About Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson founded WordServe Literary in 2003. More importantly, I'm the husband of Becky, father to Troy and Drew, stepfather to four, and grandfather to five grandsons. In previous years, I've been a Campus Life leader (10 years), Breakaway magazine editor (5 years), author or coauthor of 21 books. But for the last 18 years, I've been a literary agent privileged to work with a great family of authors and staff trying to make a dent for the Kingdom.

20 Reasons Books Don’t Sell (Part 2)

stock-624712_640You can catch part one from Monday here on the Watercooler. Feeling discouraged yet? You’re not the only one trying to make a go of it in publishing and it’s a tough business, but my post isn’t over yet, and I hope you’ll find some room to breathe by the end of this post. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

10:The book is poorly written. You didn’t get a good edit. This is more common with independently-published authors who don’t pay for developmental or copy edits, but not unheard of in traditional publishing.

11: All we hear is crickets. The book never got word of mouth or enough great reviews (50+). There is no tangible buzz about you as an author or the book. Like a movie that no one talks about will sink after week two, the same is nearly true with books. Most books can sell 3,000 to 5,000 copies with little buzz. But if a book has sold more than 10,000 copies, it’s because people are talking.

12: Publisher oversight. The ebook didn’t release simultaneously—and in effect the marketing and PR upon the book’s initial release went to naught – without the e-product available “on the shelves” during the launch. Years ago, one marketing director I was dealing with didn’t know Facebook could be used to promote a book (luckily his PR person did). While gross incompetence is rare, mistakes happen out of the control of the author or agent.

13: A book was written and it should have been an article. We’ve all read books that were all but over after chapter 4. The story was predictable or the points over-used. Yes, there is nothing new under the sun, but try to make sure you’re conveying content that you can’t get in a few blogs.

14: One careless word. The book had a swear word in it so Lifeway wouldn’t carry it. This happens a fair amount of times because authors insist that profanity makes it more “real” (which it might) and they’d rather sacrifice sales than not be real. As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for you?” If you want to play in certain sandboxes, you have to play by the sandbox’s rules. Sorry.

15: Setting and storyline. If it’s fiction, having a setting outside of America, England or Ireland. “Because I love Russia (or Africa or Thailand)” just plain rarely sells well in America. Or having a storyline that is not entertaining—and very hard—to read (i.e. child abuse, sexual abuse, deaths of key characters).

16: Changing reading habits. People don’t read as much as they used to. Or if they do, it’s blogs and articles that are free on the web. More true with nonfiction readers. The attention span of today’s internet-soaked reader has shortened radically.

17: Cheap buyers. People are waiting around for the free or cheap ebook that comes out a year later instead of spending $10 to $20 on a new book they know they will get eventually and pay less (or nothing) for. Also, the proliferation of self-pub’d books that have a lower price tag has put a dent in a traditional author’s sales.

18: Life happened. Something happened in the author’s life so that all of their well-laid plans to launch and promote their book flew out the window. Or it happened to the in-house PR person’s life. Or the outside PR person’s life. Or the agent’s life. Or their famous author friends’ lives. “Life happens” all the time, and I’ve seen more than a few books sink because cancer or a death occurred in the family of some key person trying to make the book a success.

19: Book retail has gone bye-bye. If you’re a Christian writer, the lack of stores to sell into can certainly be one place to put the blame. When I first started as an agent 21 years ago, there were 6,500 Christian bookstores. Now there are about 1,000. So . . . “no one walks into Christian bookstores anymore” is fairly true.

20: The industry. Frankly, publishing is hard. Every publishing house is working harder for less money. Every editor, marketing and PR person, sales person . . . is overloaded with work because margins are thin. If there is a “new normal” that will get us back to center in publishing, it hasn’t happened yet.

These 20 reasons, and likely a few others, would all not count a twit if people could just find out about the new books they want to read. Agents and editors are still finding great stories, fabulous writers and motivated publishers. The problem? Creating awareness for these great books! Retail continues to shrink, magazines are all but gone, and with over 100,000 new bloggers (on WordPress alone) starting blogs every day, it’s only a matter of time before most of us are tuning out all of the content coming into our inbox (if we haven’t already). How will people start finding out about all of these good books?

