Reviewer Roundtable: Genres

Invested_Ivana 50Hi! Today’s Reviewer Roundtable is about genres — what do the genres really mean, what about all the subgenres, what about books that cross genres, etc. Genres can be hard to figure out for books anymore Let’s talk about it. Check out our own genre page, which has been adapted from this page on genres

Percy_Procrastinator_50Holy moley! I had no idea there were so many different genres!

Ruby_Lee_50Can a book be of more than one genre? Like sci-fi romance?

Invested_Ivana 50Yep. Though one would probably be a sub-genre.

Percy_Procrastinator_50That article confuses things because urban fantasy = paranormal by their own definition. Further, I don’t think it covers all genres, though that probably wasn’t the point of the article.

Ruby_Lee_50Paranormal is not fantasy. Fantasy indicates that the story is made up. I feel paranormal are true events that could happen in this world.

Invested_Ivana 50Now, Ruby, that would depend on your belief system, wouldn’t it?

Ruby_Lee 50I find what I believe is usually correct. 🙂 J/k

Nervous_Nell 50I think people complicate things with over thinking genres.

Percy_Procrastinator_50Nell, I agree. Yet, sometimes a further classification helps. Sci-fi/fantasy used to cover everything fantastical, futuristic, etc. I think fantasy was a sub-genre of science fiction until very recently.

Invested_Ivana 50I think you’re right, Perc. But anymore, fantasy seems to be bigger than sci-fi. Science fiction also used to have an element of “morality” in the story, examining a truism of human nature. That’s not quite the case anymore.

Percy_Procrastinator_50I think the popularity of sci-fi and fantasy swings; as one gets popular, the other takes a hit. There is an idea of space opera, which is what Star Wars is, to define something that is set in space and vaguely science fiction, but has elements of fantasy to it. That’s why I see hard sci-fi used for something like The Martian, which tries to ground itself in current tech. Star Trek on TV is often a morality play. However, the new Star Trek movies are more fantasy than sci-fi. It seems fantasy is considered more escapism for fun, but sci-fi shows us something about humanity.

Ruby_Lee_50Lucyfer says they’re only two kinds of genres – one she likes, and ones she doesn’t.

Nervous_Nellie_50I agree with Lucyfer, except I think it should be urban fantasy and everything else. 🙂

Percy_Procrastinator_50LOL. That’s not as useful, though, is it?

Nervous_Nellie_50If you use sub-genres, does that mean horror is first and then something else is second? Cuz, you can have horror romance if you really try…

Invested_Ivana 50Yep. So horror would be the main genre, and there could be historical horror, romantic horror, and adventure horror as sub-genres.

Ruby_Lee_50My pet peeve is when people discount a book because there’s some sort of love story in it. Just because there is a relational aspect to a story does not make it a romance. I mean romance fits for books that are primarily about love stories with a happy ending. Just because there’s a love story in the book as part of the story doesn’t make it a romance. It may really be a sci-fi story, or a paranormal story, or a human drama. A romantic component doesn’t make it a romance. Just like if one ghost shows up in one scene of the book, it doesn’t make it a paranormal story.

Invested_Ivana 50That’s true, Ruby. “Romance” is supposed to mean that the story is about the courtship between two people and that there is a happy ending, usually with marriage or a declaration of love. That’s the “romance formula.” But most urban fantasy has a romantic component, without it being called a “romance.”

Nervous_Nell 50That’s why I like urban fantasy…there is a relationship there. But I also want all my stories to have a happy ending.

Percy_Procrastinator_50Okay, but can romance go across several books? Or does each book have to have a happy ending?

Invested_Ivana 50Well, that’s a good question, Perc. Diana Gabaldon’s first Outlander book was labeled romance, but a romance story is done when the happy ending occurs. What about a story about a lifelong marriage, as Outlander became? Technically, a romance book has to end with the happy ending, which is why in series like Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter, each book is about a different set of protagonists. I don’t care for that, because each story is exactly like the first, just with different people.

Ruby_Lee 50I’m no expert but I think romance can go over several books with a happy ending at the end of the story.

Percy_Procrastinator_50Sookie could be considered romance, across several books, but it’s obviously more than that. If it was only labeled one genre, would we be limiting ourselves a bit too much?

Nervous_Nellie_50How would you label Sookie, Percy?

Vagabond_Vahn_50Ooh, this is a good question Nell. I’d like to see what we each label Sookie. I consider the Sookie Stackhouse series to be urban fantasy, but there’s a lot of sex in them. Do you consider them different, Fiona?

Fickle_Fiona_50I would say Sookie is supernatural (which usually implies action) romance.

Percy_Procrastinator_50I would call the early Sookie books supernatural mystery, because that seemed to be the focus of the books. Overall, I would say they were each supernatural but the sub-genre changes, based on the book. A few were romance, IMO, as they just dealt with the many relationships that had been created. I don’t think Sookie was romance as an overall series, though.

