The Secret to Choosing the Best Book Category
You already know what book categories in Amazon are, but there are two things you might not know:
- Book categories are one of the most important factors in your book’s search performance
- You can list your book in up to 10 categories, not just the two you see in your original setup
To recap: book categories are more important than you think, and you are probably missing out on some of the categories you can rank in. This is an opportunity, but like most opportunities also a responsibility. Today, we’ll talk about how you can leverage it to make your book sales soar, starting with:
Why Are Categories So Important?
We go into this in detail in a different article, and another one, (and even have a full training on it), but here’s the basics.
Each book on Amazon gets an Amazon Best Seller Rank (ASBR). If your ASBR rank is 100, only 900 books on the whole platform are selling better than you. At the time of this writing, the books with the best ASBR across all of Amazon in the US are:
- Jon Boenher’s On the House
- Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel: An Irreverent Guide
- Dog Man: Mothering Heights by Dav Pilkey
- Shannon Bream’s The Women of the Bible Speak
- Pepper Teigen’s The Pepper Thai Cookbook
You can always find today’s print bestsellers and Kindle bestsellers by visiting Amazon. When you do, you’ll find those top-ranking books (whatever day you check them) are published by major companies with vast marketing budgets or written by a major celebrity. You’ll notice the #1 and #2 from my list are both. They’re selling as many as 5,000 copies a day. Most people can’t compete with that. Neither you, nor I, have marketing pockets that deep or that level of fame.
That’s why Amazon categories are so important. Amazon doesn’t just keep track of their overall bestsellers. They also maintain ranks for each book category. For example, their bestelling Science Fiction & Fantasy book today is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It’s sitting at #14 overall, which amounts to about 1800 copies sold per day. That’s still pretty intimidating, but way better than 5,000.
But that’s not all!
Categories go deep, and the deeper and more specialized you go, the less competition you’ll find. Let’s keep going down the Science Fiction & Fantasy trail. For the day I wrote this article…
- The bestselling book on Amazon was On the House by John Boenher (#1 overall, 5,000 copies per day)
- The bestseller for Amazon—>Science Fiction & Fantasy was The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (#14 overall, 1,800 copies per day)
- The bestseller for Amazon—>Science Fiction & Fantasy—>Fantasy was Pack of Lies by Linsey Hall (#30 overall, 1,200 copies per day)
- The bestseller for Amazon—>Science Fiction & Fantasy—>Fantasy—>Action & Adventure was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by Will Wight (#36 overall, 1,100 copies per day.)
The deeper down the rabbit hole you go, the easier it is to reach the top ten or even the #1 spot in a category. Further, Action and Adventure Fantasy novels are a very big niche, with some very big players in them. On the other hand…
- The bestseller today in Amazon—>Parenting & Relationships—>Adoption is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, coming in at #2,523 overall and selling about 74 copies a day.
- The bestseller in Amazon—>Test Preparation—>Citizenship is US Citizenship Test Study Guide by Greg Bridges. It ranks #5,089 overall and sells 43 copies each day.
And here’s the important thing. The #1 category bestseller in Science Fiction & Fantasy might sell more books overall than the #1 category bestseller in Test Prep for US Citizenship, but they both receive the same treatment by Amazon’s algorithms when people search for the right keywords. Choosing a category with lower competition (by which we mean a higher overall ABSR in its #1 spot) gives you that search help and the resulting extra sales with less work and investment on your part.
Which is a pretty good deal.
How to Choose the Best Categories For Your Book?
There is another edge to this sword, however. If your category is too niche, even with all the extra search mojo there won’t be enough people interested in the category to make you any real money. The trick is to strike a balance in the middle, where there’s plenty of customers but it’s not too hard to grab the top slot for a few days.
Even better is to choose 10 categories with a nice variety of different competition levels, but more on that later.
For now, here’s how you choose the best category for your book, step by step.
Step One: Gather a List of Descriptive Words
Start with the keywords you researched for your book description, then branch out from there until you have 20-30 words that might find you a good category. Include words important to your genre, and strings people might use when searching for your book, or books similar to yours. Include two or three titles of books most like your own, but no more than that.
Step Two: Look For Good Matches
One by one, put a word or phrase from your book into the Amazon search box. Scroll through the results to find books that are similar to your own. They don’t have to be exact matches here, but just close enough that somebody could see the logic if you compared the two. Make a new list of each of these titles, adding to it as you go through each word from your first list. Most of the time, you don’t need to bother scrolling to the second page of results. Nothing back there is going to rank highly.
