Wednesday, May 8, 2019


I don’t know about you but I'd rather not have to label my writing. If literary labeling needs to be done at all, (and, apart from broad categories like FICTION and NON-FICTION, I don't think it does) isn't it something for others to do? Like agents, publishers, reviewers, booksellers, readers?

Agents are now classified by genre and books are “genrified” by their covers, blurbs and promotion. Even some publishers are classified by genre. So, by simply choosing an agent, I’m labeling my work. And, by labeling my work I'm making an unwanted mission-statement and writing for a limited audience.

Labels are limiting and they often dumb-down for age and gender. Gender genres like “women’s fiction”, “romance” and “thriller”, can prevent readers from branching out and reading more eclectically. (By the way, there is a glaring omission in the list of genres
“Men’s Fiction”)  

Literary labels are supposedly a guide for readers but aren’t they more of a marketing tool for publishers? Here’s a chat by Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro on the subject. 

Everything today seems to need a label, a mission statement or a sub-title. The better to sell it. People even subtitle life itself these days by muttering "awkward" during a pause in conversation. I think this comes from TV and movies which is another "genre". Many writers write with a movie deal in mind.

Writing for a "genre" must surely discourage unique voices. We’re told “voice is everything” but if your “voice” doesn’t fit a genre will anybody hear it?

Is literature considered a genre? Is any book with big words and deep thoughts literature? Or does the sheer length of a book make it literature, like THE GOLDFINCH, GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, INFINITE JEST, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX?

Would these classics now have the Young Adult label:
CATCHER IN THE RYE, ROMEO AND JULIET, GREAT EXPECTATIONS? Would MADAME BOVARY be considered “romance”? Would MOBY DICK be a “suspense thriller”? GONE WITH THE WIND: “chick lit”? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: “crime”?

And how long would we tolerate the concept of GENRE if the English word TYPE/KIND/SORT were used instead? Would we want to be called TYPE WRITERS?

Friday, July 17, 2015 


John L said...

I don't think about genre when I write, but I wouldn't mind if my writing fit into one. It does help bookstores find a place on the shelf. But labels are limiting too, they set up expectations for the reader, which aren't always met (for better or worse.)

Literary fiction is definitely treated as a genre today. I think consumers today like labels because there is SO MUCH stuff out there, we need to sift through it quickly, and a label or tagline gives you a quick snapshot.

N. L. Lumiere said...

I can see it may be commercially necessary to categorise books for sellers and marketers; like a supermarket aisle where you know where to go to find what you want. Art as commodity.

But that means we'll miss out on books we didn't know we wanted. Besides do we want to label our books like a can of peas or a bag of dog food? Do we want to feel we're writing copy for a product?

I made the mistake of writing my first book to genre, dutifully respecting the rules and the result was painful and stultified.

Perhaps there should be a new category: the NO-GENRE genre. "Unique voices, so unusual they defy categorisation!" That should draw in a few readers. I know I'd be one.