2017/03/09

Amazon Draws Genre Lines

Amazon has warned romance authors not to list their books in the science fiction, fantasy, or children's categories.

Amazon romance warning

I think this is a smart move on Amazon's part, even though I'm notorious for bending genres in my own books.

Proponents of the Pulp Revolution who argue that contemporary genre delineations are arbitrary and artificial have the right of it. Prior to World War II, what was then called science fiction freely blended elements of what critics and retailers now label fantasy, romance, and horror. Sci-fi in magazines and books was a major cultural force back then. Now it's a literary ghetto compared to genre-blending movies and TV shows.

And none of that matters in the slightest where Amazon categories are concerned.

Best selling author Larry Correia, whose work is the closest thing mainstream SFF has to the original pulps, reconciles the Amazon and PulpRev positions when he encourages authors to write what they want and let retailers decide which genre box a book goes in.

The Pulp Revolution is about artistic freedom and literary criticism. Amazon is about selling products to customers--including books.

I fully support authors' freedom to write the books they want to write.

I also strongly believe that readers should read what they want to read.

Amazon's decision to keep romance books out of other genre categories is a benefit to the second proposition. Don't believe me? Ask yourself: how can Amazon customers read what they want if the books they want to read are impossible to find?

Search Amazon for "vampire" books in the horror category. This is the second result:

Amazon vampire search

It's a safe bet that readers looking for stories in the vein of Bram Stoker, Richard Matheson, or Stephen King don't have headless sets of pecs in mind when they search Amazon for vampire horror stories. Even Anne Rice would be a more reasonable search result.

If your muse compels you to write vampire paranormal romance or selkie porn, it's not my place to dissuade you. If you have an audience who will pay you for it, so much the better.

Are current genre definitions arbitrary and restrictive? Yep. But now we're on the business end, and like it or not, the publishing industry succeeded in imposing their definitions on the reading public. We have to work with these marketing confines, whether we like it or not.

The fact is, romance authors have been abusing Amazon's category system for years. Categorizing romance books in other genres makes it difficult for fans of those genres to find books they want. It's in everyone's best interests to place as few obstacles as possible between readers and the books they want to read.

I know that romance authors are complaining about Amazon's new category restrictions. They say it's unfair and will make it harder for romance fans to find their books.

In reality, romance authors who make this argument are being greedy--and needlessly so. Take a look at this Author Earnings chart.

Author Earnings genre sales

Romance already dominates every other genre in terms of sales. Clearly, people are having no trouble at all finding romance books to read.

You could argue that part of this success is due to listing romance books in other categories, but that makes no sense. When people specifically search for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror books, werewolf erotica probably isn't at the forefront of their minds. Likewise, Amazon already has a romance category. People who want romance books can just type "romance" into the search field--unless they're illiterate, in which case, they won't be reading those books, anyway.

I get how tough this business is. Books are among the hardest products to sell. But putting yours in the wrong category just makes it needlessly harder on everybody.

Writing books that defy genre conventions and aren't really like anything else poses a definite marketing challenge. My Dragon Award-winning novel Souldancer has a major subplot that meets all of the romance genre criteria, but I don't list it in the romance category. That's because on the whole it's more like the Pulp-era adventure novels that had classic romance as a major theme than the type of book that's presently called a "romance novel". SD isn't what readers who are primarily interested in contemporary romance are jonesing for, so I don't shoehorn it into that genre box.

Current genre labels suck, but we're stuck with them for now. Luckily, getting around this problem is pretty simple. Write what you want to write. Make it easy for readers to read what they want to read.

@BrianNiemeier

7 comments:

  1. > They say it's unfair and will make it harder for romance fans to find their books.

    Apparently they have no problem making it harder for SF fans and Fantasy fans to find the books they are looking for.

    And given the erotic nature of modern romance novels, classifying them as "children's" is downright evil.

    Yea, I think Amazon made the right choice here.

    (Now if Steam could only learn from Amazon's example and stop putting EVERYTHING in the RPG category.)

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    1. "Apparently they have no problem making it harder for SF fans and Fantasy fans to find the books they are looking for."

      Clearly not. Amazon was almost certainly responding to SFF fans' complaints by stepping in.

      "And given the erotic nature of modern romance novels, classifying them as 'children's' is downright evil."

      I didn't look, but if Amazon felt the need to address it, there's a good chance people were doing it.

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    2. "(Now if Steam could only learn from Amazon's example and stop putting EVERYTHING in the RPG category.)"

      Strategy is worse. Just because you can use a strategy while playing, does not make it a strategy game. FPS,TPS,TD,Bullethell, et cetera.

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    3. Then there's the widespread failure on the part of game publishers to distinguish between strategy and tactics.

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    4. {Insert lecture here about how what is Strategic for a Platoon Commander is Operational for a Battalion Commander and Tactical for the JCS}

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  2. If someone writes a series of SF-romance novels, they have but to list the novel as SF and NOT list it as romance.

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    1. We agree that such authors should pick one of those categories. In this case, I would say romance.

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