by Mindy McGinnis
There are certain questions that make writers of all stripes both frustrated and frightened at the same time. What is it about your book that's so special? What distinguishes you from the rest of the crowd, either in the slush pile or on the store bookshelf? Is the market for your WIP over?
To my mind all of these questions are related, and boil down to the same word—genre. More specifically—your genre and how you've taken a small corner of it to claim as your own.
I recently had three separate but related online interactions that spawned this post. I'll tackle them each one at a time and draw them back together for the firework-inducing full-circle conclusion. Or at least a steepled-fingers-move from my reader and a thoughtful monosyllabic grunt.
Interaction #1—A Goodreads reviewer commented that Not a Drop to Drink sounds more like a post-apocalyptic Western than a dystopian, which is both astute of her and also very gratifying to me, as that's how I felt about it from the beginning.
Interaction #2—One of my Saturday Slash participants (a query critique on my personal blog, Writer, Writer, Pants on Fire) asked if they should change the genre for their query project from "dystopian" to "post-apocalyptic," as they were afraid that dystopian was "over." My response was that I didn't think it made a difference. Agents and readers know that the terms can (for the most part) be swapped for each other fairly easily. To my thinking it's no more different than calling chick-lit "women's literature." I told the Slash participant to go whichever way they liked, but it didn't matter. A rose by another name, and all that.
Interaction #3—Instead of re-hashing it I'm posting a screen-cap below of a Twitter exchange between myself, my fellow Friday the Thirteeners member Elsie Chapman, my critique partner R.C. Lewis and her fellow Hyperion author Tess Sharpe.
Tess's reaction to the simple re-phrasing of my genre spoke volumes to me. Even though she already felt like DRINK had a new angle for the dystopian genre, the idea of it being more akin to a neo-western than its dystopian brothers and sisters were the equivalent of "magic words" to her.
And this reaction had me re-thinking my answer to the Saturday Slash participant.
She's not the first person to mention to me they think the dystopian ship has quite sailed, left the harbor, and perhaps already sunk. And if this is the case I'm going to cry a lot when next fall comes around, and that would be a very bad thing. I am not fond of crying.
So what if I do start referring to DRINK as a neo-western? Will that appeal to more people? Will it lift the ever-present curse of it's-been-done?
Quite a few people in my Book Pregnant group of debut authors write what's referred to as Women's Literature. And they write it well. If their mss were marketed as Chick-Lit would they have died in their agent's inbox?
And what if my Slash volunteer chose the phrase "post-apocalyptic" to describe her ms instead of "dystopian?" Would the D-word close doors whereas "post-apoc" might leave room for a foot in the door?
I don't have the best answer to these questions, and I'm willing to bet that the answer changes depending on who you ask.
So what's your opinion?
Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut neo-western, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, will be available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins in Fall 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book Pregnant, Friday the Thirteeners and The Lucky 13s. You can also find her on Twitter & Facebook.