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Give Your Book A Solid Home

April 16, 2012

By Jennie Coughlin

One of the many advantages of indie publishing is that cross-genre books don’t have to overcome a publishing house’s skepticism about whether they can market a book that doesn’t neatly fit into a box. Amazon and other direct-publishing sites give lots of options for selecting categories, so you can check mystery and romance, or even drill down further to paranormal romance and spy thriller if you have a vampire CIA agent who falls in love on her latest mission.

That’s freeing — we can write what we want, without regard for how it fits a traditional bookshelf space. But this can also be a trap. If your book doesn’t fit enough into at least one category, it’s more difficult to market it to readers and to pitch it to reviewers. And — most importantly — it’s difficult for it to get traction on a best-seller list to enhance the all-important discoverability.

When, at the urging of readers, I published a collection of short stories in the same world as the novels I’m revising, I didn’t think about this. And because of that, I’ve learned some tough lessons about categorization and genre that will help me in the future — and hopefully you as well.

My short-story collection defies genre in an unhelpful way: The stories are linked by people and place, the small New England town where they’re set. They aren’t linked by genre, which is how people think of books. The longest story could be tagged LGBT, but the others aren’t. The Irish mob takes over in one story, but none of the others even come close to that topic. Two of the four could be considered romance, but the other two, not at all. And so the book as a whole is reduced to the lowest common denominator — literary fiction and short stories. And that doesn’t even come close to describing it!

Quality’s not the issue — readers and reviewers alike have loved it. But most reviewers want novels, not short story collections. That limits the pool from the beginning. And the best-seller lists that it’s eligible for require many, many more sales than if I had themed it around the topics in any one of the stories. Lesson learned for next time.

If you’ve got a project in progress, take a few minutes to peruse the categories at Amazon. Where does yours fall? What’s the overall ranking of the book ranked No. 100 in the best-seller list? The lower that number, the easier it is to get on the list.

Check out book-bloggers in that genre. Are there any? Be ruthless when deciding if they review your genre. In my full-time job, I often field review requests from authors and publishers in areas we don’t review. It doesn’t matter how different or special the book is — if it doesn’t fit our guidelines, we don’t review it. And if you can’t easily find three- or four-dozen book bloggers who review your intended genre, it’s a sign to pause and re-think things.

I’ve done that for my first novel after seeing how some IBC promotions I participated in played out. The novel’s the same story, with the same characters. But it had a couple of different ways I could push things toward one genre or another, and I’ve ended up emphasizing the thriller aspects in the revisions because I know of the three possible genres, that’s the one where it has the best chance to get traction and to get discovered.


Jennie Coughlin is a newspaper editor and expatriated New Englander who writes about the fictional Massachusetts town of Exeter and its quirky residents. Her first book, Thrown Out: Stories from Exeter, came out in September. Her first Exeter novel, All That Is Necessary, will be published later this year. She also has short stories posted at Welcome to Exeter and loves to talk to readers on Twitter or Facebook.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2012 9:26 am

    I have recently been puzzling over the question of genre for my WIP. I have at times called it urban fantasy (because it contains otherworldly creatures hanging out in Seattle), fantasy romance (because part of it takes place in another world entirely and it has a strong romantic subplot), and paranormal romance (because that seems like the catchall category). I have no idea what I’ll do when I get to Amazon, but your article has some great suggestions. Thanks!

    • April 16, 2012 11:30 am

      Glad it was helpful, Nicolette! One thing that you might consider for that book, since it sounds like it could fit into any of the three, is which bestseller list is the easiest to get on. If you look at the overall Amazon ranking of the the last book on the list (No. 100), the list with the lowest number in that spot is generally the easiest to get onto.

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