When books are shelved in genres where you don’t think they belong

July 28, 2014 Discussion 43

I’m having a tiffy over here. So I went to a local bookseller this week and I was perusing my favorite Fantasy/Science Fiction section as always when I noticed a distinct lack of some books that I consider to be urban fantasy by female authors. When I asked the bookseller they pointed me to the romance aisle, paranormal romance to be exact.

Then there they were. Now I know it’s probably been beaten around before. Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance share some distinct similarities.

But for me – they are NOT one in the same. PNR strikes me as romance centric. You take away the romance and the whole story wouldn’t really stand on it’s legs. Or if you swap out the setting for a contemporary one and its still the same story. Urban Fantasy is very much fantasy and not focused on romance – there of course might be some romance but PNR it is not.

So my ire was great when I found authors like Kim Harrison, Anne Bishop’s Written in Red, Faith Hunter, and Patricia Briggs in this section. Because to me those are urban fantasy and belong in a different aisle. While authors like Richard Kadrey, Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Mike Carey, etc can be found in the SFF section. To me these series share all the same elements and yes indeed each still have an element of relationships in them (heck almost every book you read does – though I can’t speak to how heavily for Mike Carey since I haven’t read one of his books yet).

So why in the world are the female authors relegated to the aisle of Romance? Is it the fault of the bookseller for not knowing the difference? Am I wrong and these are really paranormal romance? Is it sexual discrimination? Is it shelving based on covers? What in the world is it? – and did I even ask the bookseller? No I didn’t. I did however make a comment while standing in that section and she was shelving books near me that these books belonged in the SFF section – or why not make an urban fantasy section? Goodness knows there’s enough of it.

When I started talking to another of my dear blogger buddies she tried to have me see some reasoning behind the booksellers error. Perhaps they are being shelved there because the romance section sells more heavily with their clientele and that way the books will have a better chance of getting picked up. That’s a possibility.

However, I can’t help but be aggravated at the bookseller and just in general. I can’t say that the actions were sexist because I don’t know the motives behind why they were shelved that way. But at initial glance they APPEAR that way because of the fact that it was all female authors that this happened with.

What say you readers? Do you have any other ideas as to why this would have been done? Are any of you booksellers and see this practice in use?

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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43 Responses to “When books are shelved in genres where you don’t think they belong”

  1. DannyBookworm

    I think Romance per se sells better, so by putting these books there the chance of getting picked up is higher. Most avid Readers are still woman and be it sexist or not, they tempt to be drawn towards romance.
    It would have been an interesting discussion with the bookseller, I would have been super curious to hear what he/she says!

    Or… the Bookseller didn’t know better:)
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    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      Ok so I admit more Romance probably sells then say Fantasy or Science Fiction or Urband fantasy – but that doesn’t mean the books still shouldn’t be shelved where they belong. And hey they have multiple copies they could shelve them in both areas if they really wanted to right – I would be less offended at that.

      Still I do view it as sexist when its only the female authors that this happens to. Whether they intend it to be sexist or not the results are the same I think.
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  2. blodeuedd

    Cos they were women authors they went in PNR, now that feels unfair. Just cos a woman wrote them does not make them PNR. Cos yes UF and pnr is different. I prefer UF, my romance I take historical 😉

    It was like when I found Keynyon (NOT the Nick books) and Ward at the YA section at the bookstore and went all =_=. Some kid who has read twilight buys those and shit. Just cos they have vampires does not make them YA
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  3. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    “Is it sexual discrimination?”

    Sounds like it. If Richard Kadrey, Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Mike Carey, etc. are in the SFF fantasy section. That is highly aggravating. I’m aggravated, Tabitha. Don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally like PNR, but the mood I’m in when I’m feeling some PNR is a DISTINCTLY different mood than the UF mood I pretty much live in. Yes, there are similarities. They both have supernatural elements. But that’s pretty much where it ends. PNR is romance based. UF is plot/character based. PNR can also have complex plot lines and characters (and that’s the only kind of PNR I like), but it’s not really a requirement. Like you said, if you take out the paranormal aspects, PNR is basically contemporary romance. Remove the paranormal aspects from UF and you get a mystery or action novel. SAME AND NOT THE SAME.

    Personally, I don’t really care why they do it, I just want them to stop.

