Categories, Key Words, and Tags, Oh My: Why should an Author Care?

Two weeks ago I published my second historical mystery, Uneasy Spirits, and in the process I was reminded of how confusing it can be to determine the best category and key words I should use on Amazon to describe my book. Since there are several other authors who have been wrestling with the same question in the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC) that I belong to, I decided to write this post on how to use categories and keywords to maximize ebook sales.

For the purpose of this post I am focusing on ebooks on Amazon, in part because that is where I have the most experience, but also because Amazon is definitely ahead of the other ebook stores in its sophisticated approaches to helping readers find books. My understanding of these issues is based on my experience as a self-published author using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Finally, as with much of the publishing process, there is still a lot of conflicting information about how Amazon categories, keywords, and tags work, so some of what I say is more of an educated guess than documented fact.

First some definitions:

Categories: When a book is uploaded into KDP, an author (and, I assume, a traditional publisher) has the opportunity to choose two categories. It used to be that Amazon allowed you to choose five categories, which is why some books have more Kindle Store categories listed at the bottom of their product page. When you, as author, choose a category for your book, you are actually choosing a browsing-path for readers. That browsing-path/category consists of a hierarchy of sub-categories and your book is available for readers to discover under each of the parts of that hierarchy. For example, in the case of my most recent book, Uneasy Spirits, one of the two browsing-path/categories I chose was:

Fiction—Mystery&Thriller—Mystery—Historical 

If you browse for Uneasy Spirits in the Kindle store, you will find it in under all four parts of the hierarchy:

Fiction
Fiction–Mystery&Thriller
Fiction—Mystery&Thriller—Mystery
Fiction—Mystery&Thriller—Mystery—Historical  

Note that each time a reader goes one step further down the hierarchical browsing-path, there are fewer books to browse. For example, as I write this, here are the numbers of books in each of these four areas:

Fiction [324,671]
Fiction–Mystery&Thriller [43,629]
Fiction—Mystery&Thriller—Mystery [9,700]
Fiction—Mystery&Thriller—Mystery—Historical   [73]

By carefully choosing my category, I make it much more likely that a reader will find my book, since the pool of books is smaller with each step down the path.

The “categories” Amazon offers when you upload your book to KDP are apparently BISAC categories, a book industry standard for subject headings.  What is confusing is that the “browsing path” that Amazon generates from your choice is not always the same as the BISAC category you chose. Amazon apparently converts the BISAC categories that you pick into the Amazon browsing-path categories and subcategories that show up in the Kindle store — and the two are not always the same.

To make matters more confusing and frustrating, this conversion process does not always work accurately. You can read more about this on my blog post, “Working Amazon” and on Suzanne Adair’s blog post, which provides a hilarious description of the trouble she had with getting her wonderful new Revolutionary War thriller, Regulated for Murder, in the right category. (Suzanne is a fellow HFAC author.) To complicate issues further, the browsing categories for books and ebooks are not identical, and Amazon creates browsing categories like “newly released” and “best sellers” and “editors’ pick” — some of which are separate from the browsing-path/categories and some of which are available as additional qualifiers to the browsing-paths. Are you lost yet?

Keywords: When you publish your book with KDP, you can choose seven “key-words” in addition to the two categories. These are really key phrases since they can be more than one word. For example I used terms like “Victorian Mystery” and “cozy mystery.” These “key-words” are apparently used by Amazon in its own search engine — along with words in your title and subtitle and product description. This may seem very straightforward, until you get to the next definition—tags.

Tags: These are another kind of key-word or key phrase. They are listed on a book’s product page under the heading “Tag this product” and were designed by Amazon to help customers describe and find products using key words called “tags.” Readers can add tags to a product page and can indicate that an existing tag is useful. It used to be that the “key-words” that authors chose at the time of uploading a book to KDP were automatically displayed as “tags” on the book’s product page, but this evidently no longer happens. Of course, after publication, an author can add tags to a product page just like readers can.

There is contradictory information about how Amazon uses “tags” and “key-words” in its own main search engine, but I believe that “key-words” that the author has assigned to a book are searchable in Kindle store, the but “tags” are not.  For example, I did not add the word “clairvoyant” as a “key-word” when I uploaded my book Maids of Misfortune to KDP, but it has been added by customers as a tag on the Maids product page. So, if I go to the Kindle bookstore on the Kindle device (or the main search box on the Amazon website) and search for “clairvoyant,” Maids of Misfortune does not show up in the 100 books that are listed in the search result. So, apparently, Amazon does not include the customer-created “tags” in its Kindle bookstore search (available on the Kindle device) or in the standard search box on the Amazon website.

