Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What’s in a Label? @CarmenWBuxton

By Carmen Webster Buxton 

Imagine going to the grocery store and finding rows and rows of canned goods that all just said “Vegetables.” Labels obviously come in handy if you care what you eat, or what you read. But unlike canned vegetables, books aren’t always so easy to label. A story one reader might call women’s fiction another reader might describe as romance. And broader genres can be mixed to make something new, as when we blend science fiction and romance, or historical fiction and mystery.

Once reason publishing ebooks appeals to me is you can categorize an ebook many ways, because it’s not segregated into a single location. When a book print book is available in a bookstore, or in a library, someone has to decide where to put that book. This is a real issue for science fiction romance, because not all science fiction readers like romance, and not all romance readers enjoy a science fiction setting. Fortunately, the virtual shelf is multidimensional! A single book title can appear in multiple digital “locations.” (This is also true for print books sold online.)

But the thing about labels is, they’re only useful if they’re accurate. If you slap a label that says “green beans” on a can of peas, you’re going to make food shoppers angry. This is one reason I’m careful about applying the romance label to a book. To me, it’s a romance, if a) the story would collapses if you took out the romance, and b) it has a (reasonably) happy ending. It can end with the lovers being happy for now or happy forever, but a romance, to me, includes a happy ending for the people in the romantic relationship. All of my books have some romantic elements, but only some are romances.  I use the criteria I described above in labeling them, because I don’t want a reader who’s looking for a romance to feel cheated.

The thing about science fiction romance is, the science fiction is just as important as the romance. If you can’t take the story out of its science fictional setting and still keep it the same story, then it’s just as much a science fiction novel as it is romance. But the real glitch in labeling comes in when you try to apply the labels. Different platforms use different labels! On Amazon, once you assign a fiction book to the romance category, you can give it a subcategory of science fiction, like this:.

Fiction > Romance > Science Fiction

But once you put a book into the science fiction category, there are a dozen subcategories but none of them is romance! For my newest release Alien Bonds, the second category (each book is limited to two categories) ended up looking like this:

Fiction > Science Fiction > Alien Contact

Now, what’s not clear from this is, this story is about some extremely personal alien contact! It would be much clearer if it said:

Fiction > Science Fiction > Romance > Alien Contact

Fortunately, Amazon also lets writers and publishers apply their own free-form keywords, so I can label my book “science fiction romance” to help anyone who is searching in the Amazon search bar find it.  Because that’s what genre labels are all about: finding the books you want to read!

Note: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and are not endorsed by the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. 

Bio:  Carmen Webster Buxton spent her youth reading every book published by Ursula LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, and Georgette Heyer. This combination of far-future worlds, alien cultures, and old-fashioned courting customs influenced her writing and that shows in most of her books.

Carmen's blog/website: http://carmenspage.blogspot.com/

Carmen's Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Carmen-Webster-Buxton/e/B004V8MM8U/

​Twitter:​ ​ https://twitter.com/CarmenWBuxton

​Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/carmenwebster.buxton

Buy link for ALIEN BONDS, my latest release​: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07959BHM4

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