Friday, April 07, 2017

More on category, cause you are really in a tizzy, I know

I have a client who is trying to figure out how to tag her books at Amazon.

There's a category for Police Procedural, of course. But what about when the Procedural part is done by an investigator -- and not a PI, but someone who works for a private firm that consults with the police and Homeland Security and other agencies around the world. So although the tone is light and similar to a cozy, the protag's a professional, very good at what she does, and entirely respectful of rules and boundaries. In a fresh twist in fiction, she defers to her boss and doesn't stake out on her own.

Do we have an acknowledged term for that? Investigator Procedural?

Categories are intended to help readers find other books they will like. Since I love Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, I might also like yours.  That your protagonist is not official police is less important than the fact the main character has a legit reason to investigate. In other, words NOT a librarian or zookeeper or philatelist solving crimes in her spare time.

Procedurals are also more a methodical-solve-the-case style plot than they are "and suddenly her evil twin sister turns up" (although Erle Stanley Gardiner used that double device more than once.)

You can always just use "crime novel" too.

But if you're looking to find readers, nothing beats "if you like Ed McBain, you'll like this" and "if you wonder why property values in Cabot Cover haven't dropped to zero, this book is for you."

And of course, look for similar books and see what categories they're in.  No use reinventing the wheel if someone has already gotten their hands grimy for you.



Kitty said...

Is there anyone still alive in Cabot Cove to keep J B Fletcher company?

AJ Blythe said...

I'm all for not worrying the little grey cells if someone else has done the work for you - how on earth did we cope before Google?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

So, my book is fantasy. I think it will appeal to readers who love Robin Hobb and Brandon Sanderson. Do I need to say more than that? I have not even thought of what sub-category my book might fall into. Only that it is not steam punk or YA.

It sounds like this is best left to agent and publisher to cipher out it's particular place on the shelf - I will be neatly obscured by the dozens of Terry Goodkind titles I believe. Wouldn't that be lovely? I should probably go write something.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ugh, “category”, the bane of my WIP.
(OP I feel your pain)

As best as I can explain, my work in progress, is a combo of what ‘some’ people like to read, crossed with what ‘hardly’ anybody reads. Put them together and you get thirty years of essays, op-eds, articles and columns wrapped in their own little, (why I wrote what I wrote, and what happened after), memoirs. Now there’s a (without a category) page turner for ya.

OP you’ve got a shot. (Me?) I’ll be printing mine on a HP TouchSmart and handing out copies by the shopping carts in front of Shop Rite until I get kicked off the sidewalk.

Colin Smith said...

I'm actually far more concerned about correctly categorizing my short stories than I am the novel. I think this is largely because magazines tend to favor particular genres, so a short that fits their genre profile has a better chance of being published than one that doesn't. The fact that my shorts tend to fall into the "Twilight Zone" category doesn't help, but at least I try to play match-maker.

Yes, my shorts fall into the Twilight Zone. You can quote me on that. ;)

As for my novel, I will take Janet's advice and query widely. Top of the list will be those agents that seem to be looking for what I've written, even in the broadest terms. Next, all the other agents. The agent who loves my work the most and can put up with me can help me get more specific with genre. :D

Donnaeve said...

And then? Your book, precisely marketed, and positioned appropriately in stores and online, etc., gets into the hands of readers who shelve it under incorrect categories on Goodreads, etc.

Some decided DIXIE was YA. It's not. Some decided it was Women's Fiction. It's not. Some decided it was psychological suspense. It's even been tagged as historical fiction. I suppose it's a moot point because as long as they read it, I'm happy.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna makes an excellent point. As long as readers pick up my book, enjoy my book, I don't care if it gets catagorized as Vegan Kale Smut. I can live next to Felix Buttonweezer as comfortably as next to Terry Goodknd if the book is getting read. Good. I am putting the hamster wheel away on this one.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

E.M. Vegan Kale smut. Is that like Dino porn or different?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...


E.M. Goldsmith said...

2Ns I believe Vegan Kale Smut is the autobiographical form of Dino Porn. Categories in Carkoon are tricky. Most everything is broadly lumped under Fiction Novel so...

