The problem with labels


Welcome to my new “Problem-Solving in a Cyber World” blog which I have created largely to keep my mind active as I enter what some might refer to as my retirement years (I refuse to refer to myself as being “retired”).  My intent in this blog over the coming weeks and months is to raise some interesting questions and pose some possible answers to challenges many of us face in today’s fast-paced data-driven interconnected internet-of-things world.

Challenges I hope to tackle in coming blogs include privacy, security, artificial intelligence, medical/ethical issues along with a number of simple ideas that have nothing at all to do with technology and remain invariant through all forms of change.

I am kicking off the blog coincident with the release of my first fictional book (I have also taken up fiction writing in my “retirement years”).  And in this blog I want to share a problem I faced (and how I am solving it) in communicating to potential readers just what the book is about.

So here is the problem.

A potential publisher of my book recently asked me what category is my book?  I had to admit I had trouble answering this question because when I wrote it I wasn’t thinking of any specific category.

My first thought was that it must be science fiction because some things happen in the book that are certainly beyond what is possible in today’s world.

Then I was asked who is the intended audience for my book? Adults, children, young adults?  Again, I struggled with this question.

I thought at first it must be young adults because most of the main characters are teenagers, but that answer didn’t feel right because there is also a 52 year old main character and I never intended to limit my readers to a single group when I was writing the book.

I asked a friend to read an early draft of the book, and as soon as I mentioned it was science fiction they replied,

“Oh, I don’t read science fiction.”

What struck me at this point was the problem with labels.

As soon as we slap a label on something, many people immediately turn off thinking they know what it is. This problem isn’t just with book categories and audiences. You can see it everywhere in the world we live in today. The far right, the far left, liberal, conservative, republican, democrat.

If you listen to much news today you probably think that the people in the United States are more deeply divided than ever before. But I have good friends who you could slap many of those labels on, yet I have found when you just ignore the label and spend a little time talking you find most people’s ideas aren’t so different from your own.

I had started to conclude that I had created a big problem by not thinking about my audience and the category of my book before writing it.  If you decide to write a book and you go the route of using a big publishing house you will need to answer these label questions because they are essential in how big publishers go about marketing their books to their “target audiences”.

But I have decided I don’t want to market my book to just a certain “target audience” because I didn’t write it for just a certain “target audience”.  I wrote a story. It is the story I wanted to tell. In future blogs I will tell you more about what motivated me to write this story and what it is about.

Why do I need to label my book and my audience?  As soon as we label something we shut down the minds of many people and we start building fences.  Why would I want to do that?  My book is just a story and I wrote it for people like you and me.

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