The newest and biggest elephant in the publishing room is this:  How, with the demise of print media and bookstores, do we find and target regular book-buying readers who are interested in a particular genre and book topic?

Faithhappenings.com was created to help answer this question. FaithHappenings offers the following unique benefits to authors, publishers and reader-consumers:

  • When a member checks specific boxes on their preferences, it will send readers an email when a new book comes out in any genre they enjoy and buy.
  • FaithHappenings also lists music and videos, independently published books and music, local events of every type, scripture, blogs, devotionals and much more… and all a member has to do is check a box to find out about them. It only takes three minutes to fill out a profile, and it is free to do so.

Check out www.faithhappenings.com. There are 454 local websites that carry local and national info, with a big emphasis on books!

20 Reasons Books Don’t Sell (Part 1)

books-21849_640When your book doesn’t move off the shelves or Amazon warehouses in vast quantities, our first tendency is to point fingers. There is something deep in the human psyche that needs to blame someone when hopes, dreams and plans don’t work out. Publishers blame authors, authors blame publishers (or oddly enough, their agents), retail might blame marketing.

The truth is, there will never be one reason why a particular book doesn’t sell. All any of us—author, publisher, agent, retail partner—can do is look in the mirror and ask, “Did I personally do all I could to help the process?” The other truth is, everyone who invests time in writing, agenting, editing, packaging, marketing, publishing, and selling a book wants the book to turn a profit.  We all want books to sell . . . every single book! Otherwise, none of us could stay in business.  So let’s disabuse ourselves of mistrusting motives of the key people trying to help our book—everyone wants to stay in business!

So why don’t books sell? It’s usually not because of a lack of desire, or effort, or skill, or hope, or prayer… it’s a myriad of tangible and intangible factors. Some an author can control, some a publisher can, and many are outside the control of anyone.

Welcome to the world of publishing in the 2010s. Times… they have changed. So what are the reasons a good book may not have great sales?

  1. Hundreds of books have been scuttled because a war or national tragedy took center stage right when a book releases. Suddenly, all of the great PR efforts and TV interviews set up get pre-empted, never to be rescheduled because everyone has moved onto the newest front list of books to promote.
  2. A bad package. It doesn’t happen too often these days; publishers like to make authors/agents happy. But cover designs do sell—or not sell—books. A great title that screams “must read,” a subtitle that grabs, back cover copy that says, “keep looking,” engaging table of contents, endorsements or a foreword by someone of note, a compelling first few pages… these are a few factors that can turn a book browser into a buyer.
  3. Champions leave. With uncertainty in the industry and publisher entrenchment these last five years, editors have been leaving or moving to different jobs at an enormous clip. Without an in-house champion to keep the book on track, details often fall through the cracks no matter who is following up. New editors must inherit projects, but if they didn’t acquire them, sometimes those books get treated like the red-headed step-child.
  4. Marketing/PR failures. A publisher had no effective marketing plan, or didn’t work their marketing plan no matter the agent effort or follow up. The truth is, the 80/20 principle is truer in publishing than likely anywhere else. Eighty percent of their marketing money goes to 20% of their books, because 80% of their income comes from 20% of their books. A huge fact of life in a very tough publishing environment. Sadly, these days, it may even be 90/10.
  5. Author ambivalence. An author decided they’d let others do the heavy lifting in creating awareness about the book. The writer took the attitude that “Everyone, other than me, should tell the world about my book—because I don’t want to be seen as commercializing anything; I’m above that.” Or, “God has called me to write, not to market my writing.” Or, “I’m busy writing my next book. I don’t have time.” Or, “I’m just not good at pushing my own stuff.” Spiritualizing or tossing out excuses about your inactivity likely means one thing in today’s book culture: a short writing career. God will more often “bless” hard and smart work. If you don’t believe in your work enough to champion it, rethink book publishing. Or, perhaps become a collaborator, you can write and not have to worry about promotion.
  6. Author platform. Ah yes, the scourge of authors everywhere. If you haven’t built enough potential readers into your sphere of influence through blogging, speaking, radio or social networking, publishers will just often say, “We can’t help you.” Why? See reason 20.
  7. Friendship failure. An author’s famous friends (the ones your proposal said were on board) who promised to blog, tweet and Facebook about it forgot, or got too busy, or finally read your book and didn’t like it, or have been doing too much of it for every other author friend they have and are just tired of filling their social networking space crowing about someone else’s product (when they have their own to PR).
  8. Small target audience. The book doesn’t meet a broad enough felt need. Niche books used to have a chance. These days they often do not.
  9. Topic overpopulated. The book has been done a million ways from Sunday and there is just too much competition on the subject.