“Tags” are available for a different kind of searching, though. The “tags” themselves are clickable links. Readers can click on any “Tag” on a product page and find other books that have the same “tag.”  For example, if, on the Maids of Misfortune product page, I click on the tag “clairvoyant” (which 19 people checked as useful), the result is 152 books, including Maids of Misfortune. Also, in the “Tag” section of the product page there is a special search box labeled “Search Products Tagged with.”  By entering terms in that special search box, you are searching only “tags.”  Searching “clairvoyant” using the special tag search box finds those same 152 books. Note that “tags” are typed in by users so you will see misspelled tags!

Why Should an Author Care?

Categories, keywords, and tags can be used to help readers find your books, and these are methods that are generally not available to authors of print books that are sold in brick and mortar stores. As authors of ebooks, we need to learn how readers find books in estores like the Kindle store and use the tools that are available to us to maximize our sales.

When you sell a book to a traditional publisher, who then distributes that book to bookstores, you, as author, really don’t have much to say about how readers find your books. You hope that the bookstores will shelve your book on the right shelf (and that they have separate shelves for your genre) and you hope your publisher can convince the seller (or pay them) to put your book in special places like “newly released” tables, or “best seller” tables, or under “staff recommendations.” Beyond that, there isn’t much authors can do besides cultivating booksellers at conventions and through book signings, hoping this will convince them to feature their books — a time-consuming and expensive proposition. (Although I know one author who always turned their books and books of their friends so that the full cover showed whenever they found them in a bookstore!)

However, self-published authors, by their choice of categories, keywords, and tags, can increase the chances that a reader will find their books in an ebook store. I am going to discuss two strategies an author can use to achieve that end.

The first strategy is to choose a category (browsing path) that ends up with a small number of books at the end of the path.

For example, I could have chosen as one of my two categories, the browsing path of Fiction—Historical Fiction for my newest historical mystery, Uneasy Spirits, which is most certainly a work of historical fiction. However, this would have placed this book in a final pool of over 15,000 books in the Kindle store. Maybe some day I will be such a successful author that I can compete in a pool of that size, but right now as an indie author without a big promotional campaign behind me it would be easy for me to get lost in that pool. Few people are going to scroll down through hundreds if not thousands of books to find mine.

So, I chose to place both of my books, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits in the Fiction—Mystery&Thrillers—Mystery—Historical category/browsing-path. Not only does this more accurately define the sub-genre of these two books, but there are fewer than 100 books in this subcategory. It took me six months to reach the top ten books in that subcategory with my first book, Maids of Misfortune, but once I did, my sales went up exponentially. In May 2010, I sold 55 copies of Maids in Kindle and in August, after the book hit the top 10 in this category, I sold 249.

I did a fair number of things to help Maids of Misfortune achieve that top ten status (price changes, reviews, short story, etc.) but I could have done all those things and it still wouldn’t have gotten me into the top 10 in the category of Historical Fiction—it is just too big a pool of books. With the publication of Uneasy Spirits, I had the benefit of now being a better known author, with an already existing fan base, which explains why it took only 24 hours for this book to hit the top ten in the historical mystery subcategory. Even so, as an independent author without a whole publicity machine behind me, I still would not have achieved this within the “Historical Fiction” category.

This strategy (getting your book into the smallest possible pool of books) is also why I chose to put Uneasy Spirits into the browsing path Fiction—Romance—Romantic Suspense (4,800), rather than into the Historical Fiction (15,000 books) or the Historical Romance (8,800 books) subcategories. Again, this was in part because this subcategory accurately describes the book, but also because the pool of books in this subcategory is smaller than in these other two. This is also why, when I had 5 choices of categories when I uploaded Maids of Misfortune, I chose History—United States—state and local—west as one browsing path. I not only figured that people looking for books about the western US would be interested in my book, based as it was on solid historical research, but this was also a pool of less than 500 books, and Maids of Misfortune has been at the top of this list for most of the last year.

The second strategy is to use key-words and tags that will help users find my book in a small pool of potential books.

Let’s take the example of a work of historical fiction that is not a mystery and that, therefore, doesn’t have a lot of options apart from being placed in the historical fiction category with those 15,000 other books in the Kindle store. Here the application of key-words (or tags for people who are doing a tag search) is the appropriate strategy for narrowing the pool to a reasonable level, giving your book a better chance to compete. For example, when I was giving advice to a fellow HFAC author, Elisabeth Storrs, who has written a well-reviewed work of historical fiction, The Wedding Shroud, which has not yet found the readership that it deserves, I investigated what key words she could use.

