Lowdown On…Genres, Age Groups & Classifying Books

It’s another month, and another Lowdown on post. This one is a grouping of well, groupings. Sounds weird, but in the publishing industry everything is broken down into categories and classifications, some a perfect fit, and others more like head scratchers. I’ve seen the well done, and I’ve seen some that make me question whoever decided “that” was a good idea. Whether you’ve seen the extreme versions of this, or that one book that seems to toe the line, I’ve got a feeling we’ve all run into this one.

I guess the first one, at least in terms of the title is classifying books by age. For the most part this is a reasonable practice, parents don’t want their children to pick up books with adult material, and writing for teenagers isn’t always going to be a good fit for adults. That isn’t to say that adults can’t read middle grade books, or middle schoolers can’t read advanced literature, either can, but age ranges at least help separate the vast array of books out there.

So where is the bad in this? Well beyond the occasional mess-up where someone puts some serious adult content in a book marked 12 and up (paper princess did this), generally it’s just how limiting the age ranges can be. For one, a lot of YA is age ranged with a cap at 18 years old, which seems reasonable until you factor in that there are a lot college aged readers, and adult readers out there. We aren’t talking a handful, but a decent heaping, and if you ask any of them, YA books can be really well written, and easy to connect with. For me at least, it’s pretty hard to find adult level fiction that is both attention grabbing, deep, and has a sprinkling of romance. At this point, once you’re out of the teen years this age range just becomes a possible hint at the writing level every now and then, otherwise it is the most pointless number out there. Sometimes I’d even say it feels like an arbitrary number plucked out of a hat, like why is this for 12 & up versus 15 & up? What made one more mature than the other? Is it like a movie can instantly be rated R if they say the ‘F’ word more than 3 times? Why just 3? Who even picks these? Some part of me wants to know, and the other just questions the logic behind it all.

The second classification I wanted to touch on is with genre. We’ve got the Fantasy, Romance, Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction, the Contemporary, and each of those break down into smaller genres. It’s all very structured, and seemingly straightforward. Or is it? Let’s start with Outlander, if you went into Barnes & Noble, where would you find it? Historical Fiction? Fantasy? I think I ended up finding it in Fiction, which is like their way of saying ‘We have no idea either’. This just bothered me more as I started working on my own stories, and realized I technically have a fantasy novel just because it’s a made up world, even if I got as historically accurate as possible. There aren’t any dragons, magic, unicorns, etc. so I feel like that person that fell short in a category because there’s not any magic. Is that weird? Maybe, but it’s definitely a side effect of the genre system. On a side note, why are Sci-Fi and Fantasy always grouped? It’s not like they are always the same, or always overlap, so why? I get that readers who read sci-fi will likely read Fantasy, but it also makes it hard to find just a fantasy novel, or vice versa in some cases.

So, why all the complaining on publishing classifications? Mainly because we put stock into it, we follow it. Every bookstore known the man lays out its shelves based on genre and then author, and typically it works. It’s only when we have books that blur the lines between genres that make this system seem daunting. Outlander as mentioned is one, it’s historical fiction with a fantasy element, A Discovery of Witches combines witchcraft, paranormal, and historical fiction. There are retellings of stories with bits of fantasy thrown in or even Science Fiction in the case of the Lunar Chronicles. We are just seeing a lot more blurring of the genre lines as new stories are written now, so I guess we are all about to be searching our bookstores longer than before (not that that’s bad). What are your thoughts on the classifications they use to group books? Are they effective? Are there holes? What’s the worst miss-grouping you’ve seen? Let me know in the comments below!

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