From actual query letters…
“I’ve got a novel that’s sort of a historical fantasy magical realism.”
“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:
BODY, MIND & SPIRIT
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS
COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS
CRAFTS & HOBBIES
FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS
FOREIGN LANGUAGE STUDY
HEALTH & FITNESS
HOUSE & HOME
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES
SPORTS & RECREATION
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING
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
Mystery & Crime
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Antiques & Collectibles
Art, Architecture & Photography
Bibles & Bible Studies
Computer & Technology Books
Cookbooks, Food & Wine
Crafts & Hobbies Books
Education & Teaching
Gay & Lesbian
Health & Fitness
Home & Garden
Judaism & Judaica
Medical & Nursing Books
New Age & Spirituality
Parenting & Family
Politics & Current Affairs
Psychology & Psychotherapy
Science & Nature
Self Help & Self Improvement
Sports & Adventure
Study Guides & Test Prep
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:
Marriage & Family
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 Series (sequels and novella)
Contemporary Stand Alones
The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has their own set of categories for determining the “Carol Awards”:
Long Contemporary Romance
Long Historical Romance
Short Contemporary Suspense
The INSPYs (Bloggers Awards of Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature) has yet another set of categories:
Literature for Young People
Mystery & Thriller
The ECPA has their Gold Medallion Awards in these categories:
Book of the Year
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?
9 Replies to “The Joy of Categories”
Haaa! Loved this, Greg. Personality, tons of information, real lists, humor. May I suggest a new category for this kind of post?? A Beyond-the-Queue Real-Agent How-Not-To Post.
Now THAT is funny. I could then be an outside the box pioneer real creative!!!
I really appreciated this group of lists, Greg. Helpful, thorough, concise. : ) Great post to bookmark and return to.
What a helpful, cleverly presented post, Greg. I will refer back to this one when I’m preparing proposals. Thanks!
Thanks, Mindy and Cheryl. It’s all so basic and so confusing at the same time. But now we know!
Yes, thanks, Greg for this very useful post. It will greatly help me as I formulate the audience for my proposals. I also, will bookmark it!
THis is very helpful. I sometimes struggle to identify the best genre for my work.
ow.ow.ow. I keep bumping against genres. Good thing I’ve got an agent who knows his stuff, huh, Greg?
Thanks, Greg. Very helpful for the nf proposal that I’m about to send it. Saved me a bit of research. 😉
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