In a podcast I took part in yesterday with some ex-FBI undercovers (now crime authors), we talked about whether genre even matters with crime fiction. There are crime thrillers, crime dramas, police procedurals, cozy mysteries and more. But are those labels even necessary in the age of Amazon?

 

I'm hearing two arguments. The first states genre doesn't matter at all. Recommendations from friends and reviewers matter. That's how people purchase novels now.

 

The second states that genre matters more than ever. With so much inventory out there, a crime reader needs a bit of guidance to find what he or she is after.

 

The panel, including myself, fell somewhere in the middle. Genre is useful when marketing, but not during the writing process. But I get in the impression a large contingent of authors and readers fall into one of those two camps.

 

What do you think? Does genre even matter?

 

P.S. You can listen to that podcast panel here on CrimeSpace.

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I really doubt that people buy a book on a friend's recommendation unless it is something they are already interested in.  Therefore, yes, genre matters hugely.  There are readers who would never touch a cozy, and others who won't touch hardboiled or noir.  Or historical.

I agree with you Ingrid.

I know what I like and so genre (or sub-genre) is a big help in choosing books. It isn't that I won't stray - I do plenty of times - but when I know that I tend to prefer private eye, police procedural, and historical mysteries over cozies or thrillers (how's that for a swing in spectrum?), then genre is a huge help.

Labeling a product is a retail strategy that helps a customer find the product he or she wants. And it can have consequences for authors who self-publish. Proper genre labeling will help guide potential customers to your book, and improper genre labeling will result in you giving refunds.

I tend to fall in the middle with Ben.  I think association with other authors counts on Amazon.  The others who bought this book also bought stuff.  That seems to be a way of staying in a genre.  On the other hand, many readers like more than one type.  I'm one of those.  So if I see a book that is touted as similar to say Dennis Lehane, I'm likely to buy it.

 

I doubt that most readers pay much attention to the names of sub-genres like cozies or hardboiled.

I'm down with Clay and Ingrid. I wish it wasn't true, but I have to admit I occasionally pick up a book, read a little ways, and think, "I wish I'd known it was a [fill in the type of book I don't care for]."

 

What I hope Amazon can do that brick-and-mortar stores can't is to allow books to belong to multiple categories. "Hard-boiled/procedural." "Apocalyptic thriller" as opposed to "suspense." In a store, they'll put your book where they think it belongs, where it may miss half your potential audience. Online sales should be able to find ways around the cubbyholes.

Agree completely.  For that matter, historicals also run the gamut from cozy to hardboiled, or thriller.
Dana, I was reading your comments here and thought how Amazon might be doing that by allowing customer to tag the book. A novel that starts out in the mystery/suspense genre, with a "police procedural" or  "cozy mystery"  tacked on, might be further broadened by customer using tags that would include words like "thriller," "action," police drama" etc. that gives the prospective buyer a littler more information. Sometimes, i think the author might have a difficult time concisely identifying the genre of their novel, particularly one that seems to transcends genre boundaries. Maybe these tags will help a little.

Yes, it does.

But the quality of the writing matters even more.

I have my preferences for certain types of "genre,"  but if a police procedural isn't well written, isn't suspenseful, or relies too much on sex and/or violence, or stereotypes women (or men for that matter), or silliness,  I might start it but I won't finish it.

 

I think we all assume the writing is good with our above statements. Genre only comes in handy as part of the initial selection process. If I see a book is a cozy solved by a cat, I'm not going to read it. (Unless someone whose taste I trust intimately tells me I'd really like it because of some unimaginable to me feature.)

 

Genres can be limiting and confounding, but they do serve a purpose.

It matters to me plenty.  I want to know if a book is a cozy or a historical so I don't spend any dough on it or devote any precious reading time to it.  I don't care if their hiding hundred dollar bills between the pages.  I suppose many feel the same about Hardboiled/Noir.

My hunch is most readers don't even know the terms beyond the most basic, such as mystery and suspense.

 

On the other hand genre still matters to trad publishers. For example, here is a rejection I recently got from an editor for a co-written novel of mine that's unusual in that one of the two protagonists is in a thriller, the other in a police procedural:

 

"It’s an original premise and a well-told crime novel with strong, compelling themes. Clearly there is quite a bit of talent here. But unfortunately the conceit just didn’t quite click with me, personally, and I couldn’t quite shake the impression that while the novel is certainly a success on its own terms, it would make for a slightly iconoclastic fit with the more traditional brand of crime fiction and thrillers on which we specialize at Mulholland."

 

Yet another way of an editor telling you he wants something new and different, but not too new and different. Something that transcends genre, but doesn't cross them. All while doing what editors know best: what won't sell. 

 

Funny how they never know what will sell.

But that sounds like an excellent book!  Either try another publisher or go it on your own.

I hear publishers (editors) are panicky these days. Electronic books have pulled the rug from under them.

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