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Actually, Vegan Kale Smut is the author of a number of popular Dino Porn fiction novels. She writes as V.K. Smut. Her autobiography, ROMPING WITH REX, has been on the Carkoonian best seller list for years. Donna could probably track down one of her books if you're interested... :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna, would you be a dear? I should probably attempt reading one of VK Smut's books in case it makes a decent comp. You will likely need Colin's guidance to navigate the Carkoon library. I never could manage it myself. I kept finding the same book on uses for used toilet paper. Carkoonians are bizarre.

Colin Smith said...

Elise: You didn't actually read USES FOR USED TOILET PAPER, did you? If so I hope you washed your hands after. You know what use number 1 is...? :-P

Colin Smith said...

And a quick hello to Reiders west of GMT. Hope you're enjoying your breakfast!! ;)

Donnaeve said...

I'm not touching USES FOR USED TP. Nope.

Elise, you'll have to give me a sec, this rope I have to use to lower myself into these old storage tanks otherwise known as Carkoon's Library of The Lost are looking a bit frayed. And I'm afraid. Not.

Ha. Anyhoo. VK Smut you say? Hmmm, ah! 50 books in that series! Wow. How will I get them...oh. Colin conveniently put a bucket on the end of this rope. Except. I'm on the rope and...oh geez. This will take all day.

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks for more useful advice, Janet.

I've learned a lot this week, but as often happens, the more you learn, the more questions you have. Like, does Miss Julie throw something over the bloomers when she knows Frain's coming to sip sweet tea with her on her porch? Does Frain always call ahead? And then there's that other thing I've been wondering about. I might have missed some comments, but I only saw a total of one about the listing our leader got in a big magazine's annual issue about best websites. Congratulations, Janet! The thing I can't get off my mind is a particular word used to describe the way advice is dispensed, and how Ms. Shark might feel about that. I won't say the word here. I won't. But it rhymes with beerfully. And it starts with "ch." Ginfully, perhaps true. But beerfully--not sure how our leader feels about that.

BJ Muntain said...

Ah, Amazon categories. People play them like loaded dice. Choose the narrowest tags you can, because there will be fewer books in there and you have a better chance of rising to the top of the charts. It's much easier to be #1 in the category of Police Procedural than it is to even show in the category of Crime. Now, if they had a category of 'Police Procedural, Non-Police', or 'Non-Police Procedural', you might just break all the records.

Chances are, they've already tagged their book 'Crime'. But really, the narrower the category, the better you show on their charts. I'm not sure how many tags you're allowed on Amazon.

Folks, don't get this confused with query categories. In a query, you don't need to be too narrow. At Amazon, a narrow category will get you noticed faster.

As for 'its place on the shelf' - the Crime, Police Procedural, etc., categories are all shelved in the Mystery section. The Space Opera, Military SF, Steampunk, and Hard SF categories are all shelved in Science Fiction. High Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retellings, Magical Realism, Paranormal, and Urban Fantasy are all shelved in Fantasy. I don't think there are many book stores that shelve subgenres separately from the main genres. Of course, I haven't been in very many huge bookstores...

AJ: Before Google, we didn't worry our little heads over these things, because we didn't know what we were doing wrong.

BJ Muntain said...

Amy: Janet cheerfully chomps the chum. :)

Unknown said...

Well, thanks to Google, I now know what a philatelist is!

BJ Muntain said...

I forgot to add my advice to my lengthy post above. Sorry OP. I haven't finished my first coffee yet, and I may need several coffees today.

My advice: If there isn't anything more specific, yes, choose Police Procedural. The book is a procedural, after all, even if it's not police doing it. People who enjoy police procedurals will enjoy your client's book.

I don't think you could tag it as a cozy, though, no matter the tone. People go to cozy's for more than tone.

But you know what? If the category is wrong, I'm sure someone will let your client know. If enough people mention the category is off, then I believe you can change it. I can't see Amazon being so anal as to not allow changing a wrong category (though I may be wrong. Amazon has some weird rules.)

BJ Muntain said...

And for my fourth comment today (sorry. Now I'm breaking ALL the rules), I have to mention that I KNOW that the plural of cozy is cozies, not cozy's. Dang. I don't know if I have enough coffee in the house to make my brain work properly. I may have to order in.

Julie Weathers said...

As I've said before, the Outlander books have been found everywhere from literary, fantasy, science fiction (I don't know), historical, general fiction, historical, romance, and probably a few categories I've forgotten. Someone found them in a how-to section. I can't help but think that was a joke, but who knows?

