Through Gritted Teeth

Is anyone out there still reading this never-ending story?- perhaps only those trying like us to set up a very interactive website with emails and skype session between two countries. Be warned.

It all started innocently with book subject categories being generated by Thorpe Bowker and put in both the authorform and the authorstore. I was distracted, I admit, with other problems, and waved it through. Oh, dear. Fiction authors began to complain: if you write non-genre fiction, what category can you possibly fit your book into? Is it humorous?– well, if you like my jokes- is it adventurous- well, you’d hope every book is an adventure.

Traditional publishers put writers like me into an embarrassing category: “literary fiction”. Who in the world is seen in front of bookshelves burdened by that? None of my family, to start with…not that they read books, especially mine.

When my dear friends asked why I was obsessing about this, I simply asked them to categorize their own books according the Thorpe Bowker formulae. Were they Adventurous, Humorous, Tragic? No more need be said.

But a lot more had to be said. Our solution: what’s wrong with Fiction. General Fiction. Put all non-genre fiction, non children’s fiction or non young adults fiction there. After all, I and many like me model our books on the authors we love in the classics. Madame Bovary (except for its ending) Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, Washington Square, Marcus Clark, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Margeurite Duras, and nearly all of Somerset Maughan, who I binged on last year, after coming across Of Human Bondage at a St Vinnies store.

I made lists of acceptable fiction and non-fiction genres. I carefully included “other” in my lists for both fiction and non-fiction in case of something that hasn’t yet been invented.

Easy.

And non-fiction? And what’s important in non-fiction- websites ask questions like that because they’re about spacing and font size. Are non-fiction categories of memoir and biography bigger font than, say, mathematics? there’s no objectivity anywhere.

But what fiction genres? I made a list, another list, another excitedly remembering Mashups and Fan Fiction, and then, outside of genre fiction, the real reason I began this e publishing saga in the first place….one of the main reasons, anyway ….a category of writing that defies categories! Going into unchartered territory! Writing that traditional publishing had to reject because it’s too radical, because bookshops don’t have a shelf for it…. We don’t know what we don’t know..

Other.

Easy.

However, in India, it wasn’t. A snapshot of my lists were sent back to me. The only way my list could be achieved by the machines was alphabetically. So “other’ MUST go between N and P,

eg
Nature
Other
Philosophy

and under Drama:

Other
Screenplays
Stage Plays

And , of course:

Children’s fiction
General fiction
Other
Young Adults’ fiction

Many pleading emails followed. but machines are machines. I got desperate:

“The order matters HUGELY.It’s how all bookbuyers, readers and authors have been taught to think by the Dewey method. We’ve all been brought up on the Dewey method, it’s deeply inculcated in us. We CANNOT turn that upside-down, just because the system makes things alphabetical.

Are you faint of heart? This is not a task for the faint-hearted.

But my heart grew faint. More emails brought more mistakes. I seemed to be talking at cross purposes with India, and each time I looked at the list, there was some imperection. I called Bem, who mentioned she could speak in Hindi if needed. But even at that late stage, she found imperfections that were my fault- sometimes I’d used “and” and sometimes &, and some of my capitalization was inconsistent. I must be the most inconsistent person anyone knows. We worked it out together on the phone, and it so helped having another eye on it, a more disciplined eye.

We’ve agreed on what’s perfection, and she’s going to Skype. If it goes through as we hope, you can be the judge.
PS: Two months late, I find that I forgot the category most important to me: literature.
More pleading emails followed.
I’m not very good at this.