Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Eleventh Commandment: CATEGORIZE

I forgot the movie, but in it there’s a scene in which a character orders their coffee at one of the franchises that invented their own lingo: “May I have a half-caf, venti, soy, blended, triple-shot Ristretto, skinny no-whip Machiatto?” 
The person at the counter nods and says, “Coming right up!”

To anyone who managed to stay out of those cafés, the above is a foreign language.
Publishing queries have their own lingo. It’s meant to be informative, but making sure it is can be daunting.

When writing a query, a pitch, or a synopsis, a writer must convey what sort of story they are offering. Is it a picture book (PB)? A chapter book (CB)? A novel for middle grades (MG)? A novel for young adults (YA)? A novel for older readers, like the twenty-somethings, now called the New Adults (NA)? Just a plain old novel for folks at the age of legal consent?
Not done yet, a writer must convey the genre. Is it a concept book (think colors and shapes, or  ABC and 1-2-3) or a story picture book? Is the chapter book part of a series? Is the MG, YA or NA novel a realistic, contemporary, historical, fantasy, magical, ghost, thriller, romance, humorous, psychological, or a mystery?

Actually, my current WIP (=work in progress) is all of the above. (Well, minus the romance. Sorry, it is a middle grade, after all.) 
I can just see this Dear Editor/Agent letter: "I am offering my scintillating can’t-put-it-down magical-realism contemporary ghost/psychological thriller with an historically nuanced mystery….”

I don’t think so.

I’m trying to box this thing, and make a box as nicely wrapped as possible. This, while making it a see-through wrapping.
Now you understand the challenge.
I think I need a Venti soy full-caf thing, a little crutch to get through this wrapping business.

15 comments:

  1. I remember that movie quote and quite appropriately for your post it's from "You've Got Mail."

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    1. Well done, Karen. I remember the movie, and remember the quotation, but can't quite put them together.

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  2. Yes, trying to figure out where a bookstore might shelve a particular book can be a real challenge!

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  3. Ah, queries ... just enough to whet the appetite. I'd settle for just the whipped cream on top ... good luck wrangling this beast.

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  4. I'm drinking my latte right now! I also remember that movie. It's so interesting how publishing has even changed from then.

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  5. I love books with multiple genres like this but it does make it tough to query them, so I hear you.

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  6. I just LOVE the coffee analogy, Mirka. I immediately thought of "L.A. Story" when you shared the quote. Meg Ryan may also have order such complicated coffee, but I'm quite certain Steve Martin also did while lunching with friends at the fictional "El Pollo Del Mar" hotel in Santa Barbara.

    Your post also reminded me of a post a I read this spring on my writing friend Maryanne Fantalis's blog. Like you, she's struggling with category with humorous results. Here's the link: http://mfantaliswrites.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/help-i-need-a-genre/

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    1. Just read Maryanne's good post. Yup, we all need to learn about nice packaging. If publishers and agents say they want "something different," fitting neatly into categories feels counter-intuitive. But oxymorons haven't scared us before.

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  7. This post made me LOL. I haven't gotten far enough yet on my WIP to even think about querying (or for which catergories), but thanks for letting me know what I have to look forward to :-O !!!!

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  8. I drank my first cup of coffee on my first day of navy boot camp in San Diego. I was 18. Had no need to shave. Was trying hard to change overnight from boy to man. All these years later it's a cup early while the world is still silent and the cool breeze from open windows fills the house. The coffee package, no bigger than my index finger, is a query without punctuation: Starbucks Via Ready Brew Columbia Medium Instant and Microground Coffee Not labeled For Individual Sale Best Before 12Sep2013 Smooth, balanced flavor in an instant. Tear here.

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  9. That coffee analogy is fantastic! Best of luck categorising your WIP. :)

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  10. Yes, how do you boil such a book down to 2-3 paragraphs? It feels like such an achievement when you've done it, though. Good luck!

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  11. Your WIP sounds fabulous, Mirka! What a great run-down of kidlit lingo for the uninitiated!

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  12. The only thing I ever buy at Starbucks is a bottle of water. If I'm there, it's usually to write or to meet a friend. One day my daughter heard that I was going and asked me to get her something. I was completely out of my comfort zone. It was indeed like speaking a different language. But I managed to come home with the right drink for her. I'm sure you'll get your query language right as well!

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  13. "I'm sure you'll get your query language right as well!"

    Amen to that^.

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