Monday, July 6, 2015

Where do You Shelve Your Book?

“What is your genre?” they ask.

Well, it’s a story of a dream, of heart and courage. It takes place in the West and it’s about old-time rodeo cowgirls, so it's also historical. It has a sweet romance and it’s suitable for Young Adult as well as grownup readers. So it could be “Women’s Fiction”, “Young Adult”, “Western” or "Historical".

How do you decide?

When I first started writing, I attended conferences and workshops and I kept hearing, “Write something different and new. I don’t want to see the same old thing.”

So I did. I wrote what I called “Christian Fairytales.”

But when I pitched it to agents or publishers, they would sigh and scrunch up their faces, and after a long pause, they’d say, “Well I really like the stories and your writing is very compelling. But…it doesn’t fit our niche.”

Huh? But you said…

I do understand that publishers need to know your audience so they’ll know to whom to market. I understand that bookstores need to know where to shelve the books.

When I started writing what would become my “Cowgirl Dreams” trilogy, I just wanted to tell my grandmother’s story and to encourage readers to follow their dream. I didn’t set out to write a “western.” It’s not an old-style, shoot-’em-up 1800s era western. It’s a story that takes place in the West. So that it where it is categorized.

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Where are your books categorized? Did you have a similar experience?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, are her most recent releases. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.


  1. Moving from traditional to indie helps with the restrictions of genre. I write the books I want to read, and although I do fulfill reader expectations for the overarching genres (romance or mystery), I don't worry too much about those pigeonholes. When I upload a book, I deal with the choices each distribution channel offers. And a couple of years ago, Amazon added a bunch of new sub-genres, which gave my romantic suspense books a huge boost, because they determined the books were 'action adventure romance' and I was now swimming in a much smaller pool.

  2. That is indeed the conundrum. Write something new, but what would you compare it to for marketing purposes? :) I sometimes wonder if I chose the wrong BISAC codes. It is YA, but it is more alternative history and thriller than fantasy, myth, and lore. And adults enjoy it as much as teens. Still, until they do away with book shelves entirely, it does have to go somewhere. Preferably at the front of the store as soon as someone walks in, but publishers pay extra for that privilege.

  3. It's tough one, Heidi ... trying to pigeon-hole our work ... but it appears folks just gots to know what it is about before they plunk down their money ... I get that. BTW I (the world's worst proofreader) spotted a typo in todays post ... no shame, BRP, even Tiger Woods shanks a shot now and then.

    1. LOL, Thanks, Christopher. Guess that's not a good recommendation for editors is it? Oh well, like you say, we are all human.

  4. My agent keeps smacking me down because I call my books mysteries. They have a strong mystery or suspense element, but they don't follow the cookie-cutter mode of genre writing. She pitches the books a women's fiction, which I thinks means I haven't a clue where it will be shelved. My publisher goes with suspense, women's fiction and a few others. I go where my readers are...

  5. Had to laugh at the response when you pitched your idea, Heidi. I went through a similar experience early on when I was writing what didn't fit into a niche. It is easier to categorize most of my books as they are police procedural mysteries. The one that is hard to label is Boxes for Beds. It is not set far enough back in history to call it an historical mystery, but it is not contemporary. It is also not a strict police procedural like my other mysteries. It is always fun to play these labeling games. LOL

  6. As mentioned by Terry, being an indie writer knocks down the genre walls, but I'm not sure where that puts my books. One person suggested mainstream as a place to start, but that seems a bit like a generic cop-out. Women's fiction? Another possibility, but I sure hate to exclude what I hope will be a lot of male readers. Back to mainstream, and that really doesn't tell a prospective reader anything, does it? Hopefully, the blurbs on the back of the books and the descriptions on Amazon, etc., will bring some clarity to that muddy water. Excellent post, Heidi. It nails a major problem many of us face as indie writers.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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