Labels in Book Marketing: Advantages & Pitfalls – Part III
It’s the final part of my 3-day exploration into labels in book marketing! Welcome back! (ETA: And sorry about the misfired posting this morning! That post has been replaced with this one, which has the complete post! Thanks for sticking with me!)
In Part I, we took a look at Rape/Non-Con/Dubious Consent labels, and Part II was all about Incest/Pseudo-Incest/Twincest labels. Today, we’ll cover elements of reader expectation, labels as spoilers, and a third set of hot-button labels in the erotica and erotic romance genres. As always, these are just a few thoughts of mine on the subject, and I’m sure everyone has their own opinions, some of which will be very strong. I’m happy to hear others’ opinions in the comments, but please remember to keep things civil and professional. (Also, you can let me know if you liked this multi-part kind of blog post from me. It was an unexpected detour from what I’d planned, so I hope everyone’s enjoying the ride!) Onward!
Bestiality vs Furries vs Shifters
Another set of labels that everyone likes to pull out when preaching about obscenity, people often confuse the differences between bestiality, furries, and shifters. To those outside the publisher/author/reader relationship, the terms might seem synonymous, but they really, really aren’t! Bestiality, of course, is having sexual relations with animals, and while it does occasionally happen in erotica, you really don’t see John having a love affair with his dog Fido much.
In erotica, we tend to take that little leap from animal to furry, which I usually define as anthropomorphized animals. They are sentient and exhibit many human-like characteristics, but there is the middle ground of their appearance being anywhere along a range of nearly-completely-animal to almost-human-but-not-quite. Every author tackles furries differently. Some might do what one of my artsy college friends often drew and give animalistic characters full-on muzzles but human expressions and the ability to speak (despite anatomical differences), while others veer more toward humanity with their furries, which is what Storm Moon Press’ Nathie did with the cover art to the Wild Passions anthology, giving humans a couple feral characteristics.
When it comes to marketing, which approach is better? Now, that’s a very difficult question, but through the many layers you have to dig through, what it usually comes down to for me is target audience. Who are you trying to sell the book to? If you’re trying to tap into the anthro market but still appeal to the casual reader who might stumble upon the title and give it a go because it’s close enough to mainstream. Once you determine the range of your target audience, then you can set to getting a great cover that will reflect the contents of the book. This is one of those times when drawn covers (by hand or digitally drawn) really are the way to go, because the cover you put on the book sets that initial reader expectation. If they see muzzles and ears and tails like the book covers drawn by Blotch, then you’re definitely setting things up to be closer to the animal side of the spectrum, and in some cases, the outsider will be more apt to mistakenly identify it as bestiality. Reader expectation is a powerful thing, so always try to accurately present your work and have it marketed properly so no one can rightfully claim that you’ve bait-and-switched them!
Another label that makes things a bit more difficult is shifter fiction. Again, this can cover a broad range of ideas and concepts, but by and large it means characters shift from their fully humanoid form (see what I did to allow for science fiction themes there? XD) to some sort of animal form. The most common of these, of course, is werewolves, but you can have weretigers (like I did in my short story The Fire of Her Eyes) or any number of other permutations.
There is also the added facet that some shifters have half-forms, which are closer to the anthropomorphism/furry scheme of things. When you bring sex into stories with these sorts of characters, you’re taking advantage of many shades of gray. Shades of gray tend to make more people uncomfortable, because it makes that inner compartmentalization hitch up. This is why a lot of publishers will often warn for half-shifted sexual content. That brings up another point of interest, though, which is the way labels themselves can sometimes become spoilers to the story. If you label something that is supposed to be a surprise throughout the storyline in order to warn readers for what might be objectionable content (for some), then you’ve just taken the surprise right out of it! You have to work with your publisher to decide which warnings might give away too integral of a plot twist for your story. An example that calls back to Part 1 of Labels in Book Marketing, is that you wouldn’t want to warn that a story was a BDSM rape-fantasy role-play story if the whole point was to trick the reader at first into thinking it was really happening to the character playing the victim. If you then have the twist that it had all been consented to the entire time, that they were just acting out their roles for the shared thrill of it, then it takes all the fun out of it to spoil everything in the labeling of the piece itself.
To try to bring this short little series of blog posts to a close, let’s just say that labels are fraught with difficulties! You may ask yourself why we even bother using them, if they’re so problematic, but what it comes down to is trying to find the balance between being courteous and helpful to readers who might be looking for something more specific than what can be found under a broad genre title like Fantasy or Contemporary… and not spoiling the story or getting yourself into a position where you might be baiting readers, and then giving them content that is far removed from their expectations.
I hope everyone has found these posts interesting, and perhaps a little informative! If you as a reader or author have been in a situation where you feel the stories you read or write have been massively misrepresented with labels, I’d love for you to share! Opinions are welcome!