I discovered that a user who is browsing in the historical fiction subcategory and looking for books about Rome will narrow that list from 15,000 books to 221 books if they put in the search term “Rome.” If they search for “Ancient Rome” they will find a list of just 88 books. And, if they searched for “Early Rome” while browsing in the historical fiction subcategory, they would find just two books.

My recommendation was that she use “Rome” and “Ancient Rome” for two of her seven “key-words” because readers using this browse-then-search strategy would be more likely to find her book in these smaller lists of books that match. This would enable her to compete more successfully in an otherwise broad category. And, of course, these terms more accurately describe the historical fiction she has written!

However, I did not recommend the use of “Early Rome” (although it equally described the period of the book) because it produced such a small pool of books that readers probably wouldn’t return to that search. The other two key-words bring up enough books to make them search terms that readers would be likely to use the next time they were ready to look for a new book.

These two strategies can boost your sales in two additional ways.

First, they will help you get on an Amazon “Top 100 Best Seller List.” Second, they will help ensure that people who find your book will have found books similar to yours — and that improves the chances of your book showing up on the Amazon “Customers who bought this book also bought” recommendation system.

The best-seller lists: Amazon has a computer algorithm that updates the “best-seller lists” in each category and subcategory every hour. While secret, the algorithm evidently takes into consideration “all-time sales, as well as recent sales that are weighted more heavily than older sales…” according to an Amazon spokesperson quoted in this article. Needless to say, no matter how good your sales are in a given hour, or day, your chances of getting into a top 100 best-sellers list and staying there are pretty slim if you are competing against 15,000 other books.

If, however, you are in a group like Horror-Dark Fantasy (227 books), or Science Fiction—Series (169 books), or Fantasy—Authurian (27 books), or Mystery—Historical (73 books), your chances of being ranked in the top 100 in these categories increases (or becomes 100%). Since many customers start their searches for book in the best-seller lists, this heightens your visibility and cachet and increases your sales, which in turn helps you stay on and move up the best seller lists. The increase in sales may, in time, help your book rise in the other categories or key-word searches where your book is listed. Very briefly after Christmas of last year, when my sales were high (700 books in the 3 days after December 25), I actually made the top 100 of the category Mystery—Women sleuths (6,222 books). Heady days!

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought: Amazon uses an algorithm that identifies other books that people who have bought your book have bought. You have to have a certain number of sales for this to kick in (Uneasy Spirits had enough Kindle sales so this section appeared within a day—my print edition came out a week later and has had fewer sales, so its product page does not yet have this feature.) In addition, it appears that for a book to appear in this list, a certain number of your customers must have bought the book. For example, nearly 15,000 people have bought Maids of Misfortune, yet there are only 100 books that show up in the “Customers Who Bought” list, and I know that those 15,000 people bought more than 100 books altogether. It also appears that there might be some other limitations; I haven’t seen more than 100 “also-bought” books listed, even for popular books like Amanda Hocking’s ebooks.

You’ll want to do more than just sell enough books to trigger this feature, however. You’ll want to make sure that the books that show up are similar to your book – and you can do that by using the right categories, key-words, and tags. For example, I could certainly have put my books into the category of Romance—Historical, but then the books that would show up in this “Customer who Bought” list would be dominated by books that tend to put the romance before the history and have explicit sexual themes. While there is nothing wrong with these books, a customer who bought my book, based on the expectation it would be like these historical romances, might be very disappointed by the rather chaste nature of my protagonists’ relationship.

Since my books are in the Mystery—Historical category, it is not surprising that the list of books in the “Customer who Bought” feature is filled with historical fiction (usually in the Victorian era) and mysteries. This adds to the chance that the customer who is checking out my book will think, “Hey, I read those books and liked them, I will probably like this one.” And if they buy my book, there is less chance they will be disappointed —  thinking, “Where was the sex?” — and give my book a bad review. And finally, it will also mean that my book will show up on “customers who bought” lists for books that are in my sub-genre. You can imagine how pleased I was when I discovered that Maids of Misfortune had started showing up on a “customers who bought” list for Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series! That meant my book was being seen by exactly the readership I want to attract.

In Summary:

As an author, you need to carefully choose categories and key-words when you publish and add your own “tags” after publishing. You need to take into consideration not only what best describes your books but also what will maximize the chances that a reader who is browsing through the Kindle store will find your books. You also want to make sure that readers who find your book are the ones who would be most likely to buy it and enjoy it. Careful uses of categories and key-words and tags can also increase your chance of getting on one of the best-seller lists and showing up on one of the “Customers who bought” lists, which in turn will help boost your sales. Carelessness in using these strategies can condemn even the best work to the backwaters of the Kindle store —  undiscovered, unbought, and unread — and that would be a shame.

117 thoughts on “Categories, Key Words, and Tags, Oh My: Why should an Author Care?

