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Starting out as an indie author: Using keywords for getting into niche categories on Amazon

Starting out as an indie author

When you publish an ebook through Amazon’s KDP dashboard, you are allowed to select two categories, such as Fantasy/Historical or Fantasy/Epic. But not all of the browse categories on Amazon are available through the dashboard. I’ve written before about how important it can be for sales to get into the right categories here and here.

Much of what I wrote in those posts, however, is now obsolete, at least as far as strategies on how to get into obscure categories is concerned. But it is still true that for the sake of visibility, it’s important to be in categories where the competition isn’t as strong (unless you’re selling hundreds of copies a day, that is). Some of the subcategories for ebooks that aren’t options in the dashboard are wonderfully intimate little niches that will keep you book visible even with a much lower sales ranking. Because if your book drops out of the top 100, it is officially dead (believe me, I know).

But whereas once you had to write Amazon directly in order to be listed in the categories, now you need to use keywords.

When you publish through KDP, one of your options is to type in seven keywords. Little information is given as to their purpose, and it is easy to underestimate how important they can be. In the KDP help pages, however, there is extensive information on which keywords to use to get into various categories that can’t be chosen directly. Here are some examples that in my own experience have proven useful:

Science Fiction & Fantasy Keywords

Literature & Fiction Keywords

Teen & Young Adult Category Keywords

Of course it makes no sense to aim for a category just because there isn’t as much competition. But if you can find some niche categories where your book would fit, I highly recommend using keywords to get into them. It just might give your book the edge it needs.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers

Starting out as an indie author: Interview with Kate Sparkes

Starting Out as an Indie Author: Getting Your Books into Google Play

The recent Amazon category revolution, and what it means for you

As many writers have noticed by now, this month Amazon has been playing merry with its browse categories, deleting a couple, and adding a whole lot more. In the long run, this might well be good for writers, giving us more chances for exposure, but what a lot of us saw was an immediate and dramatic decline in sales. I think this mostly applies to those who had books in categories that were deleted, or whose books were reassigned to new categories, not necessarily the best or most appropriate. For example, at least one of my novels was being listed for a while under the category nonfiction/history!

If this kind of mix-up has happened to you, you might want to try changing your categories.

The new categories that Amazon assigned to books seem to be based on the keywords you enter when you publish on KDP. India Drummond has already written an excellent article about how to get your categories reassigned by changing your keywords, which you can read here. Another possibility is to contact Amazon directly with the information on which new categories you would like your book to be listed in. I have a longer post about doing this here, but if all you want is the direct link, that’s here.

As I mentioned in the older post linked to above, if your books aren’t exactly in the dozen sales a day plus realm, it makes sense to get them into categories with less competition. Check out this recent screenshot with the new fantasy categories:

See how many books are in “Paranormal & Urban”? And how many are in “Dark Fantasy”? If you’re not one of those kinds of writers capable of getting on top 100 lists against tens of thousands of other books, you might want to try and get your books into some of those smaller categories — assuming they fit, of course. Despite the lack of competition, I don’t think the “TV, Movie, Video Game Adaptations” would prove very effective for my Pendragon Chronicles novels. 🙂

Recently, a number of writers who have used the direct approach to KDP support have had problems with responses insisting they should change their categories through their Bookshelf — even when the category they want to be included in isn’t available through the Bookshelf. So these days when I request a category change directly, I always include the following sentence:

“These categories are not categories I can choose through my KDP bookshelf.”

One more thing to note, however (learn from my mistakes): it is not wise to try to contact Amazon directly regarding category changes for a lot of books at once. A number of my books were affected by the recent category changes, and trying to be efficient, I sent four posts to Amazon in one day. (For all of the books, I wanted at least one category that couldn’t be chosen through the KDP Dashboard.)

While writing a blog post a few days later, I noticed that these were the categories for Yseult, a historical fantasy set in the fifth century and based on the legend of Tristan and Isolde:

#17 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Arthurian
#56 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > Space Exploration
#60 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > First Contact

Needless to say, I did not request to have Yseult changed to “First Contact” — that was for Looking Through Lace. But I sent the requests on the same day, and Amazon support lumped them all together under one author, and I ended up with two epic historical fantasies listed in SF categories. Sigh.

I have since tried to correct the situation, and while I did get Yseult and Shadow of Stone into more appropriate categories, they are also still being listed in the science fiction categories I intended for Looking Through Lace and Beyond the Waters of the World. Here’s the current ranking for Yseult, for example:

#2 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Arthurian
#15 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Fantasy > Arthurian
#31 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Science Fiction > First Contact

Yes, it is back in Arthurian now, but it is still listed under First Contact. While on one level that might fit thematically, since Yseult is forced to move to a completely foreign culture, the novel is still not exactly science fiction. 😦

So if, like me, you write in multiple genres or even sub-genres, don’t try try to change too many books in different categories in one day by contacting KDP directly. That is apparently too taxing for the Amazon support folks.