Why do we use Genres?

Some people have a hard time understanding why the publishing industry insists on labeling every book with a genre. There are many to choose from, and so many novels that cross genres, such as a love story set in the old west. Is that Historical Fiction, Western, or Romance?

There are two answers, and I’ll give the easy one first. Bookstores, including online sellers like Amazon, want to help readers find the types of books they like by allowing them to browse in certain categories. There is a shelf for Westerns, a shelf for Historical Fiction, and a shelf for Romance. Without a category, the physical bookstore won’t know where to put it, unless you are already a famous bestselling novelist, and then it goes in a big pile where the customers can see it as they walk in. For the rest of us, we need to understand our genre to make the bookstore’s job easier.

kiss-on-a-boat-mdNow for the more important answer, and the reason why the easy answer exists at all. If the book is mislabeled as to its genre, then people looking for a Western, who pick up a Romance novel set in the old west are probably going to be very disappointed, if not outraged, and never recommend that book to their friends. Why? Because a Romance novel focuses on the love story, or love life, usually of a woman, and is often told from that woman’s point of view. There are certain key words and phrases that Romance readers are looking for.

cartoon_cowboy_medOn the other hand, people who read Westerns want to read about the conflict between the sheriff and the outlaw, or the rancher and the cattle rustler. Sure, the main character may have a love interest, and the good guy always gets the right girl at the end, if he isn’t already married. But the focus of the novel isn’t about how they fell in love. It’s about a world where usually the person with the fastest draw makes the law, and how unexpected people stand up to the outlaw, etc.

Think of it like a menu. At any decent restaurant the menu is broken up into at least three sections. There are appetizers, entrees, and desserts. If a dessert is placed in the appetizers menu, less people are going to order it. Or if a fine dining establishment puts lemonade on their wine list, even if it is hard lemonade, it’s in the wrong spot, and people looking for wine usually won’t order the hard lemonade.a-bottle-of-wine-md

The genre isn’t just about putting your book on a certain shelf. It’s about giving the reader what they want in terms of content, message, and length. No one is going to read a Children’s novel if it’s 1500 pages. But some Science Fiction writers hit that length, as well as some Epic Fantasy authors. Most publishers would encourage that author to break it up into five books, or at least a trilogy.

I’ve said it before, but it’s so important that I’ll say it again. New authors can’t break the rules unless they understand the reasons why the rules exist in the first place. When they do, they only sell books if they are also a good salesman. Personally, I want my readers to be the salesmen by telling their friends how much they enjoyed the book.

 

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