Adventures in Book Genre Stereotyping

Someone else with the genre angst.

Tara Sparling writes

Bootkissing Author

Another day, another Guardian article.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Guardian’s Book section. It feeds me. But I don’t like it when it makes me feel guilty and ashamed. Especially when they’re right.

Today’s offensive (i.e. read: far too close to the bone) article points out that there is no such genre as “women’s fiction”. The article springs from a great rant by Joanne Harris. There should not be a separately designated genre on Amazon/GoodReads etc for women’s fiction, she says. It is literature. Or it is a book. It is not a woman’s book.

I couldn’t agree more. (Only it’s not just “women’s fiction” that gets this shoddy treatment. It goes for several more so-called genres too, maligned and derided by the Literati.)

And yet, as an emerging author, yet to properly sell myself on the open market, and yet hoping to do so in the near future, I have…

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Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

8 thoughts on “Adventures in Book Genre Stereotyping”

  1. I think women’s fiction isn’t intended to be a genre, but a marketing demographic, like YA. Of course, this sends a couple of messages

    I think the rationale for it is that women as a group might like to read stories with female protagonists, told in a female voice, who are dealing with the kinds of issues many women can relate to. Cross listing something as “women’s fiction” simply informs readers that these books are of this sort. Given that such books are rarer than ones that focus on male pov and perspectives, the heads up can be nice. This is a similar rationale for listing books as YA. People whose voices and perspectives are underrepresented in mainstream fiction may benefit from the listing, because it makes such books easier to find.

    The problem is, much as there are wonderful YA novels that can and should be enjoyed by all ages, there are many wonderful novels written by and about women that can and should be enjoyed by both genders. Many adults miss good YA novels because of the stigma associated with reading “kid’s stuff,” and many men miss out on reading good “women’s” novels because of the stigma associated with reading “women’s stuff.”

    There’s no reverse stigma associated with reading and enjoying adult’s stuff when you’re a teen or reading and enjoying “men’s” stuff when you’re a woman because adults and men still have higher status than kids and women in our society. We don’t typically list classics like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Great Gatsby, On the Road, or whatever as “men’s fiction.” Those books are simply literature, because men are “normal default human beings,” and so their experiences are Relevant, Important and Interesting to everyone.

    1. Very good points there. I totally agree. The only valid reason I can see for having categories at all is because of the sheer volume of books available. I don’t know how many million it is on the Amazon list but it’s truely frightening. Having said that, I think there’s a very good case for making the categories as broad as possible, much more like in a real bookshop. Let readers decide on the cover, the blurb and then reading the first few pages. People should be more adventurous in what they pick up, not stick in the same-as-I-just-read category.

  2. I used to start making excuses for my writing when people asked what I wrote. Now I’m upfront, ‘It’s adult crime with violence, adventure, love, hate, family, sex etc.’ In other words it’s life with a good story thrown in. 🙂 I may have told you I’m speaking at the Ipswich (OZ) library in August, it’s seniors week and they asked if I’d like to speak about writing. Naturally I jumped at it. So the organiser, (head librarian) knew what my books were about I gifted the first two to her from Amazon. I spoke with her last week and she said that she gave them to her father. ‘Did he like them?’ – ‘Like them, it’s the first time I’ve seen him read a book right through and start on the next one. He finished that one quick smart too.’ Music to an author’s ears Jane. It’s about finding your audience I think, the trouble is there are millions of them out there.

      1. It does make you feel chuffy. 🙂 I don’t think you can pin your audience down by age or sex. As to genre, well it can vary. I’ve come to the conclusion that actually writing the book is the easy part.

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