Having recently decided not to represent a number of writers for the same reason, I’m reminded how important it is to know what book category or genre a manuscript belongs in. Or as we talk about it in publishing: Where does your book fit on a bookstore’s shelves? Yeah, yeah, I know we’re pretty much talking about virtual shelves nowadays. But for the aspiring author, it doesn’t matter which shelf, just so it’s on a shelf.
Why Book Categories Matter
Sometimes a writer creates a manuscript that’s neither beast nor fowl. It’s not exactly a memoir that centers on grief yet it’s not exactly a prescriptive book on grief. Hello! It needs to be true to its “kind,” to be one thing or the other…
- so that the agent who reads it knows what it is;
- the editor who receives it from the agent knows what it is;
- so the marketing folks can explain in the catalog, back cover copy and press releases what it is;
- so the sales staff can tell the bookstore buyer what it is;
- so it ends up on the shelf where the appropriate reader will look for it.
If the cycle breaks down at the writer’s stage, it’s unlikely to make it to the end of cycle. Those writers whom I chose not to represent? They created manuscripts that didn’t fit in any category but tried to span an unspannable chasm between book categories.
How to Know Where Your Book Fits
If you’re lucky enough to have a local bookstore, might I suggest you mozy down for a visit? Wander around and look for books similar to yours. Where are they shelved? And take a peek at the back cover. Publishers have standard book categories that tell bookstores where to shelve the title. The answer to your question is printed on the backs of other books.
Barring a visit to a bookstore, a trip to a library could be helpful. Follow the same exercise.
Amazon is the best place to find “like” books, but sadly Amazon doesn’t always show the back covers of books when you “Look inside,” as Amazon suggests. Nonetheless, if you find books that seem to be related to yours in terms of a category, you can then look on publishing houses’ websites and note how the categories they place similar books in.
Know Thy Book Category
Once you’ve found the best label for your manuscript, don’t skip this next step: Know what qualities are true of books that fit in the category.
If you discover your sci-fi doesn’t actually fit in the category because the romance thread is so strong it looks like sci-fi but self-identifies as romance, you have created a manuscript that does not match the formula for either book category. That translates into your book not likely to be available on a virtual or real-life bookshelf.
My point is simple but important: Choose a category and make sure your book stays true to the qualities necessary to neatly fit–smackdab in the center–of that category.
What category does your present work fit into? How did you decide?
Why should writers care what book category a title fits in? Click to tweet.
Writers: Why is identifying what category your book belongs in important to successfully publishing? Click to tweet.