Shapiro: Debut Book Should Not Be Cross-Genre

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I attended a cool free seminar, “Secrets of Publishing,” moderated by Susan Shapiro on Wednesday night at the NYU Bookstore in Greenwich Village. Yesterday, I posted 8 Quick Query Letter Tips offered by the impressive and varied mix of agents, authors and editors in attendance, but today I wanted to mention something interesting that Shapiro said that I really hadn’t heard before:

“If you go to a bookstore and don’t see a book exactly like yours, that’s probably not going to be your first book.”

(Although, it should be noted, Shapiro’s favorite rule in writing and life is: “You can do anything as long as it works.”)

In other words, if your first book is sort of a horror-meets-romance-meets-steampunk-meets-paranormal thriller, and you can’t find a comparable book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, it’s going to be pretty tough to sell an agent on it. Her advice is to put that book aside and do another one instead. Once you’re published, agents will be more receptive to a cross-genre (or hybrid genre) manuscript. (Note: Shapiro is talking about the big publishing houses here.)

What’s funny is that this logic totally flew in the face of what I had thought. My perception had been that a trendsetting novel, something wild and woolly, something that had never been done before, would be most receptive by agents. What Shapiro is saying is that all that is well and good, but if the agent and, in turn, the publisher can’t quite characterize your novel, find an easy slot for it on their list, and you don’t a track record, then you will probably not have success selling it.

Of course, I sat there thinking of my own books. Baby Grand is a straight-up thriller (although whether it’s a crime thriller or suspense thriller still leaves me confused). But my second book, In the Red, the one I’m currently writing, I’ve been describing as a thriller/love story (more women’s fiction than romance) — a cross-genre.

Somehow I’ve managed to follow Shapiro’s advice without even knowing it.

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2 thoughts on “Shapiro: Debut Book Should Not Be Cross-Genre

  1. Thank you for good advice. I assume that the reason one’s first book will not be cross-genre is simply that a publisher would not wish to assume that extra risk of success on a first-time author. Thank you for the post.

  2. Sitting here wondering what the impact of self-publishing will be on the wisdom of what a first book’s genre should be–if, perhaps, the trend-setters and rule-breakers will find better reception………………..?

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