Last updated on Jul 07, 2021
Choosing Amazon Book Categories: The Essential Guide
If you needed any reminding, Amazon is still the biggest bookstore in the English-speaking world. To help its millions of readers discover their next literary fix, Amazon organizes all of its titles into book categories — just as traditional a bookstore would. But when an author self-publishes a book through Amazon, they actually have over 10,000 categories to choose between, ranging from the broad (like 'romance') to the incredibly specific (think 'viking historical romance').
In this article, we’ll reveal the importance of choosing the right categories and provide you some practical steps to perfectly place your book on Amazon’s bulging shelves.
For this post, we’ve had a helping hand from Reedsy's in-house marketing expert, Ricardo Fayet. For a deeper look at selecting categories, download his free ebook: How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market.
Why should you care about Amazon categories?
In short, categorization gives Amazon readers a way to search for books by genre or topic. If your book is not listed where your target audience would expect to find it, then your sales will struggle, no matter how good your writing is.
The important thing to understand is that Amazon automatically creates several lists within each category to help readers see which books are trending — much the same way that a bookseller in a traditional store would arrange the window displays. These lists include:
They’re often referred to as “visibility spots” because having your book at the top of these charts guarantees that readers will see it when they head to your chosen category. If you want to know more about how visibility spots are determined, head to our post on Amazon algorithms, or take our free 10-day course that will teach you all you need to know about Amazon algorithms.
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For now, though, all you need to know is that these lists are arranged in order of current sales rank. The more copies you’re currently selling, the higher you climb — and the better chance you have of reaching readers browsing through your chosen categories.
Having one of the bestselling books across the Amazon store may be unachievable for all but the most successful authors (who usually have a publisher's backing). But ranking among the top three books in a specific category is both achievable and valuable — if you know which categories to pick.
How to choose the right categories for your book
To help you arrive at your final selection of book categories, it’s useful to start with a mammoth list of relevant options and whittle them down from there. Let’s get going!
1. Build a (sensible) list of categories
To build a list of relevant categories, you first need to know your book’s genre. If you’re unsure, take a look at our ultimate list of book genres — where you’ll find a detailed breakdown of the different types of nonfiction and fiction, as well as a two-minute quiz that’ll point you towards your novel’s subgenre.
Once you know which literary umbrella your book falls under, you should familiarize yourself with the full list of book categories and subcategories on both the Kindle eBook store and the Amazon book store — since they differ slightly.
Click your way through the Kindle store
Just go to the department you want to explore and scroll through the sidebar until you find the list of categories. Click one, and you’ll be given a list of subcategories. Click on one of those, and you’ll be given the sub-sub-categories. When Amazon stops giving you a new list of options, you’ve reached the deepest layer of categories. Listing in a subcategory automatically lists your book in every one of its parent categories, too, so this is where you would list your book.
For example, if you’ve written a how-to guide on pinch pottery for beginners, you might follow a path similar to this one:
After having a browse, you should have some idea of where your title might fit. But to build a more complete list, you’ll need to take a page out of your competitors’ books.
Start by plugging some relevant keywords into the Amazon search engine. You might try ‘pinch pottery guide’ or ‘pottery for beginners’ for the same pottery book.
From the results, compile a list of books similar to yours. Then go to the product details and see which categories these competing titles are listed under. If a category looks promising, click through to explore its Best Sellers page. Exploring the books on that page and the categories their authors have chosen should give you even more ideas.
Amazon only shows 2-4 categories in any book’s product details section. So if you want to be extra thorough and see all the categories a book is listed in, you’ll need this cheeky workaround:
- Copy the ISBN or ASIN from the product details of the book;
- Head to bklnk.com and paste in your ASIN;
- Hit ‘search’ and you’ll see all the categories the book is in — woo hoo!
2. Identify categories with good traffic and beatable competition
Not all categories were created equal. Some will have more competition than others, making them harder to rank for. And some will have a much smaller readership, making the #1 spot far less valuable to authors who actually want to, you know, sell copies.
Once you have your big list of relevant book categories, you need to sift through that list to look for places where:
- You have a good chance at ranking well and
- There’s a sufficient volume of user traffic to make that ranking worthwhile.
While you might accurately describe your book as ‘contemporary fiction,’ for example, it often pays to be more specific. A niche category, like ‘women’s domestic life fiction,’ will have far fewer competing titles than ‘contemporary fiction,’ so it’s more likely that your book will climb that category’s bestseller list.
Pro-tip: Get a read on your audience early by downloading this author market research checklist.
Market Research Checklist
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But be careful: unless you’ve written a book solely for LinkedIn bragging rights, simply choosing the least-competitive categories you can find is a big mistake. A hopelessly obscure category that nobody looks at will earn you very little reader exposure and very few sales.
