Genre Expectations vs Audience Expectations

During the past few weeks, I have come across several instances about labeling and marketing books via Goodreads and blog posts about their perceived and targeted audiences. I recently raised this issue myself about a YA book which had erotic content. I was very uncomfortable with that, and it looks like it has been confirmed that Noble Romance is targeting their erotic romance towards YA’s. Even though I felt the book was aimed towards older teens or readers in their early 20s, there wasn’t any real age guidance or warnings that was stated in their book pages at the publisher site. I also think for an ebook publisher it is pretty ironic since they are pretty good at listing clearly what is involved, and what tropes are raised in their books. Their definition for this audience is  also very broad, since they have marketed a book with a 26 year old engaged heroine as YA, although I can’t see how that book could be relatable to a teen audience.

YA is not a genre, it is an audience which encompasses a diverse range of genres as well age ranges. There is also a crossover with adults and I think recently that has enriched the genre because it has expanded it with other sub-genres that explores darker edged themes and issues. But  I do think there has to be some kind of marketing or even guidance if it features really graphic material that you would see in horror or adult books, because what exactly is the age bracket for Young Adults. Is it 12-16? 14-18? 18-21?

And before anyone screams CENSORSHIP –  I’m not saying that at all. I am discussing the issue about labeling and marketing although some people have misconstrued this as a way to muddy the waters – and frankly there is a huge distinction between censorship and marketing/aiming the books at the right audience.  I have read and enjoyed many YA books that deal with serious issues involving sex, violence, rape and other issues, and they should be explored if the story calls for it. I think most teens should read those books if they choose to, and many do.  My gripe is when a book is marketed as a YA when it is really for another audience. Such as when a book deals with really graphic content, such as explicit sex, like in the case with In the Bad Boy’s Bed, especially if its idealised, and not relatable in a teen context or violence that can challenge a reader’s expectation due to the fact most YA books is subtle or reflective of the teens when exploring these issues.

Whilst reading a discussion on goodreads, there was another book being discussed that was catered towards YA, where mutilation and attempted rape was involved — including a penis being chopped off and stuck to a wall. As an adult, I would like to be warned about graphic material like this, even though I like dark and gritty books.  That would be difficult to read for me as an adult, and I know for certain I would have not liked it as a young teen.

Even the author has stated that this book isn’t geared towards younger teens, the publisher has marketed it as one and this audience has a huge age range that affects younger teens and even preteens. And there is the conundrum. I think this is mostly due to  YA is treated like a genre instead of an audience? There is also a crossover with adults, which is great because books are universal, however the voice of the characters should connect with teens because this is the audience the books are aimed at.  I know labeling books is difficult and once you label them, detractors can leap on that, which is definitely not what I want. But there are certain publishers who do market and aim books incorrectly. I question if this is a way to cash into a huge market and I think that may be the case.

Nonetheless this issue is not only directed towards YA. Other books are marketed to be in genres like Romance when they should be placed in another genre. I came across this book on Amazon. This isn’t a romance, yet the blurb and the cover looks like one. An abusive relationship isn’t what I call a good romantic story, and I can’t not help think that the publisher is marketing the book because Romance is a profitable and popular genre. Whilst in other cases some paranormal romance series have morphed into UF series mid way or vice versa. For some this has worked but for most it has upset  the core audience who have pre-expectations with the genre and was invested with the characters/series but felt they were being misled by the author or the publisher for changing genres midway.

I think this is the main reason why mislabeling and marketing to wrong audiences can be problematic. I can understand the reason to appeal to a wider audience, but pissing off readers when this happens can cause more disappointment and even upset and that can be more damaging in the long run. I have seen in the past  and it is happening still today, where Romance was used a lot to capitalise on a wider readership, and I think the same is happening to YA. I just hope when issues crop up, there won’t be another hysterical outcry, like the recent incidents with articles such as from the WSJ. But I think this is part of the game of being a huge audience and a popular genre. There will always be critics of popular fiction and genres and authors jumping onto the popular genre bandwagon without fully realising or caring for the target audience because this is where the money is at. However I  think that overshadows the discussion about what is YA  and who should it be aimed at because genres evolve over time but audiences are fixed which I think at the moment is being misconstrued.

So what do you think? Is changing genres midway a series is disappointing or is it okay because it is part of the evolution of the series, and do you think there could be an easier way to market or label books?

7 thoughts on “Genre Expectations vs Audience Expectations”

  1. I’ve had discussions on Twitter about YA – and I think Ana from The Booksmugglers said something that stuck with me – YA is YA based on the protagonist’s age, rather than the content of the story. Which goes along your lines of – YA is an audience, not a genre. I think it is super tricky to label a book YA, when it has adult content in it. Much of the responsibility comes with how the author treats this content in the book. Cutting of a penis and sticking it on the wall….is that appropriate for a young audience? But in other cases, rape and other dark matters are handled extremely well.

