Miss Snark’s First Victim recently hosted an awesome Name the Genre contest. If you’re not familiar with this blog, give it a try. Authoress hosts an encouraging community for writers aspiring to be published, both in children and adult literature. Many of her contests are opportunities for anonymous public critique on works in progress. Once a month she also hosts a Secret Agent Contest for completed, polished manuscripts. The big event at the end of the year is The Baker’s Dozen, the agent auction I’ll be entering again this year – if I finish my manuscript in time.
Now that voting is complete, I can reveal I was Name the Genre Contestant #7. Feel free to share your thoughts on the opening to my latest work in progress. Spoiler: the genre is YA Urban Fantasy.
Before entering this contest, I had the opening chapters of the same manuscript critiqued by a bestselling children’s author at a conference. He was an avid fan of science fiction, and he warned me there is a fine line between fantasy and science fiction when it comes to time travel. Yet the audiences who read these two genres usually don’t overlap.
What’s the difference? Science fiction time travel involves technology while fantasy time travel involves magic.
He cautioned me the working title “Time Traders” was going to mislead science fiction readers if there wasn’t a time machine in the story somewhere. For many genre readers, a misleading opening to a manuscript will piss them off and cause them to put the book down. Or write bad reviews.
After the conference I revised the working title to “Tarot Traders” and removed all reference to time or technology in the opening chapters. Everyone I asked guessed the manuscript was fantasy, but they also knew me and the type of stories I write.
The Name the Genre contest reinforced that author’s point. The tiny phrase “this crowded planet” still misled readers into believing the story would be a science fiction or dystopian tale involving over-population. Who could have anticipated that? A bestselling author!
Lesson Learned: Ask readers completely unfamiliar with your work to name the genre of your opening chapter. Their unbiased first impressions are the most valuable feedback.