Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thoughts on Fiction Genres

I’m preparing a lunch talk today to a group of people, and I decided to talk about genres within fiction. The topic has been buzzing around for a while, mostly among authors, publishers, and bookstores. And I'm curious as to whether readers think about it much beyond what their favorite categories are. I know I didn’t give it much thought before I got published.

Not long ago, Rob Rosenwald asked Publishers Weekly reviewer Peter Cannon, “How come you review Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels in Fiction?”

Cannon ended up writing an article, where he answers Rosenwald’s question. If you’re curious, here’s the link to the article: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6552980.html

Cannon’s explanation exemplified what I’m beginning to think of as the Genre Wars, a hierarchy that has less to do with the kind of book an author writes than the kind of marketing and sales for which the book (or an author) is being positioned. And this, it seems to me, is something readers would care about. What do you think?

Cannon said, “The basic rule I follow is this: thrillers (spy, legal, medical, etc.) are reviewed under Fiction; mysteries, ranging from cat cozies to hard-boiled noir, under Mystery. To make a simple distinction: in a thriller, the heroes are in a race to save the world from known villains out to destroy it; in a mystery, a sleuth seeks to solve a murder committed by an unknown killer whose identity the reader tries to figure out before it's eventually revealed.”

That makes sense, but he went on to say, “One can understand the impulse to call what the average reader might consider a mystery something else—like fiction or suspense—given that many thrillers sell at bestseller levels, while most category mysteries depend on relatively modest library sales.

“Not so long ago, Janet Evanovich's publicist suggested it was time Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels were reviewed in Fiction rather than Mystery. I had to agree it was, now that the series was hitting bestseller lists, and I made the switch.”

And that’s where my eyebrows went up, along with at least a thousand other people’s, I’m sure. It also jibes with another factoid that came to my attention. Have any of you heard that publishers pay up to $10,000 for placement of books on those round tables at the front of chain bookstores? I asked some of my non-writer friends how they thought those books got there, and all of them replied that the books must be best sellers or readers’ favorites. Hmm...

Now I’ve got to run and get ready for this lunch. Plus, there’s a south swell a-breakin’ and I think I may put my surf board in the back of the car.

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