Is it Worth it to Know About Sub-genres?

If you’ve been around here for awhile, Squiders, you remember we spent about a year going through different science fiction and fantasy subgenres. As might be expected from going through such an activity, I sometimes find myself being really particular about subgenre.

Last week I was at a working group with several other speculative fiction writers, and I don’t quite remember how we got onto it, but we were talking about subgenre, and I’m afraid I probably got a little lecture-y (“this is space opera, and this is why”). I had this conversation with one of the other writers.

Other Writer> I know that if it has elves, it’s fantasy, and if it has spaceships, it’s science fiction.
Kit> What if it has elves on spaceships?
OW> I read those books, and they were crap.

But it was obvious that subgenre wasn’t a big concern for them, and it didn’t really matter to them that they couldn’t tell contemporary fantasy from urban fantasy, and it made me wonder if it was worthwhile that I could.

(Well, for a certain definition of “could.” If you were around for the Subgenre Studies, you’ll remember that a lot of this is open to personal interpretation and author intent.)

Knowing subgenre isn’t really useful as a marketing tool because most people don’t know what subgenres are or what subgenres they like. It doesn’t seem to be until someone has issues finding things they like that they delve into subgenre at all, and then mostly out of desperation. (And even so, a lot of people will still use a book as an example rather than a particular subgenre. “I’m looking for books like The Island” rather than “I’m looking for dark fantasy.”)

It doesn’t help for selling books because most people will stare at you when you tell them your latest novel is mythic fantasy.

Plus there’s a wide variety of books within subgenre, even. G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books are both high fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that people who read one are going to like the other.

From that standpoint, it seems like it’s not really worth it to know anything past the difference between scifi and fantasy (itself a bit fluid) and maybe major subgenres, like urban fantasy or steampunk. Maybe the rest of it all comes down to academics and there’s no real world application of knowing the difference between dystopian and apocalyptic fiction.

What do you think, Squiders? Is there a reason to be able to break down subgenres? Or is it all a waste of time?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. I think it helps. I was asked to plug one of my stories into a category just today. I had to go with science fiction / fantasy. It’s really a paranormal / historical. This group didn’t even offer horror as a category.

    Reply

  2. I think it’s a waste of time. But I feel the same way about music subgenres, too. After a while, they become so stratified that it becomes useless. You know, how like every musician thinks their work is a genre unto itself.

    Reply

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