Aversion to Categorization

The publishing industry and the marketing of books depend on categorization. Retailers need to know where to shelf books, and marketers help stores decide in what section to place the books. That is fairly easy to do with genre fiction like romance, science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, and murder. But some books defy categorization and it seems to me these are probably the most enduring books. They defy pigeonholing, because they often encompass the intertwining of several elements: a murder mystery, a detective story, horror, the fantastical, and the ever-present romance. Because they are not just one thing, these books offer so much more for the reader to digest and to enjoy. Sometimes even within the genres, things can get messy; debate can arise whether a book should be categorized as horror, thriller, murder, or suspense.

Writing gurus, prolix in offering advice, recommend that fledgling writers stick to a strict genre because their chances of selling their work will increase. That is true, making it possible to label your work as this or that in a query letter and easier for an agent to sell. Yet other works are not so easy to classify, because their depth, breadth and range do not neatly fit into a category. When this happens, a bookstore could shelve the book in the catch-all aisle of literary fiction, which in my estimation, is not a bad place to be. To declare your work literary may strike you as pompous. If so, you can describe your novel as contemporary or general fiction.

I don’t like the labeling of people as this or that any more than I like the necessity to categorize books.  My aversion likely accounts for the fact that I do not read a lot of straight genre fiction. As in food, I prefer the exotic dish, the new, the unique, the unheard of, the unread of before, the strange bird, the oddball in the room.  This is not to denigrate genre fiction. I love Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles and her Mayfair witches. I have read three books of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series and enjoyed them. I love Stephen King’s horror novels. I admire the way King crafts his sentences.  There are fine genre writers. I am married to a science fiction novelist, and I respect the imagination and knowledge that goes into constructing a futuristic scenario.  The fact that  I write novels that I can’t categorize (although some I can categorize as historical fiction) explains my aversion to categorization.  My husband, on the other hand,  indisputably writes genre fiction. Despite these divergences, we blissfully co-exist, read each other’s work, and cross-critique our manuscripts. The arrangement has worked well nigh unto the sixteen years of our marriage.

So it boils down to writing the books you want to write, to telling the story you want to write, regardless whether you can stuff the book into a marketing category. And, well, if the book fits in a marketing category, that’s terrific.  I for one like the hybrid; someone else likes the pure strain.  Everyone benefits from the infinite variety of genre and of style in the world.  File me under Miscellaneous? Sure. I won’t be offended.


2 responses to this post.

  1. My first book probably fits under Miscellaneous. Thank goodness the internet gives us ways to search and identify that don’t depend on genre labels. I agonized over the genre all through the writing and now that it’s out, all I can say is that it’s cross-genre. The second one will have the same problem — if it’s really a problem. Maybe now that we don’t have to depend on getting onto book store shelves, it isn’t a problem and we can stop worrying about it.


    • Yes, the beauty of ebooks is keyword searches to find books that treat of topics of interest to you, although you still have to choose a few main categories for your book along with as many keywords as you want.


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