All I wanted was a nice cup of coffee.
The drive around Washington’s Olympic Peninsula winds and twists beside Lake Crescent, near temperate rainforests populated by all sorts of wildlife: herds of elk, blacktailed deer, even cougars. I needed to be alert.
When we saw a drive-through coffee stand ahead, I decided to give it a try.
Shacks peddling over-priced coffees line Washington’s roads, bearing names like “Bean Me Up” and “Express Espresso.”
This one’s name surprised me- “Bouncing Betty’s.”
My first thought was something like:
Naming a coffee shop after an anti-personnel mine seemed a little…well, tasteless. I reasoned that maybe they were just trying to indicate that their coffee was very powerful.
Whatever. That sixteen ounce non-fat white mocha was calling my name. I pulled up to the window.
I’m not sure if the barrista’s name was Betty. She didn’t have anything to pin a name tag on to.
We don’t need to discuss just how quickly I drove away after she bounced away to help the customer at the other window. We also don’t need to talk about whether I distracted the kids by pretending there was a herd of elk running past the car on the other side, all the while waiting for one of them to pipe up in that extra audible voice kids save for awkward situations, “Mommy? Where’s her shirt?”
Nope. The point is, whether due to unclear marketing on the part of the shop, or due to me being a little clueless, I ended up at a shop for which I was not the target audience.
Has something similar ever happened to you when picking up a new book?
One of my friends grabbed a book off the library shelf a few years back. The cover featured an intriguing old castle, and the blurb described it as a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
Then she started reading it, and got to the S and M parts…
Believe me, if you knew my friend, you’d join me in having a good chuckle at her expense (and don’t worry, she’d join in). She was not the author’s target audience.
The desire to avoid this kind of confusion gives authors and booksellers a major incentive to categorize their books by genre. Romances, mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories are neatly grouped for the reader’s convenience.
It’s not a bad system. Unless, of course, you aren’t sure into which genre your book fits.
Personally, I’ve found determining my unpublished book’s exact genre a headache. I can say I’m writing historical fiction, but there are dozens of sub-categories of genre to sift through, each with its own rules. If I’d been a little more forward-thinking I would have been smarter and researched all of these rules BEFORE writing the thing.
Ah well. It’s one of those headaches that I’ll just have to live through.
After all, going back to the coffee shop comparison, I don’t want someone picking my book up expecting a “Natte Latte” and being disappointed with a “Thinking Cup.”
To keep that from happening, it’s important to realize that a thriller, which has world changing stakes and a ticking clock, is different from a suspense novel or crime fiction.
Whatever genre the book fits into will influence the cover art, the blurb on the back, even the title. After all, you don’t expect to pick up a book with a smoking gun on the cover and read on the back, “This heartwarming romantic comedy…”
Now, my ability to explain all of the nuances of book genre off the top of my head are currently equal to my ability to produce a double half-fat frapuccino. I could probably find the directions online and make a passable attempt, but why not let the experts do it?
Following are a couple of excellent and interesting resources:
Blogger Kristen Lamb gives some great (and entertaining) insights on the importance of genre, as well as giving some good genre definitions here.
Jacqui Murray has been doing an “A-Z” series on different genres, defining them and giving examples. Here is her blog post on genres in the letter “B” as in blog.
Do you have any other sources to share? Have you had any struggles determining the genre of your writing? Have you had any surprises when someone else’s genre was unclear?
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