1. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Tip for categorising your novel

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by jannert, Aug 4, 2016.

    Just got done reading through the latest (October 2016) issue of Writer's Digest, which focuses on getting, maintaining, working with (or parting company with) an agent.

    There are a huge number of great tips in this issue, and a lot of solid information, as well as a pretty long list of contemporary agents seeking clients, and what they are specifically looking for (and not looking for.)

    One particular tip stood out for me.

    During the query process you must decide how to pitch your book, and what fiction category it fits into, so you can then approach the right agents. Some of us write solidly within a particular genre, so this isn't a problem. However, here's a tip for those of us who struggle to define our books within a category or genre.

    The article recommends that you visit a large bookstore, preferably one you know well, wander around inside it, and imagine your book is published and printed. Where would you like to see it placed on the shelves? Visualise the book spine, if you can, and decide where you would go to find it, if you were shopping for it. Be specific. Don't necessarily think 'category' at this stage, but simply go to where you'd expect to find the kind of book you've written.

    That should certainly sharpen your view of what your book is, and what kind of slant your query letter should take on the category for it. The article says if you can clearly visualise it in a couple of different sections, it's okay to include them both, but the article also says that some agents are not fans of this twofold category approach. But if you think it really fits well into two categories, that's a useful thing to know.

    Once you've 'found' your spot in the store, you can then browse through other books in that section, and maybe look at who has agented the ones you are attracted to. It's a start. It makes the whole process seem more 'real.'

    It's the usual done thing to approach agents who have represented work that's similar to yours. However, I did have to laugh, reading through all the agents' bios and their wishes and dislikes, etc. One of them said they do not want YA fiction containing characters with 'issues,' because they already have enough of these kinds of stories on their client list. So you can trip up no matter what you do. But hey. Tough old world out there, but ya gotta live in it.
     
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  2. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure this would work in Canada. We only have one bookstore (Chapters) which owns several others and their marketing people have been slowly stripping out the books and replacing them with mugs, T-shirts, games, pens and notepads as well as other stuff that's more about building a reading nook than actually reading.

    And their sectioning of books is abysmal. Half the section signs are wrong (left over, I suppose, from when the sections were better organized) and they lump things like science fiction, speculative fiction and fantasy all into one section... which is mostly fantasy these days. Trying to find a science fiction novel amid all that takes far more time than I wanna take.

    Hopefully, this method works better in other countries. :)
     
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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Doesn't work in England either, at least my part of it. Went into my local Waterstones and asked for the romance section (biggest adult genre in the UK as well as US and probably Cananda too) and got a blank look. Shop assistant then took me to a single romance book on the general fiction shelves. So that was a useful day of research...
     
  4. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Holy crap. LOL
     
  5. Alex R. Encomienda
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    Alex R. Encomienda Active Member

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    This was very helpful, thank you!
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    We still have Waterstones, and used to have a wonderful Borders (which I loved! boo....) in Glasgow. (James Thin, Ottaker's and John Smith's are also gone now.)

    The most common Scottish outlet is WH Smith. This is basically a stationery shop with lots of best-seller type books. They have outlets all over the place, in smaller towns and cities, and they do seem to have separated their books into sections, although they're not always labeled. But 'like' books are usually displayed with other similar books. If I want sci-fi or fantasy, I will find these books grouped together. Ditto Romance, Thrillers, etc.

    I'm lucky enough to frequently visit a village, Ullapool, in the north of Scotland that has TWO independent, well-stocked bookstores that carry specialty books and literary fiction that isn't common in WH Smith. So that's another perspective.

    Interesting that so many bookstores seem to be mushing categories together when they put books on display. I wonder if that makes our job as authors a bit easier? Maybe we don't need to be quite so specific about category, when we approach an agent?
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2016
  7. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I was in Waterstones in Belfast a couple of days back and asked an assistant to point me in the direction of the historical fiction section. He shook his head and told me all fiction was amalgamated into 'General' on the lower floor, aphabetised by author, although there might be a table with a few historical examples on it, somewhere.

