Genre Distinctions & Publication

by Meredith
(Raleigh NC)

First off, this is the BEST writer's resource site I've found! Thank you for existing! I have several questions about if and when I finish my first novel and seek publication.


1. How important is the distinction of genre I will list in the Header portion of my manuscript? (And other places I've not yet learned?) What I'm writing is reality-based fiction, adult-oriented, the MC comes from a religious home and parts of that religion pop up several times throughout the story, especially in the setting. At first, the majority of the MC's actions and emotions are pushed forward by the material that is delivered to the MC via a TV as if suggested by a higher power aware of those emotions and motivations, and I'm having trouble finding the distinction between fantasy and sci-fi. Can you help me with this?

2. I'm currently working on the first draft and my chapters start out very short and slowly lengthen as the story progresses, but then they become too long. How many events/scenes do you suggest per chapter?

3. When I begin researching publication houses (should I already be doing so?) I've been told to write the story I want to write then seek the pub.house best suited for the genre (again, don't know!) I am writing in... Later, when I think I've found one that fits, do I wait to hear back from them before I search another in case they don't accept my story? If they don't accept it and give me feedback on how to make it better, should I still seek a second opinion?

Please help? Thank you!

Answer: Thanks for the kind feedback.

Re: Question 1

You don't put the genre in a header. The header of your manuscript should only contain:

a) the title or a shortened version of it
b) your name or perhaps just your last name
c) the page number

You might mention the genre in your query letter, but it's not essential. An agent or editor can usually identify the genre from your brief description of the story and the style it's written in. Name the genre if it's not obvious.

Technically, the difference between science fiction and fantasy is that SF is based on an extrapolation of current trends in either science and technology (in the case of hard SF) or society and culture (in the case of soft SF). It is a speculation on what the world could look like someday, and should be scientifically plausible.

Fantasy, on the other hand, takes place
in a world where the laws of physics are different. That's what terms like "magic," "supernatural," and "paranormal" mean. A fantasy world contains phenomena that could not exist in the known universe (setting aside for a moment the possibility of multiple universes). A fantasy does not need to be scientifically plausible or accurate, though it should be internally consistent.

Of course, some fantasies are set in completely different worlds, often resembling pre-industrial times (such as Tolkein's Middle-Earth). These are often called "high fantasies." Others, called low or urban fantasies, are set in worlds almost exactly like ours, but with some paranormal elements or beings added (e.g. Twilight).

I consider SF to be a sub-division of fantasy, since both genres depart from the real world. The difference is that a SF story must adhere to scientific plausibility, otherwise it's a fantasy.

Re: Question 2

One can't say how many events should be in a chapter, because events, like chapters, can vary in length.

Rather like a short story, a chapter should ideally be a comfortable length to read in one sitting, or perhaps slightly shorter (so the reader will give in to the urge to read the next one).

It is best to end a chapter at a natural pause--the point at which one event has ended, the stage is set for the next event, and the reader is wondering what will happen next.

Bear in mind that chapter lengths can vary depending on one's style and audience.

Re: Question 3

You've been told correctly: look for publishers and/or agents who are looking for books like yours. Publisher's Marketplace is a good place to start. Don't submit your fantasy book to a publisher who doesn't publish fantasy, because you'll just be wasting everyone's time. Also, make sure you follow each publisher's submission guidelines, which you can find on its website.

Most writers collect many rejections from publishers before getting an acceptance, even for the same book. That's always been true, and it's even more true today.

Publishers can also take up to six months to make a decision. So unless you're prepared to spend 20 years getting your book sold, you should submit to many publishers at once. And write the next book while you're trying to sell the first.

If you want to sell to one of the Big Five publishers, you should try to get an agent first. The procedure is much the same: look for agents who work with your genre, query multiple agents at once, follow each agent's submission guidelines.

Best of luck.

Comments for Genre Distinctions & Publication

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Oct 05, 2014
Thank you!
by: Meredith

Glen, thank you so much for your quick response and positive feedback to my questions. Now I can continue writing with confidence. Thanks!

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