This question is about genre and reader expectations. I'm not trying to change my story to fit a mainstream genre. I have already taken steps to broaden it's appeal, but it's too late to create an entirely different type of story.
I'm writing and illustrating a graphic novel. My difficulty is that I have issues communicating what it's about, the "1-minute elevator pitch".
Describe the story in 2 words...
I was fine with calling it Science Fiction, but I noticed non-writers had certain genre expectations which they get from mainstream works that I wouldn't even consider to strictly be sci-fi. My story is character-driven. It lacks melodramatic villains. There are no fantasy races or magic aliens or telepaths. Explaining this, I'd watch people's eyes glaze over. I can't get people excited by saying how it's not all these other things they expect.
In niche communities like Writers and Worldbuilding, genres have a narrower definition. To get around gatekeeping debates with other community members about scientific plausibility, I switched my genre label to Space Opera. It got them to accept my "alternative science" (it's consistent, but based on a specific pseudo-science) as not requiring a deep explanation (not integral to the plot). However, I'm still not providing genre expectations like dogfights in space, laser shootouts, space empires and half-dressed space princesses. I'm not fulfilling the promise-to-the-reader of what I think a Space Opera ought to be. None of the action even takes place in outer space.
Subverting expectations, or genre salad…?
At each phase, I took steps to try to make my story more commercial (in a George R. R. Martin sense) suggesting the implied genre promises but subverting expectations to get back to my story: a "melodrama villain" is taken out early leaving unanswered questions, the "action hero" isn't able to solve problems with a laserpistol, and the "half-dressed space princess" is a social-climbing thot trying to get to another planet. Feminist and social justice themes were subverted in favor of more complicated, frustrating characters who act in their own self-interest. No one's a "hero", no one's a "villain". Characters are imperfect and no one gets exactly what they want.
While this made the drama better, it moved further away from mainstream sci-fi. Looking critically at my full script, it's like I hang a lampshade on some mainstream tropes and then wander away to do something else. To try to be clear, it's not just that I have grey-morality and adult themes, it's more like "is this story even in this genre?"
Wait, it's actually some obscure genre no one has heard of that has zero marketing appeal…
Earlier this year I found the term Planetary Romance, and it fits. My story isn't really a "clash of worlds" so much as it's a clash of individuals from different worlds. The story takes place (mostly) on one planet where the socio-political situation is more important than technology, and the conflicts are small and inter-personal, at first anyway.
For anyone who knows the origins of Planetary Romance, I feel they would accept the story in the spirit it's intended. It's a modern twist on the White Savior goes to a Primitive Planet, rescues a native princess, and sparks a revolution, except the planet is a libertarian slum and all the hero and damsel tropes are subverted.
I know "romance" here is not indicating an actual relationship, as in Romance genre – but to anyone who doesn't know the term (non-writers) it at least gives them the right sense of scale to the conflict. Of course there is more than boy-meets-girl-on-Planet-Z, but if someone came with that expectation I feel they would be happily surprised by a complex character-driven story with some exotic stage dressing. There is a "which guy will she choose" aspect they can read into that carries through.
I'm at the stage where I need to solidify how I discuss this project. The script is finished and the artwork is in production. I can't keep fishing for genre labels. I need to communicate the basic scope of the story quickly so I can turn attention to the individual characters the story is really about.
Can I call my graphic novel a planetary romance?
Does it help me communicate the idea, or is it just too obscure to be useful?