Stick out your tongue and you will get some idea of what has been happening in the book business. Ten thousand taste buds combined with various chemical reactions elsewhere in the body send taste signals to your brain.
With the tsunami of e-books where traditional and self-published writers are beefing up reading choices to astounding levels, the book business has become a competing stew of infinite taste sensations that are offered up increasingly sliced and diced, and composed for an increasing segmented reading public.
In the fiction area alone, which is my particular interest, it is almost impossible to count the myriad of categories being offered to the reading public. Deciphering the current situation is in order as the vast reading public searches the seemingly endless book bins on offer.
In general, fiction falls into some well-established traditional genre definitions like Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Graphic, Western, Young Adult and Children.
There are others as well, particularly the ambiguous definition of what constitutes the so-called "serious" novel, some of that category falling into the netherworld of what constitutes "literary" fiction.
In romance fiction alone, the formula categories are a gaggle of defined boundaries such as Contemporary Series, Contemporary Single Title, Historical, Inspirational, Strong Romantic Interest, Paranormal, Regency, Suspense, Young Adult and Erotica. Romance writers tailor their work to fit these categories and readers find their branded favorites based on their individual tastes among them.
There are numerous conferences and workshops designed to teach aspiring writers how to fashion these works and to provide meeting opportunities to bring together readers and writers. It is quite a brilliant marketing ploy since romance fiction occupies a very strong position in the buying pyramid, and it has been copied and re-applied to other categories.
In the Mystery category, there is a similar pattern with numerous differentiations e.g. Cozy, Amateur Sleuth, Professional Sleuth, Police Procedural, Legal/Medical, Suspense, Romance Suspense, Historical, Mixed Genre, Sci-fi Mystery, Private Eye, Caper and others. It would take pages to explain and define them.
It is equally true in science fiction, which has numerous categories that are constantly being upgraded as the real world and science fiction impact each other and further expand the vision of the future. It is a genre of infinite scenarios being played out by imaginative authors for all ages and genders.
In the fantasy category, stories fall under headings like Epic, Heroic, Anthropomorphic (animal characters), Historical, Mythical, Humorous, Non-Western Tradition, Science, Dark and Romantic. There are subcategories as well in Vampire and Zombie fiction, and readers are equally discriminating in the way their tastes are parsed.
Many authors skew their stories to a series approach, attempting to "hook" a reader to a character or characters to keep readers engaged, and sales perking. This strategy is best exemplified by James Patterson, Clive Cussler and others branding their authorial name in a continuing series, thus creating a kind of book "factory" that churns out products on multiple platforms, a highly lucrative endeavor. Many of these factory works are written by ghostwriters or are sometimes credited in association with the originating author who owns the rights to his characters. It is a long-practiced process that harks back to the days of Alexander Dumas and the heyday of serial books for boys and girls in the twenties and thirties.
We have come a long way from the manner in which adult reading tastes were determined a few decades ago. Nevertheless, the categories mentioned are at the heart of the commercial publishing industry as it now exists, even as we bear with the revolutionary technological changes in the publishing arena.
It is in the field of the stand-alone novel where the confusion often exists between what really defines the work as being literary or commercial. It has always baffled me as both a reader and a writer.
Some authors, like Graham Greene, have articulated a personal philosophy identifying their novels as either deliberately written "entertainments" or what they consider serious literature. Those of us who cut our teeth and fell in love with this type of novel will know what I mean and I am sure they are as confused as I am in trying to come up with an accurate differentiation.
Where is the dividing line? Does a popular stand-alone novel disqualify it from being literary? Does a novel that is well written, suspenseful and interesting, but not a big seller become a likely candidate for being defined as a literary novel and therefore, only to be read by people of 'highly refined' tastes?
It has always been a bit of a conundrum. Was Dickens a literary novelist? Would Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner make the grade as literary novelists in today's popular culture? Would they sell in today's stuffed inventory of genre novels?
Do those who come out of college with degrees in English Literature, for example, and are taught to define "literature" based on the standards of works that have stood the test of time, find real satisfaction in the contemporary choices currently offered? Or has the art of reading been vulgarized by a popular culture that downgrades or ignores the works of those novelists that I have cited?
My hope is, of course, that there are those who will seriously wade through the tsunami of reading material and find those artful novels that move us to contemplate our planet and its inhabitants and bring us closer to the truth of our existence.