Trade Fiction Versus Category Fiction: What’s the Difference?

Often I’m asked, “What’s the difference between a trade book and a mass market category book?”

Great question! Here are some primary differences and as always, the exception proves the rule.

Trade books are:

  • About 95,000 words in length, varying between 85,000 and 100,000.
  • Trim size called “Trade Paperback” is usually 5.5″ x 8.5″
  • Not restricted by the rules of any category or genre.
  • Published seasonally, usually 2-4 times a year, meaning books are promoted for several months.
  • Meant to sell in large part by building an author and author
  • Have no guarantee of a specific number of sales since they aren’t marketed through clubs.
  • More expensive than mass market. In CBA fiction, the typical range for retail is $12.99 to $15.99.

Some publishers, such as Harlequin, have “lines” of “category” fiction that fit into certain genres, such as romance and romantic suspense. This is a primary type of book marketed differently than trade. These books are:

  • About 40,000 to 70,000 words in length, depending on the line.
  • Trim size called “mass market” is usually 4.25″ x 7″. Sometimes a little shorter on the long side.
  • Written to the rules of the line’s genre.
  • Published frequently, often four to six books within several lines each month.
  • Geared so that the reader looks for the publisher’s line first, then the author. However, notable authors should see increased income and contracts.
  • Often marketed through clubs, so a certain number of sales is guaranteed.
  • Less expensive than trade books, currently ranging from about $5.99 to $9.99 retail.

Some authors choose to write one type of book while others write both. When deciding, it’s a great idea to consider what you enjoy writing, and how you ultimately want your career to look, before you set your fingers typing.

Your turn:

What differences did I miss?

Which do you read more: category or trade? Why?

Which do you write? Why?



20 Responses to Trade Fiction Versus Category Fiction: What’s the Difference?

  1. Avatar
    Damon J. Gray May 25, 2017 at 5:26 am #

    Tamela, this was an interesting read, as I’d not even heard the phrase “mass market category book.”

    What does this line mean? >> “Meant to sell in large part by building an author and author”

    As to your specific questions, I read Christian nonfiction almost exclusively, and as a result, that is also what I write, speak on, blog about, etc. It is what I know and what interests me. I have been known to get caught up in a fiction novel occasionally, but that is a rarity.

    But thank you for the thought provoking explanation. Again – nonfiction – I love learning new things!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 25, 2017 at 11:41 am #

      Oh, sorry — for some reason the word “brand” was dropped. It should say, “author and author brand.”

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    Carol Ashby May 25, 2017 at 5:50 am #

    A handy summary, Tamela. I mostly read trade because I like the more complex stories that the bigger word count allows. I occasionally pick up a mass market in a big box store when we’re traveling, especially if I see something Roman era. I scan the Love Inspired titles when we stop for groceries, and I’ve found some nice vacation reads there.

    I write trade because my novels are stories about human love and spiritual transformation, stories about how our faithfulness can inspire another to open his or her heart to God. They typically run 110 words. I’ve found that to be the natural length for a story where the reader gets to watch a radical transformation in world view of one or more characters while the relationship between two leads swings from animosity or at least apathy to romantic love.

    I write full time. Now that I’ve mostly figured out what I’m doing, I can turn out a well-polished novel about every six months. My second just released, and I’m starting the transformation from 1st draft to polished on the third one in the series. I certainly hope my readers will start expecting and wanting the newest one every 6 months because I have at 4 more in process already. I don’t like having to wait longer than that for the next one from an author I love.

    • Avatar
      Soni Cido May 29, 2017 at 10:07 am #

      I love this thank you Carol! My goals as well.

  3. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson May 25, 2017 at 5:50 am #

    I learn so much from you Tamela. 🙂 Thank you for your wisdom.

  4. Avatar
    David Winters May 25, 2017 at 6:33 am #

    Nice overview. I like the look of 6×9…

  5. Avatar
    Glenda May 25, 2017 at 6:42 am #

    Engaging post, Tamela, thank you!

    Like Carol, I prefer to read trade fiction for the complexity more lengthy novels allow. But, I also follow my favorite authors in their works, often scouring the latest book catalogs or local Christian bookstore shelves for new offerings. (I’ll have to look for Carol Ashby’, now! 🙂 )

    If life’s been hectic or I’m looking for a vacation read or I know an author who’s sure to deliver a satisfying cursory diversion, I’ll pick up a trade paperback.

    I’ve just finished my first nonfiction work, and while (God-willing) plan to write more, my hope is to pen several novels as well. (I read on average about six nonfiction books per year in addition to about four Bible studies by well-known authors annually.)

  6. Avatar
    Joey Rudder May 25, 2017 at 7:39 am #

    I love reading trade books where there is something powerful going on. I want to see a character grow and learn and even hurt to get there, leaving me in tears as I stop to catch my breath. And then I take the moment with me, carrying it close and allowing it to impact my own heart, my own life.

    Those are the types of books I want to write. I want to touch the readers while God transforms their hearts, pulling them closer to Him through those moments of pausing, reflecting in tears.

