View Full Version : Genre Conundrum

J. Koyanagi
10-07-2010, 08:40 PM
The novel I'm in the process of querying/submitting is science fiction. That said, the POV character, as well as everyone around her for the majority of the novel, believes their seemingly "magical" abilities are the result of a divine gift from their creator goddess.

In truth, they're driven by nanotech, femtotech, and direct neural interface with artificial intelligence.

While this sort of worldbuilding has been done before, I haven't had any success finding an answer to the query problem it presents. The POV character doesn't learn the truth about the tech vs. divinity issue until the last quarter of the novel, so there's no mention of technology in the query pitch paragraph. The plot itself is about the character's search for the truth behind a family secret, so that's what I focus on. It connects to the technology issue near the end of the novel.

So, the query feels and sounds more like fantasy than SF, with key words like reincarnation and divine sparks and creatures. Yet I'm querying the novel as science fiction because, well, it is.

My conundrum is this: If an agent reads the pitch paragraph and then sees me calling it science fiction, I'm concerned they're going to think I don't know my genres, that I'm conflating fantasy with SF.

I posed this question to an agent at a query workshop at a conference in September, and she seemed a bit stumped. She saw my problem, and actually wasn't sure what I should do. I then asked if calling it "speculative fiction" would suffice, and she seemed to think so, but I'm still concerned that's too vague. Particularly if an agent is specifically looking for science fiction submissions.

I pitched the novel successfully at the same conference, but obviously the dynamic of a face-to-face pitch is quite different from a query.

I hope my concerns aren't too pedantic. I'd just hate for an opportunity to be missed because of this genre issue. Any input would be most appreciated. Thank you for reading! :)

10-07-2010, 09:23 PM
I don't see why you can't bring out the last fourth revelation in the query? I understand your reasons for not including it, but if you think it's going to be a problem in your querying, well why not change your query? It seems to me that it must matter that your character starts off superstitious and learns the truth, otherwise you wouldn't have that arc in the first place. Can you add something like, "Along the way he learns the danger associated with superstition and the truth behind the science of his existence" - or you know, something better.

Anyway, I don't see why you can't just put in a sentence that makes it clear that there's a science behind the superstition.

J. Koyanagi
10-07-2010, 09:30 PM
Fair enough. :) At the aforementioned query workshop, we were encouraged to restrict the pitch paragraph to the inciting incident and first thirty pages, but I see what you mean and will see if there's a way I could work something akin to your suggestion into the query.

I also thought about working in the science vs. superstition issue in the genre sentence, i.e. "...90,000-word science fiction in which science is disguised as divine magic," or preferably something less corny. I just wasn't sure and figured it would be best to seek outside opinions. :)

Thank you for the reply! I appreciate your thoughts.

10-07-2010, 09:36 PM
I think your idea could also really work. You can even do something like "In a world where superstitious explanations hide true science, one man sets out to discover what's real . . ." Again, uh, better than that.

As far as the workshop you attended . . . far be it for me to go against what publishing professionals have said (I'm a writer, not an agent or editor), but that's the only time I've ever heard that idea. That you should only focus on the beginning. For the most part queries do seem to talk about the inciting incident and what the MC has to do true, and it is rare the ending is given away, but there is often a hint at where the story will wind up, like a back cover blurb.

J. Koyanagi
10-07-2010, 09:40 PM
That's a great suggestion! And frankly, seems kind of obvious now, but I guess that's what happens when you've been staring at the same couple of paragraphs for a month.

I'll see what I can do in terms of tinkering with the pitch paragraph and genre/word count line. Thank you again for taking the time to read and respond!

10-07-2010, 09:45 PM
Hey no problem! Glad I could actually help :)