Friday, January 19, 2018

Talking About Literary Categories

I've seen a few posts on social media the past few days that drags back to the fore that old discussion about genres and categorizing books.

I see 'discussions' about erotica books listed in the non-romance categories all the time. The people who don't want sex in their books on one side and those who do want sex in their books on the other
and both complaining about the same thing. Categorization of genres.

And you know what? They're both right. I mean, take the ick eww cooties part of it out, it's a valid complaint, especially in gay fiction and gay romance.

So let's start somewhere at the beginning as I try to ramble my way through this... and yes, I am aware that I ramble and I do take tangents and sometimes I forget to come back to my original point. I have a lot of crap in my head, it's a maze in there. I don't always leave a trail to follow back to the point. Bear with me.

So... first, let's talk about genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres and so on and on.

There's two main categories for books. Fiction and Non-fiction. Obviously. Non-fiction is the truthy stuff. Supposedly. Fiction is the made up stuff. Right? We all understand that. In this ramble, non-fiction doesn't exist or matter. It's not what we do. So it's over there doing it's thing taking up all of the bookstore and shoving us all in the fiction department into the six rows set aside for us... so... let's break down genres.

You've been in a bookstore right? Like a Barnes and Noble? I use B&N because it's one of only two bookstores left in my area. And I'm very familiar with a B&N.

In all of the B&N stores in my area they follow the same pattern, roughly. Little kid's books, all everything kid, non-fiction, all fiction, art, toys, the train table... have it's own little closed in section. Right outside that is teen and YA fiction. Then an aisle leading back to the AV section with tables of stuff to buy. Then starts FICTION. Just FICTION. Like FICTION is some kind of king of the back aisles. FICTION takes up three rows usually front and back. And then there's mystery/suspense. Our stores have one row, front and back. Then romance. Front, maybe if romance is lucky, it shares half of the back shelf with Sci-Fi Fantasy. Sci-Fi Fantasy gets one row, front and back, and sometimes half of the romance back row. Then there's a fuck ton of Mangas and comics. So many that the stores around here put them on the wall beside the bathroom and those things take up a wall and a half, halfway to the ceiling. It's a high ceiling.

All genres of everything that is fiction is right there. Mystery/suspense. Romance. Sci-fi/Fantasy. Manga doesn't count in this... it's not an issue in what I'm going to talk about.

Now, we get to sub-genres. Which pertains to all of those genres.

You see, Fiction isn't a genre. It's the books that have no categorization. The books about nothing really, life... stuff. It might have a little romance. Or a little mystery. Maybe a little paranormal.... wait, paranormal isn't listed up there... because it's not a genre, it's a sub-genre.

Wait... WAIT JUST A DAMN MINUTE! Paranormal is too a genre. It's a huge genre. It sells more books than any genre....

There is no PARANORMAL genre at Barnes and Noble. Or any bookstore I've ever been in. New books. Not indie. Big commercial dominated by New York published books, book store.

Paranormal is a sub-genre... of every single one of those genres. You'll find paranormal in mystery/suspense, in romance, and in sci-fi/fantasy. It should be clumped in with the SF/F section... but they don't like vampires in their space operas... or on their hobbit adventures. Because those aren't real... I am not getting into that discussion.

Anyway, I write romance. I write suspense. I write paranormal. I write contemporary. I even write historical, though, I don't have any published at the moment.

Romance is every genre and sub-genre in all of fiction. EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY SUB-GENRE EXISTS IN ROMANCE.

Now, sticking with the brick and mortar big box commercial bookstore thingy I've used so far... B&N clumps all sub-genres of romance together on that row and a half that they allow the genre. It's mostly paranormal, and historical, with contemporary and other thrown in there willie-nillie.

They do not shelve gay romance at all in my stores. I've looked. I live on the Alabama Gulf Coast. I have three B&Ns near me. One in Alabama, one in Florida, and one in Mississippi. And I've looked in all three. When B&N was located in Mobile, where I live, there was a Gay content section. That store closed more than a decade ago. The other Alabama location across Mobile Bay does not have a Gay content section that I have ever found. No gay non-fiction, fiction, or romance.

Romance is the biggest selling genre of all fiction... not fiction genres. ALL FICTION. In fact, romance is the biggest selling genre of ALL BOOKS, Fiction and non-fiction combined. And the bookstores give them one side of one shelf and sometimes, a half of another side... because... ick... naked bits... written by womensfolks..... ICK!

But... that's not the complaint at the heart of the matter. I wanted to draw your attention to what and how and where... of this industry on the mainstream commercial level so I can get to ebooks.

The complaint is mostly about gay fiction and gay romance... and gay erotic/a. As well as gay YA. And how ebook retailers categorize gay literature.

So let's go back to the bookstore shelves for a moment. And in this instance let's focus on romance specifically before we go to the gay issue.

What Amazon does right as compared to brick and mortar stores is that they gave Romance a section of it's own. Every sub-genre of romance is listed under the romance header. Including Gay.

