Thursday, May 31, 2007

Limiting labels

Holly Kennedy, author of two novels already on the shelves, The Tin Box and The Penny Tree stopped by my blog the other day and left this comment.

"How interesting that you write women's fiction (I read your profile)
-- not in a bad way, of course. In a very cool way. It's such a broad,
wide open market that calling it 'women's fiction' seems unfair, don't
you think?"

I agree with Holly. I sometimes think labels limit a book's potential. I have read countless books that fall under the women's fiction category and while I am a male who doesn't mind reading a book described as such or for that matter a novel with a bare chested man embracing some damsel in distress. I'll read ANYTHING that catches my fancy or is recommended by a trusted friend. However I do not think I am the typical male. Matter of fact I've been teased from time to time by my mostly male coworkers for the books I often read.

This same thing happens with the designations of Literary and Commercial. I read both but I know people who view anything that hits the best seller list as trash. This is not the case, but they will not be caught dead reading Jody Picoult, Janet Evanovich, or John Grisham. Then there are the opposite kind of people who would never crack open a Pulitzer winner. they use excuses like I'm not smart enough to understand that kind of stuff, or it would take me years to read a book like that, or I like something to actually happen in the books I read, all that physcological crap puts me to sleep. Again this is not always the case, but preconceived notion prevent readers form even picking up a certain type of novel.

There are other monikers that I feel limit a book's potential, all the so-called its Chick, Mom, Lad, and so forth. I've read books from all these categories and enjoyed them but only because I read EVERYTHING. Why can't we just say this is a dang good book that will appeal to people who like and list similar,but maybe more well known authors. After all there is no section in the bookstore labeled Women's fiction, or literary, or chick-lit.

Now I understand the need for categorizing romances, westerns, mysteries, Sci-Fi and so forth, but it sure seems to me that everything else puts a limit on your readership. I'm eager to hear my fellow writers opinion on this. Especially you published authors out there who have actually dove into the business side of the publishing world.

All the research in the world can't compare to real life experience. So talk to me. Tell why I'm wrong, or why I'm right.


Manic Mom said...

I had to LOL at the comment about "women's fiction being a broad..."


Beth said...

Like yourself, I read all kinds of books - and love 'em all!
I believe the labeling is for marketing purposes - have to reach all those niches. Don't think it will ever change.

Have you ever tried e-publishers? It pays if you take the time to promote your work and looks good on your writing credits when you submit to print publishers.

ORION said...

This is a terrific post! You and my husband would get along great as he reads anything too (this is good as I write a wide range of fiction). I too am considered "women's fiction / commercial fiction"
I find the men that write in this genre (for an example think eric segal sp? and Love Story) manytimes have poigniant tales to tell.
I hate limitations put on writers because of some preconceived ideas of sex.

WordVixen said...

I think a big problem with the labels is that they're supposed to describe what the book is about, but people end up seeing it as who's reading the book.

For instance, Chick-lit is usually about... a chick. A female, usually in her twenties or early to mid thirties, still trying to get to her career goal and trying to set up life for herself as she wants it. What people see is "oh, that's for girls".

I think it's unfortunate that there aren't more labels when it comes to book shelves, since I miss a lot of good books over the frustration of trying to find what I want on the "fiction" shelves. I go with the effective SEO theory- don't go for the keywords that are searched for the most often. You'll have too much competition and get drowned. Look for the high payout niche words, so that you can rise to the top.

I'd probably have a lot more favorite authors if they just weren't listed as "fiction".

David said...

I agree with you.

I'm under the impression that the categories developed as marketing tools, not really as literary slots. Right or wrong, the publishing industry assumes that readers tend to look for certain types of stories, and so they look for certain types of covers.

Maybe it's true that when people are looking at books in, say, the supermarket as opposed to a bookstore, they don't browse but focus on one or two categories.

Tena said...

Not published yet, but responding to the category connundrum. I have changed the title of my novel-in-progress because I thought it might be misleading. That I'm writing mainstream fiction with a literary bent wasn't reflected in the old working title. The new title has more of an ironic edge to it.

PS To anyone who thinks they can't understand a Pulitzer Prize winner, try reading Middlesex.

Jennifer Talty said...

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Categories can be very limiting, but they can also be useful - the broad ones anyway. While I'm not a huge fan of "chick-lit" or "women's fiction" I wouldn't not read something that interested me in those genres. I'm not necessarily genre specific. I like to read a good story. Doesn't matter what kind, or who wrote it.

However, if I'm being honest, I tend to lean toward romantic suspense, murder mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, and military techno thrilers for my personal reading pleasure. Just me. I'm a fan of Nelson DeMille, Bob Mayer, Lee Child, Stephan King, CJ Barry/Samantha Graves, Tami Haug, Ridley Pearson... you get where I'm going. But I also read Jenny Crusie, Lani Diane Rich, and a ton of category romances - go figure.

Oh, and currently I'm published with an e-pub and I write romantic suspense, but a bit heavy on the romance side. My current WIP is a thriller with a really sick and twisted serial killer. It's kind of a modern day frankenstein.

Don't limit yourself in your reading, or your writing. Push your limits and step outside the box. It's good for you.