  1. Dear William,

    If you go on to Amazon.com, then to the Kindle Store, and you click across the top that you want to see Kindle ebooks, you will get a page where there is a column on the left that headings like Kindle Book Deals, and Popular, and then Categories.

    Once you click on a category-say you start with Fiction, then the categories under Fiction have the number of books in parentheses next to the category, or sub-category. For example, if you look at the category under Fiction of Fantasy it will show some 20,000 books, then if click on fantasy, you will get the sub-catergories under that, including Historical (1724 books).

    The same process exists if you had started by clicking Books, this page would have down the left side something that said “Popular Categories” and then lower down, “More Book Categories.”

    The categories are not identical on the Book Page, and sometimes you have to go down to sub-categories to find the numbers, for example in the Book store you would first choose Science Fiction and Fantasy, then Fantasy, (and numbers would show up), and then Historical (3700 or so books).

    Interestingly I just learned that when you upload a book through CreateSpace, they let you choose one BISAC category/browse path. But once your book is up, you can ask for 2 additional categories! Once again, it is confusing for an author, since KDP and CreateSpace are different in this way.

    I hope this helped.

    M. Louisa

    • Very helpful and informative! But it appears Amazon has changed things a bit since you posted. (Big surprise, right?) Still, your suggestions about testing various categories to see what comes up, how many come up, how they pertain to your book, are still invaluable. Thanks!

  2. Wow, what a vast lot of useful information. Thank you for sharing it. I know you mention traditional publishers presumably being offered the same choices–I wonder how many of them know how to make use of these strategies, or whether the author can have input? Glad your second time around is going so swimmingly!

    • Dear Jenny,

      I suspect that many publishers don’t know about the use of categories and keywords, just by the fact that when I have looked at traditionally published books, they often only have one category listed, But I have heard from at least one author that when she broached the subject with her publisher, they were glad to make the changes. What I don’t know is if this is typical. I see the control an independent author has over this sort of issue one of the key benefits of self-publishing.

    • Thanks,

      I really do hope that this piece prompts all authors, self-published or not, to look carefully at their books and where they are categorized. I even discovered when I was doing the piece that my print edition only had one category-and that through CreateSpace I could get 2 additional categories up. You learn something new every day!

      • If you just want to check to see if your book made it to the list, then looking at the bottom of your product page to see if it is listed in the right categories there under “Look for similar books by categories.”

        The Author Rank feature of your Author Central page gives you rankings by main categories, but for all your books (so this only helps if you have one book out.)

        I know there are other groups that seem designed to tell you what the rank is for separate books, but I haven’t used them. You might try Kindle Tracker: http://tracker.kindlenationdaily.com

        Let me know if this works for you.

        Mary Louisa

  3. Many thanks to Mary Lou!! After following her suggestions, The Wedding Shroud now appears under keyword searches ‘Ancient Rome’, ‘Rome’, and ‘Ancient History’. It was so exciting to see the cover of my book turn up after it had languished amid thousands of other books in the historical fiction category. I was also pleased at how interested my publisher was in Mary Lou’s suggestions. I think everyone is on a learning curve when it comes to e-tailing.

  4. This is a fantastic post, and I really appreciate you breaking it down in such a detailed, thorough manner. I went through my three publications and re-categorized and tagged them to see if this will help their chances. Luckily, when I tried particular search terms for my latest work, it was already in the top 20 in many instances, which is very encouraging! Thank you so much again…

    I just finished reading Maids of Misfortune and plan on writing a review soon. Looking forward to reading Uneasy Spirits.

  5. A lot of very good information. Since I write historical romance, this was particularly interesting to me. Have to check out some of my keywords and tags to make my books more accessible to readers. Thanks so much.

  6. What a terrific post. Thank you for analyzing and sharing this information. My sequel just came out, released by a traditional publisher, so now I can do my own research to see if they have maximized my opportunities. Thank you and good luck. And I loved Maids of Misfortune.

  7. You mentioned this, but I thought I would mention it again. Some of the categories on the KDP back-end do not match the browsing front-end. I’ve tore my hair out over it. There are a lot of choices in the Science Fiction genre on the back-end that do not show up anywhere on the front-end that I can find. So, where do those books go? For the Science Fiction – Series example you mentioned, I have several books that belong in there, but I cannot select them on the back-end. I’m now having to write to Amazon to get the books in the right categories.

    And perhaps someone can help me with the Juvenile Fiction section on the KDP side (Children’s seems to be separate on the browsing front-end)? Where do these show up on the front end? I have yet to find them. If I can’t find them as a browsing reader, what’s the point in using them?

