Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Genres and the E-Reading Age

When it comes to book genres, will e-readers change the game?

There's been a lot of talk about all the changes e-readers bring to reading, writing, interacting with literature, the publishing business--all sorts of sometimes exciting, sometimes confusing, sometimes scary differences e-publishing can make. One thing I haven't seen discussed yet is the implications of e-pubbing on genre.

Genre is a tricky animal. On one hand, writers are often encouraged to write the book of their heart, but the other hand deals the tricky truth--many genres have conventions and expectations that are difficult to break. And many readers return to the genres they like for those conventions. A romance reader likes a happily-ever-after. A mystery reader likes finding the clues alongside the protagonist. Breaking with the conventions doesn't mean bad writing--just writing that falls outside the norms of the genre.

I've had great discussions recently via the blogs of a couple of friends--Val, Caroline, and June, thanks for the great thoughts! They and other writer-friends of mine have questioned where their stories fall in the genre spectrum. Say you're writing a historical novel with romantic elements. At what point do you call it a historical romance? If it's a love story but doesn't fit the category expectations of a romance, where does it live? Or a story set in a speculated future that's more of a thriller than straight sci-fi. You might label it sci-fi, speculative, or thriller (or a combination of the above) depending on how you were describing it and for what purpose.
And, of course, you all know where to find your favorite genres in your bookstore of choice. Mine has romance, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, western, and then general fiction, which mishmoshes everything from contemporary women's fiction to historical fiction to literary fiction in one section. But what about e-bookstores?

The virtual environment of buying e-books allows, in my opinion, more flexibility in "shelving" books. A could "tag" her book as both "historical romance" and "historical fiction" if it carried elements of both genres. A reader could browse the thriller section and find some sci-fi he may not have thought to try before. A historical mystery could be easily found in both the historical fiction and mystery lists. Readers may or may not like the ability of internet gnomes to keep track of their purchases and make "suggestions" but cross-genre suggestions could work their way into the mix.

Not to mention bringing YA out of the corner--what if YA that a writer or publisher felt adults could enjoy, too, was shelved not only in the "Teen" section, but in the appropriate genre, as well?

Of course, the question with that--would this lead to reader-grabbing strategies that would only annoy the reader? "Well, dang, I opened up this stupid Nook to buy a mystery and all I can find are YA vampire books and romance novels. Frick."

Will we start loosening up on the genres? Does e-pubbing give more freedom to bend the rules and be successful? Will readers enjoy being introduced to new authors whose take on their favorite genres is a little different? Or will readers be disappointed that, for instance, something they found in the mystery section doesn't quite live up to their expectations, because it was a fantasy novel with mystery elements?

How much do you pay attention to genre when picking a book? Is it deliberate? Or more "natural selection" that your choices tend to be in some genres? If you're a genre-devotee, what does it take for you to read outside your preferred genre/s?


Huntress said...

Color me a Kindle-user.
Genre is everything to me. Nearly every choice I make is with that in mind.
But I also follow the trends or bestseller lists outside my genre (adult fantasy) and found great tomes like The Hunger Games (YA), Water For Elephants (Literary), and the classics such as Tom Jones.
Name recognition helps also. John Grisham is the first that comes to mind.

Marg said...

I constantly read across genres - and I read most of them except maybe horror.

Tags often reflect a readers own interpretation and even now on platforms like Goodreads I often scratch my head at some of the labels

I think that two things will happen - the first is that there will be lots of genre jumping books, but there will also be more extreme examples of genre. You can really see this in the romance genre where a lot of epublishers are much more liberal in what they would accept compared to the more mainstream publishing. There are some definite extremes being catered to through e-publishing.

MrsC said...

Huge opportunities. Spoken as someone who mostly loves mystery writers whose names begin with P and letters around J - because I discovered them in the library when looking for Ellis Peters and P D James books, and finding my attention drifting to left, right, or above. How utterly, completely random of me! But through this I discovered Katherine Page Hall, Kerry Greenwood and Elisabeth Peters. It does bode well for discovering authors via tags!

Rowenna said...

Huntress--I have to admit I love having an ereader. Bestsellers are a great spot to dabble in a new genre--after all, plenty of other people liked it, right?

Marg--great point about extremes. E-books allow greater access to niche markets who jump on more specific sub genres or genre extremes.

MrsC--great point! I've found many great books browsing the library shelves :)

Anonymous said...

I'm a Kindle user, I support Indies and so I read a lot of indie recommendations via indie blogs, I read Goodreads and Amazon recommendations and that's about it. I read cross-genre, hist fict, hist.romance, hist fantasy, hist mystery, humorous fiction; you name it. I like that the e-book tagging has allowed cross-pollination of the market, something that didn't happened with the 'gatekeepers' and the Big Six dominating the market.