How to approach genre when querying literary agents?

by Shelli
(Los Angeles, CA)

Question: I am currently researching Literary Agents who state interest in genres that seem similar to my manuscript.(…as something to keep the nail biting to a minimum while I wait for my beta readers’ feedback, prior to the next edit, etc.) Several of the Literary Agents I’ve come across are requesting the genre in the Author Query.

The problem is that I would classify my story as Chic Lit if it were not that I have read online “Chic Lit is dead” or the market is over saturated. Also, I am speculating that my novel is Upmarket. Would it be seen as arrogance and chance greater rejection if I used the term without being certain it fits? If my novel were a movie, it would fall solidly into RomCom with, what I feel is a profound lesson.

Answer: When in doubt, I would go for a more general label, rather than try to nail down the exact subgenre. Your goal is to reassure the agent that your story does not fall too far outside of their interests. In other words, if they say they are only looking for romance or women's fiction, you want to let them know your book is not a thriller or science fiction.

More important than the two-word genre label is your brief description of the book. The agent should be able to tell from that what subgenre the book is likely to fit under. Your writing style (even in the query letter) may give a sense of how upmarket the book is. (For instance, if your book is humourous, there should be some sign of that in the description.)

If it seems appropriate, perhaps simply call it a contemporary romance.

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