Two years ago, I wrote a blog piece about the importance of using categories, keywords, and tags (which no longer exist) to make your books visible in the Kindle Store. A year later I wrote an update that expanded on this and discussed how having your book in the right categories could make free and discount promotions more effective. The basic argument I made hasn’t changed––that an author needs to understand how categories work in order to use them to improve the chance their books will be found by readers who are browsing in the Kindle store.
If you aren’t convinced of the importance of categories in improving discoverability—you might want to go back and skim through those two posts or just google “discoverability and categories” to see the multiple posts on this topic. However, for most of you, it isn’t the importance of categories but how to get your books into the right categories that you are most interested in––and there have been a number of significant changes warranting a new update on this topic.
First, the number and kinds of categories and sub-categories in the Kindle Store have increased dramatically in the last year.
Second, the methods of getting a book into the correct categories and sub-categories have expanded, with keywords becoming particularly important.
Third, these changes have made the process even more confusing to authors.
Because these changes have resulted in a good deal of confusion in terminology—I am going to start here. While KDP has generally improved the experience for authors by introducing a whole plethora of help documents, the terminology used in these help documents and by KDP help staff is not always consistent. I will try and delineate some of these inconsistencies and provide some clarity below.
Browse Categories and sub-categories: The term “browse categories” primarily refers to the general terms (and phrases) that are listed under Categories or Departments to the left of the Home page in the Kindle store. In this context the term “sub-categories” is then used to refer to the more narrow terms that show up when you click on one of these categories or on another sub-category.
For example, see how the two terms (in bold) are used in the Selecting Browse Categories help document:
“Since your book will be displayed in a variety of searches by choosing even a single category, you shouldn’t place it in both a category and any of that category’s sub-categories (for example, selecting both “FICTION > Fantasy > Historical” and “FICTION > Fantasy.”
These two terms are also used in the help document Entering Title Information that describes how to pick categories when uploading the book for publication into KDP.
“Choose from dozens of categories, from Antiques to True Crime and everything in between. Each category also contains subcategories to further classify your content.”
However, what has become clear through correspondence with KDP help staff is that the single term “categories” is also used when referring to the resulting string of categories and sub-categories.
For example, each of the following strings of terms is called a single “category.”
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery––Historical
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Cozy
As a result, an author who already has listed as her two permitted categories (for example, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Historical and Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Cozy) and writes to KDP and asks if she can now have the sub-category “Animals” added to the “Cozy Mystery” category will get the stock answer that an author can only have two categories so she will have to delete one before this can be added.
What this means is that she would have to go into her KDP dashboard for that book and delete Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Cozy and then add Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Cozy—Animals.
Not hard to do—just confusing if you haven’t been thinking about these strings as a single entity (a category) but as a category (Mystery, Thriller & Suspense) with sub-categories (cozy mysteries and cozy mysteries with animals in them.)
To add to the confusion, the term “sub-categories” is increasingly being used to describe what is being created when keywords are combined with “categories.”
For example, see the help document entitled Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense Category Keywords.
“In order for a title to appear in the Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense sub-categories below, the title’s search keywords must include at least one of the keywords or phrases listed next to the sub-category.”
Sometimes these keywords are being used to get a book into a “category.” For example an author is directed to use the keywords “heist, robbery, thief, or theft” in order to get a book into the category Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Crime Fiction—Heist.
But keywords are also used to get a book into a new set of what I would call “filters” that now show up within certain categories—and these filters are also called “sub-categories.” For example, under the Mystery, Thriller, & Suspense browsing categories there are lists of sub-categories under three headings: Moods and Themes, Characters, and Settings.
If you go back to the Mystery, Thriller & Suspense page you will see what I mean. You can choose nine different terms (or sub-categories) under Moods and Themes, eight under Characters, and seven under Settings. And, you can choose as many of these different sub-categories as you want at the same time. For example you could check you wanted a mystery that was humorous, had an amateur sleuth, and was set at the beach. And you would find seven books. To see which broad categories have these new kinds of “sub-categories” or filters—go back to the help document Selecting Browse Categories and look under the subtitle Categories With Keyword Requirements.
