Friday, July 3, 2020


Sometimes it’s nice to know you’re on the right track, even if you don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

I recently took an online course from Romance Writers of America® aimed at defining my audience on Amazon so I could sell “truckloads” of books on that platform. The expert who taught the course used the techniques of analyzing the keywords and categories we assign our books when we publish on Kindle Direct Publishing or list with Amazon, similar to those expensive marketing systems you see advertised on Facebook.

For those of you new to the business, or who don’t obsess over the ins and outs of publishing, keywords are like the “tags” you assign to your book that a reader might search for among Amazon’s vast catalog. Amazon allows you seven of these when you publish on KDP or list with them from an outside publisher. But what you may not know is that a keyword may actually refer to a keyword string, using an entire phrase, such as “Earth-based science fiction,” “alien abduction” or “kickass heroines.” I had already figured this out, but I thought I was pushing the envelope, or maybe cheating a little when I used my keyword strings. Nice to know I won’t be dinged for it!
Earth-based SF, alien abduction and kickass heroines!

Amazon’s categories are those lists that appear on the left side of the page when you search in Books or in the Kindle Store. Major categories are Romance or Science Fiction & Fantasy or Mystery & Suspense, subcategories are things like Science Fiction in Romance, Space Opera in Science Fiction & Fantasy. But it’s not that simple. The Books side of Amazon organizes categories and subcategories differently than the Kindle Store (ebooks) side. So you have to assign your categories differently for the ebook and paperback versions of your titles, particularly for Science Fiction & Fantasy, which has virtually no subcategories on the Kindle Store side, but lots on the Book side.

The good thing is Amazon allows you to list a title in as many as ten subcategories, as long as you can justify the assignment. In other words, the first book in my Interstellar Rescue series, Unchained Memory, has elements of science fiction, romance, first contact science fiction, romantic suspense, time travel and action/adventure. So, I can use all those categories/ subcategories for the title. Just so you get an idea of what this looks like from Amazon’s point of view, here’s how I requested (and was approved) my title category assignment for the Kindle version of Unchained Memory:

Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>ROMANCE>TIME TRAVEL

Now, as I learned from my class, ROMANCE>TIME TRAVEL and ROMANCE>SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY both come in at 20,000 each. That’s my competition in those categories. Strangely enough, Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) ranks at the top of both categories, so there you are. ROMANCE>MYSTERY, THRILLER & SUSPENSE is a tougher category, if you discount Ms. Gabaldon, with 60,000 entries. SCIENCE FICTION is even worse, at 80,000 titles, mostly because Amazon hasn’t bothered to subcategorize the Kindle Store at all

Why are categories important, beyond just getting an idea what you’re up against? Because this is where Amazon gets its rankings. They rank your title against the others in its category. So if you can manage to be the only one outstanding in your field, you win. In other words, better to be a big fish in a little pond. This is why anthologies, especially quirky anthologies, do so well. It’s also why your crazy uncle, who wrote an obscure treatise on cockroach migration in Brazil, is a bestseller on Amazon. While I, as one of 20,000 time travel romance authors up against Outlander, am not. 

A midlister in three categories.
It’s interesting that for Unchained Memory, I’m given a ranking for Time Travel Romance, First Contact Science Fiction (which should be in Books, not ebooks, but who knows the mysteries of the algorithm?) and Science Fiction Romance, all about midlist.

It could be worse, though. At least I’ve figured out how to be in the 20,000-title category, not just the 80,000-title category. And I spread my titles across multiple possible search categories, not just one or two. I also have a series landing page for the Interstellar Rescue Series, which has accurate buying information for all four updated titles, a feat which has taken me at least two years and many, many calls to AuthorCentral to achieve. I have almost succeeded in burying the older editions of my novels, books which no longer have the publishing rights attached to them, but which still pop up to haunt my sales on a regular basis. 

When those books finally no longer appear when I search, I will finally consider myself an Amazon success, no matter what my ranking.


Yes, for all you American readers out there, today is the start of the long Independence Day weekend. Enjoy--but stay six feet away from all the other revelers and WEAR YOUR MASKS! Coronavirus never takes a holiday!


Cheers, Donna


  1. Very interesting. Thanks for this. I shall give it a go.

  2. I'm still grappling with the whole key word issue, but I have learned a little and do use key word strings. Great idea to take a class. There's just so much to learn!


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