8 July 2012

Guest Post by Sadie Forsythe - The Problem With Genres

Genre or Popular Fiction is fiction that fits nicely into a predefined literary genre. I imagine we all recognize Action Adventure, Crime, Detective, Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Sci-Fi, Western, and Inspirational, etcetera. Fitting a short piece firmly into its genre is a fairly undaunting task. A full-length novel, however, can pose problems. There are simply so many pages in which the plot could veer off course. 

The introduction of ereaders and virtual bookshelves is changing the way we choose, and possibly even think about, books. It has enabled booksellers to cross-pollinate genres, placing the same book in multiple genres simultaneously and introducing readers to authors and peripheral genre books they may not have sought access to traditionally. This appears to be something readers appreciate, or at least don’t mind.

The modern publishing industry, however, is feeling the financial crunch just like the rest of us and is becoming increasingly dependent on books fitting snuggly into their genre to ensure salability. But the more tightly a book fits in a genre the higher the likelihood it follows a comfortably familiar plot development and conclusion. It seems to me that the more often books are forced (by virtue of only be picked up by publishers if they do) to fit this flow, the closer the classification of Genre Fiction is to slipping over into Formula Fiction, with its recycled predictable plots.

There is, admittedly, only a thin grey line between the two to begin with and Formula Fiction isn’t without its own moderate appeal. With much of the setup and expectations already established by virtue of the genre conventions there isn’t a need to explain them again and a story can be leapt right into—great for an airport read. Or the daring author might even use that same predictability to subvert expectations and play with the reader’s preconceptions.

One way or the other though, long established genre classifications are changing and new ones seem to pop up regularly. So while the field is becoming more cluttered with choice, the question one has to ask themselves is how different are these new genre? I might, for example, argue that much of (not all obviously) Paranormal Romance is simply formulaic fiction with a paranormal plot. The same has always been true of Romantic Comedies.

I consider this dangerous. It creates an illusion of variety in the market that isn’t real. Readers are offered a plethora of almost identical books under different headings and told they’ve never had more choice. This latter statement isn’t all together untrue, but that choice isn’t coming out of the big six as far as I can see. It’s coming from the small presses, indies, and self-published authors who couldn’t find a home in the slim generic genre options available to them.

As the traditional publishing industry increasingly becomes the purview of safe, predictable fiction many authors seeking a more adventurous audience are pursuing other publication paths, indie or self-published. These publishing types are growing almost exponentially and, again, readers don’t seem to mind on the whole. Whether this is a permanent change or a mere trend until the traditional publishing industry finds a way to stabilize profitability in the new market is still to be seen.

In the mean time for those who like to know what they’re getting it’s a great time to be a reader, for the rest of us it is becoming more challenging to find original genre fiction. It’s there. I’m not claiming there isn’t any. It’s just becoming harder to find. If asked for my own, usually optimistic opinion, I think the situation will pass and eventually publishers will find a way to support themselves and provide both quality and variety again. But for the moment they can only afford to take so many risks and it makes for rather stale offerings.

...But for the moment they can only afford to take so many risks and it makes for rather stale offerings. What do you think? Is anyone less optimistic than me or see it from a different perspective?

Sadie Forsythe hails from the South Eastern United States, lives in North Western England, and is a fan of all things Japanese. She holds degrees in Anthropology/Comparative Religion, International Criminology, and Social Change. She loves local coffee shops, geek culture, everything bookish, & tea (steaming with milk & sweet iced). She is married with two daughters and an imaginary dog. 

Follow Sadie @SadieSForsythe on Twitter
 or visit Sadie's blog at: 


  1. Some good points, there Sadie.

    It's also the case where indie authors are writing in multiple genres, rather than sticking to what the publishers want them to write. The conventional advice, is not to alienate your fans.

  2. I've always chafed a little at genres. What I write doesn't fit neatly in the box...then again, many individual books are probably like that. I love the cross-pollination going on. I think it can only increase our creativity. All these ideas bouncing off of each other. Sure, it makes it harder to classify by genre but it frees up the stories.