publishing business

More on Categories

Since I’ve been talking about book categories, I thought I should explain how that works and why it’s important. There’s a system of code categories that booksellers and publisher use to sort books. Some of the categories are pretty general, but then some areas get sliced and diced into pretty specific categories. For instance, there’s a code for firefighter romance. Strangely, although there’s a specific code for cozy mysteries involving crafts, there’s no code for paranormal mysteries. You can find the list of fiction categories here.

For traditional bookstores, the fine parsing doesn’t make much difference, since books are generally shelved in general fiction, romance, mystery, or science fiction and fantasy (some stores may break out horror into its own section, and some stores give all Christian fiction its own section). The codes are used more for databases and possibly for internal tracking (maybe to keep an eye on what’s selling).

But for online bookselling, they become more important. Instead of having to just go to the mystery section in a store and then scan the covers to see which ones you want, you can search a specific category. Each book can be put in more than one category if it fits multiple places. That can be both good and bad. If your book is a perfect fit for a category, that makes it easy to find. If it’s not such a good fit, your book can fall between the cracks. Since there’s no paranormal mystery category, I’m going to have to choose between maybe cozy, general and either amateur sleuths or women sleuths. I don’t know what the people looking for my sort of thing will be looking for.

Amazon also has some of its own categories, and I’m not sure how you get put in them or how they decide. I’m not even entirely sure how you find them. When I was digging through the bestseller lists for the potentially relevant categories, I tried clicking on an individual title, then found in its listing where they showed its rank in various categories, some of which weren’t listed as a category for browsing or bestseller lists. So, I was looking through general cozy mysteries, found a book that looked along the lines of what I’m writing, and found that there was a separate category for ghost mysteries, but it wasn’t listed for browsing, and there isn’t a code for it. But you can bring up a list of those books by clicking on that category in that listing. It may come from key words you can put in a book listing, possibly from algorithms that show what sorts of things people buy, like those “people who bought this also bought” lists. If a lot of people who generally buy ghost mysteries buy a book, it might get classified as a ghost mystery. Sometimes this is hilariously inaccurate. Recently, Enchanted, Inc. has been listed in “plays and drama,” which is just bizarre. I wonder if a lot of drama students who buy books of plays have been buying it.

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about trying to classify my books. Where are the people who are looking for the kind of book I write most likely to look for that kind of book? Once you know that, you can have a better idea of how to handle that book, like what to mention in the book description, what the cover should look like, etc.

You can call your books whatever you want to, whether it’s “light fantasy, “fun fantasy,” or “cozy fantasy,” but none of those are established categories, so you still have to find the right code to put on it. That’s the hard part.

4 Responses to “More on Categories”

  1. Angie

    I was wondering when I was browsing Amazon books the other day that I wondered if you could target ads to people who bought books from a specific list you created or from multiple of the specific categories that you mention.

    • Shanna Swendson

      I think you can target Amazon ads to either keywords or people who bought from or are searching for specific other authors. However, you can only advertise books on Amazon that you published, and the first books in two of my series are still controlled by publishers. I’d have to advertise later books, which wouldn’t be good for finding new readers. When I start a new series, I may consider some Amazon advertising.

  2. Misti, a.k.a. Carradee

    You could use “paranormal mystery” as a keyword, though. The category is just where the online vendors shelve your book, and thus it matters for casual browsers or for bestseller lists, but keywords can be how folks seek for specific niches to read.

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