Genre and Expectations

This isn’t the post I intended to do today.  It was going to be about movies and what they can teach novelists about their art, but that will have to wait, because the universe is prodding me to talk about something else.  (I’ll have to crave your indulgence if it gets a bit long as I’m working this out as I go.)

First, Chuck Wendig started a conversation over at his blog about genre and whether we need it or whether it gets in the way of people telling the stories they want to tell.  Chuck being Chuck, it was expressed a bit more explosively than that, but that was part of what it was about.

I basically agree with this.  I think genre and naming it is a useful tool for marketing books but it doesn’t really have anything to do with whether a story is good or not or, and – this is the important part – whether there is an audience of readers who would like it.  But publishing is a business and most businesses like ‘sure things’, or as close to sure as can be arranged. So, in the print-only past, many genre-bending stories, which readers would have loved, struggled to find publishing homes.

The digital revolution has already, and is continuing to, change that. Publishers are more willing to take risks, people have the option of self-publishing and books can stay on the virtual shelf forever and take time to build a readership.  All of which means that we are now getting more books that don’t fit neatly into genre slots and some of them are doing very well thank you.  People like me, who don’t care what a book is classified as, as long as I love the story, are very happy about this.

BUT… not all readers are the same.  Had I responded to Chuck’s post (update: I have, now), I would have said, ‘but what about the romance readers’?  Romance readers LOVE their genre and its mores and perhaps more than any other group of genre fans, can be very protective of them.  Many romance readers do not want their genre bent or messed with, as its traditions are the very reasons they read it (and its multifarious sub-genres).

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