It’s not so much that I’m obsessed by genre as that it just keeps cropping up and this week I ended up checking out this blog post from Savvy Writers which links to others listing possible genres and sub-categories for fiction. Skimming through them I had a bit of a bolt from the blue, because nestling in among Romance, Horror and Crime in all its guises I happened on something I haven’t seem mentioned for a while.
You see back in the day, when I was first sending out to agents and publishers, there were two options – genre fiction or mainstream. In fact mainstream was also called Women’s Fiction, not because only women would read it but because women would be seen as the target market. But if your book did not conform to the conventions of a particular genre (and genre did imply an element of formula) it fell into this non-genre category and that was okay. It would also be on a line somewhere between commercial and literary but that was a question of style and voice. The point is that there was no requirement to be in any particular genre.
So what has changed? Well that was ten years or so ago when Amazon was an online bookshop but not much more. Now it’s a publishing platform and author ‘shop-front’.
For any author who is e-published, it’s really the only shopfront.
Which brings me to another article from the Digital World Conference which mentions the difficulty of ‘book discovery’ for online buyers, claiming that the majority of readers still discover books elsewhere (book review pages, bookshops even?) before buying from Amazon. Which to me highlights the shortcomings of Amazon or any online store in presenting the shopper with a real browsing experience, i.e. nothing quite equates to going into a shop and picking an interesting cover or title from the table at the front. Of course this table is controlled by the shop and or its suppliers, but it’s still a broader experience than the Amazon approach of suggesting things ‘similar to’ what I bought last time , or the old ‘people who bought this also bought’. I also suspect that as this ‘push technology’ becomes more sophisticated, it’s pushing me into a narrower focus based on precious choices when I would like my reading experience to be broadened.
Coming back to the indie or e-published author, we are stuck with the Amazon experience which relies on tags and categories to place us in the shop window, i.e. a book with a clear ‘genre’ label is easier for a reader to ‘discover’ than one without. I think this is one reason why genre fiction has been so successful online and why the genre argument has got out of hand.
Of course this isn’t the whole story: a book with a clear genre has a clear target audience which makes it easier to sell in any arena. But I still think we’ve lost sight of the fact that although there are cross-genre books (although even these usually one genre predominating) there are also non-genre books: women’s fiction, general fiction, mainstream.
Or maybe we need a new label to give it the kick it needs in the digital world.