  4. Melanie Simmons (@mlsimmons)

    It is likely a sexist thing, but is probably better for the author as the books probably sell better in the romance aisle than in the SF/F. It is frustrating to find the book you are looking for, which is why I don’t shop at bookstores very much any more. I just order online where I can run a search and have it shipped to me. Don’t forget to look in the horror section either.
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  5. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    See, this is one advantage of online shopping. It can be shelved or tagged multiple places. But I agree, there is difference between UF that has an romance element (secondary to the plot) and PNR where the romance is the plot. And choosing only female UF authors to shelve under fantasy does seem strange.
    Lisa (@TenaciousReader) recently posted…Saga #2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona StaplesMy Profile

  6. Dragana

    I HATE when they do that in bookstores (or libraries). I get an urge to move the books to their rightful place (or at least to a place where I think they belong). lol
    I get it that they do that in bookstores because of the sales, but libraries do not have any excuse. I remember when I wanted to read Stephen King or Lord of the Rings and they sent me to childrens/teen section of the library!
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  7. Tammy @ Books Bones & Buffy

    I’ve had that same thing happen to me too. I think as bloggers we are so tuned in to what genres books really are. We talk to authors and publishers and we have much more book knowledge that the normal person who walks into a book store. Most people wouldn’t think twice about something like that, but alas, we must bear the burden of being smart bloggers;-)
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  8. Nikki

    I think it’s definitely that women authors get lumped into the PNR section. Most of the books I read with romance in them just happen to have romance as part of the plot, yet if they’re fantasy and written by a female author… they get lumped in there.
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  9. Carmel @ Rabid Reads

    I used to work at one of the larger chain bookstores here in Canada, and when we used to shelve books we’d have this barcode scanner that would tell us where to put ’em based on how head office categorized them. I didn’t often agree, but if I wanted any hope of other peeps find the novels, well I had to follow it. LOL Kelley Armstrong is shelved under horror in my local bookstore. Euummm… seriously!? NO!
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  10. Mary @ BookSwarm

    It is TOTALLY the responsibility of the bookseller to know the difference between UF and PNR. And there is a huge difference. Now, there are some books that skate the edge and can go either way, like Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vamps, but if Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series is going to be wrongly shelved in romance, then Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid damned well better be shelved over there, too. It has romance. It just happens to have a male MC and is written by a male. Is that why Hunter’s shelved in romance/PNR and Hearne’s in SFF? Maybe. Maybe it is because romance sells heavily and well. Either way, it’s annoying.
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Reviews: A Mini Swarm of Urban FantasyMy Profile

  11. Joséphine @ Word Revel

    This irks me all the time! But more so on Goodreads than in bookstores. Hahaha. I bookstores I presume that the people assigning shelf space haven’t always read the books they shelf, so they might not be aware with regards to the nuances, especially considering the burgeoning number of genres nowadays. Not everyone will be able to discern between overlapping genres. But I do find it ridiculous when paranormal and sic-fi, for instance, are interchanged.
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  12. AlyssaZ

    Now we are going to need answers, you have to back and ask the bookseller! I am sure independent and used booksellers will each shelve differently. This can be SO confusing! Does the publisher recommend where to shelve the book?
    Like a few others here, I AM suspicious that sellers are basing it on cover or gender of the author alone…this makes me so sad! But I feel like it is probably true!
    AlyssaZ recently posted…Women of the Word ReviewMy Profile

  13. Kirsty-Marie

    Probably because romance does sell more, and I do think it does depend on the book covers too. But you know, when you go into a book shop, you’re trusting them to know what they’re doing, so really, they should know the difference. Though it’s bad, I think unless you know the authors stuff anyway, everyone thinks female authors are automatically romance. :/ When I went in last time (this is not a big deal) but Richelle Meads Adult books were in the YA section, and the Chicagoland Vampires were, (and I actually like them)so come on people, stop putting them in the wrong section, especially when the YA section isn’t shelved in genres (in mine) and they were next to John Green and that’s just wrong. I go in there and I get itchy hands, makes me want to move everything back into their right place and put some order to them. They’d probably frown upon that though, even if you’re doing them a favour…
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  14. Mogsy

    I’ve been thinking, since I was the blogger friend mentioned above who theorized that maybe the bookseller did it to sell more books 😉 I think within the population it’s a small proportion of readers/bloggers/people in the industry who know the distinction, with the vast majority of the general public who either don’t know or don’t care if they are casual readers, or if they aren’t readers of those particular genres. I had an experience recently working at a book sale, where a customer came up to me with a book they got from the SFF section telling me we must have shelved it in the “wrong” place, and that it should be in Romance. I took a look at it and it was obviously (to me) a UF novel, but to someone who probably wasn’t familiar with UF/PNR, the cover did admittedly have clear romance overtones. I don’t know if it’s sexual discrimination, but it definitely is stereotyping. But then, is it the fault of the customer, or marketing at the publisher who actually created that cover? Booksellers who actually know the distinction between UF/PNR might be simply catering to their clientele’s expectations.

