Monday, September 20, 2010

Hard to Define Genres

I'm one of those people who needs to classify my books into genres. I use broad genres like general fiction, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, romance, horror, action/adventure and non-fiction. Recently, I added chick lit to the list. Not because I just started reading it - I've read it ever since the Bridget Jones genre boom - but because it got to the point that I had no other option.

Some chick lit books are firmly in the romance genre. Some veer more towards women's fiction, which I usually choose to classify as general fiction. How do you know what really belongs were? If you're me, you google for hours, finally ask twitter and then give up, creating a whole new category.

Another hard to define group of genres for me is horror verses fantasy. There are books firmly in each genre, that leave no room for interpretation. But what about vampire books? Not all books with vampires are scary. Should I really group Twilight in with Salem's Lot? Probably not. Of course, Twilight isn't a good example, as many would make the argument that it's more romance than fantasy.

Vampires bring up the whole question of anything paranormal at all. Does paranormal automatically equal fantasy if it isn't scary? Or can you classify paranormal romances as romance? What about paranormal mysteries, whether heavily paranormal like the Sookie Stackhouse series, or lighter paranormals like Madelyn Alt's Bewitching Mystery series? How do you choose?

What are you supposed to do with big genre crossing series like Anita Blake? Do you classify all of the books as you would the first few - debating between fantasy and mystery? Or do you put the later books in romance because of their erotic nature?

Do you classify your books by genre? How do you decide what belongs where?


  1. I absolutely classify books by genre, but it's more as a way for me to know what to avoid. As a fan of historical fiction I find that publishers don't make the distinction between historical fiction (Jeff Shaara) and fiction which takes place in the past (Philippa Gregory).

    I twitted this post to my following under the hashmark #helpotherbookblogs

    Hopefully you can do the same for another blogger.

  2. Funny, I don't think about it much. I read something that sounds good, and then put it down and start the next. Good luck, though! Sounds complicated. :)

  3. I've decided that genre classifications are too much work for exactly the reasons you've mentioned. There is just too much cross over and I don't know where to put things.

  4. I've had the same problem. I tried to create categories on my blog to help visitors find the book reviews that interest them, but my "adult fiction" category really needs to be split up. I just never know how to do it!

  5. I guess I just give them multiple labels so for Twilight, I'd give it vampire, paranormal, romance, and YA and people could put it together in their head. Sookie Stackhouse would get vampire, paranormal, romance, and mystery. I like classifying but as I read more and more, I'm realizing how hard it can be.

  6. I use multiple labels/tags too. Whichever ones seem best to describe the book.

  7. I'm like you! Googling for hours trying to find the appropriate category/genre for a book, and when I can't find that seems right to me, I get annoyed. No clue why.

    I realize I need to let go of old impressions of what I think genres are and accept that there are many more genres now emerging.

    I've often seen the Sookie Stackhouse series categorized as PNR, when in fact many of the books have little romance in them. The series, when I first heard of it was called, The Southern Vampires Mysteries, but somehow it changed.

  8. Well....let's see....For me, any book that has no paranormal elements at all are 'fiction'. Within this category you can have mysteries, thrillers and horror. If there is any type of paranormal elements (vampires, witches, ghosts, dragons, wizards) the books is 'paranormal fiction'. If these paranormal characters live in the modern world I usually think of them as 'modern fantasy' or rather 'urban fantasy'. This is a little confusing because I consider true fantasy books to be devoid of the modern world and / or reality as we know it. For example, Harry Potter - not fantasy in my book because the world is our world (just add some magic).

    And then there is 'science fiction' which for me is more of a mix. Anything with aliens or space travel is sci-fi to me. Doesn't matter the setting or time period. Vampires aren't sci-fi to me (unless they are in space :)
    Also in the sci-fi category for me would be what we now call 'dystopian' - our world, gone wrong somehow.

    Oh, and I don't read 'romance' books but for me, anything with a hot, half naked guy on the cover would fall into this category ;)

    I could gladly come up with examples for each of my labels but I think I've taken up enough space!

    Great questions!!!

  9. I am definitely on the multi-genre side of the conversation. I guess I just don't see why a book should have to fit into only one category. Right now, I'm trying to teach my students about all of the many different genres that a book can fall under, and also the ways that they overlap.

  10. I classify by genre as well. On Goodreads I classify all the books I have on hand and I have a shelf for each genre. Several of the books are listed on more than one shelf. For example, I have a paranormal shelf and a romance shelf and a YA shelf. Sometimes one book is listed on all three shelves....

  11. I "try" to classify by genre for tags but would my tags agree with the standards used by bookstores? Probably not. Do I make up my own genres? YEP! PNT (paranormal thriller) is becoming one that I am using :)

    It is hard now that books are really diverse!

  12. @Man of la Books - Thanks for the tweet! I don't know much about historical fiction. I think I always assumed it was just taking real life people from the past and making up stories around them.

    @Janet Johnson - Everything I do is complicated. I have a bizarre need to overcomplicated even the most laid-back hobbies.

    @Angela - The cross over kills me. And apparently I like reading cross genre books more than any other, so almost every book I have to weigh the choices.

    @Julie - I avoided doing it up until recently for just that reason. I had no idea where to start. I'm still not thrilled with my current system, but it'll work okay until I figure out something better.

    @Bookworm1858 - I've avoided using multiple tags so far, trying to take the most obvious genre as the label. Some books seem to be exactly half and half though, so I may have to rethink this whole thing.

    @KyleeJ - Hmmm, I'm so hesitant to go back and relabel everything, but I think do need to make things clearer. Maybe more specific labels, as opposed to multiple labels? This is a much more difficult decision than it should be.

    @Missie - I always think of PNR as paranormal and romance, but with erotic elements. Anything more tame than smutty, I think of more urban fantasy, even with the romance.

    @Emily - I've always have a hard time placing dystopian books because the situation isn't always based in science. Sometime it leans more towards fantasy, or even feels as close to general fiction as a book with those themes can.

    @Katie - I think that's awesome. If I had someone teach me this when I was younger, I probably wouldn't have such a hard time accepting it now.

    @Julie P - I am just one of those people who needs each book to have it's one specific shelf. I think it's some sort of weird control issue.

    @Felicia - Maybe that's where I'm going wrong. I never once considered making up my own genres.