Choosing the right Amazon categories for your book is such an important factor in your success. Being smart here can greatly increase your visibility, making your work more likely to be discovered, purchased, and recommended.
But if you make bad decisions here – or opt to do nothing at all – you can limit your book’s success. Sometimes you can even nudge Amazon towards recommend your book to all the wrong people! Which invariably fails, of course, and causes Amazon to think you have written a dud. Meaning Amazon is less likely to recommend your book at all. This is something you really want to avoid.
You should revisit your book’s categories on a regular basis. Not just to ensure you are maximizing visibility, but to check Amazon hasn’t placed you in a bad category. You need to know exactly which categories and sub-categories your book is in. (Amazon doesn’t make that part easy.) And then keep on top of changes to the category system as well.
The advice in this comprehensive guide draws from a book I wrote called Amazon Decoded. This book is the culmination of years of research. It breaks down exactly how the Kindle Store works, how you can design marketing plans which seduce the algorithms instead of fighting them, and the exact ways you need to tweak your metadata to get the biggest halo from every promotion you run.
I’m going to tap into that research today to explain exactly how you can get Amazon’s category system working for your book, instead of against it.
Here, you will learn why the Kindle Store is broken down into so many categories (and the massive opportunity this presents). How you only get access to a limited menu in KDP. The ways you can expand the number of categories for your book to 10 specific sub-categories – and more! Why it’s important to only place your book in relevant categories. And how you can remove your book from bad categories (and why that is important).
Yegads, that’s a lot – we might need a Table of Contents! Use this if you wish to skip ahead, but I strongly recommend reading the sections on relevance and bad categories. You might have the power now to add all sorts of categories to your books. However, use this power wisely or it could really backfire. I mean it! Read on for more on that and everything else…
- The Power of Visibility on Amazon
- Limited Category Menu When Publishing
- How To Add Up To 10 Categories To Your Book
- Adding Even More Categories For Print & International
- How To Check What Categories Your Book Is In
- Avoiding Bad Categories
- The Importance of Relevance
- Researching Your Ideal Categories
- Your Action Plan: Category Optimization Checklist
The Power of Visibility on Amazon
Amazon sells a staggering array of products – around 350m at the last estimate. A beefy taxonomy is needed to classify everything. Shoppers need assistance finding what they are looking for. And Amazon’s data-hungry algorithms need assistance classifying everything appropriately. Primarily so it knows exactly what to recommend to each individual customer.
You can read a full breakdown of how Amazon recommendations work if you like. But what is most immediately relevant is the sheer size of the book category system… and the enormous value you can wring from it.
The Kindle Category System
There are over 8 million books in the Kindle Store. But it’s not just the number of books being published which has swelled; Amazon has been watching reader tastes become increasingly niche since the Kindle Store opened in 2007.
To make it much easier for these increasingly picky readers to find the specific type of books they prefer, Amazon now has 14,000 categories and sub-categories – just for books! Some of these are incredibly broad categories like Fantasy. Others are much more niche like Paranormal Romance featuring Demons & Devils.
Amazon calls these “Browse Categories,” and that name gives a hint at their value to authors – because readers really do browse these categories looking for books fresh to read.
While the Top 100 of the Kindle Store is probably out of reach for most authors, it’s important to note that each of these 14,000+ sub-categories has its own Top 100 Best Seller list – for both free and paid books – which gives authors a considerable opportunity for visibility. An appropriately sized pool for every book to play in, if you like.
Not only that, but many of the recommendations that Amazon makes to readers are category-based. You will not be eligible for them unless you are in that exact sub-category.
If authors are smart about their metadata, do their research, and add more relevant sub-categories to their books – and I’ll show you exactly how to that in a moment – they can exponentially increase their visibility on Amazon.
By adding more categories you instantly become eligible for a whole new swathe of bestseller lists and Amazon recommendation emails. This increased visibility will also add a a considerable halo every single time you have a sales spike, making every launch more profitable and every backlist promotion your run more lucrative.
Bootstrap Your Way To The Top
This is your prize: more sales, money, and visibility. As well as greatly increased likelihood that readers will organically discover your work and also that Amazon will recommend your work to readers as well.
This isn’t just an extra dollop of cream for the cats at the top table either. Because each category has its own Best Seller lists and associated customer recommendations, Amazon’s category system helps books bootstrap themselves to success, giving each book and author a smaller pool to shine in before tackling the bigger fish elsewhere.