    But on the other hand, I could argue the onus is on booksellers to get more people in the know by actually shelving books correctly (and in case you’re wondering, I ignored that person and stuck the book back in SFF after they left 😛 )
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  15. [email protected]

    I don’t think shelving by genre is such a good idea, because sometimes books seem to fall into more categories and how do you deal with that? And then you end up with problems like this, because I always have the idea that romance is mainly targeted for females.. The same with some of my bookstores here, who clearly target YA books for children by making it look very childish.
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  16. Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook

    I’m not a huge reader of urban fantasy, so I can’t comment on what the actual genre should have been for those books. However, as a librarian, I know that it isn’t always that easy to figure out subjects of genres for books. Often they fall into a few, and we have to decide on one place to shelve it.

    When I make that decision, I always base it on, where will it go out more. I’m thinking that is what the booksellers were thinking in putting those books in the paranormal romance. Ultimately that’s what is important. That the books go out (or are bought in this case).
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Express Lane Review: The Art of Lainey by Paula StokesMy Profile

  17. Kelley (Oh, the Books!)

    OH MY GOD, I was raging after your first sentence, Tabitha. WHAT THE FUCK, man! This is clearly a case of sexual discrimination, as far as I’m concerned. I would have had a hard time not questioning the clerk further and letting him know how stupid it was and how much it bothered me. And I probably would have left without buying anything and moved on to a different store. GRRRRR.
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  18. Li

    Hey – at least your bookstore *has* a Romance section…

    I do agree that there is an (annoying) assumption that UF written by female authors is always PNR – but playing devil’s advocate slightly, it may be hard to differentiate without reading the series? I mean, Patricia Briggs writes two series, and while I place Mercy Thompson firmly in the UF camp, I think her Anna/Charles series could arguably be PNR.

  19. Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews

    I’d really be interested in getting the bookseller’s take on this. It does frustrate me that often female authors tend to get lumped into romance because of some element of romance in their stories. I agree though that to me UF has romance in the background while keeping the focus on plot and fantasy. PNR are more romance heavy in my book as well. BUT I do agree that a lot of books can be sorted into multiple different genres and sub-genres so maybe it was just their call to kind of fit it in wherever. I think because we read a lot and blog, we’re more keen on knowing where books fit in among the mix. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt here, so I guess I’m hoping they aren’t discriminating. Like I said, I’d be relly curious to get the bookseller’s take on this. Interesting discussion though ^^
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  20. fishgirl182 @ nite lite

    I have this discussion with my friends a lot. I think it can be difficult in trying to figure out where some of these books should be shelved, especially if you are not familiar with the author or genre. I have a lot of bookseller friends, too, who have issues with the way that big name stores categorize. Most of them would prefer to cross shelve though some stores don’t like this. My library’s romance and SFF section are all over the place. Not to mention that a lot of mass market paperbacks aren’t really categorized at all and are are just put in the mass market section. The worst is when they put books from the same series in different places. 🙁
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  21. Cait @ Notebook Sisters

    I still struggle with the difference between Paranormal and urban. *ducks and hides under bed* I’m trying!! I just…yes. Confusing for my teeny brain. But I HATE it when people shelve books completely wrong. My top pet peeve is my library shelving YA books as adult. I have to pay if I reserve adult books and it drives me absolutely nuts that I can’t read SO many YA books because they’ve been shelved wrong. -_- And by the time I pay for all the books I want to read…I might as well just save the money and buy books myself.
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  22. Duke

    I’m sick of seeing vampire/werewolf/urban fantasy stories in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section of the book store. Until recently, those types of stories were all in the horror section.

  23. McCallum J. Morgan

    What’s alarming is when inappropriate books somehow show up in the children’s section. It happens with movies, too. My library still has “Troy” in the ‘family’ movie section.
    You are absolutely right, genres are very definite and should be catagorized separately, but it depends on the booksellers’ space and inventory. Do they have enough room, or sell enough of a certain genre to give it a separate aisle or shelf?

  24. Danya @ Fine Print

    Honestly Tabitha, I think it’s a combination of cover artwork and sexism. Books in the Mercy Thompson series have a scantily clad, badass lady on the cover…so it must be romance. The Dresden Files have a fully dressed man shrouded in mystery wearing a floppy hat and carrying a glow-y staff…so it must be fantasy. Obviously that isn’t what I think, but SOMEONE out there clearly believes it.
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  25. Nara

    What the hell?!
    Quite honestly, that seems like blatant sexism, and it’s kind of irritating. To hell with the reasoning that “romance sells more”. That’s just bullshit. All the bookstores that I’ve been to shelve authors like Patricia Briggs and Anne Rice in the SFF section, and that’s where they should be. It’s where you’d EXPECT them to be. Ugh -_-
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  26. Wendy Darling

