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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

How to Stay On-Top of Emerging Genres?

I have spent a lot of time this year focused on helping librarians navigate the slippery slope that is genre.

Here is a 90 minute recording of my genre webinar which I gave for RAILS last month. It is a quick overview of working with genre readers entitled “Demystifying Genre.” This is merely an introduction, but it does get you started down a path where you can create your own genre training plan, tailored to your needs.

That is one of my goals as a hands on, practical RA trainer.  I want to leave you with enough information to learn something new, but my ultimate goal is to give you the tools and the enthusiasm to continue training yourself.

However, one area that this training does not cover is the world of emerging genres. You know what I mean, these genres, like erotica or Nordic Noir from a couple of years back, that go from being niche with only a few readers to having a huge popular explosion.

The problem with emerging genres is that they are brand new. The resources, if there are any, are few and far between. Our goal is to help readers who are enjoying a new emerging type of story find other books which they will also enjoy. So here are some tips to help you to stay on top of these emerging genres.

First, listen to your readers. [This should always be your first step, by the way.] Again, let’s take the erotica influx with Fifty Shades of Grey as our example here. The first patrons who started coming in were hard core erotic romance fans. The popularity of this title made them brave enough to step out of the shadows and ask the library for more racy reads. But then we started getting readers who barely even read romance, had read it because of its popularity, and now wanted more books to read, I really had to listen to what they liked about Fifty Shades before recommending more. Some of them definitely wanted to read more erotica, while others wanted more romance in general, and still others simply wanted to read the “hot book,” no matter what genre it was in. The point here is that it is easy to get swept up into the wave that an emerging genre creates.  So listen to your patrons and make sure you are handling their needs and not simply being swept up in the emerging genre tide.

Second, go to the source material. As a new niche area begins making itself known to you through multiple requests, start using what you have heard by listening to patrons to start building your knowledge base.  Of course when a genre is truly emerging, there are no specific resources to help you, but you can go to the source material to get your bearings. For example, when Nordic Noir emerged as a genre out of nowhere, we used resources for crime fiction that focused on noir to refresh ourselves on the larger context and then supplemented that with what we were seeing in the specific nordic noir titles our patrons were reading. Do not underestimate how helpful it can be to look to the overarching genre for guidance because these niches don’t spring out of nowhere. They are based on something that came before, and understanding the foundation will help you to help patrons better. It will also focus you as your conduct the RA conversation with readers. You will know the larger context of what makes something Noir and can ask the right kind of questions. For instance in Noir in the protagonist is usually self destructive [as is also the case in the Nordic variety]. So when helping Nordic Noir fans as the genre was emerging, I asked, what did you think about the protagonist? Did you mind how self-destructive he/she could be? Usually the reader said that this was of interest to them in future titles, even more so than a Nordic setting. Finding more titles was easy because I went to the source of the niche’s appeal.

Third, go read some reviews by actual readers. Often the problem for us, the library worker, as a genre emerges is that we do not have professional resources to turn to for help. But, if a new genre emerges you can bet on the fact that there are hundreds of reader comments on Goodreads and/or fan blogs already up an running with reviews and options by the time you have first heard about it.  Of course I know that none of these are unbiased, professional resources, but when we are working with passionate readers, unbiased is not the issue.  We want to gather as many opinions by people who are loving this new area. What titles are fans labelling with the new genre? What are they enjoying about it most? I love following new trends through the eyes of readers and Goodreads makes it so easy. I can feel their passion and channel it to help the reader in front of me find a great read.

This plan should work for any emerging genre. There is no way anyone can predict which reading niche areas will break out into the next hot genre, so don’t waste your time prognosticating.  Instead, use this plan to address any emerging genre as it pops up. It will work in all instances, at least long enough for more traditional resources [like NoveList] to catch up. 

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