But you will only benefit from Amazon’s category system if you make the right choices. Some of these niche Best Seller lists might not receive anything like the traffic of the bigger categories. But the competition is often much less fierce, allowing smaller books and authors to gain momentum… if they take the trouble to research appropriate categories.
It takes a little bit of time, and a touch of fiddling, but it’s all in the set-up. Once you have optimized your book’s categories, you don’t have to mess with it again – aside from checking in every year or two, perhaps, to see if anything should be tweaked.
There’s Just One Problem
When you first self-publish on Amazon, you are given a choice of just two categories from a very limited menu. This is often missing the specific sub-categories where you wish to place your book.
You may have noticed your book appearing in some of these sub-categories, even though you didn’t explicitly choose them. Perhaps you also appeared in some sub-categories you would rather you didn’t.
How do you get into all the categories you truly want? Which categories are good for your books and which should be avoided? What can you do to remove your book from inappropriate categories? And where can you find out which categories your books are in right now? (And why does Amazon make this so bloody convoluted!?!?)
Let’s break it all down.
Limited Category Menu When Publishing
Amazon’s category system might seem higgledy piggledy. But this is more a product of something being gradually added to over a long period of time, rather than designed by a drunk person.
The publishing interface on Amazon gives us little idea of the full power of the category system. We can only choose two categories when uploading our books. Not only that, it’s a very restricted list of categories – often containing rather broad choices like “Historical Fiction.” For some reason, Amazon doesn’t always let you drill down to the exact sub-category you want. For example, “Medieval Historical Fiction” is a category in the Kindle Store, but is not selectable when publishing your book.
Blame It On The BISAC
It’s not exactly clear why Amazon makes it so complicated. This list appears to be a legacy system as it is based on industry standard (BISAC) codes. Indeed, you may have noticed that this limited menu bears much more relation to the category choices on other retailers than it does to the actual category breakdown in the Kindle Store. Well, this is why.
We can grouse about such quirks but it’s important to recognize they present a big, fat opportunity as well. Most publishers and authors will pick two broad-ish categories from that list… and then leave it at that.
Whereas savvy self-publishers know there is a way to add many more very specific sub-categories that aren’t immediately selectable. Hello, secret menu items! And also ways to avoid bad categories, boost your paperbacks, and then tailor all that for different international markets as well.
How To Add Up To 10 Categories To Your Book
The method for adding additional categories used to be quite confusing – and it was never quite clear precisely how many categories you were allowed. Amazon has now streamlined all this considerably and the situation is much more straightforward.
You are permitted to place your book in up to 10 categories and sub-categories. To get the exact categories you want, you simply need to contact Amazon using the process below. It’s that simple.
All that messing around with keywords to get into certain categories is no longer necessary. (That system looks like it is being phased out by Amazon anyway.) However, that old keyword-category system can still cause authors issues, so we’ll return to look at it in a moment.
Step-by-Step Method of Adding Categories
For now, here’s the new, up-to-date process for adding categories to your books – fully Amazon-approved!
- Identify the full category path for each of your preferred sub-categories. By this I mean actually write out Kindle eBooks > Mysteries, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Political for each of your target categories, rather than just Political Thrillers – you will need this in a moment. (And if you need help researching the ideal target categories for your book, I have you covered below.)
- Log in to your KDP account. Click the Help link in the top right, then the Contact Us button in the bottom left of that page (they don’t make it so easy to find). This is the direct link, if you are having trouble.
- Underneath “How Can We Help?” select the first option “Amazon product page” and then “Update Amazon Categories” right underneath.
- An email template will appear. Add in the ASIN for your book, and then the full category path for each category you want added. There’s some research tips at the end if you are stuck.
- Ignore the section on removing categories… unless you have bad categories that you wish your book to be removed from – more on this too in a moment.
- Click “Send message” and Amazon should sort this out for you in a couple of days. Note: depending on where you are in the world and what time of day it is, you may have the option of doing this by phone – it doesn’t matter which way you do it. Phone tends to be faster, but don’t expect the changes to be instant. They might still take a day or two to process fully.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Just remember the most important thing: always keep it relevant. I’m serious about this. Don’t brush it off!
You don’t have to use all ten categories if you can’t find many appropriate ones. You need to be sure that your book is a natural fit for the categories you pick. A murder doesn’t make something a mystery and some light banging doesn’t make it a romance.
In fact, as you will learn in a moment, putting your book into categories where it doesn’t naturally fit might look like a quick-and-dirty way to pilfer some extra visibility (or to pluck a low-hanging Best Seller tag), but this can hurt you.
