My problem with ‘Genre’…again…

So another year and another round of agent submissions. Pretty much at this same time last year I was sending out my first round of submission to literary agents for my first novel ’The Last Englishman and the Bubble’ (now self-published and available for all! See my last post).
Now a year later I am embarking on that same journey with my second novel: ‘An End of Poppies’.
As you can probably tell that first book didn’t manage to climb anywhere near the top of the ’slush-pile’ and most agents probably either recycled the paper it was printed on or simply pressed ’delete’. The cynical part of me thinks that most of them probably didn’t even read it.
I know that one or two did and the feeling was that although they (kind of) liked it they didn’t know how to market it. It was described as “well written” and “obviously intelligent” but they didn’t know what box to out it in. You would think that has made me disheartened, but no it is quite the opposite, somehow I am more determined.
It all brings me back to one of my pet subjects; the misleading marketing tool of ’genre’.
I suppose it is inevitable that I have to grapple with this problem; often when submitting or when publishing online you have to label your work with it’s genre.
‘The Last Englishman…’ is a Sci Fi book, but I know that it is more than that and that the label ’SF’ may well put readers off if they don’t normally read this kind of book. It is also a romance, a drama, a dystopia and a commentary on existence, love and society. The downside of the label ’SF’ is that it means that many agents/publisher won’t touch it with a barge-pole. Surprising how many specifically say that they publish/work with all kinds of books but NOT science fiction or fantasy (the list usually says NO Science fiction, fantasy or poetry! I feel for you poets out there!).
At least this is not a problem for my new novel. It is perhaps an ’alternate history’; but here again I find that description inadequate. It is an epistolary novel, with romance and war, social commentary and feminism. And it is, I hope, a literary novel.
So what conclusion can I come to? Well, none really. I suppose people have to have some way to pigeon hole things. How else would readers find books? That said I still don’t like the idea of ’genre’, and still feel it misleads and constrains. I certainly don’t want to write in a certain genre because it is marketable. I will continue to write what excites and enthrals me, and hope it does the same for others, whatever it eventually becomes labelled as.
So wish me luck in search of that elusive agent who will fight my corner to find that elusive publisher. Maybe then I can leave the job of ’pigeon-holing’ to them?


Will my novel jump out of the Slush Pile?

© 2013 Simon Poore