by Jemi Fraser
So, you've written, rewritten, edited and polished your novel. You've written a synopsis and a query letter. Everything shines so brightly you need sunglasses to glimpse at it.
But let's have a closer look at that line in the query that says...
MY AWESOME BOOK is a science fiction historical western with a twist of fantasy, a romance that will make you glad you're alive, nonstop thrills and a villain who uses his victims for zombie experiments.
Yeah. No one's going to write it that badly, but a lot of people write books that cross into multiple genres. (And we're not going to discuss the age groupings today—that's a whole 'nother story!) So, what do you do?
Many stories have elements of a variety of genres. I've read many novels that cross into at least 3 genres and I like to write genre jumpers myself. But we shouldn't list all of those elements in the query letter.
Instead, as writers, we have to ask ourselves where the book is going to sit when (not if!) it hits the shelves of our favourite bookstores. There are no sections for science fiction westerns, never mind one with all of the other genres included in that summary above. So, head on back to the basics to decide.
Think about the hook in your query and the pitch you've created for when you meet those agents in the elevators (although I'm guessing a lot of agents take the stairs these days). You've probably already found the niche for your story. You've probably identified it in the pitch and the hook.
If your pitch/hook talks about the romance, that's what it'll be. If it's all about those magical elements or the paranormal abilities, it's under the speculative fiction umbrella. You can be more specific here (paranormal, urban fantasy, steampunk...) if you like.
In some cases, you might want to have a couple of different query letters. Let's pretend you've written a fantasy with a strong element of romance. If you're querying agents who represent romance, call it a romantic fantasy. If you're querying agents who focus on fantasy, call it a fantasy and show in the query that it is a romance, or call it a fantasy with a splash of romance. Remember you don't need to reveal every twist and turn in your query letter. The letter's job is to represent your book honestly and get the agent to want to read more. So focus on the aspects each agent is looking for.
Keep it simple. Limit it to a genre that shows up on a shelf in a bookstore. And personalize it for the agent. Then cross those fingers and press Send. Good luck!