Editing Rant: What Genre is This?

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I’m slush reading again. On the third or fourth page, I’m still trying to get a handle on the genre – is this a farce? is the author really trying for a comedy or are they really this bad? I pop over to look at the cover letter/email, nope, no clue there … wait! This is really a science fiction story, not a fantasy? You’re kidding me.

When writing, let the reader know what genre you are writing by the end of the first page. Even for mash-ups a western sci-fi or romance-paranormal. This can be done with how you introduce characters, or action, or just things in the scene.

Carol checked her make-up and interview outfit one last time.  Stepping out of the car, she grabbed the lint roller and ran it over her skirt. Her other self always leaves cat hair after the clowder meets, and the white hairs clung to the black fabric. Klaus Enterprises was a dream job, and she was interviewing with the man himself.

The bar was dark. Carol’s eyes drilled in, the cybernetics adjusting quickly to the light levels, searching for a captain to get her off this hell planet.

The body bleed out long before Carol had been called in. She studied the chalked outline and amount of blood. Not a vampire this time.

Define the expectation, only a hint is needed. But deliver a reassurance to the reader the inside of the book matches the cover. I’ve read books where the first half was a coming-of-age story and then it became a romance (cover: man being held by two women), where a solid sci-fi military suddenly adds vampires in the last three chapters (cover: spaceship over treescape), and where a western-steampunk ends up actually being a space opera (cover: colors). While genre flips are okay, too sudden a flip turns off readers. Foreshadowing helps. Just a line here or there can provide the worldbuilding background, so when the steampunk ends up in space the reader goes, “yeah, I see that” not “where the heck did that come from and how does it connect with the first half of the book?”

With Amazon samples and bookstore first page reads, setting genre expectations from the get-go can hook a reader. Not verifying the genre can kill sales.