Sunday, April 10, 2011

What's in a label?

Chapter 15 of The Making of a Bestseller deals with a topic that has succeeded in perplexing me: genres.  It was a no-brainer at first that, since I was writing a book involving a god, a goddess, a dragon, and other similar stuff, this would be a fantasy book.  But the question about sub-genre stopped me cold.  I didn't, a couple of mere months ago, even know that fantasy HAD sub-genres.  Now that I think about it, sure, it's pretty obvious, but it's one of those things that I'd bet most readers never even really consider.

In any event, I dove right into the discussion of genres.  "Romance is the largest genre," the book says.  Sure, I knew that.  Any thrift store contains thousands of trashy romance novels with white covers, strange scripty-looking titles, and pictures on the front of a pretty girl and a good looking boy.  But the book goes on to say, "According to Romance Writers of America, the official definition of a romance is: 'a book wherein the love story is the main focus of the novel and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying.'" 

Uh, oh.  The main focus of my novel is Crystal's quest to become a goddess, true, but it's borne out of love for her husband, the god.  And I do intend for my book to have a happy ending...that's "emotionally satisfying," right? 

Crap, I may be writing a romance novel...I thought. 

Hell, no, I'm not writing a romance novel...I thought immediately after. 

After getting over the initial shock, I decided it was incorrect to characterize the quest as a love story, so I'm really not writing a romance.  It's also unfair of me to characterize romances as trash novels as I do.  After all, they make a lot of money, and they do so by providing their readers with a pleasant diversion from everyday life...much the same things I intend to do, only I plan on using dragons and spellcasting instead of all that lovey-dovey kissy-kissy stuff. 


As I was saying, my characterization of romance novels is unfair.  Then again, most labeling is difficult, prone to inaccuracy, and at its core, unfair.  Take the political labeling these days as probably the best example.  Politicians self-label into Republicans, Democrats, Independents, or one of the other half-dozen or so bins.  But within all of those bins are sub-characterizations: right wing, Tea Party, RINO, DINO, moderate, Blue Dog, etc., some labels being more emotionally and propaganda based than others. Talking about what I know, there's also labels for types of colleges; there's liberal arts colleges, fine arts colleges, career colleges, research universities, technical institutes, community colleges, etc. 

I guess we humans just can't let a group go along without a label, can we? 

In the case of genres, though, clearly there's a business reason for the labeling.  Knowing that a book fits into the "romance" bin helps publishers know where to sell it, and bookstores know where to display it.  Knowing further that it's a "historical romance" helps people who prefer to read that type of book zero in on it as a possible purchase target.  Labeling, then, in publishing, is more than just serious is the business. 

That, then, leads me back to my original perplexity.  What bin does my book fit into the neatest?  I mean, I know what bin I'd say it falls's that bin that also contains masterworks such as Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series.  But...what's it called? 

My old friend Wikipedia doesn't help much.  There's a page listing all the genres and subgenres:  One sort of sounds close: Mythic fantasy fiction.  That, though, links to the Wikipedia page on mythology, on which I read that the theory that all myths come from the same basic idea (which kind of forms the highway on which my story travels) has fallen out of fashion among mythologists.  Eh, screw 'em.  It's a good least, it is to me. 

I guess that's what I get for doing research on Wikipedia, right?  I guess that could serve as a label for an amalgamation of nearly-accurate pages. 

Word count: 74,083


  1. I guess that goes back to one of your earlier summations...who cares what people call it, so long as it makes you and your readers happy? -Corey

  2. The only fantasy subgenres I really think about are "urban" and "historical", and that's mostly because I can't stand the first and love the second. Everything else for me tends to get all lumped into the same category. If it doesn't have its own shelf in the bookstore, is it really that important?

  3. I agree with your assertion, Corey, and I have to admit that I don't know the answer to Rae's question. I've heard that knowing the sub-genre is important, but I won't know whether that's true until I've been through it once or thrice.