As I finish the final preparations for publishing Aspects, Bright and Fair (Book One of the Cordelian Chronicles), one of the issues I’ve been concerned with is choosing the right categories. As a new author with no pre-built platform, publishing my first novel, I need to carefully pick which categories I’ll use in order to drive potential readers (and buyers!) to my book and to my website.

Categories are probably most useful for connecting your novel to other, similar novels. You want fans of an author to associate your work with theirs.

So, where to begin? As I have with every step of this long publishing process, I look for help on the Internet. One publishing consultant who has been an enormous help to many writers is Jane Friedman (and you should check out her site and subscribe to her newsletters). She recently did a wonderful on-line tutorial, “Improve Your Book Descriptions and Audience Targeting: Jane Friedman.” What I’m doing with blog post is basically showing you how I used her advice. She spoke even more about keywords, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

So maybe watch her video first and then I’ll tell you what I did.

Done? Great.

For Amazon you can choose two categories (at least one should be juvenile if appropriate) and she says how one strategy is to have one be more specific and one more broad (I should point out that she makes it clear that every case is different and you have to do the research to figure out what is right for your novel and your genre ­– any bad advice is entirely mine and not hers). Amazon may add more categories based on keywords and other issues as well.

I tell people that Aspects, Bright and Fair is science-fiction. Then I say there’s a bit of fantasy in there, but maybe it’s just an example of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”). I compare it to Wrinkle in Time, where the divine may just know more about tesseracts. I compare it Doctor Who, where he’s really just a wizard with a sonic wand (then I start ranking all the doctors and waste a lot of time – that’s another blog post some day).

I say it’s young adult, but is young adult-science fiction too big a category? Certainly it’s a starting point.

I tell some people it’s a bit of a portal fantasy, ala Narnia, The Dark Materials series, or The Magicians. But portal fantasy’s not even a category. And the book’s not fantasy. So, science fiction portal, if it existed? But then maybe you’re expecting something like Stargate (and it’s a mouthful). It’s more useful to explain it as Parallel Worlds, but that’s not a category either. We’ll save that for keywords.

A great way to get going on this is just to go to Amazon and start browsing the categories:

Books> Yes!
             Science Fiction & Fantasy> Yes! (along with 464,727 other books)
                     Fantasy> No
                     Gaming> No
                     Writing> No
                     Science Fiction> Yes!

All right, we’re down to only 235,648 books. Under Science Fiction, we have nineteen subcategories. Let’s get some out of the way:

Clearly Wrong:

  • Alien Invasion
  • Anthologies
  • Colonization
  • Cyberpunk
  • First Contact
  • Galactic Empire
  • Genetic Engineering
  • History & Criticism
  • Military
  • Post-Apocalyptic
  • Short Stories
  • Space Opera (I have beta readers going through my middle grade space opera now, so I’ll come back to this eventually)
  • Steampunk

Probably Wrong:

  • Alternate History: The Cordelian Chronicles deals with a universe where there are lots of different Earths extending in bubbles all around us. But while some may have similarities to our Earth, their histories are mostly just connected because most were inadvertently colonized by Earthers in the past (like marooned sailors). Someone searching for Alternate History might be disappointed, but someone who happens to like the concept of alternate histories might like the novel.
  • Dystopian: It’s not dystopian at all, really. Almost. That is, some of the worlds our heroines, Joni and Kelly, visit could be construed as Dystopian, but again if you’re looking for that type of book, this ain’t it.
  • Hard Science Fiction: For those not familiar with the term, this means that the author is really pushing the science aspects of their universe and really tries to make it work. I have totally done this behind the scenes. I’ve written way too many notes on how the science of it all works, but that’s not the novel I’ve written. For those who want that, I’ve got some on my website and will probably expand it later, if there’s an interest, but again, the label doesn’t quite fit.
  • Time Travel: When I give my elevator pitch to agents, editors, and random people in elevators (that’s how I practice), half of them respond with, “Ooh, I like time travel.” But once again…it’s not a time travel novel (that’s impossible and I would demonstrate that in the novel, but then it would be hard science fiction). A key component of the Cordelian Chronicles is the possibility of seeing visions across time or even communicating (via technology or what appears to be magic), but there’s no travel and someone looking for time travel might be disappointed. On the other hand, there are some temporal twists that would attract those readers, but more in the second book (and the fifth if you’ll have me). So this is a maybe, but I might utilize it with keywords instead.


