Labeling books: Are we going too far?

In labeling fiction, I wonder if we’re going a bit too far. Before I get going on this little rant, it all started when I read a post by Nicki Salcedo. In it, she talked about stereotypes and it got me to thinking about one of my first manuscripts which started out as Rosie’s Posies, then morphed into The Reluctant Groom and more recently became A Suitable Wife.

The story takes place in a fictitious small Southern town. I’ve lived in small Southern towns. I know them. In the local beauty shop, the receptionist was black/AA. In a sandwich shop, a young mixed race boy worked behind the counter.

I didn’t think anything of it.

Southern towns don’t just have white/Caucasian rednecks. Some of the inhabitants are Asian or Hispanic and yes, even Black/AA or mixed race. Some folks are even cultured and educated, though I know that may come as a surprise to some. ::rolling eyes:: I write what I know, what I’ve lived and imagine the rest.

Then an editor asked me if my manuscript was multi-cultural. Um…huh? Is that a sub-genre? Is it important? Did I need to label my work? I honestly didn’t know what to say.

The world we live in is multi-cultural and multi-raced, therefore the inhabitants of my fictional worlds are as well. I occasionally mention that my characters pray things will go well, but I wouldn’t call my work inspirational/religious by any stretch of the imagination.

Sure some labels are helpful. Even I like to know if I’m choosing a contemporary or historical read, a fiction or non-fiction, a heartwarming romance or gritty suspense. But if I don’t need to label my work with “gossipy, elderly women,” “alcohol consumed by characters” or “occasional prayer mentioned”, I shouldn’t need to tell the world that I have characters of various shades of skin color inside. Contemporary suggests the world we live in and my world has beautiful colors.

What do you think about labels? Do we go too far? Not far enough?

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About Carol Burnside / Annie Rayburn

Carol Burnside is an award-winning author of the Sweetwater Springs series of contemporary romance with serious sizzle and a variety of other works, some written as Annie Rayburn. Her novel length manuscripts have placed in numerous contests and won five, including the prestigious Maggie Award for Excellence. Carol / Annie blogs here, most always with a glass of sweet tea within arm's reach.
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13 Responses to Labeling books: Are we going too far?

  1. anjugattani says:

    Great post and one I have trouble with myself… fitting in a genre and what do you do if you write fiction that’s ‘out of the box’? What if your work cuts across genres? My characters have different shades of color, thought and perspectives… and trouble… and I’ve been bubbling with the same question myself. Glad to know I’m not alone :)

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    • My Annie Rayburn work is definitely cross-genre. It’s contemporary (alternate reality), but also has soft sci-fi and lite paranormal elements, so it’s difficult to know where to shelve it. Die-hard Sci-fi and gritty paranormal readers probably wouldn’t find my Crainesian works to be in their wheelhouse, yet contemporary, steamy romance doesn’t quite describe it either.

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  2. Interesting post. Hadn’t thought about it.

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  3. tche1478 says:

    Totally, 100% agree. I had a situation with a publisher once. I had a hero and a heroine of Hispanic heritage. It wasn’t something I consciously did. It is just how the characters came to me, but being Hispanic myself, no big surprise. It was “labeled” Interracial. I was upset by that. I said, “How is one Latino and another IR?” Turns out because they were non-white, they had to have a label. I’ve been upset over this practice ever since. I mean, they don’t make a label for white people fiction. Warning: white man and white woman. Lots of white folk inside. LOL *cheeky grin* Anyway, spotted this on twitter and just agree very strongly with you.

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  4. tamibrothers says:

    Wow, Carol! I had not thought of this before. I have a couple of characters that fit this description but never thought of the stories as being anything other than contemporary romance. Great things to think about. I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t see it as being anything that should put a book into another category. JMO. :)

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  5. susancarlisle1 says:

    I do see my characters as one way but I like to think that in most case the readers and see them as whatever color that suits them. So of my secondary characters do lend themshelves to one group or another just by the way they speak or act but I don’t group everyone into the same piles.

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  6. nickisalcedo says:

    I missed this somehow. I’m always late to the party. Must be because I’m…without a watch. I’m starting to be in love with labels just so I can shred them. Great post!

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  7. Michele says:

    As a reader, I do look for some general “labels”, such as “science fiction”‘ “historical fiction”, etc. But as a writer, I find sub-, sub-labels more confining than liberating. I find myself trying to tailor my writing to “fit” one genre/sub-genre or another in the hopes of getting it published some day, but I often end up chafing at that kind of restricting expectations. I just want to write the story as it unfolds. And when I work in the bookstore, the labels drive me crazy! Ay given book can easily fit into many sub-genres, and it can turn into quite a scavenger hunt when looking for a particular book for a customer!

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