(The fourth of a four-part series that explores a hidden root of the problem in popularizing Visionary Fiction as a genre and proposes a nifty ready-made solution to it.) Click link to read Part 1: The Fiction Prejudice Click link to read Part 2: The BISAC Solution Click link to read Part 3: BISAC Buy-in
IN THE EARLIER SEGMENTS OF THIS SERIES we imparted good news (the up-and-coming BISAC system provides a high-level unique code for Visionary & Metaphysical Fiction) and bad news (authors and vendors don’t use the code often enough to make VF books easily accessible to readers). In this section I’ll follow up on the complexities of proper categorization and make some suggestions that will not handicap the individual VF author in the short run but build a robust VF collection in the near future. Rather than trying to squeeze in all pertinent material, I’ll include links to other articles so that those inclined can drill deeper into mechanics of categorization as practiced in today’s publishing industry.
Breaking the Public Relations Barrier
In a comment beneath my last post (Part 3 BISAC Buy-in), author Margaret Duarte nailed both opportunity and problem in one sentence: “I feel confident that massive numbers of readers crave what we write, but are unable to voice their preference for lack of what to call it.” Evidence, too often underplayed, abounds to justify her optimism. An example: I was stunned that Kate Atkinson’s most recent book, Life after Life: a Novel, introduced on Amazon with the blurb “What if you could die and be reborn again? That’s the question in this brilliant, multi-layered novel set in 20th century London that is as funny as it is philosophical,” won 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards for HISTORICAL Fiction! While it splices in some great bits about the history of the London Blitz during World War II, its major premise is visionary to the core, as stated in the words of one of the characters: “What if we had a chance to do it again and again, until we finally did get it right?” And yet, Life after Life doesn’t appear in a search of online vendors for “visionary fiction.” Like author Sandy Nathan who said in an email, “The BISAC codes are very important. I usually put FICTION/Visionary & Metaphysical, but not as my top choice. It can be a dead-end in Amazon searches because lots of people are afraid of anything that sounds religious,” VF authors and publishers have their reasons to skirt the VF label No doubt, both visionary and metaphysical fiction, by association, inherit the 21st Century public relations problems of religions, including cults and New Age groups. But this can be overcome with a vigorous promulgation of the distinguishing characteristics of the Visionary brand (for talking points see the article A Case for Visionary Fiction, Part 2: What Goes into the Bucket?) and the way it matches the craving of Duarte’s “massive numbers of readers.” The VFA and individual VF authors made considerable progress on the PR front in the past few years. Several further activities, such as a Visionary Fiction article for Wikipedia and #VisionaryFiction on Twitter, are in progress. (See A Case for Visionary Fiction, Part 3: Action Plan for details.) The steering committee for the VFA site meets monthly via Google Hangout to discuss how to make Visionary Fiction become more visible, especially in social media, an effort that requires persistent attention. Consider that Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code had over 60 million readers. One can argue that it was not the suspense, mystery, historical, or literary components that shot this phenom to the top, but its iconoclastic visionary elements. The case for VF’s popularity may be ironclad, but it has to be argued with creativity and vigor to be heard by that “massive number of readers.” Imagine how the rents would soar in the VF category if the Dan Browns and Kate Atkinsons staked a claim in the VF neighborhood.
Getting out of the Closet: Categories and Keywords
Only those authors who know they are visionary writers in the true Jungian sense and are proud of it can get the stampede started. Categorize your books as “Visionary & Metaphysical Fiction,” if not as first choice, at least second (you get two). B&N’s clerks and Amazon’s algorithms might continue to park them as Literature and Fiction for awhile, but, given enough instances, they will catch on and give them their own space. If you are afraid the VF label might land your book in some disrespected or unexpected bin, use both the alternate category choice to position it more exactly and the powerful keywords feature (on Amazon, tags on Smashwords, shelves on Goodreads, related subjects on B&N) online vendors provide to further specify your content. If you can’t see fit to spend one of your two categories on VF, at least put visionary fiction as a keyword. Strategic use of categories and keywords on Kindle is further explained in Amazon Help topic, Selecting Browse Categories; M. Louse Locke’s How to Get your books into the right Categories and Sub-categories; Donna Fasano’s Authors! Expand Your Kindle Readership Using Keywords, which includes a link to Amazon’s canned list of keywords, a backdoor to get into some of their very detailed categories (unfortunately “visionary fiction” is again not included); and David Gaughran’s Amazon Makes Life Easier For Authors of Historical & Literary Fiction. There are other relevant and worthwhile articles on both Locke’s and Gaughran’s sites, so browse while you are there. For some fairly sophisticated tactics by which publishers and authors can pressure vendors to clean up their discombobulated classification system—something we VFers must inevitably get involved in—David Gaughran’ 15 Ways Amazon Can Improve Kindle Direct Publishing is a must-read. Of note in the above article Guaghran suggests:
We need lots more sub-categories. Amazon recently added new granular sub-categories in some genres, but others were completely untouched. It’s great that SF now has 20 sub-categories. It makes it easier for readers to find the kind of books they like among the 50,000 or so SF e-books on Amazon. And it makes it much easier for SF writers to be discovered and gain visibility in those smaller categories. On the other hand you have genres like Historical Fiction, which has 25,000 books and no sub-categories. I appreciate that it’s tough to divide up some categories – coming up with sub-categories for Literary Fiction is fun! – but there are so many options with Historical Fiction.
Once we get an adequate number of titles categorized in BISAC’s Visionary & Metaphysical Fiction, it will be appropriate to lobby Amazon, using Gaughran’s template, to also adopt a list of sub-categories for Visionary & Metaphysical Fiction. As we well know, Visionary Fiction comes in many colors (spiritual, New Age, paranormal, utopian, dystopian, futuristic, historical, motivational, etc.), each with their niche market. Finally, a plea to those Metaphysical Fiction writers who might feel put upon that BISAC tossed them in the same bed as Visionary Fiction. Let’s make this an opportunity to turn the sometimes civil war into a civil union. Despite the differences, the genres have much in common, including the need for greater market visibility. With keywords now and sub-categories in the future, we can retain our individualities while each benefitting from the promotional efforts of the other. Visionaries and metaphysicians who both write great fiction can’t be that incompatible.
If we build it…
Despite its ancient pedigree, Visionary Fiction as a genre is still in the “becoming” stage, as this series has pointed out. It is going through growing pains as a craft, in its art, and in the mechanics of its marketing. Maturity won’t come easy in a media world so laden with products vying for attention. Our raison d’être is that humanity desperately needs vision, and vision comes from imagination; thus Visionary Fiction serves an essential purpose. BISAC has provided us with the necessary foundation. In this series we have studied how to raise walls, put on a roof, get the place furnished, and put out the “For Sale” signs. As with the Field of Dreams, we now only have to continue to build the VF house and the readers will come.