What’s in a genre?
Labels can be useful.
Is this parsley? Or is it thyme?
Is this a middle school? Or is it a high school?
Labels can also be useless or, worse, counterproductive.
Is he a nerd? A geek? A poser?
Is he a future success story? Or a failure waiting to happen?
As a writer, I’m struggling with labels right now. Is my first novel, The Monster’s Daughter, YA? Or is it horror? I’d put it squarely into the category “YA horror,” no matter how I envision it as a coming of age tale, but the categories available don’t allow me this designation.
I’m left to choose between “Teen: monsters” or “Horror.” I personally feel the latter fits somewhat better, but it also makes my novel virtually invisible in searches. The former doesn’t fit quite as well but opens my book to a much wider audience.
Then again, many adult women readers have told me that their husbands—and even a couple of their dads!—have picked up and enjoyed the novel.
I hate being forced to apply a broad label that will, in just a word or two, set a reader’s expectations, perhaps incorrectly. My livelihood is contracts. I crave precision.
And yet, as my BFF points out, it should be my instinct that guides me. Some will bemoan the novel’s inclusion as YA because it—gasp!—alludes to sex. Others will complain that it’s more aptly counted as YA because its protagonist is a teen facing some very teenager-appropriate concerns.
When I sat down to write The Monster’s Daughter eight years ago, I wrote a YA novel. I will always see it as a YA novel. Between then and now, though, I’ve had the benefit of other peoples’ insight. That insight leads me to believe there are many labels I can rightly apply to my own novel, regardless of other peoples’ perceptions about what is or is not a perfect fit.
Ultimately, I wrote the book for myself but published it in the hopes that it would be read. The same goes for the novel I’m editing now. Which means my conclusion is this: If there are two appropriate, imperfect labels that apply to any book I write and one enables it to reach a wider audience, I’d just as soon go for the one with the wider reach.
As most of us learned in high school, after all, there is only so much information any one label can express, no matter to what—or whom—it is applied.
What imperfect labels have been applied to you?
What imperfect labels have you applied?