Analyze your options with Amazon Best Seller Rankings
Once you’ve built a list of potential book categories, analyze them by weighing the amount of user traffic they get against the level of competition from other books.
To do this, you’ll need to head back to those Best Sellers pages. Find the 'Best Sellers’ button from Amazon’s top banner, then select ‘Books’ from the sidebar, and you’ll be presented with a familiar list of parent categories to navigate.
Once you’ve made your way to a category on your list, take a look at the top five books on the Best Sellers list and note down their Amazon Best Sellers Rank. If these books are among the top twenty books for the whole store, you’ll know this is a hyper-competitive category — you’re not going to climb to the top here.
On the other hand, if the top books in a category have an ABSR higher than 1,000, this suggests the category is niche and low in traffic — even the top five books won’t be gaining a significant amount of sales.
To know precisely how many copies a certain book is selling daily (and how many you’d need to sell to outrank them), you can plug its ABSR into a kindle calculator. Having a quantifiable sales figure can make all these numbers much easier to compute.
Be like Goldilocks and look for categories that are ‘just right’
You don’t need to avoid these kinds of categories altogether, but you don’t want all of your choices to be either hyper-competitive or incredibly niche. Your final shortlist should have a healthy balance of both. And if you can find relevant categories that hit the sweet spot — not too obscure, not too competitive — so much the better!
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If you have room in your budget, there are several ways to save time when researching categories. Ricardo recommends using a Kindle research tool to help you compile a thorough list of potential categories which you can rank in order of suitability — or you could hire a metadata expert to do it all for you.
3. Request your chosen categories from KDP Support
When you first upload your book onto the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, you’ll only be able to select two categories from the dashboard. Worse, you might also notice that some of the categories you had your eye on just don’t appear on the dashboard. Worry not, however, as there is a simple solution.
Dealing with Amazon can often feel like communicating with a computer in an unmanned warehouse — but when you want to change, update, or add to your categories, all you need to do is reach out to KDP’s support team. It’s so simple, most people don’t even think of it.
Just head to KDP Support, select “Amazon Store & Product Detail Page,” then “Update Amazon Categories,” and fill in the form. Make sure you include all the categories you want your book listed under and give them the full category path.
Now, you might be wondering: how many categories should you request?
While every format of a book (Kindle, paperback, hardback, audiobook) can be in up to ten different Store categories, Amazon will only allow it to "rank" — i.e. show up in best seller and Hot New Release lists — in a maximum of three categories.
In other words, you may request KDP Support to include your ebook in ten different categories on the Kindle Store, but it will only rank in three. Which three is not something you can control, but is instead decided by Amazon based on "customer activity," and may change from time to time.
Because of this, we recommend requesting no more than three to six categories in total to ensure that your book is always ranking in categories that are as relevant as possible.
4. Protect your ‘also-boughts’
When researching categories, you'll likely find some unexplored niches that may seem like a great opportunity, yet are only tangentially relevant to your book. If that happens, resist the urge to request them, or risk the consequences of “also-bought pollution.”
Your ‘also-boughts’ are books that customers bought before and after buying your book. Amazon keeps track of these purchases and will often test the assumption that the books are similar by recommending them in customer emails.
If Amazon uses their ‘also-bought’ algorithm to connect your book with a popular title in your niche, then you can sit tight for a considerable spike in sales. However, what is usually a fantastic opportunity for increased visibility can quickly become a real nightmare — if you target the wrong readers by listing your book in irrelevant categories.
For example, say you’ve written a medieval fantasy novel, and you decide to list it under “historical romance” just to fill out your categories. After all, it is set in the past, and there’s a bit of kissing here and there. Now, your book starts to sell well, it gets a bunch of good reviews, it steadily climbs the Best Sellers lists — and Amazon decides to give it a push by recommending it to a handful of users who have read your ‘also-bought’ titles.
However — and here’s the catch — if enough romance readers bought your book after stumbling across it in the “historical romance” category, then your also-boughts will be polluted with steamy, high-society love stories. And when Amazon recommends your action-packed fantasy to its swoon-seekers, they’ll take one look at your book description and leave. Amazon will see that their initial recommendations didn’t convert into sales and abandon the emails, halting the traffic to your book.
Simply put, even though the “historical romance” category sent traffic to your book — and those people actually bought your book — because it was the wrong kind of traffic, you polluted your also-boughts, and killed your book’s sales momentum.
With new books constantly entering the market, a category that was once a hidden gem — not too niche, not too competitive — can very quickly become impossible to rank for. So you’ll need to keep an eye on your categories and get back in touch with KDP support if you think they need refreshing.
For now, though, follow this guide, and you should be able to find a few great categories to house your book. Remember to take your time: it may be free and seem relatively straightforward compared with other book marketing methods, but it is one of the most effective ways to get relevant eyes on your book — so you must get it right.