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How important is book genre?

Here’s a worst-case scenario:

1974: Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, is released. The publisher lists it as a Biography by accident. The book sits on the wrong shelf across the country.

2014: No one knows who Stephen King is.

Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but when you choose the wrong genre for your books on Amazon you’re choosing the wrong shelf. Simply put, that could destroy the book’s chances.

Luckily, we can change genres as often as we change writing software. Every online retailer allows you to genre-hop until you find your right audience.


5 simple steps you can take to choose the right genre:

1) Go to a bookstore!

Okay, this is going to sound trite. If it does, then head to #2. But it worked for me! If your book was inspired by a particular novel or author, then go find them on the shelf.

Now imagine that your book sits next to it.

Does it feel right?

It sounds loopy, but it really works! Especially if your book is a mix of many genres.


2) Armed with your best guess, head to the BISG site.

Click on the genre you chose in #1 and study the sub-genres on BISG.

Then bookmark BISG! Why? Because new genres pop up every year. The BISG site is the most transparent method of spotting a new mainstream, “official” market for your work.

And guess what? Most booksellers comply with the BISG list!


3) Head to the major online booksellers and find your niche.

These sites are your stores. You get a place on the shelf. You get a small display. You get a few seconds to make the sale. So know your store.

Luckily, with the BISG list you whittled down the choices so you don’t need to dig as much now that you’re about to dive into the morass of online bookstore genre lists! How big a mess are they? Well, here’s the Mystery genre list of four top online stores.



And check out this small taste of what genres each store offers: (all lists are from April, 2014)


Amazon genre list

Barnes & Noble genre list

Kobo genre list

Smashwords genre list

The lists above don’t include all sub-genres! So yeah, there are a lot of options. Again, BISG will help you focus.


4) Choose every single genre that makes sense.

Every. Single. One.

That’s probably a lot, and that’s okay. Write the list down somewhere safe. You’ll need it for #5.

Each online seller allows you to choose a different number of genres. Choose the genres that feel right. Or choose the genres that solid data supports.

Important note: Make sure your honest with yourself and choose a genre that actually fits. Just because your book includes a cameo of a handsome vampire doesn’t make it a New Adult Paranormal Romance. If you choose the wrong genre for your book you will hear from the readers — with bad reviews (see #5 for my experience).

Important note #2: Some bookstores don’t allow you to choose the precise genre you want. In this case, write to their support team and tell them you’d like placement in a certain genre. They’ll do so, but it may take a while.


5) Measure performance and make changes

This might be controversial advice, but it makes sense. If you don’t think your book is finding an audience in the genre you picked, then consider changing to another one.


[blockquote author_name=”” width=”50%” float=”left”]Upside: You might hit the nail on the head.[/blockquote]

[blockquote author_name=”” width=”50%” float=”left”]Downside: You might disrupt any momentum you were getting in the genre (which is info that none of these stores shares with us).[/blockquote]


I changed genres for the Shirley Link series on Amazon from Young Adult Mysteries to Kids Mysteries. I was getting a lot of downloads in Young Adult, but most of my reviews were *enh* to awful because young adults thought my books were too young for them. While I haven’t yet shown in the top seller list on Kids Mysteries, I’ve seen excellent reviews since I made the move.

It’s a tough call, sure. But if your book isn’t moving after a couple of months, try changing one of your sub-genres before you spend cash on a promo.

What tips do you have for genre seekers? Help out a fellow writer in the comments.


By Ben Zackheim




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