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Choosing Categories for Your Self Published Book on Amazon

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate. Author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Former trade newspaper editor.

Choosing the right categories can help readers find your book on Amazon. But don't be overly concerned with it.

Choosing the right categories can help readers find your book on Amazon. But don't be overly concerned with it.

A self published author was lamenting about how her book was ranking for sales at the top of a “wrong” category she did not choose when she uploaded her book on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Some fellow authors suggested she contact KDP to get that changed. I told her to tell Amazon “thank you” and not worry about it. Here’s why.

Choosing Your Book's Categories on Kindle Direct Publishing

Let's first clarify how categories work when you self publish on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

When you upload your book manuscript to KDP, you’ll be asked to choose two categories for your book. This is a very important decision because it signals to KDP where you think your book should appear on Amazon.

The category choices you’re offered when you upload your manuscript to KDP aren’t random choices by Amazon. They are the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories which are established by the Book Industry Standards Group (BISG). BISAC categories are used across the publishing supply chain so that all retail and other book distribution outlets are using the same ones.

The list of BISAC categories is not the complete list of categories that Amazon uses. They also use browsing categories which are not offered to you when you enter your book’s details on KDP. These are more finely sorted categories for searching on Amazon.

To see a list of all the browse categories (and there are thousands of them!), it's easiest to go to Amazon on a desktop and navigate to Shop by Department > Books > Books. (Yes, you'll be selecting "Books" twice.) Then choose a category and keep clicking subcategories to see even more subcategories. On the mobile site or app, go to Shop by Department > Books and then scroll down to see the larger general categories that link to the subcategories. It's much more awkward on mobile devices. So for easier researching, you might want to do that on a desktop computer.

Your placement in additional browse categories is based on the BISAC categories, keywords, and other information you enter during the manuscript uploading process on KDP. You don’t make these additional choices at all.

How to Find Where Your Book Places in Categories on Amazon

Your book’s sales and best seller rank on Amazon are relative compared to other books in a category. Amazon is a dynamic platform whose algorithms respond to actual sales and buying data. In fact, sales ranks on Amazon are updated hourly—hourly!—even though updates may take some time to appear. Each format of your book may have a different sales rank, too.

To find your book’s sales rank, go to your book’s product page on Amazon and scroll down to Product Details. You’ll see your rank for Best Sellers and three categories.

You may be totally surprised in what categories your book ranks outside of those you’ve chosen. For example, I’ve seen my books rank in “Two-Hour Business & Money Short Reads” when I had chosen “Marketing” or “Advertising” BISAC categories on KDP. I’ve even seen my books on sales and small business rank in categories such as accounting, a category I would have never chosen.

Realize, too, that these categories can change. I’ve seen that happen to a number of my books, without any intervention on my part. Amazon is constantly responding to changes in buying and search behavior.

Can You Change Your Book's Categories?

If you want to change the categories you chose when you uploaded your book manuscript to KDP, you can easily do that by navigating to "Edit Book Details" for your book on KDP. You will be given the same list of category options you had before.

But if you see a perfect-fit browse category in which you think your book should be appearing instead of where it does now, you can contact KDP Customer Support to request a change. However, before you do, just realize that it’s in Amazon’s best interest to optimize visibility to the right buyers so that they—and you!—can make a sale. Your "perfect" category choice may be one with low search or sales activity which may not serve you or Amazon well.

Though you may guess this, Amazon will not create a category at your request.

Remember that Amazon is powered by an astounding level of data to help people find the products they want. Don’t let your ego rule your choice by thinking you always know what's best. Only ask to have your book put in a new browsing category if your book is grossly misclassified.

Changing Your Categories Could Change Your Sales Rank

Going back to the opening example, the author was ranking as a top new release for what she thought was the “wrong” category, meaning one she didn’t choose. In my opinion, the Amazon robot-selected category wasn’t so off base that it would cause alarm. Plus, when I see that I’ve ranked and show in a different, but somewhat related, browse category, I consider it a bonus. Thanks, Amazon!

