Genre-ing: Risk and reward

I both love and hate genre labeling. On the one hand, genres can help us find books we want to read and avoid books we definitely don’t want to read. But they can also keep us from discovering books we’d love, too. On some level, I chafe against genre labels — perhaps in part because I’ve grown to love so many books that defy a singular genre label. I really do like books that cross genres.

And then there are the times when these genre labels are slapped on a book in error.

I’ve been baffled by the genres applied to two books so far this year, and in both cases it impacted my enjoyment of the read. More on that in a second.

My Friend Amy posted about a similar book marketing tactic, “recommended for fans of …” a day or two ago.

Both of these labeling tactics (applying genre(s) to a book and saying if you like this [fill in famous author/book here], you’ll love this book!) are done on many levels of the book industry. An agent may use this to entice a publishing house to bite, a publisher may put it on a book cover, bookstores shelve and market this way often, and we book bloggers sometimes do these things too. I understand that these tools can be helpful, and in some cases are essential to our mutual communication about books.

Genre labels can also be detrimental, though.

Take the two books I mentioned above, Best Intentions by Emily Listfield and Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth.

Best Intentions was marketed as the author’s first foray into the mystery/suspense genre — a website was created about the murder mystery. Elsewhere I saw it described as a blending of women’s fiction and mystery. Now, while it did have some aspects of a mystery, it certainly should not be shelved in the mystery section. This is women’s fiction with just a pinch of mystery.

Land of Marvels was labeled as a thriller and historical fiction. So many people gave up on this one because they were led to believe the book was a thriller — and then the pacing was very, very slow for the first three-quarters-plus of the book.

If these books had been correctly labeled, I’d have enjoyed one much more than I did, and perhaps I wouldn’t have disliked the other as much as I did, either, simply because I would have realized going in that it was an entirely new genre for me.

My new labels for these books:
Best Intentions is a work of women’s fiction, with just a hint of mystery.
Land of Marvels is a work of historical fiction with relational drama and oil intrigue.

I’ll reiterate: Labeling isn’t all bad; without it, we’d have trouble finding the books we want to read. But lazy labeling is bad, harmful to the book’s success even.

What erroneous genre labels have you seen?

5 responses to “Genre-ing: Risk and reward

  1. Land of Marvels is definitely one that threw me off. I ignored it over and over again thinking it was a thriller, only to find that it was much more historical fiction and focused on archaeology, so I ended up loving it. There also seems to be a huge amount of issues with paranormal romance/urban fantasy classification. The Mercy Thompson series is categorized as paranormal romance and really, it isn’t romance at all! It’s definitely urban fantasy and there isn’t really any romance until the third one.

    Labeling can be useful, but only if done carefully by someone who is knowledgeable.

  2. Kinky Gazpacho is NOT a travel memoir, which is the section I found it in. In Powell’s, of all places. And since I love travel memoirs, I ended up being disappointed…which isn’t fair to the book at all.

  3. I think genre-ing is inevitable because the publishers need a tidy way of marketing to various niches, especially in the current climate of fractured media and interests. What’s frustrating though as a writer is doing something outside a genre, because chances are it won’t get picked up.

  4. I must admit that I have a terrible time genre-ing the books I read. In fact, I’m not at all clear what to make of ‘women’s fiction’ as a category. Great post.

  5. Generally I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so, Excellent post!

    I’m Out! :)

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