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?