Question & AnswersCategory: GeneralQuestion for Polly – Query email: categorising my novel
Elaine Arthur asked 2 years ago

How important is it to correctly categorise your own manuscript in terms of genre, age and similar titles?
I am stressing about terminology – I thought my book was upper middle grade, but then was told MG was an Americanism and upper MG not even a thing.
And then genre – another terminology minefield – is there any point trying to categorise, given your plot pitch will make it clear what kind of story you’ve written?
Do you like to see apposite comparisons with recently published titles? I can mention other books which haves something in common with mine, but given that they are also not the same as mine I worry about being misleading or seeming disingenuous.
Finally – is there any value in pointing out how your work fits in a wider context? For instance, I have seen culture editors and others bemoaning the scarcity of children’s fiction rooted in natureMy book answers this need, but is it for me to point this out, or is that just waffle?

1 Answers
Polly Nolan Staff answered 2 years ago

Dear Elaine
Thank you for your questions.  To be honest, I think you may be worrying unduly (which is understandable, given the overwhelming amount of advice out there for people trying to navigate seemingly-daunting waters).
The key thing to remember is that every agent (and editor and publisher) is looking for one thing:  a brilliant story. If you have that, you don’t need to worry about everything else.
That said, there is no doubt that if you can signal to a busy agent what sort of book you are submitting, it helps a lot. As a result, all sorts of jargon has sprung up – hence terms such as ‘Middle Grade’ and ‘Upper Middle Grade’ and so on.  Indeed, I am quite often sent work that people have categorized using words/terms that I’ve never heard of – so, honestly, don’t get into a knot about it.  If you’re worried, specifying the age (or the target age) in numbers is perfectly acceptable (eg My book is for readers of 7+ OR The target age for my novel is readers of 10 to 12).
Similarly, don’t get into a pickle about genre. If your novel is clearly one particular genre, say that.  If it isn’t don’t worry. As you say, genre should be clear from the pitch.
I don’t mind people comparing their work to other books, as long as the comparison is apt and not exaggerated. People sometimes set themselves up for a fall, claiming their book is like X, when X is a classic that has stood the test of time or a novel that has sold millions of copies. It’s unlikely somebody’s unedited debut is going to be as good as that, so the reader is inevitably left feeling underwhelmed.  If the comparison is apt, it is helpful to know it, simply so that I can make a quick decision on whether or not it’s something I’m looking for.  But not having a comparison wouldn’t put me off.
Ditto pointing out how your work fits in a wider context. If you can see that clearly, mention it. If not, don’t worry about it.

Your submission email should be about helping an agent understand what you’re sending him or her, yes – but, above all, it should be about getting the agent to your novel as quickly as possible. That’s what an agent is interested in reading.
Hope that helps.