  • Adventure: It’s definitely an adventure. There’s monsters! And fighting! Cliffhangers and scary assassins! But when I look at the books in this category, Aspects, Bright and Fair doesn’t fit. I like a lot of these books, but they’re all maybe a bit too serious. And too many stubble-haired men doing daring deeds.
  • Exploration: Pretty much just a subcategory of Adventure, as far as I can tell, and pretty much all in outer space. Joni and Kelly do a lot of exploring, but that’s not their guiding impulse. Still, I’m aiming for a sense of wonder/excitement as they travel from world to world, which can be part of this category.

All right, I’m not sure if that worked. Let’s go back to the beginning.

Books> Yes!
                     Teen & Young Adult> Yes! (only 350,822 other books this time)
                                          Science Fiction & Fantasy> Yes
                                          Science Fiction> Yes

There’s fewer choices here, luckily, and I’ll cross off Aliens, Dystopian, Space Opera, and Steampunk off right away.

  • Action & Adventure: This feels pretty close. The best sellers are the Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent series, which are obviously all more dystopian than mine, but we’ll have a lot of overlapping readers.
  • Time Travel: See my issues above. On the other hand, the best sellers listed are dominated by the Ransom Riggs’ Peculiar Children series and Madeleine L’Engle’s works. And while both play with time, in neither is it the reason you read it (or at least I’ll argue with you about it). And I’ve used both as comps before, in the way that they are sci-fi, but seemingly magical creatures emerge (angels, stars, unicorns, Ymbrynes). Plus, one of my worlds is named Lengle, in homage.

Well, maybe I should then compare it with comparable books, or at least ones that I want to have readers in common with:

  • Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs): See above, but it’s also in Books>Teens>Literature & Fiction>Action & Adventure>Mystery & Thrillers, which is useful because I could also go to Science Fiction that way. This is also one of the few novels set in contemporary times (like mine) that is science fiction, more than fantasy, romance, or superhero.
  • The Lunar Chronicles (Marissa Meyer): Her subcategories involve Aliens, which doesn’t seem right for mine (or hers, frankly) and Fairy Tales and Folklore. Now, I researched a good amount of folklore for this book, but it’s pretty hidden. I’m hoping some readers figure it out, but it’s not a retelling.
  • Across the Universe (Beth Revis): It’s ranked in Teens>Mysteries & Thrillers, and never mentions Science Fiction. Not what I was expecting.
  • Feed (M.T. Anderson): It’s Teens>Science Fiction & Fantasy and then either just Fantasy or Dystopian.

So here is what I’ve learned: the BISAC codes (which assign the categories) don’t match up that well to any books apparently, at least mine.

My gut feeling is to go with:

  • Teen & Young Adult>Science Fiction & Fantasy>Science Fiction>Action & Adventure (1,832 books currently)
  • Teen & Young Adult>Science Fiction & Fantasy>Science Fiction (12,859)

That means not doing a straight (non-teen) Science Fiction, but my work is YA, none of the adult subcategories seem quite right, and the general adult Science Fiction category seems too big. The other possible choice is to use Time Travel as a subcategory, but maybe I’ll work that in with the keywords.

What do you think? Would you suggest going a different route? I would love to hear your thoughts, either in the comments down below or you can write me directly.




3 responses to “Categories

  1. Okay – it’s NOT time-travel – it is FANTASY – and young adult science fiction – yes to action/adventure/wonder/excitement – I don’t see a connection to the Peculiar Children (which I found very odd) – the unique thing is the bubble concept: slithering from one to another – so it’s TRAVEL, but not time – otherworldly travel? I’ve been fighting Mapquest much of the day, so I’m a bit hung up on that sort of thing – wish I could travel by bubble to and from Seattle.

  2. I really appreciate your discussion of how categories work. I also appreciate the link to Jane Friedman. I am also a beginning blogger and have had no idea how to grab readers’ attention.

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s hard to build a platform, when you have no platform. One thing I would recommend is that when you write a book that looks as awesome as “John Ronald’s Dragons” (I have two shelves of Tolkien books in my office next to me), you should casually mention it, even in blog post comments. See what I did there?

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