    Not very helpful. I wasn't looking for myself but for my father, and whilst I knew his field of interest, I didn't want to buy him yet another Bernard Cornwall or Conn Iggulden. Waterstones set up made it very hard to find anything by new and upcoming authors. I'd have had better luck buying online.
     
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  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It's been a while since I've visited the Waterstones in Glasgow ...I'll have to nip in next time I'm in town and see if they've done this as well. If so ...geez. Last time I was in, the categories were still in place.
     
  9. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    Thanks for this Jannert, I would not have thought to do this myself and it would help the query process quite a bit.

    Like Sack-a-doo says, we only have Waterstones in the UK, which is like Barnes & Noble, only really wants to sell mugs and e-readers, and has effectively put almost every other book seller out of business through a process of cynical and underhand corporate expansion. It then almost went out of business itself and started wailing in the press about how it should be protected like its some kind of national treasure (but I am digressing).

    Nevertheless this is still where books are sold so giving an agent an idea of where you see it is very useful.

    My main problem is that I find it quite difficult to categorise my book. I really don't think I am a science fiction writer, and although this setting is a parallel earth, future scenario, my stories are about human struggle and redemption. Really that's what they are about and the scene just fits what I need to do to enable this.

    I **really** don't want to say Science Fiction, mainly because I don't think Science Fiction fans will especially like my book. I think it would actually fit more with a magic realism type audience. But, whenever one of these type of readers asks me what I am writing and I say "Its Science Fictiony" they pull a face like I have pulled a dead rat out of my coat and waved it at them."
     
  10. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    @Nightstar99 You do realise Jannert lives in Scotland and Sack-A-Doo is Canadian? :D
     
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  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    LOL! Sounds like the same things are happening in both anyway.

    I was surprised to see someone post here that W.H. Smith has stores in Scotland. Here in Canada, it was one of the 'big' four bookstores that got swallowed up by Chapters (although, technically, it may have been that they banded together to create a mega-corp). Since then, Smith as a store has disappeared while Chapter has sunk slowly into the abyss.
     
  12. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know how WH Smiths has survived here. All the shops are dingy and horrible, it's overpriced, the staff look miserable, and they're forced to try and get you to buy chocolate and other crap at the till.

    I reckon their airport shops keep them afloat because it's a captive market.
     
  13. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    It would never occur to me to go in there to buy a book, or stationery, or a newspaper, or confectionery, or stamps, or anything that they sell.
     
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  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Exactly. The only time I've been there in about five years was to buy a bunch of puzzle books for a beach holiday. They do have an unrivaled selection of puzzle books.
     
  15. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I could actually do this here in southeastern Pennsylvania. There's a little Books-a-Million in the local mall, and it still has books they've sorted into categories, and the nearest Barnes & Noble has so many books your eyes glaze over.

    Even though I'm planning on self-publishing, bookstore placement research would be a good move for me. In the writing contest I recently got the results back from, the judge who liked my WIP wondered why, considering that the book was Romantic Suspense, my protag/POV character wasn't worried when the second protag was late. The category led the contest judge to expect the friend's absence was a sign of the villain already being on the move. So maybe I don't want to sort my book into that slot on Amazon.

    Hmm. Can you have romantic and suspense elements in General Fiction?
     
  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yes.

    Personally, I'd hate it if my book was placed in general fiction. Who goes looking for a "general fiction book"? Nobody I know.
     
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  17. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Eric stacked newspapers, then he turned, faced the one hundred thousandth customer of this week:

    'Excuse-me, where's the post-apocalypse, and romantic soft fiction section of your store?'

    Eric walked the lady toward a book of tanks, and returned to his cash register, his pile of chocolate bars.
     
  18. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    True, true.
     
  19. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    No, I do, and also crit from the 'general fiction' section on here WF.
     

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