I talked about this subject back on Jan. 28, 2008, when I was looking for the old manuscript of one of my out of print mysteries. This time it’s the response to a phone chat with a writer pal who is ready to start the submission process. I had told her to practice her blurb, and she said, “I don’t know what to call it when I blurb it.”
I said, “It’s historical fantasy. Ummm, wait. It’s alternate history fantasy. Ummm. Okay, it’s alternate-history, historical-paranormal. Yeah. Hmmm. That’s a mouthful. With a little thriller tossed in. Hmmm. We need to work on this.”
Kingdoms, princes and princesses, a pirate or two, a rogue, a mage or sorcerer, attack by demons and dark forces, maybe some romance tossed in, a witch or seven, or in my case, a seraph or a vampire hunter or two, mix it all well in our imaginations. That’s fantasy. If it works, it also gives us subgenres.
In my pal’s case, it’s a slightly different world with magic, and in a general sense, that’s what makes it fantasy, but it’s the mix that makes it fall into a subgenre. She has real places – London, the Caribbean islands – and a real historical context, with real church vs. state conflicts, and the fear of witchcraft. But it takes place in an alternate version of our history, one with magic. She has real people tossed in too, which, like DB Jackson’s Thieftaker, makes it a challenge to write and to blurb properly to a potential agent. In David’s case, he already had an agent. The book and subgenre conversation about a new series could take place over a leisurely meal or on the phone with their feet propped up. In my pal’s case, she might have to make the old eleven-second elevator-pitch. So her spiel has to be perfect, well-rehearsed, and ready to deliver.
At conferences, agents, writers and editor take part in pitch sessions, where unpublished writers pitch books at them and then get instant feedback. I love doing this, and I love, almost as much, listening in on the pitch sessions taking place to either side of me. I once heard an agent ask an unpublished fantasy writer, “What’s your subgenre, here?” Manuscript pages were turning. The agent was reading a line here or there. She was very intent, and I could tell she was interested. And the writer looked like a possum in the headlights of an oncoming car. Agent said, “Are you writing romantic epic? Erotic standalone?” The writer’s answer was, “Uh….” I wanted to laugh or cry or maybe both. Fortunately, the agent in question was not exhausted, was nice, and she helped the writer find the proper place, that small spot of certainty in the writing world. The subgenre.
“Uh…,” is the way many of us feel when we are starting a new series or new manuscript and are in the phase of world building. We are still trying to figure out what we are writing. Even after multiple books, we sometimes still have the *what am I writing* problem. Fortunately, in the *got books published* stage, we aren’t writing in a vacuum and can get help from agents, other writers, even editors.
When I wrote about this subject back in 2008, I said, “My favorite type of fantasy is urban fantasy. Sometimes dark urban fantasy. And I’m not averse to reading dark urban erotic fantasy. What’s that? It’s a current day, alternate reality universe, where vampires and werewolves and/or other mythical (wink-wink) creatures live among us humans. When you mix into the story some of the current geopolitical reality, a few gritty subtexts, like American cops and American history, mythos, and lore, you get urban fantasy. When you make it violent and dangerous, it becomes dark urban reality. When you add in hot sex, you get the erotic part. Duh.”
Back then, I made the mistake of not giving you my blurb, with subgenre, as example. So, though I’ve done this a time or two in the past, here is one (slightly long, 88 word) version:
Jane Yellowrock is a Cherokee skinwalker, perhaps the last of her kind, and a hunter of rogue vampires. When the Vampire Council of New Orleans invites her to hunt down and kill a particularly violent rogue, she accepts the challenge, and encounters both the first sane vamps she has ever met, and the most dangerous rogue she has ever hunted. Set in modern day New Orleans, Skinwalker is a dark urban fantasy, with some elements of romance, but an emphasis on the violent art of killing the undead.
Because we have new readers, and older readers may not have worked on their pitch recently, I’m offering a pitch session.
Pitch your work here in 150 words or less (less is better because that means you have done some work on it already) and I (and any other MW contributors who have time to jump in) will help you strengthen your pitch. And because we have a tiny weather problem in the US right now, J and some of us may not have Internet access, I’ll reply to the responses for the whole week.