The Place on the Shelf

For the last ten years, I worked for Barnes and Noble. Recently, I had the opportunity to finish school and go after my own writing career, which I’m happily pursuing at the moment–and that meant that I had to leave this wonderful place of business.

A business that, I’m sure you won’t be surprised, works very hard to place books on the shelves in an organized, efficient way. Fiction is alphabetized. Biography is arranged by the subject. Etc. The organization is not as elaborate as a library, but everything has a place.

Sometimes the question of book placement is more problematic than it should be. For example, after that whole James Frey debacle (you remember–the author who was one of Oprah’s picks and it turned out that he’d basically made up his entire memoir), there was some question of where to put the book. Then Jeanette Walls came out with Half-Broke Horses, labeled as a ‘true novel.’ What the –? Biography? Fiction? Make up a whole new section?
(Both of these are enjoyable books, by the way. No besmirching here.)

Turns out, this dilemma is nothing new.

The full title of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is Orlando: A Biography. When it came out there was much confusion. “But it is called biography on the title page, they say. It will have to go to the Biography shelf.” ~V.W. A Writer’s Diary

Virginia Woolf was concerned that the book-buying public wouldn’t be able to find her book. Unable to find book = no sales. No way to “make expenses,” as she puts it.

This is a legitimate beef. And I don’t think that there is any real answer to this dilemma, which still haunts us writerly folk today. Probably the best answer:

  1. write your book however you want to
  2. sometime during the process, figure out exactly what the book is
  3. explore the bookstore/library and figure out what the categories are
  4. communicate what the book is in query letters, phone calls, emails to agents and editors who may want your book
  5. after that, honestly, your on the marketing team’s good graces–so be nice to them =)

Is anyone working on a half/half genre that could be confusing? How do you plan to handle it?

***ANOTHER SUPER IMPORTANT SHELVING POINT–made by The Rejectionist (and if you’re not following her blog right now, I don’t know how to help you)







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