Books are bananas. Write your book so it has a place on the shelf.
What's your favorite genre to read?
Do you go back to that genre again and again, or will you read anything?
I’m sure there are readers out there who read all genres, but mostly, readers have their go-to bananas.
I love to read romance, especially books set in the current time period where weird things happen. It would take a lot of effort for me to read a six-hundred-page fantasy book with trolls and wizards. I would drag my feet if I had to read a book where every character wears a frilly apron and bonnet (although I have read some great Amish fiction). It’s not because I’m a hater of fantasy and historical fiction—it’s because I prefer books within a specific genre. When I was a child, I read all the Lois Duncan books I could get my hands on. Stranger with my Face was one of my favorite reads of all time, and I read I Know What You Did Last Summer before it was a horror movie. It’s just what I like. Don’t fault me for what I prefer. And we can’t fault our readers if the genre we write is not what they prefer.
So let’s take a moment and think about this.
Have you ever considered the book you’re writing is one banana in a bunch that publishers want to put on the shelves for readers to buy?
The book you’re writing is special. The words on the pages of your book are yours alone, and nobody else could have said it like you. However, publishers want bananas to put on the shelf. They want to give readers the “fruit” they’re shopping for.
What does that mean for writers? As difficult as it is to find readers, writers ought to stop and consider this idea.
I’m not suggesting you write a book just like every other one, but what I am saying is if you want to sell your book, consider what kind of books readers are shopping for. The books you write need to fit into a category. Mystery. Romantic suspense. Horror. Fantasy. Christian fiction. There are many more genres, but these are some examples.
I’m not a good example of this. My first full-length novel doesn’t fit well into any category. It’s Christian fiction, but it’s edgy and not every Christian who reads it appreciates the content (maybe too much Lois Duncan on my mind?). Those who love it, love it. I never expected every single person who picked it up to give me rave reviews. I wrote it because I felt called to the topic of magick, but as I move forward, I will keep in mind if I want to sell books, I need to try harder to fit into a category on the shelf. I don’t want my book to be a straight, black banana nobody would buy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with straight, black bananas. They make the sweetest banana bread. And those who have read all the books in The Good Shadows series have asked for more books.)
What if you’ve already written your book and you realize it doesn’t fit well onto the shelf? There are a few things writers can do if they find themselves in this situation.
Four tips for fitting on the shelf
1. Study the closest genre and make a few adjustments.
I’m not suggesting you change what’s most important about your book, but if there are a few minor changes you can make so your book is more one genre over the other, it may help sales a lot.
2. Market your book to the closest genre.
It’s possible your book is a different genre than you thought you were writing. It takes a lot of time for writers to figure out their genre. I started out writing women’s fiction, and now I write young adult romance with a supernatural twist. Specific, I know, but it’s the genre I adore and I have lots of story ideas I’m working on in this category.
3. Consider writing a different genre.
What if you kept your big idea but put it in a different setting or time period? Could you still tell the same story? Could you find more readers if your book was on a different spot on the shelf? This is something I need to think about. Not only is young adult one of the hardest categories to write for, but young adult Christian fiction is a nearly non-existent bookshelf at the store. That's still what I write, but I realize what I'm up against because that's the kind of banana I chose to produce.
4. Find the rest of your bunch.
One thing writers can do is team up with other writers who write books in their genre. Maybe together they can become a bunch on the shelf. Go to book signings together. Teach at schools. Visit youth groups. Do what you must so you can reach your audience (I’m speaking to myself here! It’s scary to get out there and reach readers, but it’s important that somebody gets to enjoy the fruits of my labor). Group giveaways are a big thing now, too. Yes, I’ve heard it’s not a great idea to give away your book if there are going to be a bunch of other authors doing it too, but what if this is the way for your banana to get picked?
Maybe some of you are thinking it doesn’t matter if your book fits on the shelf, especially in this day and age where anybody can self-publish and readers will read whatever they want. But I’d like to argue it still matters. Readers need to be able to find your book, and the way they’ll do that is by seeing where your book fits on the shelf. Consider those Amazon sponsored product ads. The way products get sponsored is usually because they have something in common with the featured product. You don’t want your book to get lost in a discarded box of ugly produce (although they do sell disfigured produce by the box because they teamed up and found their bunch).
The goal is to become your own bunch of bananas. If you write enough books, readers will simply search for YOUR books. But until then, consider what you need to do to fit on the shelf so you’ll end up in shoppers’ baskets.
Happy writing, my friends!