Ruby_Lee_50Sookie is supernatural romance.

Invested_Ivana 50Sookie is urban fantasy. There is more than one romantic relationship. There is a happy ending, but not with the person you’d expect. And there is the mystery/detective component. But Sookie was marketed both as urban fantasy and paranormal romance, probably to sell them to more people.

Nervous_Nell 50I think it sold better as a romance. More people bought the book and got hooked on the series.

Ruby_Lee_50Romance is what I like, so that is the part of the book that I really concentrated on.

Percy_Procrastinator_50I thought of Sookie as supernatural with some romance but it seems as if Ruby reversed that?

Ruby_Lee_50I put romance first because that’s what I like.

Percy_Procrastinator_50That’s my point. We each emphasize what we like. But any book about people is going to have some form of a relationship in it, correct? So, I’m not sure that that is helpful? So, maybe we need to back up and first ask the question, why do we need all of these different types of genres or categories? Is it to entice readers? Classify it for Dewey? Or as a selling point?

Invested_Ivana 50I think to help readers select the stories they like.

Nervous_Nell 50I think selling first, readers second.

Ruby_Lee 50I agree with Percy. I think it’s a marketing ploy.

Percy_Procrastinator_50What we need is a book marketer’s opinion on how they try and sell a book. Or if they market it in two different ways to two different groups of people. I mean, have all of you seen the Deadpool posters where they make it look like a Valentine’s Day romance? It is NOT a Valentine’s Day romance!

Ruby_Lee_50That’s just a sucker the women into going to it. Actually, I plan to go because it’s NOT a romantic movie on Valentine’s Day.

Percy_Procrastinator_50Lol. And if it gets people in because they are interested AND it doesn’t turn them off, great! Otherwise, if they feel tricked, they won’t like it. So maybe the point is the author needs to say why they wrote it or who they wrote it for?

Nervous_Nellie_50I think you have to have some type of genre description so readers can find books they like. But the genres can also put people off.

Ruby_Lee_50I usually put down anything that has the word fantasy in the genre or the word dystopian. That just sounds too heavy for me.

Nervous_Nellie_50Paranormal romance, you know will involve some smut. Fantasy means to me unicorns and kings. Urban fantasy means kick ass men/women killing monsters in modern times.

Invested_Ivana 50And usually some sort of detective element in urban fantasy, too.

Nervous_Nell 50Right.

Invested_Ivana 50I just want a story that has something MORE than the courtship. Diane Sylvan’s series bothered me because it had the romance, but all the other elements were treated as secondary — the bad guy, the plot, etc. What I don’t like in relationships stories — romance or not — is infidelity and love triangles.

Nervous_Nell 50Oh, I love the love triangles.

Ruby_Lee 50Hate love triangles.

Invested_Ivana 50And I really hate purposeless sex. My classic example is… “Oh, no, the monster is chasing us, but your ass is hot! Let’s stop and have sex behind these bushes because the monster will never catch us while we’re having sex.” Obviously that writer never watched horror stories.

Ruby_Lee 50Ivana, that’s just horrible writing.

Nervous_Nell 50I don’t mind reading smut, but I won’t review it.

Ruby_Lee 50Smut definitely has its place.

Invested_Ivana 50I think “smut” and “romance” are two different things. What do you think, Ruby?

Ruby_Lee 50I think smut is more erotica. That’s the books centered around the sexual acts.

Percy_Procrastinator_50Okay, but isn’t “graphic sex” going to be subjective?

Vagabond_Vahn_50And if it’s really graphic, but only in one scene, does the WHOLE BOOK become smut/erotica?

Ruby_Lee_50I think it depends if the graphic sex is just a part of the story. Erotica is usually the whole book. Think of it as pornography for your brain.

Invested_Ivana 50Many urban fantasy writers, particularly those written by women, build in at least one sex scene per book. Not usually to the detail of smut, but sometimes. I don’t think one scene changes the genre, though, unless it’s REALLY graphic.

Fickle_Fiona_50Sorry, but I really hate when I am reading along in a really good book and then all of a sudden they feel the need to throw in a graphic sex scene. Ruins some books for me, especially if it really has nothing to do with the actual story.

Invested_Ivana 50Kind of like we said at the last rountable, the sex–and the level of detail provided–has to serve the story or it seems weird. I think sometimes sex is included at the suggestion of the publisher because sex does sell.

Fickle_Fiona_50How would you label the book if it was a romance story, but didn’t have any sex scenes in it? Versus a romance story that does have sex in it, but isn’t erotica.

Vagabond_Vahn_50I label that as “romance,” Fiona. 🙂

Invested_Ivana 50Romance is really about the courtship between two people, not the sex.

Fickle_Fiona_50Yeah, but that’s my problem. For someone like me who likes to read romance but really hates the sex scenes, how would you be able to differentiate between the two since they are both considered romance?