    Honestly, Amazon needs to fix the mess. Why should their KDP customer Service people be spending time fixing something they shouldn’t have to? Having the categories in the front-end and the back-end seems to be a no-brainer.

    Frustrated? Me? Oh yeah. :P

  8. Wonderful post! So helpful. How do you find out how many books are in each category as you narrow your path? I believe I need to do some serious work on re-categorizing some of my indie works.

  9. Dear Bonnie,

    Amazon’s ebook store, when you are looking at the computer (not on your Kindle), sometimes doesn’t give you these numbers, I found that if I have entered an actual book that has the category I want, and then go back to the ebook store (removing the book I had put in the search bar) the numbers start to appear. Go figure?

    So, if you don’t find the numbers listed right away, play around. Maybe start with a book that is in the category you want your book to be in, and work backwards.

    M. Louisa

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  11. Such a generous and well explained strategy to benefit everyone. That’s the nicest thing about indie publishing nobody seems to think benefitting others will harm them! I have an impossible book to categorise…a new scientific theory of evolution written as poetry. Any advice? I am rethinking title, subtitle and covers so now is a good time for advice. Non fiction crossing genres may not have many options.

    • HI,

      Is it already published? If so send me a link, if not, do you know of any other books like it? Let me think about this and get back to you.

      Mary Louisa

      • Sorry Lou. I have been away and not active on any blog sites. No, there are some non- fiction very academic books but apart from poetic Odysseys ( Divine Comedy,etc) Thing is I have some choices in deciding the sub-title ( and looked at search categorys like consciousness, evolution, journey, creation,) but on Amazon ‘Science’ is likely to attract the wrong readers, ‘poetry’ none at all, evolution, a few, so i am inclined to consider ‘Philosophy of Science’ but that does not indicate a new scientific theory. It’s a pig, but any suggestions would be really welcomed.

    • Dear Yvonne, and everyone else who commented.

      Thanks to all of you. I have also found that the number of categories and sub-categories end up having a lot to do with how well a book can do with a KDP Select promotion (which David Gaughran has pointed out).

  12. Thanks for putting this all together and sharing it with the rest of us! Now I am trying to absorb it all and think about where best to place my books… this marketing thing is a full-time job!

    And someday I should get back to writing…

  13. This is an excellent informative post – thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. As a self-pub author, I appreciate all the advice from others who are walking a similar path.

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  15. Thanks so much for this excellent information. I was going to write today, but instead, I’ll be re categorizing my already published Kindle books!

    Thanks for your generosity in sharing this information!!!

    All Best,

    Carolyn

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    • Dear Jenny,

      I know, I know, this is one of the knottiest problems an author faces, but it really can make a difference in your book’s visibility and therefore your sales.

      I would be glad to respond to an email if you have follow-up questions, and I promise not to quiz you. My grading days are over!

      Mary Louisa

  18. Thanks a lot, Lou, for the information. My marketing skills are decidedly shaky, so any info is welcome. My three short stories have been on Amazon for two months, but very few sales so I’m unsure about where I’m going wrong, but thanks again.

  19. Is it possible to change the category after an upload? And can you check what keywords were used to upload your own book (duh!)? Thanks much!

    • Dear Rasana,

      This is very easy if you are self-published on KDP (works pretty much the same on Barnes and Noble and Smashwords). You go to the dashboard, and in KDP up on the left hand corner is a drop down menu Actions, and click on Edit Book Details. There you can check what your categories are, choose to remove one and then add a new one. If the Amazon browsing category you are looking for isn’t in the options available there is a choice of non classified. If you do this then you have to write KDP support and ask for the category to be put in manually.

      The keywords that have been chosen are also on the same edit book details page, and you can just change them.

      If you have a publisher who did this, you need to ask them what categories and key words they used and if they will change them for you.

      Hope this helped.

      Mary Louisa

  20. There isn’t a way to create a new category, is there? Under World Literature I see a lot of countries listed, but I don’t see India.

    • Sorry, I don’t know of a way to do this, except to make sure you have India as one of your keywords and also a tag. Then the savvy buyer will look under World Literature and type in India and bingo your book should come up. This is also why it would be good to have India in your title, and in your product description, because this increases the chance the search engines will find you under that key word.

      Mary Louisa

  21. Love the information. This is a subject that most indie-authors will never master, but with these tools in hand, you have just made it far less complicated. Thank you!

    Cheers,
    Amma

  22. I’m not there yet, and before I consider self publishing I’ll try an agent or publisher first. The advice offered here is however incredibly useful, either way. I’m impressed by this thoughtful and generous post. Thanks Louisa :)

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  24. Great information. I had thought to stay out of small categories. My logic was that few people went to the small categories. But what you said makes sense. Being a big fish in a small pond gets you seen on the best seller list. I’ll keep this in mind for my next book.

