As a writer, one of the most important things you need to understand--especially when pitching your book--is which genre it falls into.
Why? I won't get into the nitty gritty details here, so here's the simple version: the genre determines just about everything about your book and how it will be marketed and sold, from how it's programmed into databases, to its cover design, to where it's sent for reviews and where and how its promoted for sale. Really: everything.
Write in whatever genre you like--just know exactly what it is when you're selling it.
Black Spot Books specializes in titles of speculative fiction. This literary genre is a broad umbrella term that touches upon most genres, so we try to break it down clearly in our submission guidelines and materials for aspiring authors. Still, for many the term "speculative fiction" can be a little murky, so this blog is an attempt at a crystallization process to make the term as clear and approachable as possible.
Let's start with a basic, simple definition:
Speculative Fiction encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supranational, futuristic, or other imagined elements. This includes science fiction, fantasy, superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror and supernatural (or paranormal) fiction.
Still with me? Good.
Basically, if the novel is one that's outside of the grounded-in-realtity everyday world and explores something "unusual," it's quite possibly a work of speculative fiction.
Here's a few of my favorite works of speculative fiction, broken down by genre with familiar titles as examples:
Fantasy | Includes elements and beings divined from imagination, like mythical creatures (dragons and fairies), magic and magical elements (sorcery, witchcraft, etc.)
Example: The Hobbit, Harry Potter
Science Fiction | Features natural sciences and technologies that do not exist in real life (but may in the future), including robots, interstellar travel, flying cars and beings and societies (aka aliens) from other planets.
Example: The Martian, The Windup Girl
Horror | Similar to fantasy, but focusing on terrifying, evil and often powerful beings, such as monsters and ghosts. Aims to transmit fear and, basically, scare the hell out of you.
Example: The Shining, Interview with the Vampire
Utopia | Takes place in a highly desirable society, often presented as advanced, happy, intelligent or even perfect or problem-free.
Example: Ecotopia, 17776
Dystopia | The anti to Utopia, these take place in a highly undesirable society, often plagued with strict control, violence, chaos, brainwashing and other negative elements.
Examples: 1984, Brave New World
Apocalyptic | Takes place before and during a massive, worldwide disaster.
Examples: Heart of Darkness, The Map of Time
Post-apocalyptic | Focuses on groups of survivors after a massive, worldwide disaster.
Example: World War Z
There are, of course, other genres that fall into this list--like superheroes and alternate history--but I've focused on those represented by Black Spot Books.
I hope this helps the murky waters of speculative fiction become just a little bit more clear--now, don't be afraid to dip your toes in these waters and get to writing!
Fair winds and following seas,
Look, I get it. You've spent weeks, months, years--YEARS--crafting the perfect story. It's been edited, then edited some more, then edited again. You added scenes and deleted them. You changed a main characters name. You've started to forget this is just a work of fiction and instead feel like the whole damn thing has come out of your memory rather than your imagination. You've stayed up countless nights writing. You've told everyone about your project. You've probably swilled a lot of rum, especially somewhere around word 67, 831 (or maybe that's just me). You've decided to name your next pet after your protagonist. Visions of cover art are dancing in your head.
You are ready to see this baby on the shelf.
But first, you have to convince someone who reads a lot of manuscripts that yours is something special, something unique, and something worth investing in. That's not nearly as easy as it may sound.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it: Writing queries and putting submission packages together sucks. I've written three novels and two textbooks, so I know firsthand just how tedious this process can be. In fact, I think it was querying my third book, more than any other thing in my life, where I earned my first gray hair. There are so many questions: How do you find the right agent/publisher? How do you boil down this beautiful saga into a three-sentence query blurb and a two page synopsis? How do you wait out the painful two weeks to three month timeframe for someone to read and--worse--judge your work? And how in the hell do you handle the inevitable rejection notice when it comes?
I'm on your side -- trust me. There's not much I hate more than sending out rejection letters.
Every agent is different. Every publisher is different. Trying to give boiler-plate advice on how to write the Most Amazing Query Ever is useless, wasteful, and--frankly--kinda stupid. But, there are a few best-practices that you should know before you query to help you make sure your submission is read and doesn't get quick click into some agent's Trash box.
I can't speak for every publisher, but here's some tips to help you write a successful query letter for Black Spot Books:
1. Know what we publish, and what we don't publish.
Do your research, and make sure you know what the agent/publisher you're submitting to actually reads and represents. Why would you want to submit your work and (im)patiently wait 8 weeks only to get a rejection because the agent doesn't accept poetry or religious fiction, or whatever genre you're writing in that isn't on their list? Knowing that you're submitting your project to an agent interested in your genre saves both you and the agent time and frustration.
For more on what we are and are not looking for, read here.
2. Follow submission directions.
Submission directions are specific. They ask for certain details for a reason. Don't skimp on providing these--it tells your possible agent/publisher that 1) You didn't bother to read the submission instructions, and 2) You aren't worried about the details--both of which are incredibly important to your agent. Be clear and explicit when providing these details in your query.
For more on what we ask for in a submission, read here.
3. Proofread your query.
Alright, there's an art to writing a query letter, and this isn't the place to discuss it (we will in a future blog, so don't forget to subscribe!). That said, writing a query is as much art as it is science, and there are a few mechanics you should master.
4. Get to know us.
The publishing market is one that is constantly in flux. While most publishing houses specialize in certain genres, that doesn't mean that they don't change, too--new agents, new editors, new titles, new pathways in the book-buying market, new audiences.... All of these have an impact on how publishers grow and evolve over time.
Reach out on social media and connect with a publishing house. Many small presses, like Black Spot Books, put an emphasis on building meaningful relationships with authors, and also want to see that authors can build networks--this is an important aspect in selling your books over time.
Take some time, also, to research the agent/publisher you're submitting to. Check our their blogs and see what they're reading. Follow them on Twitter and see what they're tweeting about, and who they're following. Building a relationship with an agent is just that--a relationship. Agents love when you query them individually and provide a reason, such as, “Because you represented such-and-such book, I think you’d be a great agent for my work" or "Because I know you enjoy the works of Author X, I think you'll also love mine because..."
5. Have your manuscript in its best shape possible.
Before you submit, make sure your work is edited, revised, and polished. Peer review is a crucial step, so be sure to have trusted peers give you an honest critique or "beta read" and incorporate their feedback as necessary. Consider seeking a professional freelance editor to evaluate it. And never query an agent for a novel until the work is complete--trust me, I know the thrill of sending out a query, but you can wait the few extra weeks to finish a novel before you start trying to sell it. If and when an agent asks for a partial or full manuscript, they expect to have it immediately. Again, trust building.
Ultimately, be persistent. Every famous author has a story about how many agents rejected their work before they made a connection--Stephen King, Anne Rice, even JK Rowling.
Remember, too, that publishing is a business. Agents/publishers simply can't accept everything, so make sure your work is in tip-top shape to give it the best chance of success.
Fair winds and following seas,