Wednesday, March 28, 2018

category, the topic that never dies


I'm getting ready to query my latest novel, and I'm not sure what category it falls into. It's set in London, spanning 1938-1971, and while the historical time period influences it somewhat, I don't think it's enough to count as "historical" fiction. The focus of the novel is the relationship between a mother and daughter and is told from both of their perspectives. It's about the relationships between women (these two women, an aunt, and two sisters) and various struggles specific to women (childbirth, what it means to be a mother). I was thinking about calling it women's fiction, but it doesn't have the more traditional "hopeful" ending that I've seen in much of the women's fiction I've read. I was also thinking of simply calling it a family saga. Any thoughts?

You're right to avoid categorizing anything from 1971 as historical. More than a few agents tsk tsk at anything called historical that takes place during their lifetimes.

It's not a family saga because it's only 30+ years. I think of family sagas as multi-generational, somewhat like the Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy, Roots by Alex Haley, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Those are the ones I've read. There are a lot of books in this category that I haven't read but you probably have.

Women's fiction doesn't require "hopeful endings" so much as emotionally satisfying ones. Sometimes that's a distinction without a difference; sometimes it's a pretty subtle distinction at all.

I'm pretty sure that's what you've got here, and womens fiction is a nice big juicy category so you're probably not shooting yourself in the footnote to call it that.

21 comments:

Kathy Joyce said...

"shooting yourself in the footnote" Hah!

OP, I wanna read your book!

Kitty said...

Do you have to call it anything other than a novel?

Julie Weathers said...

Kitty, I'm not an agent. I don't even play one on tv, but I've seen agents complain when people don't specifically state what the genre is. They don't want to guess what it is. I think mine would be fairly easy to figure out, but who knows? It could be a historical paranormal if I didn't state what it was.

Kitty said...

Thanks, Julie.

Mister Furkles said...

Call me silly but it sounds like literary fiction to me. But if an agent handle women's fiction, query that. If she handles literary fiction, query that. If she handles westerns, query that--okay, maybe not westerns.

Just be aware that The Query Police have special death squads that are sent out to assassinate writers who intentionally query in the wrong categories. It's a dangerous world for a writer.

wanderlustywriter.com said...

Interesting. I had been writing what I thought was YA contemporary set in the '90s and was told by an agent that's "historical" not contemporary and I couldn't pitch it as such. I ended up revising to set it in the present day -- stupid smart phones tried to ruin my plot, but I figured it out -- but I'm curious, then -- what would you call a novel that takes place 10 or 20 years ago? I really do want to write YA set in that time period at some point...

Adele said...

I can't think of any books that are set 10-20 years earlier, but the musical "Grease" and the TV show "Happy Days" were set 20 years or so earlier than when they were made, and I don't recall them being advertised as historical. I think you would just say something like "Set in the 90s, "Killer Kale" weaves together, in rhyming couplets, the tragic lives of the doomed inhabitants of Carkoon".

By the way, there's a big space on my screen between the end of Janet's post and the bottom status line. I'm wondering if the rest of you see a picture there? It looks like a space for a picture. I've been jiggering with my computer settings a bit and it would be nice to know if I'm missing something.

Cheryl said...

Wanderlustywriter: From what I've gathered, YA has its own set of rules based on the age of the target audience. Happens before the majority of the audience was born? Historical.

Joseph Snoe said...

I've read or been told you must name your genre. I've read or been told it's best to say novel without a genre or label. I've been told it doesn't matter because either your agent or your editor will think you lumped it in the wrong category anyway, and you probably did.


All I know for sure is you better not call it your fiction novel (And I'm not sure why people get so upset when they see fiction novel, it seems so petty, but they do).

Kathy Joyce said...

Huh, I have a big space too. Scrolled right past it! Cheryl, thanks for the clarification. My high school daughter asked me last night what it was like living in the Depression. I'm nowhere near 80! If it's before they were born, it's history. Ancient history.

Kara Reynolds said...

I thought literary fiction, too. The OP probably could call it either and widen their query pool.

John Davis Frain said...

Adele, you have to use your imagination with that big white space. Mine has a woman fishing and she's reeling in a turtle who's dangling in the air and saying "Slow day, huh?" But your imagination may vary.

I think an agent wants to know what genre/category your story goes so they know there's an audience. You tend to sell more books when you have an audience. Maybe you can say it fits well on the endcap or the octagon at Barnes & Noble because books sure sell in those spots.

Good luck in your querying, OP. Try and avoid the undercover police Mr. Furkles mentions. They're lurking. And they're NORMANs, so you won't even know when they've struck!

Craig F said...

Karin Slaughter's almost last two books, COP TOWN and PRETTY GIRLS, were both semi-historical. Your writing may not have the dark side that hers does but it might be worth checking out.

Now I know where Hillary's death squad went to work after that debacle.

In case you were wondering, I did vote for the winner of the popular vote.

Adele said...

Kathy Joyce, the trouble is, that the people around me are getting younger every year! I keep forgetting that there's so much I know about that isn't even on their radar. I remember hearing a woman, past retirement age but not ancient, tell a story about losing her boyfriend in Europe during the World War, and the innocent, thoughtless youngster next to her asked "Which World War was that?". Deathly silence.

That happened back in the 90s. I was still quite young (no, the thoughtless youngster wasn't me) but you didn't have to be all that old to remember What Happened In The War. Thinking about setting novels in the 90s, I am intrigued by all the things the characters would know about in the 90s that those same characters, if written today, would not know about. One person, needing to make a phone call, might pull a giant cellular telephone out of their briefcase in a situation where an older person would look for a pay phone.

wanderlustywriter.com said...

Cheryl -- Thanks, I think that is indeed the case, YA needs to resonate with young readers. My original thought process was, "I was a teenager in the '90s and '00s, therefore setting my story there will make it more authentic--I don't know what it's like to be a teenager in this age of social media and smartphones." According to that same agent, this thinking is "lazy." I saw her point, and revised, even though I didn't want to.

A handful of writers have gotten away with writing historical YA novels -- Rainbow Rowell set Eleanor in Park in the '80s, while Tahereh Mafi is coming out with a YA novel set in the early '00s later this year -- so I guess I just have to become an international bestseller and then they'll let me do what I want :D

One Of Us Has To Go said...

I am 100% with Joseph Snoe on this one, to be honest.

Janet Reid said...

Thanks for the heads up on the white space.
Not sure how it got there; I probably was slumped over the keyboard, tearing out my hair on some misplaced comma. Or typo. Or more likely, both.

Colin Smith said...

The rule of thumb on categories, as I understand it, is simply do the best you can. If it seems like a Western to you, call it a Western. Agents know we suck at this (for the most part, anyway... okay, I suck at this), so as long as you make a valiant effort, and at least get in the ballpark of the correct category, AND it's a category they represent, you should be okay.

As for "Historical," I find the older I get, the more that word changes meaning. For me, right now:

Creation - 1969: Historical
1970s: Recent History
1980s: Last Month
1990s: Last Week
2000s+: Yesterday

Funny how that works... ;)

Julie Weathers said...

Thanks to you trouble making kids my mental picture that was in the white space no longer fits.

Jim and White Dan in the blizzard.

AJ Blythe said...

Colin, I'm sure I had something profound to say, then I read your post and laughed so much I forgot what it was.

Panda in Chief said...

Fortunately my agent is not daunted by repping middle grade art historical panda satire.
I'm not quite sure where it should be shelved, though.