Who Decides Genres?

I’m in a thoughtful mood  today so I decided to talk about something I’ve always wondered.

Who decides what defines a genre and which books fit in that genre?

I’ve always suspected that it’s the same people who accept or reject a writer’s work.  The editors.  Maybe my thinking is tainted by all the notes I’ve read on the margins of some of those hundreds of manuscripts I’ve sent to editors over the years.  Maybe I’m prejudiced.

But I’m all too well aware of the way many of those rejections read.  ‘Doesn’t quite fit what we are looking for.’  ‘Like your writing but this piece isn’t right for us at this time.’ ‘Love the story but it’s wrong for this issue.’

The takeaway from those notes is that editors are powerful people who choose what to present to a particular market.  They know what their readers are looking for and that their continued employment depends on placing the right story in their publication.  So they are fanatical about properly categorizing whatever comes across their desks.  Right category means acceptance and their continued employment.  Wrong category means rejection and unemployment for them.

Over the years, readers have come to accept those categorizations and extend them to all publications and that’s how the categorizations editors created for their own uses have become genres that now dictate how and where almost all publications are marketed.  Or so I believe.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Anything that quickly identifies a manuscript helps readers identify stories they want to read.  But I wonder as I sit at my desk far from any editor’s office, if the concept of genres should be widened now that readers can choose from a large variety of fiction that can be sold electronically to such a wide readership.

I don’t know how such a thing could be done, but I suspect it would be good and helpful for all those readers out there who’d like to choose for themselves what they read.


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