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  26. I’ve come to your most welcome post via David Gaughran. As a very newcomer to Amazon KDP I am delighted at the shared information and the opportunities now open for a wealth of talent.

  27. So glad I found your article. I’m just putting my books on Kindle, and I looked at the categories, but it seems pretty general to me for my book. Fiction, contemporary, romance and the second one I chose fiction, contemporary women. It wouldn’t let me get any more specific than that. My fiction book is a contemporary romance, set in Kentucky, with horse people. I don’t know how big this selection is that my book is going into, but I’m thinking it’s large. I did utilitze the 7 tags also to get more specific.

    • Dear Grace,

      I was a little confused about your Fiction-Contemporary-women (wasn’t sure where that got you in the Kindle browsing category)since I didn’t see a category like that, but you are correct that fiction-romance-contemporary is large. (23,000 books). If this is the right category, and you do have the right keywords, this might be ok, but unless the contemporary women category is real and is much smaller, you would be better off if you could find a second category that you might be more competitive in.

      One option is to come up with a non-fiction category that people who are just interested in the subject-whether fiction or non-fiction might browse, and there is a non-fiction–sports–individual sports–horses category which has only 602 other books. This might be a companion category with the larger contemporary romance category-that might give you greater initial visibility.

      Hope this helps,

      Mary Louisa

  28. Thanks for your quick response. Yes, the category is Fiction, contemporary women, it has about 12,000 in there, and then I chose Fiction, Romance, Contemporary which has a lot as you stated. I will look further, but since it’s a romance I didn’t think putting it in a non-romance category would be a good fit. Thanks.

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  31. Thanks, Mary Louisa – this all has been a mystery to me. I really wanted to place my book under “series”, which I saw on that left-side “category” listing. But when I went to “add categories”, I did not see the series option offered there. I was able to change it in the Edit page of KDP. It asks if this is part of a series and this time (since the book actually is part of a series) I checked that box. Do you think that did the trick or am I still looking in the wrong place?

    • Dear Laurie,

      I don’t think this will necessarily do it-but you can tell if it worked by going down to the bottom of your product page for that book and see if the heading Look For Similar Items By Category to see if a series category shows up.

      Generally what you need to do if you don’t see your choice when you choose your two categories is to choose the Non-Classifiable category for one of them (this is at the very bottom of the first list of choices). Then you need to write KDP (at the very bottom right of the front page of your dashboard is the term contact–click that), and tell them that you would like a particular browsing string to replace the non-classifiable category.

      I assume that you want the series option under something else for example if your book is in a series of romance books you would put “Kindle–Fiction–Romance–Series” in you request.

      Hope this helps.

      M. Louisa

      • Definitely helps and thanks so much again for your post. It’s one of the most informative ones I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot)!

  32. Hi Mary,

    I just published my book on Kindle today and I was really hoping to get it listed under Fiction>Comic Fiction as this stream only has 93 books in it. But when selecting categories, Kindle makes it almost impossible to specify the exact stream. I ended up choosing Fiction>Humorous and they put me in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Humor which is packed with 31,381 books. Should I follow the same advice you gave Laurie?

    Thanks
    Adrian Staccato

    • Dear Adrian,

      Yes, I would follow the advice I gave Laura.

      But you might want to consider if you shouldn’t instead try to get your book into Humor-Comedy (659 books). (or at least as one of the 2 categories)

      While 93 books is a great place to get noticed because you are automatically in the top 100, so good exposure. On the other hand, it is small enough that people may not try to look at it much, but feel that Humor Comedy is a more fertile field for browsing.

      Not actually knowing what your book is about I don’t know if there is another category that you are pairing the comedy category with so I don’t know if the idea of using both the comedy categories is a good idea.

      Hope this helped.

      Mary Louisa

      • Thank you. Yes, I do intend to use both comedy categories because they are very small compared to everything else. True it limits me to only comedy categories but at the same time, I think I will get more exposure because they are so miniscule compared to the other saturated categories where I am competing with upwards of 10,000+ books. I’ve emailed KDP so hopefully they can fix it for me! If it goes well I will let you know!

      • Hello Mary Louisa

        Adrian here, with an update! Within hours of switching to

        Kindle Store › Kindle eBooks › Fiction › Comic Fiction (93 books)
        Kindle Store › Kindle eBooks › Humor › Comedy (663 books)

        I now have acquired an Amazon Best Sellers Rank and climbed significantly in both categories! I am ranked #39 in comic fiction and #57 in comedy! I’m quite happy and hope to climb higher! I owe it all to this wonderful post! Thank you!

