes pitch my urban fantasy as horror in a query letter to agents who accepted horror but not fantasy. Didn't work, though.

ChristaCarol Jones said...

Anon 8:54: Yes, my MC is a teen which is why some of my beta reader's suggested it was a YA. But she is the only teen in the book. Hence why I'm not so sure. Even with my underlined theme's, I just can't seem to figure out the right label for it. But I plan on doing what was suggested and just pitching it as Fantasy for now.

Either way, the answer and everyone else here who's responded has helped greatly. Thanks guys. :)

ChristaCarol Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diana Peterfreund said...

Anyone who is saying 100k is too long for a YA fantasy novel obviously hasn't been looking at the shelves recently. Cassandra Clare's NYT bestselling debut was 150k. Twilight was over 500 pages long. A Great and Terrible Beauty (and the whole series), Uglies (and that whole series)... the list of long fantasy YAs go on and on. My own YA fantasy (out next year from Harper Collins) clocks in at 108k. It sold at auction and no publisher even blinked at the length.

Go to a bookstore before you determine what YA "is."