I’ve been pondering the whole way that books are categorized and classified, and how “genres” and “subgenres” are generated. I do so because we indie authors are always agonizing about how to categorize our own books within the existing genre and subgenre classifications on Amazon and elsewhere.
The process is now totally haphazard. There’s no defining principle or rational method underlying any of this. The ad hoc process seems to be: Some writer comes up with a fresh new story concept; he or she then spawns a host of imitators; next, somebody, maybe a reviewer, slaps a cute label on what all the copycats are doing, and voila! We have a new “subgenre.”
I mean, how else to explain things like “steampunk”?
Anyway, studying the Amazon fiction classification trees, it seems that there are two general ways in which genres and subgenres are defined:
1. By psychological interest — that is, by the kind of emotion or mental experience that we seek from certain kinds of books (e.g., horror, romance, humor, inspiration, mystery, fantasy, sexuality, adventure, etc.) There are a limited number of these core human emotions and experiences.
2. By topical interest — that is, by the kind of subject matter that arouses our personal interest and curiosity (e.g., history, biography, crime, espionage/spy, gay/lesbian, children, sports, politics, military, nautical, technology, science/sci-fi, Westerns, urban, etc.) Our topical interests can be unlimited in number and variety.
Given this, I’ve been toying with an idea — a way perhaps to think about and categorize stories a bit more intelligibly (I won’t say “intelligently”; others can be the judge of that). Maybe online retailers and booksellers might find it useful.
The concept involves combining readers’ interest(s) in specific topics, with the emotional experiences that they hope to get out of them.
Here is how it would work:
Take one or more topical interest, then combine it with one or more psychological/emotional interest, to come up with a subgenre. In short:
Topic + emotion = subgenre.
Examples: Western adventure, urban romantic-comedy, historical fantasy, sports mystery-thriller, technological horror, military humor, political-espionage thriller, etc.
This scheme would create a fiction classification system in which the relatively limited number of human psychological interests provide the “genuses” (the broad “genre” categories), while the myriad of topical interests provide the ever-expanding “species” (“subgenres”).
After perusing the existing Amazon fiction classification trees, here is a fast-and-dirty (and obviously incomplete) list that I came up with, ready for your mixing and matching
I. Psychological Interest Categories (basic genres)
II. Topical Interest Categories (for defining subgenres)
Coming of Age
International (or specific nations)
Okay, this is my weekend stab in the dark, after a glass of wine. Thoughts and opinions, anyone?
Ummm . . . Jeff Bezos . . . are you there?