Diana battled long and hard with to get one distributor to stop classifying it as romance, not that she has anything against it, but she thinks the book is more than romance. She backed up her argument with sales records from others why it did better in other placements. So, if you're going to do battle, it's good to be armed.

Good luck to the original petitioner. I've worried about how I'm going to describe RC, but that's so far down the line it only gets a little time.

Anyway,My dead Irishman has left Lorena a letter and some candy in his fanciful desk. I should see about it and then club the boys in the back into submission. I started out with a plan for this story once upon a time. I think my vision for it ended somewhere after, "Once upon a time--".

BJ Muntain said...

Julie: Outlander was probably tagged 'Science Fiction' by someone because it includes time travel, which is traditionally a science fiction trope. :)

Casey Karp said...

OK, we've got V.K. Smut. We've got philately.

Paging Tom Lehrer. Mr. Tom Lehrer, please pick up the white courtesy telephone.


On Topic(ish): Categories are the bane--well, OK, one of the banes--of my existence. The current WiP, fer instance, is an alternate historical urban fantasy. Taking a cue from Donna, I figure I'll pitch it as "a book" and let the readers categorize it wherever they want.

Unfortunately, I can't follow Melanie's suggestion, as there isn't a single horse in the darn thing, though there's some talk about a donkey. 'Course, I'm only about halfway through the first draft. There's still time to add a herd. Maybe they can come flying through at the climax, distracting the villain, and--what? Horses don't fly? Maybe not in your universe, Bucko.

I think I'll stop reiding and go find some breakfast and caffeine (a redundancy if I ever wrote one).

BJ Muntain said...

And Julie: Just saw this on the #MSWL website: "Oddly specific #MSWL : Is anyone writing fiction about Belle Boyd? Or about Belle Boyd types? I want historical lady spies." That was from Madelyn Burt @maddestofburts. If you're interested.

Julie Weathers said...


"Like, does Miss Julie throw something over the bloomers when she knows Frain's coming to sip sweet tea with her on her porch?"

Well, I'm not a heathen. I would certainly braid up my hair and put on a net if it were unfurled and possibly my silk wrapper if I were feeling so inclined.

BJ Thanks so much. I'll keep her in mind. Sometimes spies do wear crinolines, including Lorena. Typically, my stuff goes through about seven revisions, so it will be a while before it's ready to see the light of dawn.

Amy Johnson said...

BJ: Ah, now I see why "cheerfully" works. Good point. :)

Claire: I didn't read all yesterday's comments until late. Hope your flowers did okay during the storm. I'm glad you have your grandmother's lilies. They must be treasures in your garden.

Lovely and very respectable Miss Julie: Of course you would. What was I thinking? :)

Julie Weathers said...

ETA, by the time the revisions are done, @maddestofburts will probably say, "Oh, sorry, that's too much like something I already represent." On the plus side, I really thought I was writing this book for me and there would be no interest from agents in a Confederate female spy. Who knew?

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I'm a guffawing awfully unladylike this morning. Thank y'all, Reiders. You're giving me a great Friday. Thank you Opie for asking this particular question. Amazing rabbit holes on this here blog.

Whoops! Off to listen to Pentatonix sing Bohemian Rhapsody. And then it's back to the WiP.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Whoa, somebody help Donna, she's at the end of her rope.

John Davis Frain said...

It's been a rough morning. First my wife tried to kill me, and now I find out someone already used my "Evil twin sister turns up" plot. Ugh!

Some days I wish I like coffee.

RosannaM said...

I can see how where a book is placed can make a difference in sales for those readers who are very specific-minded. I am not one of those readers. Let me loose in a bookstore and I roam. A lot. So I rarely end up with a book that I had in mind to go get. I usually have several in my hand that I then have to winnow down and make a choice.

And I usually sail by the front of the house "famous" books. I like the process of discovering some tucked away gem.

As for my current WIP, just yesterday I got it into my head (50,000 words into it) that it might be better in third person instead of first. So...yeah. I have 1,000 words under my belt and so far I think I made the right choice. I have to tell myself I am not going backwards, though.

BJ Muntain said...

RosannaM: Revisions are never 'backwards', no matter where in the course your draft is. Although I usually try to finish the first draft before making any changes, even major ones like that.

RosannaM said...

