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Categorical Ground Zero

Part of marketing your book in this brave new world of self, indie, and e-publishing is targeting your category. Categories are what most people call genres, but I’m not going to get into the minutiae of which term is correct. I’m going to call it category for the duration of this post for clarity and just in case I ever want to talk about genre down the road.

 Po-Mo Confusion

Blame it on a singularity of access to fiction, the Hollywood High Concept, post modern ideas on meta-story, or just lay it at the feet of dichotomous consumers who want to be wowed by something new while also feeling the comfort of the familiar. Whatever the reason, most fiction I run into (and write) feels like a mash-up or twisting of two or more different types of stories into one, new type.

From the painfully misapplied “Urban Fantasy” that’s apparently about fantastical things happening in the world outside your window, through the thematic null space of Steampunk with its retro-historical sci-fi, and on down to Sense and Sensibility and Zombies or Abraham Lincoln, Vampire HunterAny one of these would be difficult to sum up into one specific, easy-to-find category.

I’m as guilty of it as anyone. I’ve published a tween Spy-Fi and a Neo-Noir Viking Fantasy while a Weird Western (possibly one of the earliest examples of this category mashing) waits in the wings. How do I sum this up quickly? Well, that’s a question for later when we discuss the Elevator Pitch. But how do I sum them up in a way that will help potential consumers find me?

Aye, there’s the rub, Hamlet would say (right before teaming up with Venkman and Spengler to bust his father’s ghost).

 BISAC – Not Just an Evil Computer on Star Trek

The painfully annoying  answer to this question is, “you ignore all that complicated nuance and just apply a BISAC Heading.”

What’s a BISAC? Here’s a BISAC. The Book Industry Standards and Communications created a list of subject headings – and a tremendously long list of sub-headings, to help the publishing industry and libraries database books “properly.” No matter how revolutionary your new fictional idea, no matter how weird the cross-category pollination, when it comes down to listing your book at any major bookseller, you’re going to have to pick a few headings from the BISAC list.

Trust me when I say this is both blessing and curse.

Blessed Be the BISAC’d

If it were up to me–and other authors who write fiction as I do–there would be a million billion gagillion headings. Given time, I will decide that my precious jewel of a story is so unique/weird/clever/mine that it deserves a category unto itself.

Perhaps you deny that you’d operate this way. And perhaps you are right. But if you have a blog, go check and see how you tagged the latest post. Now compare that to how you tagged the first post. Did the specificity and sheer volume of tags grow? Did you not tag at all? Either way, you now see the problem.

BISAC forces me to narrow down my story type into something that any given potential consumer/reader can understand. That is tremendously useful, especially to pie-in-the-sky me. As much as I detest BISAC, I’d probably be lost without it.

That said, BISAC can be imperfect in its narrowness. So, so imperfect.


A Curse On All Your Headings

Remember my Neo-Noir Viking Fantasy? It’s based on concepts found all through epic poetry, specifically Norse Sagas. So, naturally, I put Downfall under the BISAC heading of Fiction/Sagas. Unfortunately, there’s a Fiction/Family Sagas that says “see Sagas.” Which means that Amazon is so confused by this specific and theoretically useful heading that my story about a Viking killing monsters sits next to a Danielle Steel novel and The Joy Luck Club. Or they’re put next to me, since I’m the one using the heading correctly.

That’s obviously not my fault. I’m using the term correctly, those other books aren’t. But BISAC–and, by extension, Amazon, Nook, and every library in the universe–doesn’t care. The hammer-like simplicity that delighted me when I found Sagas now frustrates me with the stupid asterisk next to Family Sagas.

A Hammer for Screws

BISAC is a hammer. Categories, especially in this complicated, post-modern world, are screws…screws of varying sizes, lengths, number of threads, and some of them even turn at right angles. I may not like using my hammer. I may find it inelegant. I may wish for something more subtle. But at the end of the day, I’m just happy to have something with which to force that screw into the board.

And every new reader I find is another board in the house of my literary career. And friends, I want a big, big house. Possibly even a cathedral. Then I can leave it to my worshipers to damn BISAC to eternal torment and elevate my work to categories unto themselves.

Seems legit.

One Response to “Categorical Ground Zero”

  1. […] pleasure of targeting (or, to be more realistic, eliminating) the largest swathe of readers with BISAC. We’ve also re-visited how cover and promotional copy will hook specific readers once your […]