Friday, July 25, 2014

Query: Golden oldies...not so much

In trying to figure out which of my book elements are appropriate for a query, I'm stumbling on how to say "it takes place in the 1970s."  Much easier to say "contemporary" or "historical" romance, but online research is showing different definitions for these (i.e., different time periods as cut-offs). Someone even coined a new word: "retro." Point is, I'm finding few periods for either era that include the 1960s through 1980s. How do you recommend handling this?

oh boy, this is a really tough question.  Since agents come in all ages, you want to be VERY careful about calling something set in the 70's (when they were in high school, or college, or working their first job in publishing!) historical!

I've often heard agents of a certain age grouse that nothing after their birth year better be "historical."

But there's no way to know just exactly how old Barbara Poelle IS (sharks live for years and years) or how young Brooks Sherman isn't.

There was a recent quiz on Buzzfeed to guess one's age, and my result was off by so much it was ludicrous.

So, no "historical."
Retro isn't a word you want to use either since it refers to style, not time frame.

I think you want to be very very plain: my novel is set in the 70's. And you might want to mention why it is as well, given that's always one of the things I wonder about.


TwoPinaColadas said...

"A Vietnam War-era...," "An 8-track era...," "A bell bottom era..." Can you pick something/someone attached to the 1970s that has some relation to the theme of your novel and tack "era" onto the end? Or is that too schtick-y?

Colin Smith said...

I like the advice to give a reason *why* it's set in the 1970s. I understand the temptation to set a story in a certain time period just because... because you've always wondered what it was like to live then, or you remember that time as a child, and you want to live through it (again) vicariously through your characters. But if your story could just as easily take place today, then what's the point of going through the effort of research and world-building?

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Some of us have come to terms with the passing of time. We realize that no one knows who John Dean was, let along, say, Eagleburger (Best name of the Watergate scandal.) They think all '70s music must have been disco and we all wore leisure suits. Well, yeah, we all did wear leisure suits, but the rest of the decade was a lot more complicated. Get off my lawn ya pesky kids!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...'s like when I started hearing Nirvana on classic rock stations.

Though I was born in the 80's, I also have a drafted novel which takes place in the 70's. For me, the choice was due to birthplace (the Jersey shore) and Bruce Springsteen; it just fit that way best in my head. I don't want to intrude on it with all of our modern nonsense.

Elissa M said...

I've read a few manuscripts that were set in slightly-earlier-than-contemporary times. The only reason for the setting seemed to be that they were contemporary when the writer began the novel.

A reason for the time-setting seems imperative to me--a reason that serves the story and not the writer's convenience.

Lance said...

Set in the '70s or '60s is not specific enough. Too many differences between ends of the decades. If a story is identified as being set in a particular decade, then I agree there has to be a tie in. Otherwise, why bring it up?

Frankie Bow said...

One reason to set something in the 1970s would be to put the characters into scrapes that they couldn't easily get out of with a simple cell phone call / surreptitious video recording / instantaneous texting of a photo. Shiwani Srivastava has a nice HuffPo piece listing all the ways modern technology could be brought in to ruin classic romantic movie plots:

Jillian Abbott said...

How about "1970s period piece"

Carrie-Anne said...

I use the term contemporary historical for books set in the Sixties through Eighties, and late contemporary historical for the Nineties onward. There are so many awesome possibilities for stories set in these decades (e.g., Vietnam War, women's lib, hippies, Desert Storm, Civil Rights, early computers, AIDS, the energy crisis). It's important to choose that era for a compelling reason (as with choosing any historical setting), NOT just to waltz down memory lane or indulge a passion for a particular era. Things like bell bottoms, popular music, mood rings, disco, New Wave, early MTV, etc., should only be seasoning for the greater story, not the main focus.