Earlier this year, Nevena wrote about how to choose a genre on Book Country. I wanted to expand on why genre matters, and how finding the right genre makes a difference in getting your book into the hands of readers who want to find your book.
We’ve talked about how once writers choose a genre (or a genre chooses you), it becomes a home. It’s where writers spend days and nights creating characters and stories for the world to embrace. Your genre is the country filled with people who want to read and write what you do.
It’s important to decide where your book fits early in the process. Otherwise, you might get stuck describing your book as a hyphen between a western-romance-mystery-literary-fiction-with-some-vampires and a chase scene, and it’s a lot like 50 Shades meets Harry Potter meets Twilight meets The Help with a protagonist a lot like Holden Caulfield, and set in 28th century France.
Here’s why your genre matters: stores, whether it’s the lovely independent on your street or Amazon, need to classify your book so they can sell it to just the right audience. Please don’t say that the audience for your book is everyone — that’s lazy and untrue. If you’re a romance writer, for example, you know there’s a big difference between the way a contemporary is written compared to a Regency. Just like you’re trying to find other like-minded writers on Book Country, retailers want to introduce your book to like-minded readers (who have expectations of what you’ll bring to the page based on the genre you selected).
Here’s how the book industry gets books on the right shelf: we use tags called BISAC codes. There are thousands of them, and they range from the broad (Fiction/ General) to the specific (Fiction/Romance/Regency).
Every book is categorized with these codes. It’s important to select the most granular category that corresponds to your book because those are the readers who can’t wait to be introduced to the story you have to tell.
(If this really interests you, take a look at the full list. You can see that each code has a number and corresponding literary categories, listed from broadest to most specific. Regency romance, for example, looks like this: FIC027070 FICTION / Romance / Historical / Regency.)
A traditional publisher will make decisions about the best category for your book, but if you’re self-publishing, you really need to do your homework. You need a category to land on the right book shelf, both physical and electronic. The difference between the right shelf and the wrong one is crucial to a book’s success or failure.
Examine your book carefully. Compare it to others in that genre.Go to the bookstore and look around. Find the section where you think your book could fit. Look at the other titles. Examine the book cover and the copy on the back of the book, thinking about everything from the colors and imagery to the way the book is described. Would you package your book this way? If there are other people in the section, ask yourself: are these the type of readers who you imagine for your book?
Your answers will help you determine if your book is the right fit for that genre. If it’s not, go to a new section where you think your book could fit and try the same exercise again. Keep doing this until you find books that are similar to yours. Then, buy them. Read them.
Why are they similar? How are they different? What books resonate with you? Why? Start to notice the more nuanced items that define the genre. Look at the pace, the thrust of the story, if it’s character or plot driven, where the story’s defining moments happen, even the book’s length will give you clues.
Look at online bookstores. How are books being grouped together at the genre and sub genre level? Where would you expect to be? Pay attention to the book’s similar titles, as well as the different categories where the book is selling. (Those are clues for placing in your keyword section once you’ve found your genre and are ready to publish.) Ask yourself: Is my book like this? Does it belong here?
When the answer is yes and yes, that’s when you’ve found your genre and the right shelf for your book.
You also might like: The Back Cover Synopsis: Writing Your “About the Book” with Copywriter Carly Hoogendyk.