What do categories and boxes have in common?
Both carry the idea of constraining something into a fixed space. We put things in boxes mainly with the purpose of organizing things to make it easier to retrieve certain items. As people we love to put things in figurative boxes whether we are consciously aware of it or not. For example if a person has certain characteristics that belong to a certain racial group we identify them as a certain race. And in many cases based on a person’s outward racial identity we assume certain things such as their customs, language, or sometimes how they act.
Thankfully in fiction you say it’s not so ‘black and white’…or really?
In books you have categories. You have: fiction and nonfiction. Seems pretty straightforward so far. From fiction we have numerous categories to categorize one’s work whether it be: romance, science-fiction, fantasy, historical, teen-fiction, adventure, mystery, horror, Children’s, etc. This doesn’t even include poetry or other literary works that are more prose or have a different structure. However you might be wondering why are categories so important anyways? And how does this tie in with marketing or self-publishing?
Marketing and Categories
In extension to the world in general, the literary world breaks literature into categories. The category your work falls under, determines what section your book will be found in the shelves of Barnes and Noble or any other bookstore. If it’s an e-book, your book will be categorized with like works. This is done with the intention it making it easier for the reader to access certain types of information. If a reader had no idea the exact book he or she wanted to read, they might know they want to read a mystery novel. So from there a reader can start broad and narrow down their search until they find what they are looking for.
Some genres attract a certain audience or market. Depending on the genre, you’ll draw a larger market. For example romance novels are still one of the most popular genres. When your book cover and content identify with a certain genre, readers will come to your work with a set of expectations depending on the genre. This ties with my earlier post about book covers and how they can help attract your target audience which you can read here.
The tricky thing about categories is that not everything fits into one neat “box.” Do works have to fit a neat box to be more marketable or more easily retrievable? Not necessarily. Some works may have elements of two or even three genres. Some genres especially romance are easily meshed with other genres (eg. teen-fiction/romance). In those instances readers can have their works appear in both categories. Considering romance is a genre that has a large audience (especially with girls and women alike) making romance a subgenre or vice versa could make other genres more appealing. This is where subcategories come in because it even narrows down the scope of work to a particular niche that’s targeted to a smaller group of people.
History or Fantasy?
Some categories though like historical fiction may have stricter standards of what counts as being historical in the first place. This leads to the title of my post because some staunch fans of historical fiction have strict standards of what counts as historical fiction and adding fictionalized elements especially fantasy creates a blurred line. I’ve recently seen a discussion about what’s considered historical fiction in Wattpad so I got to see both sides of the debate. Let’s start with some elements in historical fiction most people can agree upon…
- Set in a period in the past
- Reflects the era in which the characters lives in
- Can take place during actual historical events that happened that can be documented or verified
With any added elements of fantasy, some argue that the story is NOT historical. Others feel that fantasy can be a subgenre of Historical fiction, granted the work is well researched and stays true to the era in which it’s written. While some stuff is classed as historical and ends up being mostly fantasy or largely inaccurate, some works are based off legends, people or events that could have taken place but there is no proof to verify such. Does that automatically make the story fantasy instead? As I said in another post, when I think of fantasy I think of adding fantastical elements (eg. magic, mythical creatures, or outwardly elements) What if the story takes place in a town or island that doesn’t exist? Does that discredit the historical elements of the story? Although I’ve never had anyone discredit my own stories as not historical, I realize that when I put my work out there for the wide public to see, I will have to be aware of how I categorize my story; both the main category I identify it as and the subcategories. To clarify some points about Before the Legend, I kindly put a disclaimer in my Prologue page to avoid any ‘false expectations’ the readers might have.
What do you think about the questions raised? Can historical fiction have elements of fantasy or should they be separate? Can certain subgenres coexist? Are there better ways to organize fictions works? I would like to hear from you…