CreateSpace & Kindle Keyword and Category Tips

The first “secret” is to visit the following KDP help page. This page tells you how to use different combinations of keywords to get your book listed in “special” categories. Once there, cick on a category from the list.

At CreateSpace, you can select one BISAC category and enter up to 5 keywords separated by commas in one of the publishing steps (same page as where you enter the description). At Kindle, you can select up to two categories and enter up to 7 keywords.

First, you should try searching for similar books on Amazon by keyword. As you start typing a keyword, common search results will pull up. This will help you see if customers ever search for the keywords that you’re trying. See which books similar to yours show up in the search results. Are the top searches all bestsellers, or have lesser known authors achieved visibility on these searches?

The most important thing about the keywords that you choose for your book is that they are a good fit for your book. That is, people searching for those books are very likely to be in your target audience. If not, the keyword is wasted. The second thing to consider is this: You want to balance popular keyword searches (i.e. ones that customers are likely to use frequently) with your chances of being visible in that search. Guess how many super-popular books show up if you simply search by “romance,” for example. You might be better off trying to find specific romance searches that are highly relevant for your book and which customers actually search for periodically.

Here is a handy keyword tip for CreateSpace: Don’t put spaces after your comma. The 25-character limit includes that space. So if you include a space after the comma, CreateSpace will reject an otherwise 25-character long keyword. (Obviously, you have to have spaces between separate words, just don’t put one after the comma that separates two keywords). Note that Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) doesn’t impose this limit on characters.

Words in your title, subtitle, author name, and imprint are already searchable, as is the word “book.” So, for example, if your subtitle has the word “mystery” in it, you’re wasting a keyword if you choose “mystery book” as a keyword because it would already be searchable that way. Plurals may make a slight difference in the order of search results, but you shouldn’t waste a keyword to change something like “soldier” to “soldiers,” for example (if you have one or the other, your book will show up in both searches, though not necessarily in the same place).

As you find books similar to yours—especially books where the author wasn’t well-known, but which are selling well—see which categories they are listed in. You want to choose the most relevant category for your book.

Although you can only choose one BISAC category at CreateSpace, you can actually get your book listed in two relevant categories at Amazon. After your book is published, simply contact member support and politely as CreateSpace if they could please add your book to one more category. First go to Amazon to find the browse path—something like Books > Romance > Contemporary.

You have to make a separate request for Amazon US and Amazon UK. Note that the category choices are different on both sites, so you have to find the category that you want on each site before making the request.

You can’t add your book to a second category in children’s or teen unless your BISAC category is in juvenile. If you want one category in children’s or teen and one category different from this, first choose your BISAC category within juvenile and then request to add the other category on Amazon.

When your book first goes live, it may be way down the list (several pages, perhaps) in search results. Through successful marketing, if your book gets searched more and sells after being searched, this will help to improve the book’s position in the ordering of search results. You can’t expect a new book to pass bestsellers in the results, can you? It takes time for Amazon’s program to establish relevance.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Amazon > Books > Browse > Categories > Argh!

Categories: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em!

As a reader looking for books, categories are a necessity to help organize millions of books.

As an author hoping to sell books, categories are a necessity to help customers find them.

But categories can sure be frustrating from both ends! And it’s not just at Amazon. It’s all online booksellers. And a book may be listed in different categories on different websites…

Example > One > Begin

Suppose that your child is struggling with phonics. So you decide to search for a phonics workbook.

Obviously, at Amazon, you would click Books > Children’s Books. At this point, things already become interesting.

At the top of the screen at the left, it says “Shop by Category.” But where it says this, these are actually age groups, and not categories. The real categories are much further down (on my screen, I actually have to scroll down to find them – so you might not even discover those categories). What we mean by categories are things like mystery, education, and humor, right?

But it’s useful to narrow the search by age. At least, it seems like it should be. If your child is 7 years old, it makes sense to choose the 6-8 years range. That will help filter out all of the irrelevant books, right?

Oh, but it will also filter out some of the relevant books. Only some of the books in Children’s Books are categorized by age range. Many books are not.

Most customers won’t realize this. Those who do face a dilemma: See only some of the books in the right age group, or see many books from all of the age groups? Well, you could do two separate searches…

You can select the age group and a category, but that will only catch books that show up both ways; this loses even more results.

You want to filter the results; otherwise you have way too many to sort through. But what you really want is to keep the relevant results, and just filter out the irrelevant ones. The funny thing is that there are irrelevant results in virtually every search on Amazon, while a few highly relevant results are generally excluded.

Suppose we decide to search the categories down below (i.e. not the age group). If you’re looking for the Reference category, you might have trouble finding it: It’s under Education & Reference, so you have to look for E, not R. A lot of categories are merged together like this. For example, if you want Fantasy, look for S because it’s under Science Fiction.