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  34. Oh my goodness, this was so very helpful. New around here, but really appreciate you taking the time to share this, Lou, and look forward to reading more of your insights. :)

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  36. Hi, Mary Louisa,

    I just found this post – and how I wish I’d seen it a year ago when I was uploading my first indie titles! Better late than never, though. But since the post is more than a year old and this biz changes so rapidly, I was wondering whether there have been any significant changes in the strategies you suggest here that I should be aware of before I start fiddling with my categories, keywords and tags? For example, how did you do the keyword research for the “Rome” v. “Early Rome” v. “Ancient Rome” searches? And – if we ask KDP to slot our book in manually, I’ve learned that we can’t change it ourselves thereafter. This has proved to be a bit of a hassle for me. Do you know any way to avoid this? And – I’ve heard that Amazon’s algorithms have begun to place less emphasis on tags.Has the way they are used changed in a way we can/should consider maximizing?

    Again – thanks for the wonderful post!

    Best,
    Diane

    • Dear Diane,

      I just posted an update on Categories. In case your question wasn’t answered about doing the search terms (I changed that section), just go the left hand side on the Amazon page, click until you get to the category or subcategory you think you want to put your book in. See how many books are listed. Then go to the search box at the top and put in the keywords or key phrase you are thinking of using. A list of books within that category will show up, based on the keyword (which will either be from the title, product description, or simply that was the keyword the author had assigned the book. As you try different keywords you will notice which ones produce adequate lists, and which ones don’t. Also notice if the top sellers in your genre are showing up under particular keywords–that is a clue it is a good keyword to use.

      I don’t know about the issue of changing the categories manually, so I didn’t comment. This would limit which categories you wanted to play around with to those that you can put in easily yourself.

      Tags are so misunderstood that I decided to deal with this separately.

      Hope this helped, and let me know what you think of the new update.http://mlouisalocke.com/2012/10/18/update-on-categories-and-keywords-why-authors-should-still-care/

      Mary Louisa

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  45. Hi Mary Louise
    Thanks very much for the very useful info.
    I’m an ‘oldie-newbie’ from London. I self-published pre-Kindle era, between 1990 and 2002. I ama former foreign correspondent. My first book, a Mideast nuclear holocaust thriller became an international bestseller in as much as it was an English-language bestseller in Israel. My second book was a mystery thriller about a Nazi sadist for which the film rights were sold (unfortunately, it didn’t get made) and the third is a medical thriller. I’m just having the books converted. I’m a pensioner, so it’s harder for me to get my head round this than all you youngsters. I don’t know whether to put the three books on KDP Select together or piecemeal. I’d also like a few tips regarding the keywords and tags. You can see the books on my website (which admittedly isn’t very good) at http://www.freewebs.com/rradford
    I suffer from a form of spinal meningitis as well as thoracic outlet syndrome, so it’s even harder for me than most. I also think a lot of these so-called marketing gurus charge a lot of money for advice that you are giving free. So thank you once again.

    • Dear Roger,

      I am retired “old dog” myself, and I have loved “learning new tricks” — by the way one of my favorite British police shows.

      Anyway, I will take a look, and contact you directly with advice.

      Mary Louisa

  46. What a longevity this post has had! Which goes to show that immortality is probably secured by giving. I always did like those streets in your San Francisco hill slopes… I remember when I first noticed them… While you are advising Roger the pensioner, can I just ask a simple question (over his shoulder… being by comparison positively atrophied, and MUCH older) I have been advised that my painfully built Wp.com site should be self hosted for maximum SEO, and all my random headers carefully ,found, contrived, scaled, formatted will have to go…Is this true? How much will self hosting gain me? Really? If you are kind enough to consider the question the site can be found here http://involution-odyssey.com/
    It is for a book that no-one will be searching for, so how will it be found anyway? Unless I lead by the hand? I realise it needs more links, tags etc but most people who enter like it as it is…how completely will I be able to preserve it?

    • Dear Phillippa,

      I am absolutely not an expert on SEO. However, from my own experience with both a hosted blog and a simple wpress.com blog, for a single author, with a limited number of books, I wouldn’t bother with the time, money, or steep learning curve to do a hosted site.

      While a blog that people come to is one of many ways to alert people to your work (clearly some people who find my blog because of my self-publishing posts–go on to try my books), and it is nice to have a website to direct them to (when tweeting, or announcing something on Facebook, etc) where they will find an excerpt of the book and links to where and how they can buy it), I doubt whether many people would find your book simply by having better key word optimization. It is very unlikely that having better SEO is going to put your blog/website at the top of a list when someone googles the words Science or God or Inspiration. Just like they won’t find my book if you put in Victorian as a key word in Google. Way too many competitors.