    Oh my gosh, I NEVER know where I’m going to find urban fantasy in a bookstore. Sometimes I see it in SFF, sometimes I see it in romance, and sometimes I’ve even seen it in horror! QUELLE HORREUR. It seems like booksellers really don’t know what to do with categorizing this genre.
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  27. Angie @Angela's Anxious Life

    I think it’s hard to get categories for everything. I do think though that if a book store was just alphabetical that would be awful too. I do remember when I worked at Barnes and Nobles once I just wanted to fix some things but of course that would be a disaster because the computer system there tells the workers exactly where to find it. So corporate would have to change that. Smaller book stores might be able to change things though.
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  28. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    It’s funny, because I know a guy who works in an indie bookstore, and I asked him the same thing! He tells me it’s because many UF/PNR books have predominant sex scenes in them, they shelf them under romance because it’ll appeal to romance readers. You ask me, they should just have the UF and PNR shelves close enough to romance so that if someone wants to read a romance they could stumble upon these genres.

    It always irks me when I can’t find the book I want under the genre I assume it’s in.
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    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      I think the ‘predominant sex scenes’ in UF books is a load of BULL!

      So any book that has a sex scene should be lumped into romance because I’m sure we could all name off a ton of normal adult books that have A single sex scene in them and that doesn’t mean they belong in PNR.

      HELL the KIM HARRISON Hollows series does not have a sex scene in ever book! The new Anne Bishop books deal with strong themes and there have been no sex scenes in them at all so far (an abuse scene but so not romance)

      Alright you’re friend has now served to tick me off at his book store LOL. That just freaking chaps by butt even more because I know for A FACT that there IS a sex scene in Jim Butcher’s newest book SKIN GAME – and would they have put THAT book in Romance – I bet they didn’t. I bet you could go there and see it shelved where it belongs.

      Oh man…I guess I’m hotter over this subject then I originally thought I was LOL.
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  29. Rachel @ Paper Cuts

    When I find books where I don’t think they really belong, I generally chalk it up to the people at the store not knowing any better. I mean, we can’t all be knowledgeable about every genre, so I give the benefit of the doubt, though sometimes I move books myself… 🙂 Hopefully, those books are shelved there just out of a lack of knowledge, or as you said, because romance maybe sells better than fantasy. I will say, I don’t read urban fantasy, but I knew where all of those author’s books belonged.

  30. Kel (Booked til Tuesday)

    It’s probably a mixture of cover judging and placing books in sections that generate the most foot traffic/sales or areas where they think interested buyers are most likely to look for them and/or pick them up if they see them; but I can understand your frustration. Sometimes I hate genre sections, especially at the library. I’d almost rather they put everything in one giant fiction section so I don’t have to look three places for one author.
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  31. Molly Mortensen

    I’d think they’d actually do worse in the romance section, because some readers don’t like a paranormal aspect. I hate it when books are ‘miss-classified.’ My local library is horrible at this.
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  32. Leah

    🙂 Bookseller here! I can’t speak for other stores, obviously, but I’ll try to shed some light on how we shelve ours.

    Until recently – as in, the past few months – Urban Fantasy and Paranormal were both categorized under Horror. You’d find Charlaine Harris and Patricia Briggs on the same shelf as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Because our shop is much smaller than big box stores, anything involving ghosts, zombies, or supernatural creatures was lumped together.

    Now that Paranormal Romance has gained popularity, we’ve made the room for it to have its own separate section, though Urban Fantasy is still a part of it.

    I’ll agree with your blogger friend (and several commenters) that romance is a large part in where its shelved. It’s a big seller and many casual readers aren’t too concerned with the details that separate urban from paranormal. With smaller shops like mine, space plays a role as well. 🙂 haha, as much as I’d love to be overly organized, we just don’t have a large enough area to break every genre down.
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  33. Emily @ Oh Magic Hour

    I totally agree with this. It drives me CRAZY! I also think it’s funny how people decide what’s YA and what’s adult. I found Half a King in the adult SF/F section today and Mistborn in YA. (I know Mistborn was rebranded that way, but still…) I feel like female writers in general are more likely to be shelved as romance for whatever reason — it’s totally crazy making!
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  34. Anya

    It does always seem to come down to sales numbers, but I can’t help but feel that sales numbers will be better when the inside of the book meets the buyers expectations! If a lover of romance driven plots buys some of these urban fantasies, they are going to be severely disappointed and maybe not take another chance on picking up a book from that section D: We have this issue at my local store currently but with books like Discovery of Witches and Kim Harrison being in the horror section instead of sci-fi/fantasy. Wha???? I’m pretty sure readers looking for spooky horror are going to be sorely disappointed, but the guy in charge of horror doesn’t want it to change because those are the best sellers in his section *sigh*
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