Kudos. Bravo. Yay. They did that right. What they don't do is sub-sub-genres. Like sports romance or military romance... or if they do it's new, so forgive the misinformation there.... but that's where the keyword boxes come in. You list your football book as Romance, contemporary, gay. And Romance, Gay, if it's gay. Mine is gay so I'll use those.

Amazon gives you two categories. Just two. To categorize your book. Under the romance tab you have all of the main options including paranormal and mystery, and historical, and contemporary. Pick the correct main genre. You have a second choice for a secondary sub-genre. You can click contemporary and mystery. or contemporary and gay. or contemporary and whatever clicks that last box. Erotica. Erotica gets you all kinds of trouble. I'd advise never clicking erotica, even if your book is erotica. You won't ever get searched, as in they suppress books listed as erotica.

Yay.... two whole Romance categories, and six keyword boxes to get your book in the correct categories once the rankings start.

Romance, Contemporary, Gay, Sports, Football, Military... because I had one that was both.

Your book will come up as Gay Romance. It might come up in the contemporary romance lists. It might come up in the contemporary sports romance lists. It might come up in the contemporary military lists... but all of those straight books will come up first, and dominate those categories.

Because... that gay romance category is ALL gay romance. Every single sub-genre of romance in gay romance is lumped into that one sub-category. If you click gay romance, nothing else matters. There is no gay historical sub-genre. There is no gay sports sub-genre. There is no gay paranormal sub-genre. All GAY means just that ALL LGBTQ including YA and erotic/a share one list.

You have only one other option for gay fiction. And that's back out in the main FICTION list. You can click Gay. If it's not a romance, or if it is a romance. You can click Gay fiction. Then find your main sub-genre and click for the drop list. So you wrote a Gay non-romance regular coming of age story. It's like all those FICTION books with no real sub-genre... you click Gay and pray. If it's non-romance gay mystery, you click Gay under FICTION then go down to the MYSTERY tab. Click that. or suspense. Or YA.

And your book will be listed first and foremost in the Gay Fiction section. No matter what sub-genre you also clicked. And you will take your chances in the overcrowded non-gay main sections of your sub-genre. Some books do really well in those, but... books with gay content will always do much better in a gay dominated category. Hands down.

So... that's the pickle we're in. There's two GAY lists. Gay Fiction and Gay Romance. And both of those charts are dominated by the same books. People who don't like sex books have to go past all of those sex books. People who love sex books end up with domination BDSM or something that 'triggers' them... and now if you even hint at something dark in your warnings... oh and you can't put the word WARNING in your blurb anymore either... or you will find your book in Unsearchable Hell. Or even removed and blocked.

So, yes, this is a huge issue. And both sides are completely right and justified in their complaints.

Amazon did right by romance. They did. Better than brick and mortar stores have done. But Gay literature is still stuck over in the corner. All gay, lesbian, trans... YA... erotic/a... doesn't matter... you are all in these two lump categories... good luck. And readers, they've made it more difficult for you to find your Gay erotica content because that shit gets blocked real fast because... I have no idea. I still have one book on the permanently blocked list while Flowers in the Attic and Game of Thrones are still sold.

So while I have you here, and while I have your attention and we're talking about genres and stuff, let's talk about Erotica and what it is and what it isn't.

You know what chaps my ass... I mean... Pisses me off...? When people call any book with even a little bit of sex in it, EROTICA. Sex in a book does not mean it's erotica. Erotica, as defined by Romance Writer's of America, is a work that the subject and plot of the story is predominantly sex and sex related. It's not romance, specifically, and there is no 'Happy Ever After'. I mean, the getting married and settling down for ever after... it's romance or not romance sex, full, graphic, sex, with a different kind of happy ending. It's not about love. It's about pleasure. Just that. And there's nothing wrong with that.

While EROTIC ROMANCE is something completely different. Erotic romance is not erotica. It's romance, with romantic, but with full, graphic sex as part of the plot. It's about love and sex, lots of sex, with a HEA or a HFN ending. Distinct from erotica in that an HEA is not expected. Most of my books are erotic romance. I've never written anything that can be labeled Erotica.

And then there's SENSUAL ROMANCE. Which is romance with some sex. It's not graphic. It can be erotic in nature but it's... vanilla, for lack of a better explanation. The wording is tamer. There are no cocks thrusting into anything. But there is sex. Maybe one or two short scenes.

Finally, there is SWEET ROMANCE. Meaning there is no sex shown on page. Doesn't mean that the characters aren't having sex, it means that it's not shown on the page. You might get a closed door at most... and from there you head into inspirational and other sub-sub-genres of sweet romance.

You see, it's not a problem with the authors, or even the publishers. It is a problem with the book sites. It's a problem with Amazon, and iBooks, and Kobo, and Barnes & Noble Nook. As readers, you can write your favorite book selling site and raise the issue with them. Gay literature, romance and non-romance, needs a better categorizing system. Point blank.

So.... well, that's all I got on the subject.

I hope this helps someone out there understand the reason behind the categorization issues. Or I could be completely wrong. Talk amongst yourselves.


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