Here’s a trick question for you: Which category would you choose for Mathematics? The correct answer is Science, Nature, & How It Works.

What’s more interesting is that the categories change periodically. It’s really fun to find a category that you know you used to use, but isn’t there any longer!

In this example, we’re looking for a phonics workbook. You could pick Education, but you might select Activities (thinking it’s a workbook). For some types of books, the choice can be quite difficult.

Let’s go with Education & Reference. Note that Reference is one of the categories within Reference. Why not just give it its own category to make it easier to find? If you pick Science Fiction & Fantasy, it splits into separate Science Fiction and Fantasy categories. Why not eliminate the middleman?

Which subject do you think we should choose? If this were Family Feud, I bet English would be a good answer. Do you agree? Well, that’s only the correct answer if English is the child’s second language. What do you pick if it’s the child’s first language? It must be under Reading & Writing.

Now we get to choose from Composition, Grammar, Handwriting, and Vocabulary.

Wait a minute! Did we make a wrong turn somewhere? Who stole Phonics?

If you want to sort through the Vocabulary & Spelling category, all I can say is, “Good luck!” Why? Because you get to browse through 1,222 books to find out if any of them actually relate to Phonics.

You know what makes this task even more fun? There are only 12 search results showing on each page. Hey, it’s only 100 pages. It could be worse.

Maybe the category wasn’t the best idea. Maybe we should just type a keyword.

So we start typing Phonics Workbook into the search field, and we see some other options, like Phonics Workbook Kindergarten. Hmm, maybe we should click on one of those more specific searches.

Well, if you’d like to filter out books published through CreateSpace, that will do the trick because they place a 25-character limit (including spaces) on keywords. Ironically, those same authors can publish the same books (well, probably not workbooks) on Kindle, where there is no limit on the character count of a keyword. The paperback and ebook editions can then be linked together. Go figure!

Another issue is that the publisher can only choose so many keywords, like Phonics, Phonics Book, Phonics for Kids, Phonics Workbook Grade 2, etc. CreateSpace, for example, only allows publishers to select up to 5 relevant keywords. Kindle, in comparison, allows up to 7. Why the disparity?

So when you search by a keyword, it’s possible for a relevant book not to show up in the search.

It’s also possible for a highly irrelevant book to show up in the search. As long as it has the same keyword as you searched for, it will show up.

Of course, Amazon’s algorithm must decide in what order to display the results. Let’s not open yet another can of worms…

Example > One > End

That example illustrates some of the fun that customers experience while searching for books.

Authors and publishers experience a similar sort of fun when publishing books.

Example > Two > Begin

Suppose that you wrote play that contains a bit of murder, satire, and romance. Okay. Which category would you choose when it comes time to publish?

Let’s explore Amazon. You can’t even get passed Books before you come across a tough decision.

Maybe it should be listed as a play for people looking for plays. If so, where are they? Well, you might find them under Literature & Fiction > Drama. At least, you’ll find Shakespeare there. Hey, this book kind of sounds like one of Shakespeare’s works. Makes you wonder how anyone would find his books if he lived in the 21st century! (Okay, I won’t debate that his greatness would prevail even in our times. But suppose you wanted to write something kind of like Shakespeare’s works, but without that same level of genius. Where would you put it?)

Do you really think people will be sorting through dramas looking for new plays that include murder, satire, and romance? (Remember, we’re talking about the book I proposed in this example, and not one of Shakespeare’s books. I just remarked that one of his books could have a similar issue. If you want his books, just type Shakespeare in the search field. It helps a bit to have a famous name. How would such a book get discovered without that big name?)

The category Plays doesn’t appear to exist.

There are many nonexistent categories. Like Phonics (see Example > One). That’s a problem for customers who are looking for such books, and a problem for publishers who sell those books.

It has some murder and some romance. We could throw it in Romantic Suspense. But if it’s anything like Shakespeare, that’s certainly not what those customers will be looking for in that category.

The same goes for Romantic Comedy. You don’t have to worry about that, however. Although there are many romantic comedies, there is no such category. It’s not under Romance, nor is it under Comedy.

Maybe it’s more of a suspense. Or does it fall under Humor for the satire.

It’s a tough decision.

And you have to pick one. Well, if you publish with CreateSpace, you can contact support and politely request that a second browse category be added for your book at Amazon. Compare with Kindle, where you can choose two up front.

Then the categories that you get to choose often don’t match the actual categories at Amazon. CreateSpace presents the BISAC categories, which aren’t the same. This definitely adds to the fun.

Speaking of fun, it gets even better.

Sometimes, your book automatically appears in three or more categories, even though you can only choose one or two. Your book can appear in categories that you don’t even select, all without you knowing.

