This is something that falls heavily into one of my pet peeves in books. Genre categories and incorrect genre placement. Getting to see some of the difficulties with this issue from the publishing side hasn’t changed my stance on this that much. In some areas, available genre choices, it makes it even worse.
The first side of this issue is the available genre categories. I’ve always chaffed at the fact that some genres or sub-genres are really difficult to even find in the mass of the broader genre. Some sites are better at allowing for more choices, Amazon being one of them, when searching for books. Others, like my library, are insanely limiting.
The places like my library only allow for top level, very broad genre choices. Getting my book listed on Goodreads was the worst for choices as my only fit was under the massive umbrella of contemporary fiction. While I understand a bit of the reasoning behind this for libraries is based on the limitations of the old, physical card catalogs, we have far surpassed the technology that allows us to be able to better and more specifically add categories or tags or however you want to do it to books to make searching those databases so much more user friendly and so much less frustrating.
The places that do give you more options, such as Amazon, you run smack dab into the other part of my peeve and that is incorrect genre placement. There are a couple of ways of doing that, misplacement because of a lack of criteria for said genre, intentional misplacement in an attempt to grab readers outside your genre or the flip side, intentional genre placement avoidance for the same reason. In the conversation about reviews last week, an incorrect or missing genre is something that I brought up as a reason to leave a negative review. The entire purpose of genre categories is to help readers connect with the kinds of books they are interested in reading. If a book is intentionally misplaced or missing a genre tag, you have a very high potential to anger readers as this, in my opinion, constitutes a sense of false advertising.
For my book, the absolute closest genre fitting I could get for it falls into the sub-genre of family life, but very few platforms allowed me to actually choose anything other than fiction and women’s fiction, both massive genres. For me, that family life sub-genre really is the prefect genre category for my book. For readers, this category is kind of a hot mess because there is no criteria for what this actually means. There are all kinds of books in this sub-genre that readers have to weed through trying to find what they think this genre actually means. There are children’s books in there. I’ve run across a few non-fiction books (which this is technically under the larger genre of fiction, so are misplaced). And a whole slew of romance novels drop in here as well, many of those would only qualify because one character has a parent or sibling mentioned in the book or, my favorite, apparently getting married at the end means you created a family.
I am a whole lot more understanding of the example of the children’s books above because Amazon does not give you any kind of definition of what belongs in a genre when you are picking them at publishing. It makes sense from a children’s book author’s perspective that a book they wrote for kids about family would fit that genre. It is kind of a weird, very broad genre, so I can see it ending up as a bit of a catch all without some sort of guidelines.
I’m not usually even that put out by those that skirt the line of what classifies as family because most times I would still be interested in the rest of the book. I think you are more likely to see that line skirting in genres than a straight up misplacement. For me, that is more like attempting to game the system by staying inside the rules because the rules aren’t very clear and that is more of an irritation than anything.
Straight up, intentional wrong placement as an attempted reader grab really bugs me, though. The non-fiction book in fiction. A book in a fantasy genre that doesn’t have a single drop of any kind of fantastical element in it (and yes, I have seen this). What I dislike even more is those that will not add a sub-genre to a book that absolutely should have it because they are attempting to appeal to a larger audience.
The problem I see with this is there are too many people that do not actually enjoy many sub-genres and by not listing them, you are just asking to make readers mad. If someone really doesn’t like erotica and your book is nothing but a steam bath but you failed to add that sub-genre, you are asking to get blasted in the reviews. There are a lot of sub-genres out there that really are hot button issues with some readers. For me, if a book falls into this kind of readership game play, it WILL get a negative review from me if I feel the genre placement is misleading or inaccurate.
I will add that choices for genres are severely limited as someone publishing a book. You are only allowed to pick 2 or 3** that fit your book on almost all platforms, so that is something I am learning to take into consideration. There is also the potential for mistakes as accidents happen, but more times that not, being in an incorrect genre isn’t by mistake.
Even with all of this and my known peeves, genre placement was a really hard one for me when it came to publishing my book and I had to really look at my own peeves when making my choices. I could probably play the line skirting game with mine and add the romance genre to it because it does brush up against some romance elements, but that isn’t the core of the book and I didn’t want to piss off readers. Would I get more readers if I added that? Probably more than double what I have so far, but how many of those readers would have walked away upset because it wasn’t what they expected? Would those few be worth the other potential readers I might gain in that genre? I honestly don’t know.
I fully understand that a lot of these issues are mine. I don’t get why we haven’t moved forward more with better placement considering the technological abilities we have today. My ideal book search engine would allow you to not only narrow down the things you want in a book by adding elements your interested in, but it would also allow you to pull out elements you don’t want. I’m not a huge fan of YA and NA books, but there is no way to pull those out of a search. At minimum, I would like to know that the books that show up in the results of the genre I’m looking in actually fit that genre.
I have wondered if some of these issues with genre placement only irritate me because I am such a picky reader or if others also see problems with the current placement systems. Is this a problem for other readers?
** After getting the bulk of this post written, it dawned on me that part of the reason for the limited choices from the publishing end is to prevent genre stuffing, putting a ton of other genre tags on a book whether they apply or not. If animal stories were a category in fiction, you would have a ton of books that, at minimum, had a character that saw a cat or a dog cross the street at some point in the book that would have that category as a tag. It is because people abuse features like this that the old forms of meta data on websites no longer apply. I guess this falls into the “Why we can’t have nice things” arena.