Not all is as discouraging as this post might have started out—and how you might be thinking. I’ll continue my post on Wednesday with further analysis, but also a bit of hope that I hope will help shift the publishing paradigm and eventually change how we as authors, publishers and agents approach the industry.

A New Resource for Your Platform

My right pointer finger was getting sore. Why? I had smashed the delete button on my computer to that “not for us” email from another editor on a book proposal they said they wanted, and one I really believed in.

And my thumb had a bruise. I had pressed “end call” on another kind phone rejection for a project everyone had said they were really excited about.

Yelling from my office to my at-the-time assistant Jason, “If I hear, ‘the author doesn’t have enough Facebook friends’ again I’m going to scream. Really?! Mark Zuckerburg is determining what Christian publishers publish now? Is that what this industry has come to?”

It’s not that I didn’t know social networking results weren’t the first questions out of editor’s mouths (yes, before passion, craft and story). I’d been hearing it for a few years. And my authors were working it! Dozens of authors trying to build their platform with Fan pages, Twitter, blogs, guest blogging, guest Tweeting, personal messages, Pinterest posting.

Noise, noise and more noise.

Yes, it was working for a few superstars who hit the blogging thing at the right moment with the right content. But now there was just the tsunami of words in everyone’s inbox. I kept thinking, Certainly we’re getting close to a tipping point where most people are just going to delete everything that comes in.

I felt bad for my authors; felt bad for the editors and marketing directors who couldn’t buy a book anymore just because they loved it. And I felt like something had to be done to help my authors out with their platforms. Perhaps there is something I could do…

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

FH Logo - approved 0714That was about 18 months ago. And my life has totally changed.

What once was a staid but exciting “work from home” literary agency has turned into a literary agency AND this huge potential of a marketing vehicle called www.faithhappenings.com. I now have 454 local websites with national content populated everywhere and local content being slowly added week-by week.

What I hoped would help my authors get the word out on their great books to people who aren’t walking into Christian bookstores anymore, has turned into something a bit larger.

YOUR COMPLETE, TAILORED, FAITH RESOURCE.

I felt a broadly-based Christian website that served people locally would not only help readers bump into books, bloggers, and speakers quite a bit more, but might also make a dent for the Kingdom in ways no website has before. I wanted the site to be able to hold anything and everything—locally and nationally–that was “soul-enriching,” “marriage-enriching,” “family-enriching,” and “church-enriching.”

So we launched June 6th, and now have this membership-free-to-everyone national website that has completely automated your ability to find out about:

  • Events in your area (concerts, speakers, conferences, fundraisers, author events)
  • Products that release from publishers, self-published authors, music, indie music, audiobooks, videos—in 80 different categories. Simply check a box on what you want to hear about when it releases, and you get an email once a week. Never miss a new release in your favorite genre again!
  • Daily Scripture, devotional content (including video), blogs, personality profiles, “resource specials of the day” and much, much more.

If you’re an author, speaker or blogger, the site is made for you. If you’re doing an author event for free, my space is free. You just fill out this quick-and-easy template.

If you want to get the word out on your blog, we can do that.

If you want to speak more in your local area and the areas surrounding you, our site can advertise you as a speaker, but also any and all local speaking events open to the public.