      However, having the right key words show up in your title or sub-title, in your product description, and listed as a keyword when you upload your book, will help people find your book when they are searching for a book in the Amazon books store.

      Hope this helped,

      Mary Louisa

      • Dear Mary Louisa,
        Very generous and thoughtful answer which echoed my instincts which was very reassuring. The problem with my book is what a recent reader said of it ‘Even your readers don’t know who they are until they pick it up. It will appeal because it does…’ That makes marketing very problematic! Because it has no obvious hooks, serves no known needs ( until it does) I cannot obey all the marketing gurus who say ‘identify your readers, and target the reasons why they need, would benefit, enjoy your book’ I have to think laterally and stop spinning. But thanks for sage advice.

  47. Just wanting to chime in on the downside of categories – I am definitely noticing abuse in the system. Authors are selecting underpopulated categories for their work, even when any relevant association is a real stretch. I guess we can’t expect everyone to play fair! As a niche author, I do find this really frustrating…

  48. Let me chime in, Mary Louisa, with this continuing chorus of well deserved thank-yous for your very informative post. With all this vivid interest in your techniques of pushing up sales by listing the books in the most promising categories, are there meanwhile any book marketing consultants who are using your methods? And how would I find some of them to sprinkle your fairy dust over my upcoming book “Solomon’s Sky: The Religious Board Game on the Phaistos Disk”? (You find this book described at http://phaistosgame.com).

    I assume that the solution to this famous ancient riddle has the potential to interest many readers once they hear about it, but I have no clue how to find them. I would therefore be very interested in working with an expert who can either guide me or, even better, do the job on my behalf for a percentage of the sales so that I can work on my next book instead of venturing into a specialized area with a time-consuming learning curve. Thank you in advance for your further advice.

  49. 1. “By carefully choosing my category, I make it much more likely that a reader will find my book, since the pool of books is smaller with each step down the path.”

    If the pool of books is smaller, that implies the number of hits (i.e. the number of people looking for those books) will be smaller too. (1% of 1000 and 10% of 100 are the same.) In which case I assume you’re saying that the people who are in your ballpark will not necessarily be greater in number, but will be better-targeted at your book?

    2. “Tags: These are another kind of key-word or key phrase. They are listed on a book’s product page under the heading “Tag this product”…”

    There is no “Tag this product” prompt on the book pages I opened. Can you advise?

    Thanks a lot,

    John

    • Dear John,

      Not only is the pool more targeted, but your book will not have to sell as many in order to get on the best-seller list and therefore be visible. For example, most of the time my sales are good enough so that it will show up fairly high on the cozy mystery or historical mystery popularity or best-selling lists. But at the very same time the book may not show up at all or only way down on the historical fiction list. Historical fiction is a good market–and I definitely want to tap into that, but on a day to day basis, if my book is only in that category, or in that category and another large one like romance, it will simply be invisible to browsers.

      This is one of the reasons I often suggest that people shift to some of these larger categories for promotions (when you actually do have a chance of getting enough sales–or free downloads to be visible.) Then once the sales drop, and you drop off that list, switch back to the smaller lists where you will be visible in the long haul.If you key words include those larger categories (like “historical fiction”), your book will still show up when people search that term–so it isn’t as if you have failed to target that market completely.

      As for tags, this was something that Amazon has recently pulled–because people were using them to game the system. No one knows if they are going to put this back into product pages–so just ignore.

      Mary Louisa

  50. Thank you so much for this. I’m a writer from Scaletta Zanclea, Italia and what I just read here on mlouisalocke.com couldn’t be written any better.
    Going through this information reminds me of my first roommate, Christopher.
    He always kept preaching about this. I will definitely send this
    material to him. Pretty sure he will have a very good read.
    I appreciate you for sharing this.

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  54. I use keyword research for finding the best terms associated with the book genre and topic, but mainly for Google and also something that shows up in the Amazon predictor list when you are typing in the term. But your point on the pool size it returns in the Amazon search results is a great idea. I hadn’t thought of that one.

  55. What an incredible post! And many of the comments were also terrific. I came here looking for some way to understand Amazon book categories and found so much more. I realize now that my book is probably in the wrong category. Thanks so much!

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  61. Thanks for posting. I found this post by following Anne R. Allen’s blog which she hyperlinked into her latest blog. You gotta love this social cyber world! Very detailed explaining of a confusing subject. This is coming in handy as I get ready to self pub my book! Thanks! :)

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  64. Hmm it appears like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so I
    guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m
    thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new
    to everything. Do you have any suggestions for beginner blog writers?
    I’d certainly appreciate it.

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