It’s no secret that Amazon is the key to success in indie publishing: no other market even comes close to competing.  In fact, the sheer size of Amazon as a company and a website can be overwhelming at times–so much so that it’s easy to forget one simple truth: as far as authors are concerned, Amazon.com is just another bookstore.  A big, online bookstore, to be sure, but a bookstore nonetheless.  And as with any traditional, brick and mortar store, it’s important that your book be shelved in the right spot if you want it to have any chance of selling.

That’s what Amazon’s book categories are, after all: digital shelves.  When you publish a book through Kindle Direct Publishing, you’re given the opportunity to choose two categories, broad or specific, under which your book should be categorized.  You can change them at any time, but choosing those categories is important, because it’s a big part of how potential readers will find your book.

By the time you’re publishing it, you should have a good idea of what genre your novel is, for instance, or into which subject matter category your non-fiction book should fall.  The choices for fiction aren’t overwhelming; Amazon offers you a fairly straightforward set of options to choose from.  The broad category should be easy: if you wrote a science fiction novel, you should be looking at choosing one of the sub-genres of science fiction, or the broad category itself.  If you write mystery, one of your categories should be mystery.  That said, there are some tactics you can use to give your book a better chance of reaching the right readers.

  • First and foremost, understand that with categories, you’re only hurting yourself if you choose the wrong one for your book.  When it comes to keywords or categories, gaming the system doesn’t work.  Choose relevant categories for your book; don’t try and stretch the truth.  Be honest.  In other words, don’t categorize your novel as paranormal romance if it’s science fiction, just because that’s a popular category.  Amazon won’t like it, and readers won’t buy your book because it’s not what they’re looking for.
  • Use all available categories.  This may seem obvious, but you don’t have to choose browse categories for your book.  Amazon will automatically assign some for you, but it’s obviously best to take control of it yourself and make sure your book is shelved in as many places as possible.
  • Pay attention to the number of titles listed in a given category.  You can do this by using the lefthand menu in Amazon’sScreen Shot 2014-07-02 at 7.51.58 PM Books section.  For example, go to Amazon.com > Books.  Scroll down, and on the left side of the page you’ll see a menu entitled “Books,” beneath which is a list of broad categories.  Choose one, and it will bring you to a list of all available sub-categories.  In parentheses to the right of each category, the current number of titles in that category is listed.  Keep clicking through, and you’ll find the numbers of titles in subcategories as well.  For instance, the image to the right is what the menu looks like when you click through Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction.You want to choose categories that are relevant but have the least amount of competition: you’re much more likely to rise through the rankings and hit bestseller status in a smaller sub-category like Cyberpunk than you are in Adventure, for instance.
  • Pay attention to Amazon’s requirements for inclusion in certain categories.
  • Study other books you think yours should be shelved next to and see what categories they’re in.  This will help you place yours correctly.  Also, note that the categories you can choose from aren’t all-inclusive; Amazon will eventually sort your book into other, related categories based on the content of your keywords, blurb, and the book itself.  Buyer behavior also affects this.  Here’s a great excerpt from Let’s Get Visible that addresses Amazon categories in more detail. 
  • Finally, don’t be afraid to change your categories if your current selection isn’t working.  Sometimes it takes a little trial and error for your book to find its home.