Angela James On Fantasy & Paranormal Genres

My special guest today is Angela James, Executive Editor of Samhain Publishing offering some insights into a couple of hard to define genres and submission tips. Thanks, Angela for sharing your words of wisdom. J


Defining some genres, especially urban fantasy, is a hard question and is going to often depend on the publisher. And I need to add the caveat that you’ll always be able to think of exceptions to the parameters of the genre. But overall, paranormal romance is going to have more of a focus on the relationship by definition, and will/should have a happily for now or happily ever after. Readers are generally going to look for a story that has a lot to do with the relationship of the h/H (or whatever combination thereof that you have), and shows the progression of said relationship. Examples of paranormal romances include Lauren Dane’s Cascadia Wolves series, Dana Marie Bell’s Halle Puma series and Moira Rogers’ Red Rock Pass series.


Urban fantasy not only doesn’t require a HEA, but it doesn’t even have to have a relationship subplot (though I think many do, especially the more successful ones). I think you’ll also find that paranormal romances can be first or third person, but urban fantasy seems to have morphed into almost exclusively first person. Last, urban fantasies often seem to take place in either an alternate “earth” or a future earth, but paranormal romances are just as often woven into the world of today. Urban fantasy examples would include Blood Vice by Keith Melton, Even for Me by Taryn Blackthorne, and Tiger by the Tail by Kaye Chambers.


I often struggle to put the definition of fantasy into worlds, because I can “feel” fantasy when I read it but don’t always articulate it well. While paranormal and urban fantasy take place in a setting familiar to us, fantasy generally takes place in a made-up world/realm and has magic of some sort as an underlying theme. Again, the lines can blur here, so there’s no hard and fast rule. Maria Zannini’s Touch of Fire, Michelle Pillow’s Realm Immortal series, and Gia Dawn’s Demons of Dunmore series are great examples of this genre.


In addition to these genres, there are also space opera, cyberpunk, steampunk, futuristic and science fiction. All of them come with their own set of expectations within the genre/sub-genre for readers and editors.


When submitting a manuscript, there are usually some genres that take precedent over others. For instance, let’s say you’re submitting a book about a raven shifter family set in the 1800’s on a dark, dreary moor in a forbidding manor (I just signed this book). How are you going to classify this book? The paranormal part should be identified first, because readers who hear “historical” are not going to expect a paranormal setting. They’re going to expect a straight historical. So the paranormal should be up front. In the case of this book, I would call it a Paranormal Gothic (because gothic indicates historical) or a Paranormal Historical with a gothic feel.


The exception to this would be if the paranormal or other elements are not the main thrust of the book. An example of that would be the Amanda Quick books, which always have a mystical element of some sort, but are sold as historical. The “other” element is hinted at in the back copy. The important thing is to somehow alert the reader/editor that there is an “other” element, not spring it on them. Lori Foster’s latest book, My Man Michael (if you’ve not heard of it and am not sure what I refer to, reading the reviews on Amazon will help you understand why making some things a surprise to the reader aren’t wise).


The main thing to remember is that the editor reading your query letter wants to know the main genres of the book, including if it’s an erotic romance (or erotica, remember those are two completely different genres), paranormal, contemporary, historical, etc. Don’t worry about describing every small element of the book within the genre description. Let your query/synopsis do that for you.


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2 Responses to Angela James On Fantasy & Paranormal Genres

  1. Kimber Chin says:

    TOTALLY agree about not making the genre a surprise. That is the number one reason authors get kicked off my auto-buy list.

    Not saying that I don’t read many different genres, simply that when I feel like a historical straight romance, I feel like a historical straight romance.

  2. Robie says:

    I hear you…but I’m also glad, Kimber, that you make room for those writers, like me, who write all over the genre board. :)