And it might attract Amazon’s attention – the bad kind of attention.
I hope I have attached enough warning signs to this idea, but let me say it one last time. You have the power to put your book into ten categories, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should use it.
Now let’s look at how you can further expand visibility for your print books, and internationally, so we can mix some sunshine in with this pesky parade-rain.
Adding Categories For Print & International
The situation regarding print editions has been clarified too. Amazon says you are permitted up to 10 Kindle categories and 10 Book categories for each book – the latter being the category system which houses print editions and audiobooks as well.
This is where you can really gain an edge. While authors are starting to get to grips with the new category allowances for ebooks, most haven’t yet realized they can do the same with their paperbacks too – or that they can run through this process internationally also.
That’s right! You can – and should – repeat this process for each international market which is important to you.
In case you didn’t notice, the Kindle Store is broken down quite differently in each international market. I guarantee you that even if you have ten excellently chosen sub-categories for your work on Amazon USA, not all of those will be replicated in your UK, Canadian, or Australian editions, let alone non-English markets. So take the time to peruse the Kindle Store breakdown in territories which are important to you.
It’s completely up to you how many markets you want to repeat this process for. Just note that the benefits probably approach zero in the smaller, non-English-language markets. You should consider doing it for your primary print editions and your UK ebooks at the very least. However, those with foreign language editions should pay attention to the local language market for those books.
How To Check What Categories You Are In
“But wait,” you might have said multiple times during this article. “How can I find out what categories I am in?”
It’s a fair question, ever since Amazon stopped appending that information to every book page, much to the chagrin of metadata mavens and snoopers everywhere.
Officially, Amazon says that the only way you can find out which categories you are in is by emailing them and asking. However, there are unofficial ways – better ways.
Recommended Tools For Category Snooping
If you already have Publisher Rocket (affiliate link), then you can use that to see what categories you are in. You can also check out any other book that catches your eye, for that matter. Or the level of competition in each category, how many sales you might need to hit the charts, and so on. The main feature of Publisher Rocket surrounds keywords. I’ve found it very helpful in identifying good keywords for my books, and just for generally understanding how readers use Search on Amazon. (I was genuinely surprised by the terms they use – it’s far different from Google.) It costs $97, but there is a 60-day moneyback guarantee if you don’t find it useful.
However, if you want a free option, then I strongly recommend bklnk.com. I use it all the time and recommend it. You can get results for any Kindle book or print books, and for the USA, UK, and Canada as well. Super handy.
Avoiding Bad Categories
You can end up in “bad” categories in two ways: either by accident or by choice. Let’s deal with the accidental cases first before whipping out our wagging finger.
The old system for getting into various sub-categories involved choosing certain keyword triggers (authors often called these “keyword categories”) from a list doled out by KDP. There were three major problems with this system. First, the list was inaccurate and incomplete and authors often had to guess at the keyword trigger. Second, this system used up valuable keyword space unnecessarily. Third, it often resulted in authors placing their books into inappropriate categories – completely by accident.
The keyword triggers Amazon selected were pretty common and generic terms. Meaning authors routinely ended up in categories where they had no intention appearing.
Furthermore, this keyword-category system didn’t just place books in the wrong categories – which is bad for the respective authors, but also the readers looking through that category searching for a new book – it also provided cover for those abusing the system.
Gaming The System
Some authors and publishers deliberately place their books in inappropriate categories in an attempt to game the system. It’s a lot easier to get to #1 in Fairy Tales than it is in Contemporary Romance. Those with more flexible morals have been putting their books into smaller categories with that in mind, regardless of how relevant that category was for their books, what a mess that made of the category for readers, or how hard they were making it for genuine authors of those types of books.
The situation is so out of hand right now that many authors think that an Amazon crackdown is coming. It’s not just the seedy end of self-publishing that’s to blame either. Established UK publishers are some of the worst abusers of metadata, in a nice change of pace.
Amazon Crackdown Coming?
Amazon has been slowly amending the terms and guidelines and help pages over the last while. You might have lso noticed some references to metadata infringements in the new Quality Dashboard. It currently only tracks things like typos and broken links. But you will see explicit references to metadata there as well. It appears that Amazon is slowly building out all the infrastructure needed to start policing things like mis-categorization of books.
So, ethics aside – always my favorite caveat – those who are miscategorizing their books to eke out some short-term advantage might want to start considering the long-term consequences. Amazon can be slow to click into gear with this stuff, but when it does, it can be ruthless.
