What Happens to the Mislabeled Book Submissions

It happens all the time that an author labels their work with the wrong genre. Sometimes this is an accident or lack of knowledge of genres, other times it’s done on purpose just to get in the door with a particular agent. For example, I regularly receive queries for YA novels, but since I’m not looking to represent more YA, the author checks off something like thriller or upmarket on my Query Manager form.

A reader on Agents Make Errors Too asks:

I know agents don’t have time to muck around. I also know writers sometimes mislabel their work, thinking a cut-y’r-heart-out, slash-n-dash horror thriller may qualify as Y/A if a teen wanders through the plot. Which maybe it does … Dunno.

What usually happens when a writer submits a reasonably written blurb, query, and sample in an agent’s targeted genre, but of which that agent thinks: “Uh-uh! THAT’S not Y/A (fill in the genre blank).”

Assuming the sample has merit, will an agent generally pass it along to another agent who drools over slash -n-dash (in which case, his/her boss may want to keep an eye on that agent)? For an agent to relabel and forward a genre takes time; I’m guessing the demands of the job may not permit that luxury.

I’m strictly talking mislabeled genres …  Not queries tossed into the wind regardless of MSWLs.  It seems to me some manuscripts don’t neatly fit into one category:  A dilemma!

How agents respond to a mislabeled query will depend on the agent. I can speak for how I handle it, but I can’t speak for everyone, not even at BookEnders.

When I receive a query that’s clearly for BookEnds, Jr you’ll get a rejection suggesting you check out the agents of BookEnds, Jr. And I won’t necessarily read the query.

In cases where the agent is intrigued, no matter the genre, I think you’ll find she might still request the book or, forward to a colleague. I know I will.

All of that being said, agents list genre preferences for a reason. It’s what we like and what we are experts on.

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3 comments

  1. I literally did not know what genre my first novel was. It had elements of fantasy, cozy mystery, romance, women’s fiction, and ghosts but the only thing I was sure about was that it was NOT horror. In my bumbling first attempts at finding an agent I submitted to everyone who represented any of these. It wasn’t until after a small “publisher” took it on and I hand-carried copies to my local indie bookseller to stock on consignment (which was wonderful of them to do!) and the owner stuck my book right, straight into the Fantasy section, that I finally understood. Well, she would know, right? 😀 (Turns out you can’t have anything but realistic elements in any of those other genres, d’uh!)

    My education was completed when the book club there made my book the monthly selection and some of the members started referring to it as “contemporary Southern Gothic Fantasy.” So that’s what I call what I do, now. And my work still goes into the fantasy section anywhere anyone stocks it. Lesson, in a very roundabout away, learned!

  2. So I have written a book which I feel is upmarket fiction. My protagonist speaks in first person and offers commentary on social issues, concepts of right and wrong, the true nature of love, religious belief. And oh yeah he and his emotionally unstable girl friend are in an intense sexual relationship. And to further complicate the issue, they are both 15. So who do I market this book to? Somehow many feel sexually mature material is of no interest to teenagers. Advice is welcomed.

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