Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cross genre books and why it scares the shit out of most people (but not me because I’m too cool for school).*

Jason posed an interesting question my Smart Bitches blog on “Male Romance Readers:”

How about a supernatural suspense novel, 1. written by a man, 2. with a male
protagonist, and 3. incorporating strong romance elements? Where would you
shelve that one?(I'm thinking in that little bin behind the counter. You know,
the one which gets emptied each night. Cross genre rocks!)

The answer: wherever the hell the publishing company wants it to be put.

The truth when it comes to shelving is that I’m often surprised by the designation the computer gives some titles. L.A. Banks who writes a supernatural vampire hunter series was first shelved in fiction, same with Kelly Armstrong’s Bitten. It wasn’t until these books showed a strong gain in the sci/fi fantasy market that they were moved to the appropriate sections. Meanwhile Alice Hoffman remains in fiction despite her books having strong magical elements, and Lian Hearn is shelved in sci/fi fantasy although his “fantasy” elements are slight. Michael Connelly bounces back and forth between fiction and mystery, but Patterson’s Alex Cross mysteries are strictly fiction.

How you or I would designate something might be completely opposite from how the publishing company might decide to market the book. Sometimes this is for the best: would Chris Bohjalian’s Water Witches or Hoffman’s Practical Magic done as well in Sci/Fi Fantasy? Sometimes it isn’t: I had several customer complaints about unable to find Banks’ books and most of my Mary Janice Davidson readers feel she should be in Sci/Fi Fantasy not romance.

And we’re not only dealing with the confusion of the customer but also the confusion of the bookseller. My average end of the week shipment this Christmas has been around 95 boxes, each capable of containing from 20 to 50 books depending on the book size. When I pull a book from the box to bin it for shelving I do not scan it with an LDT gun to figure out where it goes, I rely on my own knowledge and any clues given by the book. Some give their designation on the spine with the words fiction, fantasy or mystery written below the company logo. Some have very telling cover art or titles: I’m not going to mistake the Margaret Weis book, Amber and Ashes, for straight fiction.

Often though I just have to guess, and since I’m human and fallible I’ve been known to guess wrong. Hopefully the person who does the actual shelving will check, but more than likely they’ll just be trying to get the books out as fast as possible, so my mistake gets compounded. This is why mysteries end up in fiction, fiction ends up in romance and romance ends up in Sci/Fi, while publishing companies might claim that cross genre is the kiss of death the reality is that a lot of books flirt with the edge and this leads to shelving confusion.

Shelving confusion is the enemy of the marketing department because if the books are not in the right spot they’re not being marketed to the right people! Oh dear God, cross pollination might occur and then we’ll lose the genre specific requirements that we’ve worked so hard to create in order to enforce a future of branding. Oh me, oh my, whatever shall we doooooooo…<insert wail of despair>

What I’m trying to say is this: the lack of cross genre books out there is a myth. There are many, many books out there that blur the lines of their particular genre. The Life of Pi could just as easily be classified as Fantasy as Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori Trilogy could become fiction (all of which are excellent books and you should check them out). What marketers and publishers worry about is that the book will be mis-shelved and no one will find it, where the reality is that if I or someone else doesn’t know the designation for the book we’re shelving we either a.) look it up, or b.) put it in a couple of places. It may not be the most space effective move, but we’ve long ago learned to think like a customer, and if a customer expects to find Connelly in fiction then that’s where some of his books will be.

*I wanted to give a big thanks to Nicole and Michele for helping me figure out what the hell to do for the links, and also apologize to y'all if this doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I'm feeling some serious ouchiness at the moment due to picking up a box wrong, and the lancing pain down my back and through my left hip makes it so I can't sit too long. Hope this explanation is sufficient for Jason's question.


Anonymous said...

Whoa, I've generated a post. A quote, even. Thanks, Bookseller Chick!

While I do believe that cross genre can be some of the most exciting/break-out books, I fear that the confusions you mention might be just enough to bottle up the chances for a new author. Should it be that way? I absolutely agree with you that it should not. I wish those people who are getting the sh*t scared out of them would take some Pepto. *wipes mouth* It even tastes good.

Anonymous said...

And sorry to hear about your back. That's the last thing you need during the holiday crunch (no pun intended).

Melanie Hayden said...

Interesting you should mention Mary Janice Davidson. I never know where to look for hers--it just depends on the bookstore. I have no idea where I'd put it if the choice were up to me. I'd just like to be able to find it without traversing the entire store.

Michele said...

I've had trouble findng my authors too. Especially if they write different genres and use different names for each one.
If I know the title, I just walk up to the courtesy desk and ask. I love spending an hour or two browsing, but not LOOKING for a specific book. Very frustrating.

You mention L.A. Banks. You know, I recently picked up Minion by happenstance. I fell in love with the author, style, topic, and story. I can't get a hold of her second and fourth books, but I've read the rest. I know I'm missing some awesome action. I'm amazed that now that I've read her, only now am I hearing mentions of her. She's brilliant. I hope more people read her books. I'm glad to see you mention her.

I hope your back feels better too. I have a chiropractor that I swear by when kinks and wrenchings happen and I end up looking like Quasimodo...or at least feeling like I should.

If Jim Butcher adds serious romance to his wizard, would he suddenly find himself in the Romance section???
How weird would THAT be??

BTW- I am SO happy to see and hear that Nicole stopped by to help. I knew she was the one to go to. She's super!!
Congrats on the books in the side bar..looks great!!


Bookseller Chick said...

Confusion is always going to present in a bookstore, between booksellers trying to shelve as fast as possible and customers stuffing books in the wrong places, you have a pretty high percentage of error. Everytime I go searching for non-bestselling title, I end up looking in a couple of different places, but I'm willing to look. Because that book is in a different place, however, other people find it. I guess its a toss up.