Book Categories – help or hindrance?

As an author, I research and carefully pick the categories that I place my books into on the Amazon platform. I try to make finding my book as easy as possible for those who like books like mine. Unfortunately, that process has become harder and harder to navigate—for author and reader alike.

Let me start by explaining why I believe genre categories are helpful.

First, they help readers to locate books they are interested in reading. When specific categories create an organizational system for books, readers can find the story that best matches their interests and preferences. Fantasy, Science-fiction, history, romance, non-fiction . . . all the different genres have their different flavors—like the ice cream aisle at the market, they are all good, but you know what you like best.

Second, book categories help booksellers promote books more effectively. It helps to ensure they display books to the readers who enjoy that type of story—whether in a physical bookstore or online.

And third, book categories help authors to connect with readers who love the books we write. When we can place our books alongside other similar reads, there is a better chance readers will notice our books and enjoy them.

However, because most reading and book purchasing is now done online, genres have become divided into more and more niches. That means a reader can be very exacting in what they like and keep finding books just like that, but it also means that it’s more difficult to pinpoint which virtual shelf to place every book.

Here are my top five reasons I believe it has become overwhelming for readers to navigate book categories, especially on Amazon.

1. Vague Categories: Some categories are so broad they make it nearly impossible to find new, more niche, books. They lump together all the subgenres. For example, the romance category has a plethora of subcategories, nearly innumerable, but they are impossible to sift through in the main umbrella category. By the same token, the more broken down into smaller and smaller niche categories the umbrella category becomes, it takes too much effort to click through all the links where one might find their favorite new read.

2. Overlapping Categories: Many of the categories overlap so much they seem to be all the same, making it difficult to understand where a particular book might fit in. A science fiction story might also be dystopian, or a mystery is also a thriller. Readers may have a hard time accurately choosing which category to search for their next book.

3. Changing Categories: Categories can change over time, causing confusion for readers. A book labeled as historical fiction may find a new home in the literary fiction category, as an example. This usually happens as times change and the description of one category shifts, creating the need for a book to change to something more fitting.

4. Crossover Genres: Much like the overlapping categories, many authors write books today with multiple genres in mind. They intentionally blend familiar aspects of one genre with something from a different genre to give a fresh spin on a favored type of story. A book can be both a romance and a mystery, such as many cozy mysteries. Or a science fiction story may also be a romance. If they only put books like these into one major category, it would be challenging for a reader to know what to expect.

5. Misleading Titles and/or descriptions: This is the point that started me down this train of thought. With so many books coming out every day, authors do everything they can to help readers find their books. It is important that a title convey to the reader the type of story within the pages of the book. However, some titles border on becoming misleading to fit into smaller categories where the book will stand out better. This leads to unsatisfied readers, and a growing problem in my opinion. It gets more troublesome within the book descriptions that may say things like “a sweet spicy romance” or “a cozy fantasy with mature situations.” These are contradictory descriptions that might confuse many readers.

Book categories are useful for organizing and categorizing books, but they can be a source of confusion for readers. Authors need to be mindful of readers’ expectations and make it as easy as they can to help a reader find the right book for them. As a reader, it’s essential to understand these challenges for authors as well. With both groups in mind, it is best to be open to exploring different categories to find books that best fit the desired interest.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Leave a comment and let me know!

5 Comments on “Book Categories – help or hindrance?

  1. I like it when category names help me find books, but I do not have expectations of perfection. I generally read at least a paragraph about a book before I decide to read it. I tend to avoid dystopian or post-apocolyptic and other sad situations. I enjoy good science fiction, some space opera, and some fantasy. I enjoy romances as well. I also write books, and have a hard time picking categories. (I write both science fiction and romance, and there is sometimes a blur. I even have a series about a robot that has some romance!)
    I’ll take any free book, but I will not shell out cash for a book just because of its category name. By the way, your book descriptions are good enough to tell me if I want to read it, and I thank you for that.

  2. Always read the reviews! I rarely purchase a book without reading the reviews.

  3. I avoid any book with a half naked man on the cover no matter what category it is in.
    I used to like thrillers but it seems as if most of them are about serial killers which I don’t like.
    I would like a good mystery with or without romance/love but no sex. I don’t care if they fall into bed but I don’t want any details.
    Love the Hillerman books (lots of cultural information) and Elizabeth Peters’ Peabody (lot of Egyptian history) series for example.
    I have always read science fiction but it seems like too much is about sex and not the story.
    I enjoy the newer “over 40/50” starting over paranormal books, sometimes in the paranormal women’s fiction class. Or the paranormal academy stories usually teens finding their way.
    Do not care for harem or reverse-harem stories so I want it in the description.
    I like action adventure especially some of the archeology based stories.
    Also like ghost stories like Darcy Coates and Amy Cross. Used to read Stephen King and Patricia Cornwell.
    Paranormal tinged mystery like Joe Talon.
    I’ve read a lot of Robert Ludlum(the ones he actually wrote), Ken Follett, Robin Cook, Michael Palmer and other conspiracy type thrillers.
    Some historical fiction about real people like the women in WWII.
    I have read some fantasy including Tolkien.
    Way back I read a lot of Russian authors but while I like the story arc it does seem to be tough wading
    I do take a lot of free books sometimes I find a new author
    Sometimes it is very difficult to find what I am looking for.

  4. I think book categories help – I know they help me. I worked as a librarian for a little while and am a DBA, so I like to categorize things anyway. Plus, I have over 1000 physical books and over 200K virtual books (yes, my TBR is huge), so I need some way to figure out which books to read next. I like almost all SF, including SFR, but not not hard military SF. I love most romance, but not really young adult or most contemporary romance (unless it is Scottish). I do read the descriptions and those help, along with the categories.

  5. I have experienced exactly you experiences and agree totally with you !

    I want to be able to easely define my preferred books by my preferred writers !

    I will try new authors from time to time !

    Nut categories has become rediculesd and casing more confusing that causes frustration and endless searching if your preferences are grouped togearher with many other kinds of books !

    That old phraise “keep it simple stupid !

    The old way of grouping was much more streight forward !

    You have me very curious about you revised book “Rune of Thorns”.

    I just may give it a shot !
    And thank you very much to speak up !

    You time is very valuable – and taking longer is better when you story brings thecwrighter joy in their work !

    It seems to me – that your readers will also reflect your samecfeelings towards you work as well !
    Thank you

    Charles R.