Don’t Mind The Labels


In the broadest sense of the word, I think the vast majority of books are misclassified when genre is assigned to them. That’s not an indictment on the publishing industry but a simple fact that each book is unique and, though it may have some similarities to other books on the market, assigning a particular BISAC code to a book for marketing purposes may actually prevent a reader from finding a book they would enjoy very much.

Here’s a broad statement for you to consider. The majority of novels could be classified as Romance. It has nothing to do with the plethora of titles available in that popular genre or the popularity of ‘those’ kinds of books. The reason more books aren’t classified as Romance is because the authors do not like the association with what they consider pop culture or trashy books that are obsessed with sexual tensions. Yes there are Romance novels that certain go to an explicit extreme but the simple truth is that for stories to be interesting to readers there usually are elements of realistic human relationships captured in the interactions between characters – romantic relationships.

I bring the subject up not because I’m about to claim all of my books are Romance novels, though I will say there are relationships between people who are in love within their pages. What I’m getting at is more along the lines of embarrassing social stigmas of a particular genre. That includes science fiction and fantasy, two genres in which my books seems to find comfortable assignment from time to time.

Over the past few months I’ve read a variety of novels. Some were well written and others not to much. I’ve enjoyed most of the books despite the assigned genres being outside of my usual interests. Why? Because the books possessed elements of other genres like mystery, suspense, adventure in well told stories. There was a series I;d classify s historical romance that i enjoyed enough to be waiting for the next book to be published and it has been marketed as a swashbuckling adventure story. Well, yes, there is a good bit of that in the book as well.

Authors should be storytellers first and foremost. Our characters drive the events of the story and, if allowed, they will tell us of the conflicts and expose most other plot elements through their conversations and interactions with other characters. Why this works is because it is great story telling. It successfully mirrors the natural interactions readers are familiar with in their daily lives.

Genre classification exists for librarians, bookstores and readers to judge whether different books are similar enough to be associated. In truth, each book or series of books is completely unique. Each author writes exactly like himself or herself and no one else on the planet. But like looking at fingerprints, books will have similar identifying characteristics. This book may remind the reader of that book or one author might influence the style or writing that another later adopts. But it is extremely difficult to say that any two books as ‘alike’. If any two books were exactly alike then why read both?

When a reader enjoys a certain type of book he or she is inclined to sample other the other work by that author. In the absence of other books he or she may look for other similar books by different authors. That’s the value of genres. From both a reader’s as well as a marketer’s perspective Genres are labels, nothing more. And humans seem obsessed with labeling things – that is until labels are unfairly applied.

I like to think my writing spans many genres. The trouble with that is that BISAC codes are used in the publishing business to pigeonhole books, assign them shelf space in bookstores or category pages online. At some point, someone, whether it is the author, the publisher or both, has to determine which code to us for a new book. This choice is critical in how the book will be pitched to reviewers, critics, bloggers, book distributors, retailers and ultimately readers. Are there ever mistakes made in selecting the BISAC code? Sure, it happens all the time. The trouble is that it is very hard to change the BISAC code after a book is released to the public. It’s almost like publishing a new edition of a book when you’re talking about a paperback version.

And so we have a situation where readers frequently discover a book they like in a genre they ‘usually’ don’t read. They find the book because a friend referred them to it, not because of all the specific choices of those marketing the book. That’s not a bad thing, but it goes back to my point. Well written stories span many genres and therefore there is a lot to like in most every well written book. Sometimes a disservice is done to both the author and the reader in the attempt to categorize a book. Other times, because of the classification of a book, we as readers shun a book we might enjoy. As authors we may avoid allowing our books to be marketed in specific genres where they could actually find the largest audience, just because we don’t want to be associated with other authors in that genre.

Me crop 2

#writing #genre #fiction #publishing #BookMarketing #BISAC

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