Is genre still useful in today's book world?
With the advent of self-publishing especially, the old categories are being blurred, and the genre lines are frequently being crossed. As we deviate more and more from the ‘norm' of stories and genre, is the way we categorise books making it harder for readers to find what they're looking for rather than easier?
Genre in the Past
When I think back to my experiences of genre as a child, it seems rather lacking to me. I read voraciously, going through almost the entire children's/young adult section in my local (rural) library. There, books were organised by author, not genre, so I read a huge selection, not really differentiating between romance, fantasy or drama. I didn't think about what genre I was reading (unless it had horses, then it was at the top of my list!), just read the back, and if it was interested, I borrowed it.
Bookstores (at least, the second hand ones I frequented) were the same. It wasn't until I was in my late teens and discovered fantasy that I noticed any genre segregation at all.
Genre in libraries and bookstores
Most libraries are still organised like this (at least, my local one is). Fiction books are arranged by author. They do also have little stickers on the spine that give an indication of genre (like romance, western, mystery etc.), and sometimes there are small display type shelves devoted to a particular genre, but there are a lot of books without stickers.
So I went to check out my local bookstore, to see if they organised by genre. The answer was both yes and no. The fiction section took up one wall, and had sections for ‘Sci-Fi and Fantasy', ‘Paranormal'. Everything else was lumped in together under the heading ‘Fiction'.
So where is all this genre stuff?
Genre, it seems, is at its strongest in the online world. One of the great benefits of the electronic world is its ability to sort and categories data, to perform searches, and to narrow down what we're looking for. This is good, because the online world is filled with an enormous amount of data.
And unlike the physical world, the lack of real ‘shelf' space means that you no longer have to pick one category and one category only for your book. It can be in Sci-Fi and Romance at the same time, and be seen by both sets of readers.
So this is a good thing, right?
Maybe. Genre definitely has it's uses. It enables a reader to find books similar to the one the just enjoyed. It helps them sort through the colossal amount of books, and narrow it down to ones they might enjoy.
It also means that unlike a bookstore, where they had to walk past Sci-Fi to get to Romance, they may never see all those good books that they might have enjoyed.
The trick is to find ways to use this categorising ability to our advantage. We WANT our book to get in front of the readers who are most likely to appreciate it. But we also want to get it in front of as many of these readers as we can.
So what's the problem?
The problem I see is the narrowness of the categories available. When you have a book that doesn't neatly fit into any of the existing categories, it becomes very hard to find your target audience. New categories, many a blend of existing genres, are evolving every day. Urban fantasy. Paranormal romance. And many many others.
But getting them into the right categories on Amazon (the only seller I have experience with) isn't easy. The first problem is the fact that the categories you see on the Amazon store aren't the ones you get to choose from when you're uploading your book! Extremely frustrating. I would have put Reckless Rescue in the futuristic romance category, that's where it belongs, but it wasn't available as a choice.
This makes it harder for readers who want to read books of this kind to find what they're looking for. Sci-Fi Romance books are hard to find on Amazon. When I first started writing Reckless Rescue, I wanted to read other sci-fi romance books, to get an idea of what was out there, and how my book compared, but I struggled to find any!
So what can we do?
As I discovered later, Amazon isn't the only way to find books you're looking for! Goodreads is great. (Yes, I know it was bought by Amazon, but I'm holding to the belief that it isn't going to change, just as Book Depository didn't after they were bought by Amazon.) The lists there are great for finding books around genre, as are the groups.
What do you think? Does genre have a place in today's book world? Authors, have you had trouble getting your book into the right category? And readers, how do you find books that you like?
All this month I'm participating in the A-Z blogging challenge, writing a blog post for each letter of the alphabet, on every day of the month except Sundays. Check back regularly to see what else I have in store for you.