Step Three: Check the Categories
Click to the listing for each of the books on your list, then scroll down to find what categories they rank in. Click on that category and find out the #1 bestseller in that category. Make a third list of those bestsellers. They’re what the previous two steps were getting you ready to find. Next to the name, also list each book’s overall ABSR rank.
Step Four: Identify Your Top 10
Your efforts thus far will have netted you a list of the top sellers in a number of categories that might be appropriate for your book, and the overall ABSR rank for the top-selling book in those categories. Choose the best ten, according to the following guidelines:
- Avoid categories with an ABSR under 1,000. They tend to have too much competition from the heavyweights for you to make much progress.
- Think twice about categories with an ABSR over 50,000. They don’t sell enough books to make it worthwhile.
- Consider violating the above rules once or twice each, for a variety of search possibilities.
Once you have your top ten list, you’re ready to move on and get yourself added to all of them…not just the two available in your KDP book setup.
How to Get Into Those Extra Categories?
When you set your book up in KDP, you get to choose two categories. Worse, you choose them from a list which may or may not include the categories you determined were best for your book. To get into the perfect categories, and to qualify for eight more than the standard signup, you go through a process that’s pretty simple, but not very intuitive:
- STEP ONE: Copy the entire category string for the category you want
- STEP TWO: Sign in to your KDP account
- STEP THREE: Go to the Help/Contact Page
- STEP FOUR: Click “Amazon Book Page” from the list on the left
- STEP FIVE: Select “Update Amazon Categories”
- STEP SIX: In the box, paste the category strings for all ten of your categories, one per line
- STEP SEVEN: above your categories, add the line: “Categories to be added”
Click Save and you’re done. See? We told you this would be simple.
Wanna Know a Secret?
The categories in your KDP setup aren’t even the Amazon categories. They’re BISAC categories, which are used by the book industry as a whole. When you choose your two, Amazon then uses that information to slide your book into the category they think best matches.
That’s all well and good, and easy, but it’s not in your best interest. Amazon spends no energy in its algorithms to make sure you land somewhere you can compete. That’s not their job. That’s yours — which is why it’s so important that you take control of your book categories as soon as possible.
How Can You Check Your Work?
Google and Amazon are both frustrating in that they don’t spend a lot of energy telling you whether or not you guessed right in your search mojo operations. You can do lots of work and then not know if it…well…um…worked.
As of 2017, your book might show up in 10 categories, but your book page will show only three categories. You still rank in the others, you (and curious readers) just won’t see them unless they manually search the right category and find your listing.
There’s no help for the reader part of this. There isn’t really a way for casual browsers to see how well you did on the other seven categories. We just have to accept this and move on.
There’s no easy way to check your own performance on all ten categories either, but there is a tool. Nerdy Book Girl has built a free one. You can click on this link here, input your ASIN or ISBN, and get a listing of what categories your book is in, and how well it’s doing in each.
With that information, you can fine-tune your approach by advertising to categories you’re close to #1 in, running discount deals, or even changing a category to one that’s less competitive or that makes more money.
Remember earlier when I said to avoid categories where bestsellers have an ABSR of 1,000 or less? That’s good advice…to start. What you can do, though, is use Amazon’s algorithms and AI to move your way up to progressively more competitive categories.
Start low, until you’ve hung out in the top five for a few weeks, with at least one appearance as number one. As your book’s general performance is rising, remove your book from a category with low competition, then add the lowest-ranking one from the categories you initially discarded as too hot.
When your book is doing well in a low-competition category, its search performance improves. If you leverage that to a solid entry in a higher-competing category, it results in higher sales, which lets you compete at even higher-performing categories, and on and on. This takes some work, but if you’re building momentul it can really be worth the effort.
Okay…What Can I Do Now?
Your next step is to check your current status. Based on what’s going on, you’ll have some work to do.
- If you’re in fewer than ten categories, go through the steps above and get listed in ten categories you can ably compete in
- If you’re in ten categories, but not ranking in any, reconfigure your categories and position yourself in some that are substantially less competitive. Bonus points for using your book’s current ABSR to find one you can immediately get to the top of.
- If you’re ranking in a category, but have yet to make #1, run a freebie or discount sale, or other short-term push for readers. That will usually do the trick.
- If you’ve made it to #1 in one or more categories, consider changing one of your categories to something more competitive, beginning the bootstrap process
- If you’re in the least competitive categories you can find, but still not ranking, look to your book cover, reviews, book description, and similar elements. Something’s not working in what happens once readers see your book page.
Got it? Good! Now go out and make your book a bestseller.