G is for Genre #AtoZChallenge

A guest post by Rob Blackwell

Aside from a book’s title and cover, its genre is the most important factor in how it is marketed to and discovered by readers.

Of course I never considered this when I wrote my novel. When I started A Soul to Steal, I thought I was writing a horror novel. That’s about as much thought as I put into it. I never considered that horror meant different things to different people. I was quite comfortable being in the same category as Stephen King, my literary hero, and that’s all there was to it.

This was a mistake, one I didn’t realize until I had actually published the book.

Looking back, I had unnecessarily pigeon-holed my book, sticking it in a category that it belonged in, but also limiting its reach and marketability at the same time. Here’s why:

1) My novel is a mix of genres

Like I said, I didn’t think very much about what genre I was writing. But given my own eclectic tastes, the novel is all over the board. Yes, it is horror. It has the Headless Horseman, a serial killer and some rather unpleasant deaths. On that basis alone, it belongs in that category. But—and it’s an important qualifier—the novel also has strong elements of other genres.

First, there’s the mystery of who the serial killer is, a plot thread that has proven to be far more popular among readers than I expected. Secondly, the novel has more in common with suspense and thriller novels than many horror books, which, generally speaking, tend toward gore and shock value (this is a broad generalization and it’s not always true). Lastly, I assumed—because Amazon categorizes it this way—that anything with a paranormal element made it horror. But among book bloggers and readers, there is a big distinction, with some saying they will happily read paranormal books but not horror ones.

As a result, slotting my book in Horror from Day One turned out to be an error. Some readers looking for a more hard-core experience might have been turned off, and others who normally may love the novel never gave it a look because they don’t consider themselves horror fans.

2) Amazon discriminates against horror books

Maybe discriminates is a tad harsh, but looking at the Kindle bookstore, it’s not hard to draw that conclusion. When most readers go to the Kindle store, they are either looking for a specific book they’ve heard about, or—more likely—just shopping around. If you are looking for Mystery and Thriller, as soon as you land in the store, there’s a category for you. Fantasy and Science Fiction? Same. Romance? You bet. Even Art and Photography has its own designated section at the front of the store.

Horror, by contrast, doesn’t. To get there, you have to click on Fiction first before being offered a host of sub-categories. This might seem like a small thing, but to the casual reader browsing for books, this could make all the difference in the world. What it means is that unless someone goes to the store with the specific purpose of buying a horror book, they aren’t likely to stumble on it, at least not immediately. They are far more likely, however, to find a mystery or thriller book.

What did I do about it? Because A Soul to Steal is a genre-bending novel, I at least had an easy solution. Amazon let’s you choose two categories. Instead of Horror/Ghost and Horror/Occult, where I first placed the novel, I decided that I needed to broaden the book’s potential audience. I dropped Occult as a category and instead labeled it a Thriller. The result? It’s a lot easier to find the novel and my sales rose significantly.

The lesson for others is simple: for authors, where you slot your novel is just as important as cover art in helping ensure readers get an actual chance to see it. While you don’t want to overreach—placing your book in a category it doesn’t really belong—you should be careful not to overly limit its chances either.

Rob Blackwell is a journalist who currently serves as Washington bureau chief for American Banker newspaper. A native of Great Falls, Va., he has worked as a reporter for the Loudoun Times-Mirror, Eastern Loudoun Times and a columnist for the South County Chronicle. He has appeared on NPR, BBC, CNBC, and C-Span.

He recently published his first novel, "A Soul to Steal," set in Loudoun County, Va. He has won several Virginia Press Association awards and was co-winner of the Jesse H. Neal Award for Business Journalism.

"A Soul to Steal" has been an Amazon bestseller in the Ghost, Horror, Suspense and Thriller lists.

Rob lives in Virginia with his wife and two children.

Buy "A Soul to Steal"

Find him on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/asoultosteal

Find his blog at: http://blackwellauthor.blogspot.com

Follow him on Twitter: @hobbinb .

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