Steps to getting your books into the right categories and subcategories.
The really good news is that there has been a dramatic increase in categories, and when you add in these new “sub-categories,” the options for authors who want to make their books visible has gone up tremendously as a result.
Historical Fiction is a good example. Until a few months ago, there was a single Literature & Fiction—Historical category that contained over 39,000 other books. As a result, it was practically impossible to get on the bestseller list or the top 100 of the popularity list without a tremendously successful promotional effort—and even then it was hard to stay on this list after the promotion was over. Now there are 26 different Historical Fiction “categories,” and there are an additional 9 “sub-categories” (or filters) under the heading Time Period. This is great for readers who might only like biographical historical fiction (853 books) or books set in Scotland (695) or 19th Century United States (162). It is also great for authors of books that fit into these categories because now readers can more easily discover their books.
The bad news is that getting your books into the categories and sub-categories isn’t always straightforward. However, here are the steps you need to take.
1) Decide which categories best apply to your book. This means going to the Kindle Store, looking through all the browsing categories and taking the advice given in the help document Selecting Browsing Categories.
To illustrate what might happen when you follow these instructions, let’s consider the Mystery of the American Revolution series (Paper Woman, Camp Follower, Blacksmith’s Daughter) by Suzanne Adair. These historical mysteries set in the American Revolution have a little romance and a lot of thrilling suspense and could possibly be found in all of these 15 separate categories.
Literature & Fiction—Historical—Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Literature & Fiction—Historical—United States
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Historical
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Women Sleuth
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Series
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Thrillers—Crime
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Thrillers—Espionage
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Thrillers—Historical
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Thrillers—Military
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Crime Fiction—Murder
Romance—Mystery & Suspense
Literature & Fiction—Action Adventure––Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Literature & Fiction—Action Adventure—War and Military
Literature & Fiction—Action Adventure—Women’s Adventure
Unfortunately, since authors can only choose 2 categories when they upload their books into KDP—choosing the right 2 categories will take some thought and experimentation. Go back to my last post on categories if you want some suggestions of different things to consider when making these choices.
2) Once you have chosen the categories you want—determine whether these categories are available to you when you upload your book for publication. This process is complicated by the fact that the options available when to an author when they are publishing their book through the KDP dashboard are not always identical or arranged in the same fashion as the browse categories in the Kindle Store.
- Go to your KDP Dashboard.
- To the right for the book you are working on, click on Edit Book Details.
- Click on Add Categories under Step 3 and search through the lists for terms that are related to the browsing category you are looking for.
- Click on the one that most closely matches what you are looking for.
- Look to see if there is a little + sign next to that term (indicating that there are sub-categories.)
- Click on the plus (if it exists) to see what options are available.
- As you click through you will begin to see a category string begin to build at the bottom of the page.
- If the completed string is close to what you were looking for—then save and go back to find the other category you were looking for.
For example, if Adair looked for the category Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Historical she would find that there wasn’t anything called Mystery, Thriller & Suspense in the first list of terms. But if she clicked on the + before Fiction, one of the options that would pop up would be Mystery & Detective. Clicking on that term, she would see listed Historical, and if she clicked on that—at the bottom of the screen it would say Selected categories: Fiction–Mystery & Detective—Historical (which is as close to the browsing category Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Historical as you can get.)
The Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Thrillers categories can be found in a similar fashion—but not if she expected to find them under Fiction–Mystery & Detective. Instead, Thriller is one of the main options under Fiction, and by clicking on it, other options appear that will permit her to choose categories like Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Thrillers—Espionage.
However, if Adair decided that the other category she wanted was Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Crime Fiction—Murder, she would run into difficulty. Like Thriller, she is going to find Crime directly under Fiction not Fiction—Mystery & Detective. But, unlike Thriller, there aren’t going to be additional options. Fiction—Crime is a dead end. If she stopped there and saved, she would find her book in the browsing category Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Crime Fiction. The problem with this category is its size (23,000 books), making it an unproductive category for most books because it is hard to get to or stay near the top (and therefore visible) in a category that large. She needs to figure out how to get the book into the category Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Crime Fiction—Murder.
