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Genre Labels Poll

We should do away with Genre labels

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Today we are going to have a #followreader discussion on the issue of genre labels on Twitter wherein we have to express our opinion in 140 characters! I’m interested in hearing what you have to say in the comments below (fortunately unfettered by the Twitter character limit). Personally, I am a big fan of genre labels.

But are they too limiting? Who sets them? Market and if so, how? If it is publisher, then what guidelines do you think that they use or what guidelines should they use.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Heather Brewer
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 11:56:59

    I love to read and at times labels are good but there are times when the labels industry gives them don’t match the content of the books. I hate trying to find paranormals in romance, science fiction and even regular fiction because of the label that is on them.

  2. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 12:20:25

    Genres grow and change, expand and contract, morph and disappear . . . and they're different based on where you live and where you shop (though the biggies are mostly static: romance, mystery, science fiction/fantasy; lit fic).

    I look at it this way:

    Readers use genre sections to find the kind of books they like.

    Booksellers use genre labels to shelve the books so the readers can A) find the thing they came in for and then B) find a few more things in a similar vein that might interest them (browsing is a whole lot easier when like things are groups; and it must work as a all stores, regardless of what they sell, group things).

    Publishers use genres for a plethora of things, but mostly to decide what might sell and is thus worth investing in and then market/sell those books to the bookbuyers (and thence down the line to readers).

    Genres (and genre sections) can make life a little harder on books that straddle/span genres. There can be a very fine line between Romantic Suspense in the Romance Section and Thriller in the Mystery Section, between Paranormal in the Romance Section and UF in the Science Fiction/Fantasy Section, between some Historicals in the Romance Section and some in the Lit Fic Section.

    A friend of mine who works for the Science Fiction version of RT :::cough:::Locus:::cough::: had an interesting discussion with an editor who works for a big house that does a lot of paranormal romance :::cough:::Dorcheseter::cough::: about some of their upcoming Paranormal Romances. The editor was discussing how they're a good fit for crossover readers of Science Fiction/Fantasy. My girlfriend asked how her magazine's readers would know to look for these books, and the editor said they'd see them when they browsed the Romance Section. #epic fail# My friend had to point out that most of her readers wouldn't be caught dead on “the pink isle”. She's certainly never been down it, and it would never occur to her to browse for books there. Editor couldn't understand why, when there are lots of books there that would clearly appeal to readers of UF. There was some dumbfounded horror on both sides of this discussion . . .

    Since we all know cross-shelving isn't going to happen, it's going to come down to word of mouth, co-op (if the books on a table in the front with a cover that might catch the eye of an UF fan, then they don't have to venture down “the pink isle”), and luck for these sorts of genre-bending books.

  3. Mireya
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 13:32:03

    The very second thing I check when I look at a book is what genre does it belong to. I have preferred genres and that helps me narrow my search for new reading material. Granted I use other criteria as well, but after author’s name, which is at the very top of my list of criteria, that is what I look at when initially looking at new books I may be interested in.

  4. SonomaLass
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 14:15:42

    Some of my favorite books are the ones that push the boundaries of their genres, or that straddle genre lines. I feel for authors who have trouble getting a book published because it doesn’t quite fit in an obvious genre. That’s been a problem back to the days of the ancient Greeks (what’s a tragedy? a comedy?), but I think it’s good for writers to have genre boundaries to push. Hopefully we will continue to have editors and publishers who are willing to help such works find their audience. (I’m thinking most recently of Butterfly Tattoo.)

    It seems to me that some creativity on the part of sellers helps a lot. I know several bookstores that have “if you like, then try” displays of books, and that can be used to get across the aisles. Amazon’s “readers who bought this also bought” feature is useful in a similar way. Review and reader blogs are also great tools for identifying books outside one’s genre comfort zone — you get details that help you decide whether to look beyond the genre label for a particular title.

    Sometimes I get really frustrated by the slavish devotion some people and stores show to genre classification. I hunted ALL OVER our local Borders for the reprint of Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. Not in Sci-fi/Fantasy, not YA, not Romance. I finally checked on the computer and found it — in Horror. I would never have looked there on my own, never have found it browsing. This same store had a big display labeled “If You Like Charlaine Harris,” and every book on the rack was by Charlaine herself. I don’t know how to determine how much of this is corporate and how much local, but it was a very WTF shopping trip.

  5. emmad
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 14:22:55

    I like them as a guide line but think there could be more categories. Not quite sure how to do that though.