If you have a self-published book and wonder how people will find out about it beyond your social media universe, we can help.

And if you want to offer your product as a special of the day to create awareness about it, we have a daily “Resources of the Day” (25/day max) to help get the word out.

Throw in about two dozen other local and national features and you have a site with the potential to make it so you never have to Google anything local and faith-based again. It will all be there in one website. Your Complete, Tailored, Faith Resource.

So I invite you to go to www.faithhappenings.com, sign up in your local area, and then look around.

And if you like the site and feel like you could perhaps help us out, we’re looking for a few thousand people for paid and commission-based sales positions:

  1. Affiliate Partners: Are you an author/blogger/speaker who has worked hard at building a platform? Then instead of just asking you to do us a favor by spreading the word, we’ve created a way for you to make money by helping us find members and vendors.
  2. Lead Community Associates: We need about 400 people to take the lead in populating their local site with local content.
  3. Community Associate: Someone who has between 5-15 hours/week to spread the word about FaithHappenings to their networks (and who wants to make between $200 and $1000/month), and then also to meet in their neighborhoods with churches and potential vendors about being a free or paid lister on the site. A CA works independently, but also as a team member with a Lead CA or other CA’s to canvass a community with the benefits of this one-stop resource.
  4. Area Coordinators: This person has between 25-35 hours a week to recruit, train and supervise other CA’s within a larger area. Generously commissioned-based, but a huge income potential for those who can wait to build a strong local foundation.

To learn more about any of these jobs/needs, please email us at workforus@faithhappenings.com. Let us know which job description you’d like to see and which area you are interested in serving.

Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part Two

Last time I posted to the Water Cooler, I discussed some of the ways that having dreams and aspirations can affect you in a positive way.

CliffWSThis post I’d like to look at some possible dangers of having ambition.

Dangers of Aspirations:

1. Assuming it’s God’s will.

I’ve had authors so single focused, so full of energy and passion, that they interpret this to mean “It’s God’s will that I write for publication.” I’m not the end-all expert on God’s will, but I don’t believe it is simply feeling passionate about something. Yes, feeling passionate about a cause or a new adventure makes you feel alive, but so does war. The men from Band of Brothers who have written books say, “Never have I felt so alive as when I was in battle.” An activity may get your heart moving and leave you with an adrenaline high, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily God’s will.

2. Overly ambitious writers won’t always listen to counsel.

So many authors have come my way and said, “God told me to write this.” Or, “This will sell millions of copies because these are God’s words.” Too many to count. The danger in this approach is that writers begin to feel their manuscript is so divinely inspired that it would be almost a sin for an agent or editor to suggest changes to it.

Having aspirations without seeking and listening to wise counsel will often lead to a big waste of weeks, months, even years. So if you’re a writer, you must temper your aspirations with the reality of counsel. If everyone who isn’t a family member says your baby is ugly, it likely is.

The best writers are the ones who seek out critique groups, writing partners, and then when they strike gold (they finally get a professional writer or agent to look at their work) they listen. And when they hit the mother lode by finding a publisher, they should realize how much God can use these professional partners to make their work even better.

3. Overwhelm those not sharing the train you are on, going in your direction.

People with writing aspirations can be overwhelming in their single-mindedness. They feel they somehow need this to accomplish something of value. If you’re one who says, “I have to write. I cannot NOT write,” be careful of those around you. They don’t understand. (Unless they are writers, too!)

Aspirations that lead to the neglect of people you love most (for more than a few weeks when you’re on a deadline) are probably not from God. They are more likely from your own need to find significance in having published something with your name on it.

I became an agent because I was faced with a choice. I had written 15 books, had a big platform in youth ministry, and came to a crossroads: Do I write and speak and try to be more famous? Or do I stay involved in the process of books (which I loved) and be able to hang out with my own two young sons instead of other people’s kids? I made the right choice and never looked back.

If aspirations aren’t in balance with your family goals, then I’d question if they are God’s will for you.

To keep ambitions and aspirations from turning into obsessions, they need to be:

• Tempered with counsel, prayer, balance.
• Put up against the harvest of fruit.