And this can be a problem.

More is better, right? Not always.

If your book is Fantasy, but buyers see it listed under Science Fiction when they check out the book’s detail page, they might decide it’s not what they were looking for. Similarly, a buyer who is looking for a suspense might be deterred to see a book listed in romance, too.

If a book is good fit for one genre, that’s the only place it should appear so as not to create any buyer confusion. Confused shoppers tend to not buy the book.

Example > Two > End

The real answer for the author’s concerns is marketing. This will be far more effective than relying on customers to discover your book among millions through category or keyword searches. And if your marketing effort pays off, the sales that are generated may improve your book’s visibility.

But what is the solution to the poor customer’s dilemma with categories? Online booksellers are highly customer-oriented, are they not?

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Cross-Categories – a Misconception among Authors?

Not a Romance

I come across a staggering number of self-published books that don’t seem to fit into any single well-defined category.

What do you get when you cross Harry Potter with Brokeback Mountain? Buyer confusion!

Some authors are thinking along the lines, “I’ll double my target audience by writing a book that has a healthy combination of fantasy and science fiction.” Or it can be an action thriller mixed with historical romance. Or one of several other combinations.

To make matters worse, surely they will have friends and family members who will help encourage this. Somebody will say something of the sort, “You know what. I love Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings. I think that’s a great idea!”

One problem with this is that the target audience doesn’t actually double when distinctly different genres are crossed. Most readers who are specifically searching for a passionate romance, for example, are looking for exactly that. They’re not looking for a romance that’s fifty percent sci-fi, fantasy, or spy thriller.

Similarly, most readers who are looking for fantasy, for example, aren’t browsing for a cover that looks, or a blurb that sounds, too romantic.

Would you try to sell Easter bunny costumes on Halloween?

There may be an audience for a cross-genre book, but it will probably be a more challenging sell than a book that fits very well in a single genre.

In other cases, the author hadn’t thought about the categories at all until the writing was finished. When it came time to publish, the author is faced with the task of choosing the category. Now the author is thinking something like, “Well, there is a bit of action, a little mystery, a touch of romance, even some sci-fi at the end.”

Having a book that fits into a blend of categories is a major marketing and packaging obstacle.

It’s much easier to package and market a book that fits into a single, well-defined category.

Consider this from a marketing and packaging perspective:

  • The thumbnail image of the front cover needs to attract the right audience. When mystery readers click on a book because the cover appealed to them, but the blurb doesn’t sound like a mystery book, nobody will buy the book through discovery.
  • The title and cover need to send a unified message. If the title sounds like a spy thriller, but the cover looks like contemporary romance, this creates buyer confusion.
  • The blurb and Look Inside must reinforce the same signals given by the title and cover. Confused shoppers don’t by books.
  • The content has to satisfy the reader who is attracted to the book. If the title, cover, blurb, and Look Inside succeed in attracting fantasy readers, but the story doesn’t appeal to most fantasy readers, this will adversely affect book reviews and word-of-mouth sales.

Packaging a book for a specific target audience and sending a unified message about the content of the book is easiest when the book fits into a single, well-defined category.

I’m not saying that you can’t write a book that blends categories. If your goal is frequent sales, then writing a book that closely resembles one popular genre may be the best way to go. Marketing a book that fits into two or more different categories will probably be a much greater challenge. It’s already very difficult to be one of the top sellers. Why make it any more difficult than it already is?

It can be fun to write non-standard books. If you do this for the fun, and don’t mind that this may adversely affect sales, then you should definitely enjoy your fun.

I’ve had a little fun with this myself. For example, I’m working on a book called Romancing the Novel, which is an extension of a couple of pieces that I posted on this blog a few months ago:

Reading and Writing with Passion

Giving Birth to a Book

I also have a dialogue called Why Do We Have to Go to School? The closest topic is probably educational philosophy, but it’s actually fiction. I didn’t find a good category for it. It doesn’t sell, but I’m not surprised. I didn’t invest time marketing it, since it wasn’t an easy sell. But I’m not disappointed: It was fun to write and definitely worth doing.

I mostly write nonfiction, which sells for the value of the content and expertise. For me, the fiction is fun, while the nonfiction is educational. For me, the educational part sells, while the fun is just fun (and what’s wrong with having fun for fun’s sake?).

One of these years, I will finish a juvenile sci-fi book that I started several years ago. I believe that it has a great beginning (it better – I’ve spent years working on it). This piece of fiction won’t just be fun, but will actually fit into a well-defined, popular genre. Of all of my ideas for fictional books, this one has the best chance of succeeding. It’s also the book that’s taking the longest time to write. Maybe by 2020? (Hey, that would be a good year to release a book that has something to do with excellent eyesight.)

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers