Book Categorization: How to Do It and Why It Matters

book heart“My new novel is a romantic mystery that takes part in a science fiction universe.”

“I’ve written a creative nonfiction concept picture book.”

Descriptions like these make me cringe.  Sure, some books really do cross over categories.  But most are more one thing than another. It’s important to know what the manuscript is so that you know where to market it.

If an agent represents creative nonfiction, that concept picture book may not be a good match.  You have to take a harder look at the age levels of the books they represent.  No picture books means no picture books even if they like creative nonfiction.

Writer’s Digest contributing editor Elizabeth Sims recently wrote a post, “Shelf Savvy: How Book Categorizations Helps Maximize Sales.”  In this post, she discussed how books by African-American authors sold better at Borders when their books were shelved in an “African American Lit” section.  Scattered among the other titles, whether literature, mystery or essays, they weren’t as easily found by would-be readers and failed to sell as well.

Not that you will have the ultimate say in where it is shelved or how it is marketed (romance or mystery), but you need to know what it is so that you know who to approach.

This follows the fact that you had to know what to call it to write it in the first place.  Picture books follow certain conventions.  Write your story in 500 words with the possibility for 14-16 unique illustrations and you’re going to get the right kind of attention.  Write your story in 6000 words with dialogue, setting instructions and sound effects (SFX) and you better send it to publishers who want graphic novels vs picture books.  Yes, both are illustrated but the conventions are different and you need to know what you’re working on.

Don’t let a category limit your work but know what is typical so that you can creatively push the limits and then market it to the right people.


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