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Choosing Your Categories

Aaron Pogue, Lead WriterWe spent the week discussing the role categories play in your books’ success–from the initial story design through cover design and promotion. I’d like to wrap that up with a brief discussion of where the categories fit in your publishing plans.

As Joshua pointed out on Thursday, the official category list provided by BISAC dictates the basic shape of your promotion, but you do still have some decisions to make. For instance, most sales channels will allow you to choose more than one category for your book.


That gives you the opportunity to mix and match. Maybe there’s no “Weird Western” category for cowboys who can talk to ghosts, but you can put your book in both “Fiction > Supernatural & Horror” and “Fiction > Westerns.”

That’s probably the right thing to do, but you need to be aware how your BISAC selections are used for you to get the most out of them.

I should say, right up front, that the makers of BISAC don’t encourage mixing and matching. The system is designed around the assumption that every book matches only one category.

If you wanted to ask them about Josh’s Weird Western, they would probably encourage him to choose the general “Supernatural & Horror” category and be done with it. BISAC designations aren’t meant to convey every aspect of your story; they’re meant to force it into a broad category.

Bookstore Categories

But here’s the problem: Driven by retail competition, bookstore categories shift much faster than the BISAC categories do. If readers are looking for them, bookstores will promote books as Weird Western or New Adult or Dystopia or any other marketing phrase catching popularity, even if BISAC doesn’t recognize those yet.

That disconnect has led to a situation where every retailer has its own set of categories. If you went shopping for bestsellers by category at Amazon, you’d find a different list from the one at Kobo or Barnes & Noble, and all three are different from the BISAC list.

And that’s where the mix-and-match really helps you. Instead of holding your nose and picking the least-objectionable category, slap as many relevant labels on your product as the retailers allow, and the retailers will use all of them to decide where you book fits in their categories.

Egregious Mis-Categorization

Before you go crazy with that, though, spend some time thinking all the way through the implications. The extra categories aren’t just hints; your book should completely fit into any category you assign it.

Retailers takes this pretty seriously. Apple will reject a badly-categorized book with the phrase “egregious mis-categorization,” and for an example they use a book that’s labeled as both “Erotica” and “Children and Teens.” Egregious, no?

But that’s not the only way to get it wrong. If your book is fiction, it shouldn’t have any non-fiction categories. As the publisher, it’s your responsibility to correctly and accurately label your product so the sales channels can market it as narrowly as possible to your actual target market. If you do your part, retailers and customers alike will reward you.

Come back for next week’s Technical Tip, and I’ll show you exactly how to select your book’s categories at each of the major publishing platforms. See you then!

Aaron Pogue is the head publisher at Consortium Books, author of the bestselling Dragonprince trilogy, and serves as the User Experience consultant at Every Saturday he shares an article about publishing and the new book marketplace.

Find out more about Aaron Pogue at his author website.

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