- Why is ALL of Stephen King in General Fiction (or Literature depending on what chain you’re browsing)?
- If the Vampire novels of Anne Rice are in General Fiction, why are the vampire novels of Charlaine Harris and Laurel Hamilton in Sci-Fi/Fantasy?
- Why isn’t Christopher Moore is Humor?
- For that matter why isn’t Douglas Adams in Humor (or Terry Pratchett)?
- Why isn’t Jasper Fforde in Sci-Fi?
- Why do Charlaine Harris’ Novels get broken up between Sci-Fi and Horror, while Stephen King gets lumped together, either putting stories like The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption in Horror, or Putting It in Literature?
The answers to all of these questions are the same: Because they’ve got to be put somewhere.
Ultimately it’s a business decision as to where these books get shelved. Splitting Stephen King up between 3 or 4 sections (discounting On Writing) would likely hurt sales of Stephen King books. When someone on a King kick comes in looking for something they haven’t read, they want to walk a few feet to find all his books, not all over the store.
But too often these decisions are made without any real understanding of the work being categorized, or even of the category itself.
Neal Stephenson provides a reasonable case study. Stephenson’s early works fall rather solidly in the sci-fi arena, often being described as an irreverent version of cyberpunk. However, in recent years his novels have focused more of cryptography during World War II, and Isaac Newton and the scientific revolution. By almost any conventional definition the Baroque Cycle doesn’t belong in sci-fi, but that’s where it gets shelved because Neal Stephenson is the crown prince of Geek fiction.
This habit of forcing genres can lead to angry authors, confused readers, and confusing genres at the book store—all of which can hurt an author’s sales. This habit has tricked down to the internet as well. Though it baffles me why, when bookshelves do not exist, that Amazon sticks to the same broad genres.
However, what bothers me most about genres isn’t how existing book get shelved, as much as the effect it has on unpublished stories and unpublished authors. By having a set of standardized genres, it forces authors, to varying degrees, to write to the genre’s expectations instead of their ideal story. The effect is lessened somewhat as an author becomes more established, but innovation often comes from the newest authors.
Sure it’s convenient to go to Borders and see a selection of books that would likely appeal to me collected all in one place, but I’m not sure it’s worth having someone else determine what they think I’d like to read.