  6. CupK8
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 14:27:22

    When I know what I want, not having genre definitions is much easier for me. I can go straight to where that book is filed, grab it, and be on my merry way. For browsing, however, I much prefer being able to sift through the genres – often, I know I want a certain TYPE of book, but not exactly what.

    Many of my spontaneous purchases have come from seeing a book next to the one I went in to buy. I can see the positive side of blending the genres in that I might wish to explore other types of literature other than what I already read if I have access to them while browsing. I’m just not sure it would catch my interest as much if either A) I didn’t already appreciate similar books and the risk would therefore be lessened, or B) Someone had recommended it to me.

  7. joanne
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 14:30:26

    I would love to see them become much more specific.

    The differences in paranormals, fantasy, urban fantasy and paranormal romances is huge but they generally all have the same generic labels.

    With no particular label, and just looking through the romance section, Hidden Currents by Christine Feehan (witches & magic) and Obsidian Prey by Jayne Castle (futuristic & dust bunnies *love them*) and Bengal's Heart by Lora Leigh (shifters & erotica) and Undead and Unwelcome by MaryJanice Davidson (contemporary vampires) how is it possible for readers to choose new authors?

    Fortunately we have word of mouth help from reviewers and other reader recommendations but if someone is just walking into a brick & mortar store cold they will probably leave without anything new.

    As long as we’re saying what we’d like to see on the spine: if publishers could add HEA.
    *sigh* And I still want a pony.

  8. Marianne McA
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 16:06:37

    I can see they’re useful to bookshops, publishers etc. but I don’t think I use them well. Instead of judging a book by it’s cover, I dismiss it by it’s classification. Just reading down the author promotion thread for June, I think I only read about two of the posts. I read down to the genre label ‘erotic romance’ or ‘paranormal fantasy’ thought “Don’t read that” and skipped onwards.

    And I’ve actually read books in both those genres that I have enjoyed, but I don’t think of them as classifications I read.
    So if the universe was all about me, I’d rather not have genre labels, because I think I’d read more widely, and have more fun. (And be surprised occasionally – be on the edge of my seat because I’m not sure if I’m getting an HEA.)

  9. Bree
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 16:42:28

    I like tags. I wish I could search all online bookstores by themes. But as a long-term employee on a bookstore…life without genres? Oh god, KILL me.

    Online data lends itself well to relational organization and cross referencing. But real life hasn’t caught up, and probably won’t for a long time. I can’t even imagine a way to organize books in a physical bookstore without at least basic genre breakdowns. (But hey, maybe there is a magical way!)

  10. Keri M
    Jun 04, 2009 @ 21:35:48

    I agree with some about the need for more genre classifications. I like how my UBS does their classifications to a degree, the have the Fantasy Romance, Romantic Suspense and Romance separated pretty good. But where they fail is the erotica section, that have books in there that I just consider romance and some of it
    FR, but because of the publisher that is where it gets shelved. My Borders has the usual generic genres. What I did notice that the new paperback releases were out on one big table and there was all different genres on the table for people to browse.

  11. library addict
    Jun 05, 2009 @ 03:59:56

    I wish the genre labels had more to do with the actual content of the books rather than what often times seems to be the publishers labeling something as “romance” that isn’t. When I buy a romance I want the HEA that label implies.

  12. Jane O
    Jun 05, 2009 @ 07:34:38

    I appreciate the labels. I only wish publishers would be a bit more accurate with them. I recently picked up a book that looked like a historical, said it was a historical, had a cover like a historical, and as soon as I got past the first chapter turned out to be a paranormal.

    I do not like paranormals as a rule, and this wasn’t even a good one.

    I was not amused.

  13. Aoife
    Jun 05, 2009 @ 13:40:06

    I like genre labels up to a point, and wouldn’t want to see them go away. On the other hand, I think they could be refined just a little more to be really useful. Recently I’ve come across books that were shelved in SF/Fantasy that would probably make readers in Romance happy, and vice versa. I’m getting confused over what is and is not UF vs. Paranormal, and from online discussions I know I’m not alone. Also, I’m really not a happy camper when I pick up a book shelved in Romance that ends up minus the HEA.

  14. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 10, 2009 @ 06:41:42

    I like labels but I don’t like when a book is ‘mis’labeled. If it’s a romance, call it a romance and not a novel. If it’s urban fantasy with romantic elements, called it urban fantasy, not romance. And so on and so on…

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