Today I’m nursing a gig hangover (i.e. my fingers are blistered from playing bass, my hair is wider than it is long and my eye makeup has migrated beneath my eyes in a mirror image of what it was last night), so I’ll keep this quick. I want to share something I learnt from entering a pitch contest recently, in the hope that no-one makes the same mistake I did. I’ll admit this is pretty basic stuff but probably something easily overlooked, so I’m glad I got the reminder and happy to share.

See I ended up in the top ten entries for a recent pitch contest but one little word planted considerable doubt in the judges, and that’s hardly what you want when the prize is a full request from an acquisitions editor. The offending word was ‘urban’, because I’d listed my entry as urban fantasy when it read as fantasy alone. Given my pitch (which I’ve included below along with the judges’ comments), they were right to assume I’d mislabelled it. The trouble is my story is urban fantasy. It’s set in suburban Wales, where two ordinary suburban kids get roped into learning a crash course in defensive magic from two medieval stowaways who are trying to stop an ancient war. They go to school, do their homework and use the internet (and time travel) to solve the mystery which can save their bloodlines, so I’ve been told by many that it is urban fantasy and I was just sticking to that.

Understandably, I banged my head against a brick wall for about three days afterwards. But once I got over my head wall hangover, I figured you’ve just got to be flexible with the genre you list in these competitions (as I know there are heaps out there and they usually follow this format). Of course you have to be true to the book, because an agent or editor may be looking for a certain genre when they judge these contests and you don’t want to mess them around, but look out for grey areas in your work. I never would have noticed the ambiguity in mine, but now I know it’s there I’ll stick to fantasy as an easy middle ground.

And that’s it. Annoying, I know, but at least I learnt something from my mistake. And what about you guys? What’s your contest stuff up? (Or is it too painful to relive…?)

P.S. Speaking of contests, next week I’m hosting one you can’t stuff up, but you can win yourself a $30 book voucher and signed book from my interview guest! Looking forward to seeing you there. 🙂

5. Name: Katherine Amabel –
Title: The Hourglass Bridge
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Word Count: 95, 000
Hauled into medieval Wales, a teenage history-buff must embrace her bloodline’s destructive powers to stop a war she potentially started.
Terri’s Vote: (a reserved) Yes
Terri’s Comment: The pitch is really good, though the story sounds a bit “and the kitchen sink” (I would have been happy without the magical powers). Personally, I would LOVE this if it was humorous/light hearted, but it sounds more on the serious/epic side of the genre. Just a note – this doesn’t sound like Urban Fantasy (?) – UF is set in a city, using involving a paranormal element, and usually in a contemporary setting.

Erin’s Comment: Yes. I like the idea and I also like the way the sentence is written. This is not urban fantasy, though. Depending on how the time travel happens, it’s either fantasy if it’s a black box or done with magic, or science fiction if there is a reasonable explanation. This is basically the same type of story as A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, which would probably have been published as fantasy if such genre distinctions had existed back then. I think you are confusing “urban fantasy” with “paranormal” which is easy to do since the publishing industry itself has confused the terms and allowed the one to morph into the other over time. “Paranormal” I will grant you, for the use of magic. Paranormal Science Fiction isn’t actually a genre, though– that’s called fantasy. I have a particular love of time travel stories (as you could probably tell, since I was already publishing the Time Yarns Universe before I became Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books) and so I’ve seen lots of lots of time travel stories. This one doesn’t sound exactly like any of the others, though. I would read this for publication.