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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Call to Action: Formats Are Not Genres

I always think this is obvious, but alas, I am often reminded that not everyone knows this basic info so I will repeat it clearly today:
  • Graphic Novels and or Comics are not a genre 
  • Audio Books are not a genre.
  • eBooks are not a genre 
Each is a FORMAT, a way in which a story is arranged and presented that is different from a traditional prose book.

Graphic novels/comics use picture and words to tell their story. Audio books are a reading of any kind of story. eBooks are digitized versions of a story that must be read on and electronic device of some type.

Every single one of these FORMATS can be used to tell a story in ANY GENRE, fiction and nonfiction. In the case of eBooks, you can even have a double format in any genre as it could be a digital graphic novel or comic. These formats are used to tell stories in every genre. You pick a genre and a format as a reader. 

I know you all know this when you think about it. I know you are not dumb. And yet, all of the time I see and hear people talking about these formats like they are genres, as if every reader who wants a graphic novel is looking for the same type of read. They are not.

The story itself, the feel of it, the general genre outlines which dictate the type of storytelling, all of this is independent of the format in which the story unfolds. 

Readers need to pick a genre and a format. Just because we think printed novels are the default does not mean that is so for every reader. 

Now, there are definitely issues relating to format that can make one preferred over another at different times for different readers.  Let’s take myself for example. When it comes to audio books, I prefer to read nonfiction, mysteries, and long literary fiction, and science fiction in audio. I cannot articulate exactly why this is the case and I am not exclusive in only listening to these genres, nor do I never read these genres in a paper book [except maybe traditional mysteries; I pretty much only do those on audio], but when I am looking for audio, these are the genres I prefer.

But that is me. See how complicated I am. And I understand myself as a reader because it is literally my job to analyze myself. Now multiple this time every single patron who walks through our doors and add the fact that our readers aren’t thinking about their own reading preferences as specifically when it comes to genre, let alone format, and this is where problems occur.

Here is another story to showcase this point from a different angle. Back in 2013 my book club really wanted to try a Graphic Novel. They were intrigued by the format,  but were overwhelmed by the shear number of choices.  They thought that if we picked the title together and I was helping them through it, allowing them to discuss it and adding some of my expertise along they way, that they would have a better experience. I made them an annotated list of graphic novels in a variety of genres, both fiction and nonfiction that weren’t superhero based. Before I even started explaining how artists draw in different styles, I reminded them that they needed to also consider genre. To my surprise, none of them realized that “graphic novels” wasn’t a genre classification.

Now these are well educated women who read in every genre. They read diversely and internationally. I had trained them to think about their personal appeal preferences and analyze what they were looking for each time they reached for a new book. They were “smart” readers and even they were mixing up format and genre.

Eventually, we decided that since they all tended to enjoy memoir as a genre both personally and in book club, that we would chose a memoir in graphic form. The deciding factor for them was that if they picked a graphic memoir that was written and drawn by the author they could also more easily discuss the pictures as an extension of the story this person was crafting about themselves. In other words, we thought about genre and format in making our decision.

We chose Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and you can read how the discussion went here.

I am happy to say, that a few of those ladies have gone on to read more graphic novels since then, and one even thanked me a few years later for making her think about graphic novels as a format only. She has sought out other stories and genres in this format because of our work together.

The moral today is that we all need to be more aware of the fact that we need to help our readers navigate to the correct story for them while also educating them about the fact that they can enjoy those stories in a variety of formats. Don’t assume that our patrons understand that format is NOT the same as genre, even the savvy ones. Heck, even we forget sometimes.

Please don’t forget to offer other formats and not only when the print book is checked out. Yes, I know that many people are first introduced to audio books or eBooks when the print version they wanted is checked out, and I know many of these readers then end up seeking out these formats on their own after that, but format recommendations should not be for emergencies only. Nor should they be for vacation only. Format can be a first choice, but only if we remember to offer and explain the full range of choices.

If our patrons knew more about their choices, if we had conversations about both the type of story they are looking for AND the way in which it is presented to them, we would not only make ourselves more useful to our patrons, but they will be more satisfied with both their service and the stories they find with our help.

And it all starts with my friendly reminder that Formats are not Genre.

For past Call to Action posts, click here.

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