The Pitch, Part 2: Dispelling Genre Myths

Okay, so in Part 1 of my little diatribe on pitches I was talking about managing expectations.

The little snag here is that as soon as you mention the genre of your book you’ve already set up expectations. The reader already has a preliminary opinion on whether or not they’re going to like the book, and that’s even before they get to the pitch.

This is a real bugbear for me because I’m calling my books science fiction.

So the first thing this is saying is that this is ‘genre’ fiction as opposed to ‘literary’ fiction. Literary being taken as synonymous with quality, with serious novels of the sort one calls ‘works’ rather than ‘books’ and whose authors can add the prefix ‘critically acclaimed’.

To those who buy into this literary snobbery, the term ‘genre’ means a book of no inherent worth except as light entertainment for the unwashed masses.

Okay, so we’re probably facing an uphill battle persuading anyone otherwise, but if you’re looking for ammunition, take a look at these:

This one is what Patrick Rothfuss (Author of The Name of the Wind) had to say when a lecturer deemed fantasy novels not worthy of study – the interesting thing for me here is his insistence that ‘literary fiction’ is itself a genre:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFI30pcv4sM

Then there’s this classic example of literary snobbery of the sort which can dismiss an author on the basis of writing style without even bothering to read one of his books (referring to the late Terry Pratchett):

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2015/aug/31/terry-pratchett-is-not-a-literary-genius

and here’s a response (one of many):

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/aug/31/terry-pratchett-opposite-of-ordinary-potboiler-jonathan-jones

What am I taking from this personally?

That I have to stand up to literary snobbishness. My books may not be literary fiction but they are of no less worth. I will not apologise for the fact that the ideas within my novels are wrapped up in (what I hope is) an appealing story written in a commercial style.

This is deliberate on my part because I want people to read my books because they enjoy the story not because they are studying my use of language. I try to explore societal issues in the background rather than hit the reader over the head with them. Do I care that my books will never be set reading for an English lit course? Not in the slightest.

Okay, I’ve gone off topic a bit there, so back to genre expectations:

What else do people think when they see the label ‘science fiction’?

Space battles seems to be a common expectation. Or something futuristic packed with incomprehensible techno-babble. But then there are the time travel stories. Steampunk. Post apocalyptic, dystopian. Alternate universes, alternate futures, alternate political realities. Adventures, thrillers, romances, fairy tales. You name it, science fiction has it.

It can be hard to get across just how wide a genre science fiction is. If anyone were to ask me how to define science fiction I would probably through my hands up in despair. Luckily for me, other people have taken a shot at it:

To quote from this article http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140729-what-is-and-isnt-sci-fi

“…there seems to be as many definitions of science fiction as there are imaginary worlds dreamed up by its creators. Just sticking with leading authors, Isaac Asimov offered that it “deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology”; Thomas M Disch argued that it all stems from the premise that “absolutely anything can happen and should”; and slightly more philosophically Brian Aldiss has claimed it’s ultimately “the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge”.

I’m rather fond of the last one, probably because I’m not entirely sure what it means.

And here’s what Wikipedia says:

“Science fiction is difficult to define, as it includes a wide range of subgenres and themes. Author and editor Damon Knight summed up the difficulty, saying “science fiction is what we point to when we say it”.

I wish I had an upbeat conclusion to this part but, to be honest, I can’t think how to give any practical advice to overcoming genre prejudice. Genre distinctions are inescapable.

Perhaps all we can do is break it down.

May I present my New adult Futuristic Soft science fiction Adventure series with a Psychological slant featuring Cyborg Spies encountering Alien cultures.

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