BJ Thanks for the encouragement. I was stalling at a certain point and trying to figure out why, and that's when it occurred me that why it wasn't working at that point had to do with the limitations of first person. And I had thought it out at the beginning, (I thought I had, anyway!) but here I am.

Julie Weathers said...


I'm sorry your wife tried to kill you. Don swore I tried to kill him several times. I promise, I dropped that electric pole on him by accident and it wasn't my fault he grabbed that live electric wire thinking the electricity was turned off. You know, stuff happens.

I'm sure it was an accident she tried to kill you. However, have you made any changes to your life insurance policy lately?

It is a shame you don't like coffee. You might try milk and soda water, which the Victorians swore revitalized the body and some marathon runners apparently are drinking now. Who knew?

Barring that, there's always gin and tea, the respectable person's answer to life and those little stones it throws at you. Some sweet tea is better than others. London had to shut down some tea houses during the Victorian era because so many ladies were ordering the "special" blend and leaving drunk.

CynthiaMc said...

Jenny - Read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

Beth Carpenter said...

Colin, have you seen any socks there with your shorts? Because I'm missing several singles ...

A friend has written a mystery series set in ancient Egypt. Some automated program suggested, based on sales of "similar books," that she should move her Amazon catagory to Fiction>Historical>Norse.

Julie Weathers said...

You know, everyone talks about the OK corral, but no one mentions this:

April 7, 1886 - In Laredo, TX, one of the biggest gun battles in the history of the American West began. Political factions began fighting during a celebration parade the day after the elections. It required two companies of the Sixteenth United States Infantry and one company of the Eighth Cavalry to restore peace. The official death toll was 16 but, unofficial reports placed the total close to 30.

CynthiaMc said...

I am experiencing a rare day off and it is glorious! Spent the morning writing (anybody else doing the Snowbound anthology contest?). I'm having a blast but my story wants to grow into a book.

The squirrels, woodpecker, doves, jays (and I swear that was a pterodactyl that flew overhead) are ecstatic that I'm home today. My double amaryllis is blooming (pic on Twitter) and the Easter lilies are thinking about it. I told them they'd better get a move on.

My sister is visiting from Texas and cooking dinner for us, God bless her.

Oh, our yard snake is getting bigger. Found his skin against the fence (pic also on Twitter).

Happy Friday, everyone!

The Sleepy One said...

My book ended up "#1 New Release for Teen and Young Adult Peer Pressure" on Amazon. I never would have thought of that category. I'm still amused.

I queried it as a thriller.

Brigid said...

You'd be amazed at how strangely readers characterize books.

MIL: For babies, Maslow's hierarchy shrinks to love, safety, and having their needs met.

Husband: She's actually working on self-actualization right now. We're teaching her the meaning of life through Dr Seuss.

Claire Bobrow said...

The trick, I guess, is keeping up-to-date on what's current and keeping lists of books similar to what you're working on. That way you can do the "If you like x, then you may also like y" thing when it's time to assign a category.

But as Donnaeve commented: "And then? Your book, precisely marketed, and positioned appropriately in stores and online, etc., gets into the hands of readers who shelve it under incorrect categories on Goodreads, etc."

If only a book could be categorized after the fact! It's a bit like people refusing to walk on existing sidewalks and instead following "desire lines" (more direct routes) through the grass to get where they're going. The true path (or category) will be revealed over time?

EM and Colin: there's a hilarious anecdote about finding a use for used toilet paper in My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell.

Casey Karp: thank you for introducing me to Tom Lehrer. I had no idea!! Anyone who can rhyme "Aunt Hortense" and "Importance" is okay by me :-)

Amy Johnson: thank you for asking. Our garden survived, but it looks like the raven's nest at the the top of the palm tree got blown to bits.

CynthiaMc: I love The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie! Not literally - or I wouldn't be here- but ya know, literaturely. And the photo of your "yard snake" skin is simply terrifying. Run!

Brigid: I had to look up Maslow's hierarchy. And not that I was ever in doubt, but IJ is one evolved baby!

Casey Karp said...

You're most welcome, Claire. Keeping the musical classics alive is one of my goals in life.

My experience with "desire lines" suggests that it's not a good model to try to emulate with categorization. I've visited a number of places--parks and universities, mostly--where the designers allowed the patrons to define the paths by leaving the space unpaved for a period of time, then laying the cement down on the trails that had developed over time. The result? People refused to use the paved paths and defined new desire lines.

