Are you a cowboy? A spy? A sexy lover? A child at heart? Somewhat intellectual? If so, you probably read in a genre like children’s books, westerns, mystery, romance, or literary. Publishing is defined by specialized categories of book, which also identify readers by age, gender, interest, locale. These seem to become more targeted by the week. The process helps greatly in marketing books to try to insure readership.
No longer are these groups simple and innocuous. Sub-genre succeeds sub-genre. I’m not sure I even know what some of these mean. For example, urban romance fantasy. Is this several dragons who live in a large city off-world and become enamored of one another, or an historical period piece in which Cleopatra and her lover Marie Antoinette battle the evils of Czar Peter the Great in St. Petersburg? Or both?
My publications are classified as clean or sweet romance. Devoid of overt sex, this category can incorporate a great deal of passion, depending upon author, plot, and publisher. I prefer to think of them as “women’s fiction,” a bit closer to my approach, because the journey of the main characters is to succeed in meeting life’s challenges, not simply discover love. Of course, being a writer and always ready to split hairs or argue until I’m blue in the face, I don’t like to assign labels at all.
Which brings me to authors who defy categorization and leap-frog genres: Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, P.D. James, among others. I’m sure their publishers would prefer they didn’t. It makes marketing their work more difficult. But these are big names, and they can do as they please. Successfully.
A challenge for newbies, especially in more structured, dare I say rigid?, genres. Publishers, bloggers, book sellers want to know the type in a 30-second elevator speech. For example, when I sent my first novel to an online reviewer, she declined it despite its HEA ending because she felt it was chick lit.