If something you’re pursuing doesn’t seem to be yielding the desired results, then there is a good chance that this aspiration may be a stepping stone to a bigger aspiration God has in mind for you. I’ve discovered that most of our lives have a building block-like history to them that makes sense as you reach the middle or near the end of your story.

My biggest revelation on aspirations is that they must be tied to a soul, especially the souls of those you love.

Aspire to feed your family. Writing for money isn’t a bad thing. If publishers hadn’t paid C.S. Lewis to write Chronicles of Narnia, who knows if he would have written it.

Aspire to make a dent for God’s Kingdom. Great. We all want to live our lives for something that will outlast us.

But make sure your ambitions and aspirations are always tied closely to the souls of those whom God has put into your life. In other words, how is your calling to write also blessing those nearest to you?

What about you? What have you done to keep your aspirations from becoming an obsession?

Ambition, Aspirations, and Obsession: Part One

Are you in a season of fresh aspirations?

WomanCliffWSSeveral years ago I had aspirations. (Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say, they had me.) I was obsessed. I’d stay up late at night, sadly, on my computer, surfing…dead relatives. That’s right, I had an Ancestry.com obsession. I aspired to know everything about all of the branches of my family tree. Soon I had more than 4000 strangers (and a few hundred names I actually knew) attached to my electronic tree, many with pictures and whole histories about their life. Fun and time consuming, but now it’s done.

After 20 years as an agent, I’ve seen literally thousands who have writing aspirations. It starts with an ambition, “Gee, I think I could write a book.” They give it legs by feeding their aspiration, “Wow, I really need to write this book, so I’d better learn how to do it—and then spend weeks doing it.” But oftentimes a good desire to write turns into an obsession, “I have to get this book done and in print if it’s the last thing I do.”

And oftentimes they throw God in the mix as Supreme Instigator.

“I’m so excited about this manuscript, it must be God’s will that I become a famous novelist. Therefore, I will do everything possible to make this God-given dream come true.”

Ambitions and aspirations can certainly be clues to God’s will for us, though ambition alone is not enough to discern God’s calling. My own history of aspirations has had mixed results, with joys and dangers along the way.

The Joys of Aspirations:

1. They Bring Energy.

I’ve got some aspirations about a new project/business I’m working on that will help my authors and, hopefully, help the Kingdom for years to come. As my wife Becky would attest, it’s brought me more energy and motivation about work than she’s seen in a long time. I love being an agent, but with the changes happening in publishing, I’ve been restless. I’ve seen too many great books go unpublished because some publishers are concerned about the lack of social networking tribes in an author’s portfolio. I aspire to do something about that (more on that in a later post).

2. They Bring Focus.

The Apostle Paul had ambitions and aspirations. “…This one thing I do, forgetting what is in the past, I press ahead to the goal of the upward call…”. He wanted to live in the moment and not be hamstrung by his past: a helpful goal that brought focus to his day-to-day life. One of his other aspirations was “…to see Rome…”. He eventually did, and was able to preach the Gospel to likely hundreds.

3. They Bring Fruit.

Aspirations to write books gave me hope that perhaps my life could count for something; that my words on paper could outlive me. That’s what books do. They allow God to use our stories and life lessons in ways that bless others. And with digital books, our stories could live forever on Amazon and other platforms. Granted, they might be ranked at four million, but at least our books are there!

4. They Bring Passion.

About 20 years ago when I was writing as a hobby and working a day job, my routines were to get up at 5 a.m. and write for two hours before work. Then after the kids were in bed, I’d write for another hour or two. That’s what aspirations do; they give us so much passion that we’d rather not sleep.

Next time I’ll discuss some of the dangers of aspirations. What about you? How does having dreams and aspirations affect you in a positive way?

The Myth of the Crossover Book

My last post I talked all through the dilemma with book categories that bookstores expect to see when your book is finally published. You either have a clear one or your book will get lost.

BookwormBut what of the intended audience—and message–for your book? Does this also have to be perfectly obvious to get any traction in sales; to make any impact in the world?

