Saturday, August 6, 2011

Discoverability...picking the right categories

One of the most important things to consider when publishing your book is choosing your categories wisely. Because so many indie authors find that Amazon kindle will be their best sales channel, I recommend optimizing for it.

To do this you need to first know which categories have bestselling lists. I'm going to focus on science fiction and fantasy as that is the area I'm most familiar with. Let's start with kindle
  1. Open Amazon to the main home page
  2. From the list on the left side of the screen select Books->Kindle eBooks
  3. Under Popular Features, select Bestsellers
Under Fantasy I find the following:
  • Anthologies
  • Arthurian
  • Contemporary
  • Epic
  • Historical
  • Series
Under Science Fiction I find:
  • Adventure
  • Anthologies
  • High Tech
  • Series
But that's not the end of the lists, as Kindle eBooks also show up in the book section so let's look there as well.
  1. On the left side click on: Any Category
  2. Click on Books
  3. Click on Science Fiction and Fantasy
Under Fantasy I find:
  • Alternate History
  • Anthologies
  • Arthurian
  • Contemporary
  • Epic
  • Historical
  • History & Criticism
  • Magic & Wizards
Under Science Fiction I find:
  • Adventure
  • Alternate History
  • Anthologies
  • Graphic Novels
  • High Tech
  • History & Criticism
  • Short Stories
  • Space Opera
But that's still not the end of the lists. There are many "non" science fiction and fantasy lists that could fit my stories such as:
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Action & Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Action and Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Men's Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Romance
  • Kindle Store->Kindle eBooks->Fiction->Romance->Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost
  • Books->Romance
  • Books->Romance->Fantasy & Futuristic
  • Books->Literature and Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->Action and Adventure
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->Men's Adventure
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
You want to pick list that are, of course, relevant but you also want to look for lists that are the easiest to dominate. In other words a list that you can be a big fish in a small pond. For instance, Michael's fourth book in his Riyria Revelations series was called The Emerald Storm. Like all of the books in the series that was an epic fantasy, but it also takes place on a sailing ship and there is a category, Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->Sea Adventures. If we look at the first page of this is the ranking of the books are: #1 - 25,832 and #20 296,445. The Emerald Storm is being taken off the market in just a few days but over it's life it's rankings have ranged from 284 to 16,784 so I could have the #1 best seller for sea adventures simply by selecting this category.

The first page of the Men's Adventure list goes from 299 to 2,683 while the first page of epic fantasy goes 19 to 1,018. So if your epic fantasy appeals to men -- it might benefit you to use the Men's Adventure category when your ranking is too low to hit the epic fantasy list.

List popularity changes all the time. I recommend you watch the ranking ranges for the ones applicable to your books and change the list if you've fallen off one of the "harder to get on" lists - it might even introduce an audience to your books that wouldn't normally find it. For instance, if Emerald Storm couldn't make ANY fantasy lists - then I would probably classify it for sea adventure or men's adventure as then it would easily make one of those.

Sometimes a list that you want to be on is not available through the DTP interface. No problem. Simply make sure you have an open spot (i.e. only have 1 or none categories selected) and put in a ticket. They will set it into a category that you can't get to.

Be careful about DTP categories that don't have a best seller list. I have two great military science fiction writers: Joe Haldeman & Marshall Thomas. If you notice there is no bestseller list for Military Science Fiction (too bad because with my sales numbers for them would guarantee some dominance there). When setting up my title, one of the choices I COULD select Military Science Fiction as that best describes these books but if I do, then I miss an opportunity for hitting a bestseller list which is a high impact to my sales.

So what to do? For thse books I select:
  • Fiction->War
  • Science Fiction->Adventure
Remember that any lists "higher" than the one selected is automatically eligible. So using these categories actually make those books eligible for:
  • Books
  • Books->Science Fiction and Fantasy
  • Books->Science Fiction and Fantasy->Science Fiction
  • Books->Science Fiction and Fantasy->Science Fiction->Adventure
  • Books->Literature and Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction
  • Books->Literature and Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
  • Kindle
  • Kindle Store
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Science Fiction
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->Science Fiction->Adventure
  • Kindle Store->Kindle ebooks->Fiction->Genre Fiction->War
That's a lot of lists. For Leslie Ann Moore I could use lists such as:

  • Epic Fantasy
  • Romance Fantasy
  • Historical Fantasy
When her numbers are good as they are now then I keep her in the Epic Fantasy and Romance Fantasy as those are very relevant to her series. But if her ranking were to fall off these lists...then I would move to Historical Fantasy because that is a list that is easy to dominate.

A key element to success is getting on a best seller list - as many people use these to discover new authors. It even makes sense to "mix them up". There is usually more than one category that applies and since you can only use two then switch them every few months to expose your books to sub-markets that "fit" your book.


Rob Cornell said...

What a brilliant idea. I never thought about doing this. I just went through all my books and made tweaks. It will be interesting to see any effects.

Deb said...

Thanks for this. I've always wondered. The categories I want to use aren't available at KDP. By putting in a ticket, do you mean using the forum to request it?

Ender Chadwick said...

Great info. Robin, do you have any idea if Amazon ever purges this information or alters it? I did this when I first released my short story collection and since they've disappeared.

Lexi said...

Robin, I'd be scared to alter mine since Remix's UK categories changed without my doing anything, and it took me dozens of emails and two and a half MONTHS to get the correct categories back. I'm certain this lost me thousands of sales.

When Replica came out, it had no categories. That only took four days to sort out...

Abigail Hilton said...

