Perils of a Label

It’s happened again!

Someone’s put my book in the wrong age category. This could take forever to sort out. You’d think a single phone call would do it, but no. You call someone and they talk to someone and they tell someone else, and by the time the buttons are pressed up at Book Control Central the answer you get can be worse than the one you started with. And out in the shops the book is on the wrong shelves. If it’s made it to the shelves at all.

Categorising by age is fraught with problems. The categories are simple things: 9-12, teenage, adult etc. But the mind is not simple. It can reach in all directions. My daughter loves Jane Eyre and has read Camus and Primo Levi. But in the same month she was reading Camus she was also reading Tamora Pierce’s teenage fantasy-heroine fiction, and she was loving that too. And adults loved Harry Potter, didn’t they?

Books aren’t simple either. A rollicking child adventure story can work at profoundly different levels. So how do you categorise it? There may be no more misleading term in literature than the words ‘Children’s Fiction’.

We have to have age categories. Most authors are simply not well-enough known for their work to reach their intended audiences without some guidance. So this author does not fall down and start tearing up the carpet with his teeth just because someone might put an age-label on his book. What he objects to is getting an age-label that’s wrong.

My fantasy novels are aimed both at teenagers who like to think as they read, and at adults who loved The Lord of the Rings and who have never lost that. I don’t mind these books being categorised as teenage novels (although I would prefer to see them on the mainstream fantasy shelves, because teenagers do look there for their reading, whereas it’s a rare adult who goes browsing on the teenage shelves). But I did protest when I found them in the 9-12 category. It took months and months to get that changed.

WE is definitely mainstream science fiction. Never mind that the editor is known as a publisher of children’s fiction: that’s what it is. The hero is adult, the theme is dystopian, there is little zap-kapow and the young love quotient is nil. Sure teenagers will read it and like it for what it is, but I don’t want them misled about what they’re getting. And I want the book to be where adults will find it. When I heard that it was being put on the children’s shelves, I objected. So did my editor. Calls were made. The coding was changed, I was assured, within days of my protest. Hurrah! Maybe we’ve learned something.

Except that I was in a local Waterstones on Friday. I was waving WE’s Times, Guardian and other reviews under the nose of the counter staff. Yes, said the counter staff on duty (a polite and intelligent young man called George,) they did have the book in stock. Great. And, er, what category was it under?

George checked his screen. Nine to twelve, he said.

Sounds of teeth in carpet.

One Response to “Perils of a Label”

  1. Jane Says:

    You had me laughing imagining your teeth in the carpet! But you have my heartfelt sympathies too.. neither WE or The Fatal Child trilogy are anywhere near the 9-12 categories, except for the advanced reader! Still, look at the positive side of things - when you humorous children’s book comes out at least that one should make it onto the correct shelves!

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