3) If the option you want isn’t there in the dashboard, the next step is to figure out if you can get that option using keywords. Go again to the help document Selecting Browse Categories and look under the subtitle Categories With Keyword Requirements.
For Adair, this would mean looking at the document Mystery, Thriller, &Suspense Category Keywords. When she looked at that she would discover that if she chose Fiction—Crime as one of her two categories and added the keyword word “murder” as one of her seven keywords her books would show up in the Kindle Store under Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Crime Fiction—Murder. She might also add other key words like “kidnapping,” or “serial killer” if they were appropriate, and she would get additional categories. This is one of the few ways that a book can end up with more than two categories over all.
4) Another way to get a category you want if the specific choice isn’t there in the dashboard can be to choose a combination of categories.
For example, it is my understanding that if an author chooses as her two categories: Fiction—Romance––Historical and Fiction—Mystery & Suspense––Historical for a book it will also show up in the Kindle Store under a third category, Romance—Mystery & Suspense. This will take some experimentation to determine which existing categories can be combined to form new categories. However, this experimentation is worth it because this is another way for a book to end up with more than 2 categories.
5) Sometimes you are going to have to just ask the KDP to add a category to your book. Do this by asking for help using the Contact Us link at the bottom of your KDP Dashboard or at the bottom of your Author Central page.
For example, one of the browsing categories in the Kindle store that Adair’s Revolutionary war mysteries and thrillers could come under is Literature & Fiction—Action Adventure—War & Military. In the dashboard, there is an option Fiction—Action & Adventure, and it might be that if you simply put in the keyword “military” or “war and military” as one of your seven keywords you would get the full category listed.
But, as of right now, there isn’t a help document that lists what keywords you can use with the category Literature & Fiction—Action Adventure, so this might not work. In these types of cases, you may need to contact the KDP Help support staff and ask them manually to put up the category Literature & Fiction—Action Adventure—War & Military. Over time a lot of the categories that used to be unavailable without asking for help are now done automatically—so I believe our requests become part of the vast data analysis that has made the Kindle store browsing categories more and more detailed and useful.
6) Finally, you need to look to see if there are any of those “filters” or special keyword based “sub-categories” that might apply to your book and the category you have chosen. Go back to Selecting Browse Categories and find the general categories that use these sub-categories based on keywords.
Again, let’s look at Adair’s books. Let us say she chose to put her historical mysteries in Literature & Fiction—Historical. This is large category on its own (39,000 books), but she if she had chosen “18th century” as one of her 7 keywords, her books would be in a list of only 208 books. This would help her books be discovered by those who were specifically looking for US history in the 1700s (which would be where someone interested in the American Revolution would look.)
Or if she had chosen the category Mystery, Thriller & Suspense—Mystery—Historical, she could choose to include as one of her keywords “female protagonist,” (one of the sub-categories under the heading Characters.) This would put her books into a list of 508 books where they would have a much greater chance of being discovered.
Once you understand these steps and the options you have in combining categories and adding keywords to get your book into the right browsing categories (and keyword created sub-categories) in the Kindle Store, you may want to go back and experiment with different categories and keyword combinations to determine which work best to provide the visibility you want for your books. Because more and more of this can be done by the author herself, rather than having to ask KDP staff to assign the categories manually, this experimentation is easier to do.
Whatever you decide, there is a lot less chance you will be condemning your books to invisibility by leaving them in a general category––ike the historical fiction category with 39,000 other books––simply because you didn’t know that you could now get the book into a much smaller and precise category called Literature & Fiction—Historical—Mystery, Thriller & Suspense or assign a keyword that will place your historical fiction in the correct time period.
And, as a result, more of your books will get into the hands of the readers who will enjoy them.
M. Louisa Locke, December 16, 2013
My thanks to Suzanne Adair for letting me use her books as examples. You can find all her wonderful historical mysteries and thrillers on Amazon.com.