Whose Fantasy Is This Anyway?
Part 5 – Tactics to Help Readers Identify Your ‘Brand’
How Many Fantasy Subgenres Can Dance on the Head of a Pin? And Who’s Counting?
This is the fifth and final posting of a five part series about authors navigating fantasy’s many overlapping subgenres (see also postings for parts 1, 2, 3 and 4).
If you’ve sold enough books so that readers know what you write, great! Half your marketing battle is won. For the rest of us, doing everything we can to call out the subgenre that best houses our work is important in building sales.
As noted in Part 1, book buyers’ purchasing decisions for lesser-known authors are driven by what subgenre they believe a novel belongs to. Knowing this, on-line platforms will tend to group together books perceived to be similar when they make recommendations to prospective readers.
You may rightly protest that your tome is ‘special’ and not as easily categorized as all those other novels that can be straightforwardly dropped into some convenient box. Of course, your novel is unique! However, every work (even yours) fits better into some boxes than others. Granted that mash-ups blending several genres are harder to categorize than single genre books, but judicious assignment of genre – even if it’s a bit of a force fit – improves the odds that your mash-up finds an audience.
What follows below is an admittedly non-exhaustive list of tactics to consider in this effort.
- Obviously, decide what subgenre you think your work actually belongs to, or, at least, find the closest match with an established category. The Book Industry Study Group’s BISAC list is one starting point. On-line sales platforms seem to take their cue from BISAC as authors assign their book to a genre. How you make the assignment is usually your choice if you’ve self-published. There’s no need to invent your own subgenre designation as there are currently at least 16 categories of fantasy in this organizational scheme and more are added yearly. If you’ve blended genres, try assigning whichever subgenres seem the most apposite; usually, you’re allowed no more than two choices per book. The process is rather similar for hard-copy versions of your book distributed via wholesalers like IngramSpark.
- Closely related to the item above, on on-line, select keywords that are consistent with your subgenre(s). For example, don’t reference ‘urban’ or ‘city’, if an urban setting is only marginally relevant to your central story or you risk being categorized as urban fantasy. To some extent, the platform’s search algorithms will sort you where they will for reasons beyond the ken of mortals, but you can help the automated logic and yourself by aligning the keywords with what your intended audience is likely to search for.
- Ensure that the cover, back-jacket blurb, press-releases, and any ad copy you create clearly identifies what your book is about and maybe explicitly notes the subgenre. For my most recent novel, The Lords of Powder ( https://amzn.to/2KPE7E7 ), I noted that it was a blend of genres in the blurb. Hopefully, this avoids misleading readers who really aren’t looking for my type of book, but also intrigues readers who might be interested. Importantly, this precision also tips off reviewers about the intended audience. Certainly, one might wish that reviewers, either fans or professionals, would critique any book on its merits, agnostic about exactly which part of the fantasy universe it belongs to, but given the enormous diversity of this type of literature, authors need to cue reviewers about what part of that universe they’ll be reading about.
- If you run ads on platforms such as Amazon, associate those ads with authors that match your work’s subgenre as closely as possible. Nothing will confuse your potential readers more than if you miss-align your novel with work from unrelated categories even if they’re best sellers.
When I started this mini-series, I expected that how authors navigate the fantasy world’s myriad of subgenres would be a complex topic. That impression has only grown. It’s clear this is a central issue in marketing any fantasy novel because it touches on defining your readership, what your book is about, and discoverability. Part of the answer is noted in the mutually reinforcing set of tactics above, but clearly I’ll need to add to this list. Any further thoughts from readers are welcome.
(the wonderful image at the top is by Johannes Plenio of Pixabay)