I won't speak for you, but I don't particularly want to recategorize my books every six months for the rest of my life...

Claire Bobrow said...

Good point, Casey!

Adele said...

First, off - housekeeping. Janet? You've got a reference to Maine's less well-known town: "Cabot Cover".

Second - doesn't really matter because Jessica moved to New York. Plenty of morgue-fodder there.

Third - you know, everybody worries about category and nobody thinks about the shelf-stockers, who may be lowly but have the ultimate decision over where your books go. For a while I had a job stocking books and magazines. It's an endless, thankless job, physically demanding, and in my case I was required to do it quickly and unobtrusively. I couldn't stand there and investigate where something ought to go; I had to find the old stock and take it off the shelf and put up the new stock very quickly.

So one day along came a new magazine called "SUP". Obviously I put it in with Bon Appetit and similar food-related magazines. Oddly enough, the customers kept moving the darned thing; when the next edition came in I had to search all over for it - and finally tracked it down in the Sports section. Took the old edition off the shelves, put the new one back in with the food magazines ... It wasn't until the summertime rolled around that I found out about a new sport called "Stand Up Paddleboarding".

Joseph S. said...

A few comments seem to indicate it doesn’t matter where or how a book is classified on Amazon as long as the readers like it. I think the original poster’s concern is that potential readers won’t even give the book a try if they don’t find it. This assumes potential readers limit themselves to certain categories (which may be true).

I had no input into how my book was classified at Somehow the publisher (thank you Wolters Kluwer) and figured it out. I do know it’s in at least five categories.

RosannaM, I took an on-line course writing course January 2016. I noticed most of the “good” examples were written First Person. I almost switched from third person to first person (after I had already finished the main draft) but my “classmates” talked me out of it.

John Davis Frain, I hope if my wife decides to kill me, she gets it done on the first try. I’d hate to think I married an incompetent woman.
Also, Janet R’s evil twin sister comment knocked down a subplot in some future novel for me, too. Maybe it’d work better as the main storyline.

Julie W., Laredo 1866. They should have sent in one Texas Ranger. Would have saved a lot of carnage.

John Davis Frain, I’m sorry. Forget what I said above, I forgot I don't have a wife.

RosannaM said...

Still laughing. Took a break from my revising to catch up on comments. Hard to address all of you, but they did put me in right good mood.

Weather is rainy--shocker! And windy, so figuring the power will go out. The laptop is fully charged, though.

Adele, why of course SUP should belong with food! I can just picture all the back-and-forthing that went on with those poor magazines.

Joseph, I have to admit, I'm not sure I'm right switching. But I'm at least reworking things as I go, so it feels stronger right now. Oh, and I loved your line about your wife. Like I said above, still laughing.

Beth Carpenter said...

I had a friend, a complete adrenaline junkie, whose son did a presentation in high school called Fifty Ways my Dad Tried to Kill Me. He got an A, I believe.

Julie Weathers said...

John and Joe It probably won't surprise you that I have two strange old lady characters who pop up in short stories from time to time. They vex the leader of the senior citizens activity group by perusing their Duds for Studs catalogue when they should be focusing on bake sales and such. Unfortunately, they have come close to killing their husbands a few times, quite by accident.

They also appear in the murder mystery I have floating around somewhere.

Maybe incompetence is good.

Also, while "One riot, one Ranger," usually works, sometimes you need an army. We used to bred some mares to a yellow stud a Ranger in Odessa had. He was an interesting guy.

Julie Weathers said...

I'm not reposting that. It should be "breed", of course.

Anyway, back to work. I've been cutting and pasting and rearranging sections today and now I have to see if any of the threads match up or if I have a platypus instead of a gazelle of a story.

Maybe I have a liger.

Anonymous said...

You all crack me up. Casey, I loved that video. Julie, that desk! Thanks, I needed that today.

On topic: Categories, on AMZ anyway, can be enhanced by using keywords. It took me a while to remember where I saw this (mind like a rusted steel trap, I tell you), but finally found it. Jane Friedman has a video in a recent blog  post Improve Book Sales Through Better Descriptions and Keyword Targeting that some of you (esp self-pub minded writers) might find interesting. It's roughly 30 minutes long, but worth watching. Well, I learned a lot, anyway.

Hope you all have a terrific weekend, with many words written!