Invested_Ivana 50Fiona, I agree. That is really difficult. There isn’t a “no sex” genre in romance. I have seen some reviewers give a book a “heat” rating to indicate no sex, non-explicit sex, or oh-la-la sex. Maybe we should start doing that.

Fickle_Fiona_50That would be good. I had to go to Christian romance books at one point, which was exactly what I wanted – about the relationships and nothing physical – but then I had to deal with all the Jesus stuff (sorry if that offends anyone).

Invested_Ivana 50One reason I prefer any genre with something paranormal is that, to me (sorry Ruby), it isn’t real. I have enough real-world problems; I don’t want to read about more. Paranormal isn’t real, so I don’t really have to worry about it. It’s pure escapism.

Ruby_Lee_50I choose romance because I know it will have a happy ending. Sometimes in my line of work things don’t have a happy ending so I like at least having control knowing that my story will.

Percy_Procrastinator_50Okay, so really, we DO need sub genres and the list on that blog because we all have base things that we want from a book. I might want action fantasy and if it has a romance, okay. Further, this helps us, as readers, pick a book that we want to read and if it opens us up to other things, great!

Fickle_Fiona_50I think it’d be nice to have subcategories, because I’ve started books that sounded interesting, but I get into them and they’re not what I like at all.

Percy_Procrastinator_50I think we need something to help us pick a book that we might like. So then we have to learn what each publisher/author does, to know if what they write is for us.

Vagabond_Vahn_50You start with Fiction. As soon as you’re ready to add one more word, you often need two. You can say Fiction, Romance – but like Fiona said, that doesn’t tell her enough. So we start combining – it’s a Sci-Fi Romance, or a Paranormal Romance, or Romance Thriller — it’s hard sometimes to use only one term as a full definition.

Invested_Ivana 50So, for our site, do you think we should list subgenres, or should we just put the basics and reviewers can pick any and all that would apply. I’ve been trying to keep a book to one genre category, but maybe that won’t work?

Vagabond_Vahn_50Ivana, did you read my review of the first Keir book? I had a really hard time putting it into a category based on what was on our genre list.

Invested_Ivana 50So, Vahn. If we just had a romance category (with no subs) and a sci-fi category (with no subs), would you have checked both boxes? Or do you one one box that says sci-fi romance?

Vagabond_Vahn_50Ultimately, the one that said sci-fi romance, if it had existed as a box; but this is a rabbit hole because where do you stop? In order to function as a site, we have to either do a basic list, or list every single subcategory possible which is going to get real silly, real fast.

Fickle_Fiona_50Yeah, I know. Maybe we just limit people to 2 categories?

Invested_Ivana 50Since we mainly review fantasy, I thought about listing sub-genres for fantasy, but then generic genres for everything else since we don’t review them that often. What do you think about that?

Vagabond_Vahn_50It may be worth considering adjusting the genres on the site based on those we review most often, and thus have more subgenres. That would reviewers customize a bit, without making a 700 word 5-minute scrolling list of genres.

Percy_Procrastinator_50Or maybe we start getting participation by asking what others classified a book?

Vagabond_Vahn_50I like where Percy is going with that. It could also be appropriate to make that the little blurb before your official review begins.

Nervous_Nellie_50Maybe just a sentence in the review?

Fickle_Fiona_50Yeah, how WE interpreted the genre of the book. Then others could comment if they felt it read differently for them. It wouldn’t be us labelling it so much as saying “this is how I read this book and would categorize it with my other books.” We could have the line that says the authors genre, and then one below it saying the reviewer’s opinion.

Invested_Ivana 50Looks like we’re winding down. Any further thoughts on genres? I think they are both useful and confining and that, as a reader, you have to think a bit broader and base your choices on experience.

Percy_Procrastinator_50It seems as if genre is a much tougher thing to nail down than perspective. We each like what we like and emphasize that part of it. It’s not that we don’t realize it could fit into another genre but that’s not what got us into the book in the first place.

Vagabond_Vahn_50Ultimately, I’m a fan of having a list like what Ivana suggested, and then allowing each reviewer the choice on whether to delve more into subcategories, or even discuss it at all, per review.

Nervous_Nellie_50I do think I will use the one sentence thing Fiona talked about. How I interpreted it vs. how it’s marketed. And maybe how “hot” the sex is.


Based on this discussion, our genre categories have been changed a bit. There are sub-genre breakdowns for what we’re calling “speculative fiction”—anything that isn’t actually possible in today’s world. Since that is what we mostly review on this site, that seems to make the most sense. Since we don’t review other genres that often, we just list the top genres for those. So, for example, both a regency and a modern romance would go in the romance category on our site.

What are your thoughts on genre? Helpful? Restrictive? Both? Do you stick to one genre or get a taste of multiple genres? We want to know!

About Invested Ivana

I'm an adult learning professional, a book blogger at One Book Two, and lifetime reader. I like geeky things. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employers, my clients, the other reviewers on this site, or this site as a whole.

Posted on February 20, 2016, in Reviewer Roundtable. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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