Pitching Your Cross-Genre Novel
Agents and publishers want to know how a novel will fit into an existing niche, but they also want to know how it’s different from what’s already on the market. Instead of giving in to the urge to say, “I don’t want to be labeled,” consider labels a way to make your book more marketable.
• Name the primary genre and one or two additional genres in your pitch. Don’t throw too many labels into the mix. No agent is likely to embrace a “Western romantic thriller with elements of science fiction and fantasy.” If you can, distill your genres into one adjective (the secondary genre) plus a noun (the primary genre):historical thriller, sci-fi drama, romantic fantasy. The more specific your description, the more confident your pitch will sound.
• Play up the ways in which your cross-genre approach will broaden your target audience. In her pitch for French Lessons, Ellen Sussman capitalized on the intersection of two genres: suspense and romance. Her pitch, she says, went something like this: “This novel will appeal to readers who love a literary page-turner, as well as those who are looking for a steamy romance.” An agent wants to know you’ve thought about your audience.
• Emphasize the story in relation to the genre. “When pitching a genre-blurring novel, talk about the world of the novel and the characters who endure within it,” Baggott advises. Pure features a young female protagonist, Pressia, facing off against a lawless society and a powerful group that wants her dead; the genre is futuristic YA, but the draw is Pressia herself, the emotional center of the story.
Consider M.J. Rose’s pitch for her next genre-bender, Seduction: “In 1853, Victor Hugo began a series of secret séances in an effort to reach his dead daughter. He wrote transcripts of those séances and claimed to have reached Jesus, Dante, Shakespeare and dozens more spirits including someone he called the Shadow of the Sepulcher. Known to us by another name: Lucifer. What if one set of transcripts was hidden because they were too controversial? What if a modern day woman finds them and they put her life in jeopardy? Celtic legends, the Isle of Jersey, reincarnation, perfume—all come together in my first ghost story.”
Notice how Rose mentions the cross-genre elements of her novel—historical figures with religious subtext—in one juicy paragraph that begins and ends with emphasis on her primary genre: paranormal.