Monday, October 12, 2009

Oh Reader, Where Art Thou

I know some you of have the same little problem I do.

No, I’m not talking about hemorrhoids, vaginal dryness or anything else the doctor has a tri-fold color brochure for. You oh-so-clandestinely slip those puppies in your purse. Then, when you’re in Walmart, grubbing for your wallet to pay for that pallet-load of groceries, it flutters to the floor and lands at the feet of the one and only hell-fire hot Greek god who’ll ever be in line behind you. Being a gentleman, he bends to pick it up. Never mind that you’re diving after it like a hawk to the kill. He still gets to it first. You have to endure the moment when he reads “So, you have vaginal dryness.” He looks like he just picked up something that says, “Touching this brochure will make your wiener discolor and shrivel up like a really old banana.” When he gives it to you, a bizarre physiological transference takes place – kind of like shapeshifting. He sees you as the really old banana. You hang your head, stuff the brochure back in your purse, and know that you will never, ever have an intimate conversation over a glass of pinot with hell-fire hot Greek god guy. And, he won’t offer to do something about your “problem.”

I am talking about something equally as dreadful, though. You’re pitching your novel to an editor or agent, in person or in a query, and have to say which shelf your book goes on in Books-A-Bazillion. It’s a legitimate question. You want your book where its readers will be looking. Too, some agents only sell certain kinds of books. Editors definitely sell certain kinds of books. But your book is “bi.” It could sit on two shelves. “Well, ideally,” you evasively say to the agent,”it would have its own big shelf right where you walk into the bookstore, then another one by the coffee counter. I just know I could sell to the caffeine clan. They’re my people – legally indulging in a slightly mood-altering drug.”

The agent or editor looks at you like your manuscript title is “So, You Have Vaginal Dryness.” If the agent’s a woman, she raises an eyebrow. If it’s a man, you’re in the dead banana zone.

Seriously, I’m selling a book that certainly has a huge romance at its heart and a HEA, but it’s post-apocalyptic, has a supernatural creature as the villain, but no magic, trolls, elves or dwarfs like a fantasy (swords, but no sorcery). So, it’s kind of paranormal, with a level of world-building you’d want in a paranormal, but the setting isn’t your typical paranormal (castles and fortresses, but no vampires, werewolves or shapeshifters). To make matters more complicated, people who’ve read it said it feels like you’d find it over in literature. I take that as a compliment, but it doesn’t make it easier to sell. My name isn’t Margaret Atwood. Did I mention it’s 130,000 words? A disastrous length for romance. A delightful length for fantasy.

I’m making this too complicated. The book could go in either section depending on marketing. Maybe I’ll follow the tack of a published author whose query letter I found online. She was in a similar quandary. She just called her work a novel and let the query speak. It worked!

I’m curious how other people are handling this. I know some of you P4HTs have the same little problem, but in different permutations.

When we get this hashed out, I’ll make the brochure. “Oh Reader, Where Art Thou? – or -- So, You Have Shelving Syndrome.”


Maxine Davis said...


You made me spit my coffee all over my shirt! Loved the blog!

Yep, I just hate it when I have to answer their questions, afterall, I just said, "I wrote a book." Now if they would say, "And I sell books. Deal."

Ah, but life is complicated. I would like to see someone that reads the book then tells you what publisher, agent, book company it fits.

I say pitch it to them all. Have I? Of course not. Your book sounds fabulous, and I bet it will sell!

Tami Brothers said...

This was hilarious. I'm like Maxine and was spitting coffee everywhere. 'Vaginal dryness.' Who knew how funny that could be...grin... I can't wait to see the stats on how people find our blog using the key terms 'vaginal dryness and hemorrhoids'....

This was great and very telling. I'm in this same situation with my WIP. When I worked with Wendy Wax at the pitch workshop at M&M, she wasn't sure either. So now I'm hitting up our good friend Berta Platas (LOVE HER!!!!) and she thinks she might be able to lead me to a better understanding of where I'll fit.

Still, this post is making me chuckle even as I type this. Great job!!!


Nicki Salcedo said...