    I’ve only written one book, and I’ve handed it over to God…praying and waiting. (I also pray He will lead the way for other books to follow.) It’s a trade book but the word count doesn’t line up (it’s shorter). I’m hoping this isn’t a problem!

    Thank you, Tamela, for a really informative and thought provoking post. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    CJ Myerly May 25, 2017 at 8:08 am #

    I love this comparison. I prefer trade fiction because of the complexity it allows in the plot and character development. I think it’s hard to fit all that in with a shorter word limit. I also prefer to read trade fiction because I can follow my favorite authors so much easier.

    I write trade fiction. While I write romance, my plot centers around the spiritual journey and the truths my characters learn along the way. My current WIP is around 90,000 words, but the original was 102,000. I’m rewriting the end so I’m not sure exactly how long it will be, but I estimate it to be between 90-95,000.

  8. Avatar
    Nicola May 25, 2017 at 11:35 am #

    Are there other categories? Do serials come under the ‘trade’ label? Hard cover?
    My WIP is science fiction, very soft core. There are no blinding flashes of technical description for the geeks, only deep human struggles.
    I read the trade books, I think. Christian Sci Fi is published by small houses. Where do they fit?

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 26, 2017 at 6:14 am #

      Nicola, good questions. Serials are published through both trade books and mass market category. The books themselves are different, but the idea of a serial can occur in either.

      I believe Christian Sci Fi novels are considered to be trade books. As of now, I know of no Christian publisher releasing speculative books through mass market channels. I don’t mind if someone chimes in with different but accurate information, though. I’m always open to learning!

  9. Avatar
    Jerusha Agen May 25, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    Such a timely post, Tamela! This difference has been a discussion in my household recently, thanks to Publishers Weekly and other articles about the sales changes in trade vs. mass market/category books. This really helps to clarify that difference.

    I’ve so far written trade books, which is also what I read more often. I’m just beginning work on a mass market category novel, however, and the biggest challenge will be to write to the line’s rules and desires. Thanks for this info!

  10. Avatar
    Jerusha Agen May 25, 2017 at 1:09 pm #

    Oh, and that puppy picture is adorable! Brightened my day considerably. 🙂

  11. Avatar
    Edward Lane May 25, 2017 at 7:14 pm #

    The two wip are both over 100,000. But I’m working on one with 40,000 so I’ll save it for you!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray May 26, 2017 at 6:15 am #

      Edward, I’m so happy you are thinking of submitting to me, but 40K is a bit too short. Keep writing. I believe your persistence will be rewarded! 🙂

      • Avatar
        Edward Lane May 26, 2017 at 10:29 am #

        Oh, yes. I will stop at 100,000 this time!

  12. Avatar
    Edna Davidsen May 26, 2017 at 3:00 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    First off, congratulation with this lovely site. It’s awesome. Great post that we can read and learn from.

    I’ve not thought about what’s the difference between a trade book and a mass market category book so much before. It’s because I’m new to trade books, but I see more and more Christian bloggers talk about the topic.

    I guess I’ll dive into it to learn more about it.

    I like what you say about keeping the end in mind before the author sets off writing a book.

    In the end, it’s best to write what you have in your heart, instead of ‘speculating’ what sells best.

    Thank you, right of to share your post on Twitter and Pinterest 🙂

  13. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray May 26, 2017 at 6:16 am #

    Thank you all so much for a wonderful discussion. I have just returned from the Blue Ridge conference. Have a beautiful holiday weekend, everyone!

  14. Avatar
    Cindy Mahoney/aka Claire O'Sullivan May 31, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    I prefer the trade novels, also, though this is the first time I heard this… Rarely do I pick up mass marketing novels. I read and write cross-genre novels (well, I hope I do!) and tie/parallel the spiritual with the physical battles in Christian/suspense or mystery/crime/romance.

    I note with mass novels, characters fall short, even in Christian novels, up to six a year. When I look for the spiritual, I want to know how the main character(s) are affected when they hear the Gospel, why they have this inward spiritual battle, what happens when they backslide, and how they return to seeking the Lord.

    Crime and Punishment is punishing to read, but a crime when avoided. The MC is incredibly miserable, poor, starving and lost his faith. His character is so well-developed that the reader almost wants him to be successful. Saving a woman shows he does have a soupcon of decency, and the end is satisfying. Wonderful (agonizing) book.

    I also believe stooping to 6th grade level reading encourages pandering to the public/and money, and not much along the way of a challenge to read. I’ve been told holding a higher standard is anathema and doomed in sales. I disagree (to a point) perhaps because I LOVE looking up a word here and there I don’t understand. As an author, I see both flat and exciting challenges, and I go for it.

    Thank you for this article! I breathe easier because I believed, perhaps my novel was too complex.

    • Avatar
      Janine Rosche July 13, 2017 at 7:29 am #

      You had me at Crime and Punishment, Cindy. I love that Sonia saves Raskolnikov as much as Raskolnikov saves her. And the gospel saves them both, ultimately!

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