I hope I don’t harp on this too much, but I’ve got 20 years and about 2,300 books I’ve had the privilege of representing. About 10% of my sales over the years have been through general market houses. In all of that time I’ve heard hundreds of authors and potential authors tell me they wanted to write the book for “the crossover market.” Read: I want to do some appropriate, hidden preaching so that the reader will consider faith or make a conversion.

Here’s what I know: New York editors don’t want books that surreptitiously preach or try to win anyone to faith. And they really don’t want overt Christian books unless you’re got a massive sales history and platform. “That’s why,” they infer, “our parent company bought a specific Christian publisher…so that we wouldn’t have to see/publish these books.”

So if you tell me you want me to sell a proposal to a general market publisher, saying something to the affect of “let’s be bold and take the Cross over to a secular publisher,” I’ll be sympathetic with your goal, then immediately talk you out of it. Your heart may be in the right place, but your realistic knowledge of what publishers want is lacking.

The truth: It can’t be done. General market houses care about great books that serve readers … and sales. They don’t want to hear from a Barnes and Noble manager that books were returned from angry customers who felt duped (or offended) by the content. My opinion is that those few books that do escape the religious section in B&N (perhaps 1 or 2 a year) really aren’t making a lasting impact. They’re not even planting seeds. Why? Because there likely is not another actual human to help the reader take their seeds of faith and make sure they have been placed on fertile soil.

The small percentage of adults who ultimately do come to faith do so after watching a genuine believer over time, getting their specific questions answered, and usually finding a community where they feel loved and accepted. They rarely (if ever?) stick to the faith because they bumped into a book at B&N.

People mostly buy books because of word of mouth. And they come to faith by watching a consistent imperfect life, and then likely directly interacting with God’s Word in some meaningful way.

Yes, there is the very rare exception. But so rare it borders on impossible.

So if you want to write anything that may make the life of Jesus more attractive, write it to those already in the faith, and hope that they are able to naturally hand the book off to someone they know; someone who if they do come to faith will then have a natural tie back into a community of real people helping each other through life.

Books are a powerful tool for good. People do get moved to consider faith because of them. But 99% of those books were published by a Christian publisher written primarily to Christians.

And let me say a word about the middle. If you try to hit the middle, you likely lose both audiences. The middle isn’t looking to be converted or for Christian content. If you want to write a book for the general market audience, build your platform or skills and write it without expectation you’ve taken the Cross over. If you include Christian content in your book, fiction or nonfiction, do so in a natural way that communicates a strong and obvious message.

Question: Do you know of any book that has made an impact with your friends as it relates to faith?

The Joy of Categories

From actual query letters…

“I’ve got a novel that’s sort of a historical fantasy magical realism.”

GregsBooks“My new nonfiction is for everyone. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. There’s nothing as good or like it on the market. It should be stocked at the front of the store in the ‘bestseller’ section.”

“The graduation gift book I’m proposing will be the kind of book retail will stock all year around.”

One thing new (and sometimes veteran) authors don’t understand is that every book must have a recognizable category. The queries for books listed above have none. The moment you go outside of a known category, retail doesn’t know what to do with it. They don’t know where to stock it; they don’t know how to describe it to their customers. In short, they won’t know how to sell it. And that’s the point of writing books you’d like people to read . . . to sell them.

It starts with what is known as a BISAC code. It’s those few words on the back of the book that give retail and consumer a clue as to what the book is about. Every book gets a maximum of three. Here are the categories from the Book Industry Study Group:

ANTIQUES/COLLECTIBLES
ARCHITECTURE
ART
BIBLES
BIOGRAPHY/AUTOBIOGRAPHY
BODY, MIND & SPIRIT
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS
COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS
COMPUTERS
COOKING
CRAFTS & HOBBIES
DESIGN
DRAMA
EDUCATION
FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS
FICTION
FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
GAMES
GARDENING
HEALTH & FITNESS
HISTORY
HOUSE & HOME
HUMOR
JUVENILE FICTION
JUVENILE NONFICTION
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES
LAW
LITERARY COLLECTIONS
LITERARY CRITICISM
MATHEMATICS
MEDICAL
MUSIC
NATURE
PERFORMING ARTS
PETS
PHILOSOPHY
PHOTOGRAPHY
POETRY
POLITICAL SCIENCE
PSYCHOLOGY
REFERENCE
RELIGION
SCIENCE
SELF-HELP
SOCIAL SCIENCE
SPORTS & RECREATION
STUDY AIDS
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING
TRANSPORTATION
TRAVEL
TRUE CRIME

Handy dandy, but did you notice there are only TWO categories for fiction: Fiction and Juvenile fiction.

When you toddle over to Barnes and Noble, here are the categories you’ll find as you browse the aisles:

Fiction Books & Literature
Graphic Novels
Horror
Mystery & Crime
Poetry
Romance Books
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Thrillers
Westerns

Children
Ages 0-2
Ages 3-5
Ages 6-8
Ages 9-12
Teens

Non-fiction
African Americans
Antiques & Collectibles
Art, Architecture & Photography
Bibles & Bible Studies
Biography
Business Books
Christianity
Christian Fiction
Computer & Technology Books
Cookbooks, Food & Wine
Crafts & Hobbies Books
Education & Teaching
Engineering
Foreign Languages
Game Books
Gay & Lesbian
Health & Fitness
History
Home & Garden
Humor Books
Judaism & Judaica
Law
Medical & Nursing Books
Music/Film/TV/Theater
New Age & Spirituality
Parenting & Family
Pets
Philosophy
Politics & Current Affairs
Psychology & Psychotherapy
Reference
Relationships
Religion Books
Science & Nature
Self Help & Self Improvement
Social Sciences
Sports & Adventure
Study Guides & Test Prep
Travel
True Crime
Weddings
Women’s Studies

Not bad. A little bit more descriptive in fiction, which is helpful, but if you wanted to find “historical fiction,” for example, you have to browse a few thousand books and hope you bump into a title that screams “historical” from the spine.

How about at a Christian bookstore? At a local Mardel, here is what we found:

Bible Reference
Bible Studies
Biography
Christian Living
Commentaries
Counseling
Devotional
Fiction
General Interest
Gift Books
Health
Marriage & Family
Men
Prayer
Seasonal
Software
Spanish
Spirit-Filled Life
Teen Interest
Women

Again, ONE designation for fiction. (Really? Do they really NOT want to sell novels?)

And then there are award categories. Here are the categories for the “Christy Awards,” the yearly fiction awards:

Contemporary Romance
Contemporary Series (sequels and novella)
Contemporary Stand Alones
First Novel
Historical
Historical Romance
Suspense
Visionary
Young Adult

The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has their own set of categories for determining the “Carol Awards”:

Debut
Long Contemporary
Long Contemporary Romance
Long Historical
Long Historical Romance
Mystery
Novella
Romantic Suspense
Short Contemporary
Short Contemporary Suspense
Speculative Fiction
Suspense/Thriller
Women’s Fiction
Young Adult

The INSPYs (Bloggers Awards of Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature) has yet another set of categories:

Romance
Literature for Young People
General Fiction
Speculative Fiction
Mystery & Thriller

The ECPA has their Gold Medallion Awards in these categories:

Book of the Year
Bibles
Bible Reference
Children
Fiction
Inspiration
New Author
Non-fiction

If all of this seems confusing, well, I suppose it is. When in doubt take comfort that you don’t have to pick from the Amazon.com categories. Just try to find three categories to mention!

The point is, each book gets three known categories on the back. Choose wisely in your proposals, but also try to choose broad categories so your book will get the most amount of exposure. And please, for the love Ernest Hemingway, don’t make up a category and call yourself a “pioneer.” Don’t implore the agent to think “outside the box.” Don’t call publishers “short-sighted non-creatives.” Just pick some categories and color inside the lines. We’ll all be happier.

Have you ever been confused about categories? How did you solve your dilemma?