E-book publishing: why book categories are important

Forgive me—this is going to be a bit of an academic post. 

But first, the good news: last night, four INK e-book publications made the UK Amazon top 100 list for Biographical Fiction.

They were the three Trilogy titles, and the one Trilogy omnibus edition. The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Jospéphine B. even made an appearance on the top-20 list. 

What’s great about this is visibility.

Unless a reader has heard about a book from a friend, or read about it on a blog, or seen it when scanning the top-100 list in their genre of choice: it’s invisible. Perhaps it might show up on Amazon’s “If you like this title, you might like … ” display, but how a title gets chosen for this honour is a bit of a mystery (and possibly has to do with the number and quality of reader reviews and “Likes” a title gets). 

So: I’m happy! 

Inclusion in a top-100 list would not have happened if I hadn’t chosen the category “Biographical Fiction” when I registered my titles with Kindle.

Here’s where it gets technical, but for those of you interested in e-book self-publishing I’ll give it a go (and keep it short). 

On Kindle, you get to choose two categories for a title. Would you rather put it in a pool with 100,000 other titles, or in one with only 500? What chance would your title have of making the top 100 if in the former? None! So it behooves you to see how big the pools are before plunging in. 

Here’s how to find out:

Go to Amazon.com, then scroll down “Shop by Department” on the left. Click “Books.” 

Scroll down to “Book Categories,” and click “Literature & Fiction” (or “Fiction” in some countries). You will be given a number of sub-categories to chose from. Click, say, Historical Fiction. At the top of the middle column you will see something like this:

 (Note that on Amazon.com, Historical is automatically considered “Genre.”)

So Historical Fiction is a pool of 70,014: not small! 

But, as it turns out, it’s a great deal smaller than the category Literary Fiction, which is a pool of 684,885 titles. You do the math. 

What’s a bit challenging is that the categories and size of the various pools vary country to country. You really need to explore. The categories in the U.S. are different from those in Canada and the UK. Amazon UK, for one, has the very sweet and unique category Biographical Fiction, and there are only about 4,500 titles in it—and so that’s where Josephine was able to make an appearance. 

End of lecture … for today.  If you find this confusing it’s because it is confusing! I’m just learning as I go. 

P.S. Did you read my newsletter?  


Holding up the lightning rod


I met with Dan Smetanka last night in LA, a brilliant editor who worked with me (along with my other editors) on Mistress of the Sun.

Dan is the type of editor who reaches into your bowels and yanks out your stuff. Sorry to be so graphic, but he’s not a polish type of guy (although he does that, too). He’s the big picture, the gritty picture, a guts-of-the-matter guy. Working with him has been like working with a master.

We talked about The Next Novel. I confessed I was at a loss. For both Mistress of the Sun and Josephine B., I felt I’d been hit by lightning: the message was clear. Now, I have interests, certainly, but I haven’t exactly been zapped. He advised me to give myself time, to rest, dream, hold up that lightening rod. Yes.

So this morning, Caroline Leavitte‘s blog post on her own Next Book spoke to me clearly: What’s that novel about again? She writes:

It’s hard to know what your new novel is about until after you’ve finished it, at least it is for me.


I feel like I’m treading water and there are sharks all around. And they’re hungry.

It’s possible to just wade in, but Mistress took eight years, and this time I’d like more of an idea of what the novel is about before I begin writing it. In the meantime, I’m treading water, holding up that lightening rod with a wary eye on the circling sharks.

Meeting cyber friends — at last

Shauna Singh Baldwin and I have known each other for a long time, through email and our writing, but have only met two times. She gave a moving and elegant introduction to my talk in her hometown, Milwaukee (a beautiful city).

This is her introduction:

“Many of us are familiar with Sandra Gulland’s historical fiction from her highly acclaimed, and beautifully-written Josephine Trilogy. In The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine published in 1995, Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe, published in 1998, and the Last Great Dance on Earth published in 2000—Sandra brought Josephine Bonaparte back to life. And instead of a greedy schemer who two-timed Napoleon, we come to know an intelligent woman making the kind of choices and compromises women make every day, even today. The Josephine B. trilogy, has sold over a million worldwide, is now published in thirteen languages and in fifteen countries.

Eight years after the last book in the Josephine trilogy, Sandra brings to life another French woman obscured and reviled by historians, Louise de la Valliere, mistress of the Sun King. Along the way, we meet Molière and Racine as they perform their dramas for the king, and listen to LaFontaine as he wrote his fables. With Louise, we watch Finance Minister Fouquet’s arrogance laid low, and the building of Versailles. Again the court of Louis XIV dazzles us, with the intensity of its joie de vivre and sheer excess. Louise is a superb horsewoman besides being a woman of verve and grace, and her riding and hunting endears her to the king.

To no one’s surprise, within a week of its publication in Canada, Mistress of the Sun was on Maclean’s national best-selling fiction list and remained there for more than two months, rising to #2.

Sandra Gulland, born in Florida and raised in Berkeley California doesn’t live in seventeenth century France. Instead she lives just over the border in Killaloe, about 50 miles west of Ottawa, Canada and spends half her year in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She also lives on the web at www.SandraGulland.com—a wonderful web site—has a very active Facebook page, and writes a very interesting blog called Notes on the Writing Life. I don’t know if she can stand on a cantering horse like Louise de la Valliere, but she’s been riding enough years that I wouldn’t put it past her.

Sandra and I have been cyber friends since 1999, and this is only the second time we have met, yet her support and inspiration have often opened new paths for me. Back in 1998 when I was debating taking US citizenship, she took the time to write to me, explaining dual citizenship. When I was researching my second novel, The Tiger Claw, the story of a Muslim woman set in WWII France, she gave me wonderful advice on conducting meticulous historical research—yes, she should know! We keep meeting on online discussion groups like historicalnovelsociety.org and Readerville and I think we have been engaged on a similar project: illuminating and bringing alive herstory as opposed to history.

So I am delighted and honored to introduce a dear friend and spectacular writer.

Sandra, welcome to Milwaukee!”

Moved to tears

This is Rachel and her proud mother, Lanne:

I was moved to tears by the wonderful epic poem Rachel Maes, was inspired to write about Josephine B. She and her mother came to my Borders reading last night in Wilmette, IL. Rachel is going to be going to Roosevelt University in the fall, where I myself graduated. She is consumed with interest in Royals and wishes to get a PhD in history. As well as such poetry, the language and images fresh and moving, she is working on two novels. Such talent and focus at such a young age!

Also at this event was Aimee Aimee Laberge, author of Where the River Narrows, a wonderful historical novel, which I “blurbed” some time ago.