I guess I'm more worried about putting my manuscript in the mail than where they will "section" it. I know for a fact it will go in "that" section, and I think it should go in another section. My dream is to be in the general fiction section. I hope Salcedo will be somewhere near the fabulous Steffl books.

Tammy Schubert said...


You made me drop my diet coke your post was so hilarious. It wouldn't have been so bad had it not splashed my husband's pants two minutes before he had to leave for work. :)

Please tell me you incorporated the vaginal dryness thing into a book. If not, you just have to.

I feel your pain about not knowing where your book will fit. Maybe one of GRW's published authors would be able to help you figure it out.

Personally, I can see your book facing cover out in the romance section. Heck, maybe it could be marketed as a cross genre book and find a home on bookshelves in different sections all at the same time.

Debbie Kaufman said...

I was so glad I didn't get asked this question during my editor/agent appt.! I'm calling it Romantic suspense, but thinking it might cross into mystery/thriller. Sigh.

Ana Aragón said...

Too funny!

Right now, I'm moving in a different direction and trying to fit my book into a long category. I don't know if it'll work, but I want to try my hand at category romance and then move into general fiction.

Before I'm ninety.

Have a great day!

Marilyn Baron said...

Okay,now that I've had a good laugh, this is a very serious question.

I am having the same problem with my work in progress. I consider it women's fiction, but but it also has elements of a murder mystery and of course romance. To make it even more difficult, it's written in a humorous tone.

I don't know the answer either. But I wish you luck.

Marilyn Baron

Linsey Lanier said...

I know better than to drink coffee or diet Coke while reading our posts, LOL. And this was a very funny one, Anna.

My feeling is, if you can legitimately call your ms by the genre the editor is looking for, do it. The work Anna described sounds like it could be called a paranormal. Editors and agents are looking for paranormal now, so call it that. Let them decide whether it's an exact fit once they ask for the full. They may even ask you to revise and put more paranormal in it.

Editors and agents want projects that sell. So use the genre that's selling right now, as long as it isn't too much of a stretch.

Does anyone else agree?

Nicki, you'd better get that ms in the mail after all the nudging you gave me in previous years! :)

Ana, good luck with branching out! I hope we'll be celebrating contracts for you soon. :)


Dianna Love said...

LOL - I shouldn't try to read the PFHT posts while sitting on hold...never fails that someone answers as I'm laughing and forget why I called.

The best thing to do is pick the strongest one or two word description of your book. If you don't know for sure where it goes, that's not as big a deal as just knowing how to pitch it to the agent. The reason it's important to know what animal you're selling is that the agent has to pitch it to an editor, then the editor pitches it to an editorial board and so on.

You could say it's a post-apocalyptic paranormal with romantic elements. I think that sounds interesting. If the story resonates with an agent they will help you decide where it goes.

Susan May said...

I needed the chuckle this afternoon. To funny. Your post are always interesting. With my nonfiction book I ran into the same problem. I wanted it in the health section because I knew that was where mothers would go to look for help but everyone else calls it a memior. My idea is for them to buy enough to put it in both places.

Cinthia Hamer said...

Good Lord, Anna! I read your post this morning (very early)--and thought I was hallucinating! My mouth hung open and I couldn't think of a rational reply. LOL!

So, now that I'm more-or-less awake, I've reread it and laughed so hard, I scared the cats. Too funny.

But I sure feel for you on the categorizing your work thing. Until I decided to jump ship into the historical ocean, I couldn't figure out where my books fit, either, so I just dumped them into "women's fiction". Blah.

I like Dianna's "post-apocalyptic paranormal with romantic elements". Works for me! :)

Hope everyone had a great day and you haven't sprouted gills with all this rain we've been having.

J Perry Stone said...

As I've spent the weekend camping with kids and grands, I only recovered enough to hit this post today.

And man, am I recovered!

My favorite: "When he gives it to you, a bizarre physiological transference takes place – kind of like shapeshifting. He sees you as the really old banana. You hang your head..."

As for helping you out, what the hell do I know? You're the one helping me with my query, remember??