Thank you, for this post, Robin. While KDP categories can be useful, they seem to be designed to intentionally confuse authors. They're like a maze full of sand traps and minotaurs. Categories without bestseller lists? Why do such things even exist! They're just dead-ends to trap the unwary.

In addition, the inability to make a direct comparison between the KDP available lists and the actual Amazon bestseller lists can get pretty confusing, especially knowing that sandtraps exist.

For instance, I find YA of the type that I write listed under "Children's Fiction" in Amazon. There is no "Children's Fiction" in KDP. However, there is a "Juvenile" section, which appears to contain some of the same sub categories.

Juvenile is not a dead-end (as I have learned by trail and error). It is the Children's category by a different name. You will get on Children's bestseller lists by using the Juvenile category in KDP. However, if you look at the sub-categories, you will find them quite different, and the way that Amazon divvies Children's books up into bestseller lists is mysterious.

The maze of differences (an entire branching tree of differences) is so extensive that I don't even want to type it out, but just as an example: Prophet of Panamindorah Book One is on Amazon's bestseller list Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror > Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic. I got it there by listing it in KDP as Juvenile Fiction >Fantasy and Magic.

If I had started out as Robin suggests by looking for a category to aim at (Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Magic), I would be completely flummoxed. I couldn't have known what the end-point category would be for the place where I listed that book. I couldn't have checked existing bestseller ranks within my end-point category. Does that make sense?

Moving on.

We can deduce from my experience above that categories are not word-for-word between Amazon and KDP. They may not even correspond to the same place withing the branching tree.

Now, I also write adult fantasy about ships, so I go looking for Sea Adventure. (I've tried this a couple of times, but Robin's post inspired me to try again.) I do not find it in KDP. However, I do find Fiction >Sea Stories.

Is "Sea Stories" just "Sea Adventure" by a different name? Or is it a dead-end - a category with no best-seller list?

I have no idea. Robin, even though I think you're oversimplifying this, you know *way* more than I do. What do you think? Is Sea Stories a sandtrap or a legitimate exit from the maze? ;)

Carol Ervin said...

I am such a fan of this blog! Thanks for all you do.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Another valuable post, Robin.

I figured out for myself a couple of weeks ago the basic principle you describe here. During my initial listing, my debut novel, HUNTER, had been filed by the KDP interface in the hugely populated "Thrillers" category, with no subcategories available that I could access directly. So, after studying the competitiveness of the subcategories, I contacted the Kindle people and asked them to put the thriller into the "Thriller" subcategory "Spy Stories and Tales of Intrigue," which has fewer than 3,000 listed titles.

And guess what? HUNTER is now well into the Top 100 Bestsellers in that subcategory (as high as #60 today), where it's selling even ahead of titles by the likes of Clancy, Cussler, Ludlum, DeMille, Patterson, Follett, and Baldacci!

I also checked out other subcategories on the "tree," and discovered that under "Romance," the subcategory "Romantic Suspense" might be a possibility for my story, so I listed it there, too. Sure enough, this morning the book briefly slipped into the Top 100 there, too.

So yes, the procedure you describe does help to generate "discoverability" to your targeted readership...if you target the right categories.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Deb - No you don't go to the it from within DTP. At the bottom of the screen is a "Contact Us" link - then you can fill out a form and it will essentially send an email to them.

Robin Sullivan said...

@E.C. - No I've never heard of anything alongthose lines.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Abigail - You are correct it is a bit confusing and not a one-to-one correlation. I can't say I have experience with all the various lists so I can't really comment on the specifics you mentioned, just the ones I've been around and what much of the post relates to.

If I were you. I'd find the bestseller list that you WANT to be on, put your book to have no categories then write a ticket with the AISN of the book and the tree to the categories that you want and have Amazon do it for you.

My 2 cents anyway.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Carol - THANKS!

Robin Sullivan said...

@Great Robert - yep what you did is exactly on point of what I was suggesting for others. Glad to see it is working well for you.

Abigail Hilton said...

Thanks, Robin! I really appreciate the discussion. Nobody talks about this, because everyone thinks they're the only one who can't figure it out. :D You address lots of these types of subjects, and it's extremely helpful.

I'll try directly corresponding with them. This option was news to me, as I always figured that best-seller lists not available through KDP were intentionally off-limits to self-published authors.

Lee McAulay said...

Great idea, Robin. I've made a few tweaks to my short story listings to see if it makes any difference.
Keep up the good work!

Joseph D'Agnese said...

I read this a couple of times and I'm still confused about one thing: What evidence do we have that book buyers consult the bestsellers in these categories when buying books? I can't think of one time I went to Amazon and said, "Oh, let's see what's hot in fantasy right now..."

Are buyers doing that? Or it is that the books that are on the bestseller lists are ones that keep getting recommended to people?

I KNOW I'm missing something here. Can you explain this point?

Robin Sullivan said...

@JD - just because you don't do this doesn't mean that others don't. I track sales and rankings and bestsellers lists and the sales jump substantially once you start making the lists so there are people doing exactly what you describe - going tot he bestsellers list to see what is "hot" and check it out.

In many ways it comes down to credibility. Bestsellers have had lots of "independent validation" there are people who have come before you that have bought so you are less risk adverse to buying as well. If you haven't read Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore you may want to as it will give you some perspective on this.

Robin Sullivan said...

@Abagail - I don't think there was any "intentional" missing of lists - just some programmers making the forms who didn't dot all the i's and cross all the t's.

Joseph D'Agnese said...

This sounds good, Robin. Thanks for clarifying!


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