As “The Local Bookstore” joins the list of endangered species and we enter the age of digital books, one of the biggest problems facing readers and writers is discoverability. How can readers find new books without being able to browse through the shelves of their local bookstores? How can writers showcase their work without reserving a spot on one of those special, front-of-the-store discount tables?
The online retailer’s answer to this question is the search engine. And Amazon has a good one. With Amazon’s categories and tags, an author can make her book discoverable for exactly the right reader. For example, suppose you have a hankering for an urban fantasy featuring hobos and Norse Gods. Search “urban fantasy hobos Norse gods,” and up pops a single book—Valknut: The Binding. Neat, eh?
Readers need never accidentally step outside their preferred sub-sub-genre, again. How wonderful. Yeah.
This system isn’t perfect, though. The search engine is good, but it can’t read your mind. Suppose you want to read a magic realism book involving Cuban baseball. Enter “baseball magic realism Cuba” into the Amazon search engine and you get either (1) magic realism involving baseball, or (2) magic realism involving Cuba. If you want all three in one book, you’d better write it yourself. If such a book exists, it hasn’t been properly categorized and tagged, so you’ll never find it. Even accidentally. (But you will find a nifty t-shirt for a Dominican Republic basketball team.)
For a book to be “discovered,” the categories and tags selected by the writer and reader must be in agreement.
Unfortunately, even if an author appropriately categorizes and tags her novel, Amazon limits how many labels the author can use. I had to make some hard decisions in labeling my novel. Someone searching on “mythic fiction Norse gods” will not find Valknut: The Binding.
I’ve put a lot of thought into this dilemma, and I think I can help. Using Fantasy as an example, I’ve drawn up a handy chart for matching up all subgenres,* their overlap, and possible mash-ups.
Using this chart, readers can identify possible search terms for finding the exact flavor of fantasy novel they wish to buy. Writers can use it to identify alternative categories and tags for their novels. It’s even color coded. Just follow the colored lines to find subgenres (and hence categories and tags) that could be assigned to a given book.
I admit, the chart isn’t perfect. It might have been a tad more readable if I had some sort of software to draw it. Also, I might have made a mistake or two, but I was out of whiteout. I’m sure you can work around these small difficulties.
I considered adding Mysteries and Horror to the mix since there’s heavy overlap between the three genres, but I thought the chart might get too complicated.
The chart is free for your use, and you may distribute it freely. No need to thank me. Just trying to do my part to clear the path between authors and their readers.
*This is not actually all of the fantasy subgenres I found listed at various websites. I made some editorial decisions to keep things simple.