    I don’t read a lot of YA – but I just read The Hunger Games trilogy. It amuses me that extreme violence is “okay” for a young audience, but not sex. (at least in the opinions I’ve seen float around). If Katniss had had explicit sex, I wonder if there would have been outrage? But people can get mauled by animals, kids can kill other kids and it is ok? (BTW – I LOVED this series!)

    So this is pretty rambling and I didn’t answer your questions..LOL. I think for the most part, people label YA because it is big right now. Is it ok to change through the series? I think so. I think the author has to write to stay true to the characters and the story arc. The people promoting and labeling the book needs to take responsibility too.

  2. How can a book be a Young Adult if the protagonist is 26 years old? Young Adult to me is where the main characters are under 21, or in most cases under 18.

    I also feel Young Adult brings up issues important to teenagers and not necessarily adult readers.

  3. I 100% agree that YA is based on the protagonist’s age rather than the book’s actual content. It definitely makes things a little tricky sometimes, especially when trying to recommend books for younger readers, but as you said, I have a hard time believing a teen will relate to a 26 year old heroine as much as they would a 16/17 year old one, no matter what happens in the story..

    I admit that I’m a little iffy about changing genres mid series.. One of my favorite authors’ first book in a series was marketed as (and what I would’ve labeled as) UF, and yet the second book in the series was most definitely a PNR — luckily I enjoy both genres, but it definitely threw me for a major loop when I was reading it.

    If we’re strictly speaking about YA, however, I think it’s appropriate to have more mature content further in the series as the characters age, though I definitely think it’s important to be marketed correctly when that happens..

    To be honest, mis-marketing is probably THE biggest reason that I very rarely buy a book that has no reviews, unless it’s an author I already know and love — I can never really trust that I know what I’m getting just from the description.

  4. @Mandi I agree – I think that is where some publishers go wrong because they view YA as a genre and a way to cash in with the market. I also agree with you about sex and YA – violence is more accepted but then again, fairytales are pretty gory if you think about it and kids love them. I think its a question of expectation and how explicit YA and that can be hard to label I suppose. By the way I do think it’s pretty ironic that that they are downplaying the violence in The Hunger Games movie – I heard they are aiming for a PG/PG13 rating and I wonder how that will turn out because the gritty violence was an important factor of the book.

    @KB/KT Grant – I agree early 20s and below is YA and even that is stretching it. I have heard a few publishers are now starting imprints for late teens – 18 to 22 and calling it New Adult to differentiate it from YA.

    @Jess – I think this is why it can be problematic when a book with stronger content that is aimed at older teens but it can be assumed its suitable because its YA can be suitable for younger teens. Not all parents will prescreen or kids will check the reviews if they are buying a book on impulse at a book store or the library. I think most of the time it is okay for most books and most teens read adult books, but I think if a book is aimed at a certain audience it should reflect their expectations and it should relate to them and that goes for all genres.

    I think the problem with switching genres or even styles mid series is one of the disappointing things for me, because you get so invested with the characters. I think one of the best examples of this was LKH’s Anita Blake series.

  5. Hmm, I never really pay attention to the labeling because to me it often seems a bit random. I have never been bothered much about a series changing genre. Possibly because the genre labels have seemed to me to be slapped on a bit haphazardly and so I have learned to disregard it. I look for titles, authors and good reviews or recommendations by book pushers(that is you Has) more than I search specific genres when I look for books. At least online. In RL book stores genre shelving makes this a bit more tricky.

  6. I think its very interesting about shelving decisions because they can be pretty arbitrary and genre labeling here definitely differs to the US and other countries. I think this is partly the factor, although the main reason I do think publishers label/market a book that will appeal to a wider audience especially if the book is a popular genre, although it may not fit the readership as such.

  7. I do not know about the UK and the US so much, but here the genre shelving in the shops can be completely arbitrary.
    Genre literature has not been very big here until the last ten years or so and everything just get jumbled together. Fantasy and Science fiction is often the only distinction and you find everything under that label.
    Romance is all but unavailable unless it is someone getting a big name or if they belong in PNR or UF romance, in which case they might be available and will be shelved under Fantasy & Science Fiction, but they are few and far between.
    I recently found J.R Ward and was really surprised. Not at all usual to find any of her books in book stores here.
    So the marketing strategies and genre shelving is not so big here. This is more something that happens online for people shopping for these things in Norway.

    oh, by the way the link you posted to a book that was not romance did not work for me.

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