Genre Bending: Round Books In Square Slots

My book is bound to be a best-seller too, right? Getting Naked for Money  is having an identity crisis. It doesn’t know what genre it belongs to.

Why does that matter? Because my potential readers-to-be want points of reference, familiar books that will help them decide whether they’re likely to enjoy mine.  Because Amazon demands that I choose a publishing category and key words, so they can do their own “Because you read this, you might like to read that” pop-up comparisons.

The pressure!

A Book in Search of a Genre

An editor who read my manuscript said:

Youd asked me to suggest some books that might make good comparisons with yours. While there are many comic travel memoirs (and many more that are both funny and dramatic), your book is unique in that it combines elements of a travel memoir with a workplace/industry tell-all. This is, of course, a very good thing (who wants to write a book thats just like someone elses?).

This is indeed a very good thing in the general scheme of things, but bad in the SEO scheme of things. If search engines can’t find you, you don’t exist.  Putting “Naked” and “Money” in my title might be attention grabbing–and accurate–but those words don’t get at the book’s gist. That’s why a lot of scantily clad women follow me on Twitter

Be bold, I told myself. I decided to define my memoir as a cross between Eat, Pray, Love — without the “Pray,” and for “Love” substitute “Meaningless Sex” — and You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, except in my case it would be You’ll Never Have Another Spa Treatment in This State Again. Of course,  I never achieved the success that Julia Phillips  did; she was the first woman to win an Oscar, for co-producing The Sting, and she did that at age 29.  Then there’s the fact that she died in 2002 at age 57; a new generation has probably never heard of her or her book.

Details, details. Other than those things, the comparisons are perfect.

Two-Word Key Phrases or My SEO Is Screwed

See, there’s the problem. I’m hooked on refining ideas, on explanations and asides. Philosophically speaking, this is laudable. Key word-wise–not so much. I’m having an awful time trying to pare my book down to the one- or two-word phrases.

For example, it fits into the “humor” and “memoir” categories. It’s a humorous memoir. But wait: It’s more accurately a humorous travel memoir. A humorous female-driven travel memoir. A humorous solo-female-driven travel memoir. A humorous solo-female-driven travel memoir-cum-tell all about the travel publishing industry.

And that’s not even to mention that the narrator is a recovering academic and a late starter…

What’s My Genre? BISAC Categories

Although I worked in publishing for more than 25 years, I had never heard of BISAC subject codes until I had to choose one for my book:

Book Industry Standards and Communications categories are used by the book-selling industry to help identify and group books by their subject matter.

These codes are created by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG), which has several Metadeta Committee Meetings on its events calendar.


What’s my genre?

I chose #BIO025000: Biography & Autobiography / Editors, Journalists, Publishers.

Among the other subcategories of Biography & Autobiography was “Women.” Apparently, being female is a whole separate thing to do with your life.

Sometimes it does seem that way.


I put it to you, oh potential readers: Does genre affect your book-buying decisions? How much if so?

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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

8 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Sheri says:

    Edie have you ever read “The Merde” series by the Brit who lives in Paris? Or the memoir by the ad guy who works in Paris (he’s American) called “Paris I love you but you’re bringing me down?” Both combine workplace and travel observational humor and both are in the memoir camp. Can’t wait to read the book ps.

  2. Anna Redsand says:

    I get the dilemma. Not that I had one for *To Drink from the Silver Cup*, despite the fact that it has several target audiences. But a few years ago I was embarked upon a tell-all cum memoir about missionaries until I realized that the people interested in reading about missionaries were probably not interested in what I had to say about them. But finding the right genre to pitch agents and editors was mind-boggling. I finally hit upon journalistic memoir, thanks to Joan Didion. I think you made a good choice and entertained and informed me in the writing of it. Fun as usual, since I don’t have to cope with the frustration.

  3. Karyn Zoldan says:

    I read a lot of mysteries. Looking at the above list, that is perplexing. I guess J.A. Jance and others plop their books in fiction.

  4. Kristine says:

    You are right about Julia Phllips’ book. I have heard of it but never read it. I immediately started looking and it is impossible to find! My library doesn’t have it, it’s not available via ebook, and apparently it is also out of print! Sad face. Seems so odd for a book published less than 20 years ago.

    Good luck with all of your final decision-making. I am a huge memoir fan, especially by women writers, so usually anything in that category I am automatically interested in, with a few caveats. Autobiography and memoir are, however, NOT the same thing. It’s too bad this is the only category the BISG list has that fits. Memoir is much richer and is not full of celebrity self-aggrandizement. But perhaps that’s just the connotation I have?

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Bummer about Julia Phillips’ book; I didn’t realize it was out of print. And that’s so interesting what you say about memoir vs autobiography. I have not yet found a satisfactory definition of the distinction between them but I think you’re right about the general sense that one deals with famous people, the other with more personal information.

      As it happens, you will soon have a book to read instead of Julia’s: Mine. Your copy of Getting Naked for Money went out yesterday! I decided to start with supporters who live in Canada and overseas first (along with about 20 others chosen at random). I will make a general announcement soon 😉

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