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So you’ve just finished your romantic, dystopian, experimental, chick-lit fantasy-horror novel and you’re ready to pitch it to an agent. It’s a little bit of everything, but that’s OK: it doesn’t need a label, right? Well, yes and no. If you are doing some serious genre mixing, there’s a few challenges that you are going to have to overcome, and a few bits of etiquette to be aware of that could really trip you up on the road to publishing.

Image by Hacklock

You’ll know you’ve used too many genres when your cover letter turns into a novel in its own right… Image by Hacklock

Agents (Usually) Like Labels

I’ve seen a grand total of two agent bios that say they enjoy work that doesn’t necessarily have a firm label. So if it’s one of those guys that you’re trying to impress, you’re all set! But the fact is, most agents will want to have at least a rough idea of where your work fits in the market and that means you are going to have to come up with a clear and fairly succinct label. It’s no good to start your covering letter with that list of genres as long as your arm – even if it’s accurate, that won’t give an agent a clear enough idea of what your book is all about. My suggestion is to try to reduce it to two or, maximum, three genres. Your ideal explanation would be something as simple as “Tales of a Grouchy Shopkeeper is a 100,000 word dystopian horror.” If you really feel you need to add more, you could perhaps expand it to “Tales of a Grouchy Shopkeeper is a 100,000 word dystopian horror with a romantic twist.” This should help a potential agent to get a feel of whether it’s a good fit with their tastes.

Proof that genre mixing can work! (At least, in my opinion)

Proof that genre mixing can work! (At least, in my opinion)

Some Genres Don’t Mix Well

I think it would be untrue to say that there are any two genres that cannot ever be mixed together, but some are certainly going to be harder than others. And the longer you make your list of themes, the more trouble you are going to have forcing them to exist in harmony. You may find that after a chapter or two of writing, a couple of the genres you had wanted to include are being left by the wayside. It’s okay to let them go. My personal opinion is that a work with fewer genres is usually stronger as the author has been able to give them full focus, rather than trying to force one more murder scene into their romantic comedy, just to fulfil their horror quota.

Not everyone agrees, of course. And there have been some rare books that have brought together a combination of themes that I would have never thought possible. But keep in mind that success in this area is going to take a great deal of skill and experience.

Simple Labels Sell

Plenty of people know they love fantasy, or YA, or romance, or horror. But not so many people are in the market for a young adult, romantic fantasy-horror. When it comes down to actually selling your work, you are going to want a label that people will feel confident in. It’s less usual to find a reader that is willing to take a gamble in a strange book that they may not like; most people would prefer to read more of the same. Not necessarily the same style, the same plot etc., but at least within a genre that they know they will probably like. Books can be expensive and time-consuming, so in some respects, consumers prefer to play it safe.

I hope that this will help you to keep your feet on the ground with your genre mixing, but don’t let it put you off! A bit of a gamble with your themes could produce something spectacular, but you need to be aware of the risks you are taking. If you liked this article, please click like and follow, and join me again next week when I will be talking about manuscript length.