But there’s one more reason why you should be careful where you place your books. The entire Amazon recommendation engine is built on relevance.
The Importance of Relevance
Some people will dump their books into any category going to gain advantage. They don’t care how much they mess up a category. Or what effect this has on genuine readers of that category (or authors trying to serve those readers).
But here’s the thing: they are only hurting themselves long-term. Even if you don’t care about the ethics around this, and I really wish you would, you are only grabbing some questionable short-term gains at the cost of some serious long-term pain.
Amazon’s entire recommendation engine is built around relevance. Amazon doesn’t want to spam people with crappy recommendations. It knows the value of user trust in its recommendations and works very hard to personalize the Amazon site for each user experiencing it. Basically the equivalent of a bookstore rearranging itself so that your favorite books are always on the front table. That’s the aim, at least, and Amazon is the best in the business.
Don’t Feed The Beast Bad Data
I could write an entire book about this – and indeed I have: it’s called Amazon Decoded – but the short version is this. If you put your book in an inappropriate category all your are doing is feeding Amazon bad data. Do that, and will recommend your book to the wrong people.
Of course, if Amazon recommends your book to the wrong people, the conversion rate on those recommendations will be poor. Then it will be reticent to recommend your book further.
Even if you aren’t swayed by that, keep in mind the following. Amazon is probably going to start policing this stuff. There are all sorts of references now on the Help pages which hint at this now. The terms and conditions and in the Kindle Publishing Guidelines too. All sorts of references to the miscategorization of books and other metadata fouls like that. In other words, all signs point towards an impending crackdown.
All of which makes it exceedingly important that you know which are your ideal categories. Ones which will truly work for your book.
Researching Your Ideal Categories
It’s important to identify a list of target categories and there is only one way to do this: by taking your time to go through the Kindle Store and look at how it is broken down for your genre(s). Take note of any category or sub-category where your book would fit.
Some authors might struggle to identify more than a handful, whereas others will be overflowing with choices. Some genres have more granular sub-categories than others. And then non-fiction often has more places where a book could potentially be shelved without looking out of place. Author experiences will vary at this stage.
For those overflowing with choices: make a list of the must-haves and the maybes. Try to estimate how competitive each category is (i.e. look at the Sales Rank necessary to hit the Best Seller list). If you are really struggling to choose between several categories, perhaps consider having a mix of smaller categories where you could potentially chart now, and larger ones where you will benefit from extra visibility when you have a sales spike.
And for those authors struggling to find more than a handful of categories, keep looking! There are over 14,000 categories and you might find some useful ones if you search around. Amazon regularly expands the category system too; it’s good to check in on this periodically to see if new candidates have emerged.
Where To Find A List of Amazon Book Categories
To be clear, there is no list of categories anywhere that you can consult. A handful of websites purport to do that, but they are pulling from the limited menu available when publishing in KDP, rather than the actual category breakdown in the Kindle Store. Besides, all you need to do is head to the Kindle Store and nose around.
Looking for a list of categories is like trying to reinvent the wheel… while sitting outside a wheel factory that is handing out free wheels. (Don’t forget to repeat this process for print, and any international markets which are important to you.)
But hey, if you want to watch over my shoulder as I go through the Kindle Store and explain how you can find suitable categories, I got ya:
Your Action Plan: Category Optimization Checklist
This is fun because your action plan is to basically go through everything you just read in reverse!
- Research your ideal categories.
- Make a list of the must-haves and the maybes.
- Check which categories your books are in right now.
- Identify any bad categories you wish to remove.
- Email KDP with your list of category changes.
- Repeat the process for each book, and for any print editions or international stores you need.
And once your categories are updated, all you need to do is run a promotion and reap the benefits. And the most cost effective way to do that is with my curated and up-to-date list of book promotion sites.
One Last Tip
You can do all this in one email to KDP if you wish (you can even do all your books, all your print editions, all your international stores in one email – or even one call). Personally, I think the chance of errors is high if you go that route. I usually send one email per book to keep things straight – on both sides!
That’s it, I hope you learned a lot about Amazon categories today and how they can help you sell more books. I have a whole book like this breaking down the secrets of Amazon and showing you how to switch-up your marketing to seduce Amazon’s algorithms into recommending your book.
It’s called Amazon Decoded and I think you can pick it up pretty much everywhere for $4.99 or thereabouts.
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments and I’ll respond if I ever stop eating for ten seconds.