Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Something To Remember

Whenever an author -- any author of fiction, and many who write primarily non-fiction as well -- pontificates about genre placement and markers, the borders between categories, the popularity of particular styles, or anything at all related to the categorization of books, what that author is thinking but not saying is:
My books are so wonderful that everyone in the whole wide world would love them, and so anything that keeps even one person from reading one of my books is bad.
Those writers are incorrect; there is no book that everyone would like, and no book that even all of the people who habitually read a particular genre would like. Tattoo this inside your eyelids: De gustibus non est disputandum.

Keep that in mind when you see writers talking about how books should be shelved or categorized.


Frank said...

By the same token, what you are thinking but not saying is, "Authors should stop whining and be grateful they are being published at all."

Andrew Wheeler said...

Frank: Not consciously -- though, some days it may be higher in the subconscious than others.

It's more along the lines of "remember that nobody is an expert in everything, and try to keep track what things this person is an expert in and what not." The world of publishing is huge, and none of us are knowledgable about all of it. And so there are lots of things one can say in public which mark one as (at best) exceptionally misinformed to those who know better.

(I know I've done it myself -- I've been called on it several times.)

Jess Nevins said...

Unless it's a librarian who is saying that, in which case what we mean is that if the books were shelved properly, they'd be checked out more and our circulation statistics would go up, which would be good for the library.

CEP said...

Or, if you're a cynical SOB like me, what you're thinking is:

Dammit, I wish that the people who were so busy categorizing books would both be readers themselves (in general) and read the bloody book that they're trying to categorize. And would stop misusing the critical theory term "genre" to describe "marketing category," but that's definitely expecting too much from anyone with a marketing degree.

Like I said, cynical SOB... with waaaaaaay too much academic background in lit'rary studies to be comfortable with the way things work (or don't) in the contemporary publishing industry.

All cynicism aside, though, there's one orthogonal issue that this leads into. If one reads any respectable contemporary books on writing fiction, those books emphasize the primacy of character, and the not-quite-as-important-but-still-critical dramatic tension, as the foundation of all fiction. Since that's what writers think of -- consciously or subconsciously -- it's no wonder at all that writers are frustrated by marketing strategies that focus on setting, and to a lesser extent archetypal plot skeletons, in describing the book. The sooner that writers (and, for that matter, S&M dorks -- sales and marketing, and your mind is really quite filthy this morning) realize that they're not at all talking about the same things, the better.

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