Remember, too, that if you ask Amazon to move your book categorized to some specific browse category, you may not have the same sales rank. For the author in the opening example, she probably won’t be a top new release in a category she demands. If your new browse category choice is extremely competitive, your resulting sales rank could be very poor.

An Increase in Your Book's Sales Rank Doesn't Mean You're Making Sales

Here’s something that freaks out self published authors. They’ll see their sales rank go up or down on either their book product pages or Author Central. But they may not be making any sales. They wonder how they can have a sales rank if they’re not selling anything. Are they not receiving sales when they should?

Sales rank is relative to all other titles in your BISAC and browse categories. Even if you and your competing authors aren’t selling anything currently, historical sales comparisons may still be made. Thus, your sales rank can swing wildly over time.

Just a reminder, lower sales rank numbers mean that your book ranks high. A sales rank of #500 is better than a sales rank of #5,000.

Why You Shouldn't Be Obsessed with Categories and Sales Rank

I guess I have to ask why authors are so obsessed with categories. They obviously believe that if their books are not categorized perfectly according to their wishes, that readers will never find their books on Amazon.

It is ludicrous to hope that swarms of prospective buyers will magically wander over to Amazon, type in your niche browse category in the search bar, and—presto!—your book appears front and center ahead of thousands of similar options.

Remember this: Self published books are not “marketed” on Amazon, only “sold.” Your self published book marketing is done off Amazon. Building your author platform of fans, also known as your fan base, through social media, blogs, videos, etc. is the only way to market your books and ultimately boost your sales on Amazon.

People go to Amazon with the intent to buy. Make sure they’re going there with the intent to buy your book.

Self published books are not “marketed” on Amazon, only “sold.”

— Heidi Thorne

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 19, 2020:

Linda, with as expansive and complex as Amazon is, I could write articles for a good long time. :) Thanks so much for chiming in and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 19, 2020:

Peggy, you got that right! It's like when people get all upset over their likes and follower numbers on social media. It means nothing. These authors need to concentrate on the numbers that matter: sales.

Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts! Have a great week!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 17, 2020:

Your articles are always interesting and full of useful information, Heidi. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I appreciate learning more about how Amazon works.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 17, 2020:

You always provide interesting material, and this one about choosing categories for self-published books is an example. The main goal for most people is undoubtedly sales and not sales rank.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2020:

Bill, hey, we all do that early in our writing journey, right? I know I did. I still track stats and such, but only on a weekly to monthly basis. I realize I have so little control over it all. And, yes, once we mature in our writing career, then we start getting our priorities (like dogs) in order.

Thanks for your kind comments, as always! Happy Weekend to you, too!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2020:

Liz, isn't it amazing how Amazon works? Yikes. When you just stand back and look at it, you have to be in awe. I certainly am!

Thanks so much for your kind comments! Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2020:

Flourish, this is definitely one of those "don't sweat the small stuff" issues. But you should hear the crying that goes on in some of the author groups about this kind of thing. I just want to give them a hug (virtual, of course) and tell them to not worry.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, as always! Have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 17, 2020:

Maria, I rarely check my sales rank and such either. I realize that I have so little control over it. Glad to hear that you're selling more books through word of mouth. That's how it should be done! Kudos to you for building your fan base that way.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us. Continued good luck with your new book and have a great day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 17, 2020:

I laughed at your last section. When I first joined HP, I was obsessed with views and comments and ranking on Google. I would literally spend hours tracking an article, seeing where it ranked. My goodness, how silly of me. I could have been playing with the dog instead. Sigh!

Happy Weekend, my friend. We made it to another one!

Liz Westwood from UK on October 17, 2020:

This is a fascinating article. Although I don't publish on Amazon, as a book purchaser I was intrigued to learn how Amazon catagorises the books on its site.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 16, 2020:

This was an excellent overview with advice authors can rely on. Many people tend to get distracted by minor details or the wrong details and it looks like this might be one of them in a lot of cases.

Maria Giunta from Sydney, Australia on October 16, 2020:

Hi Heidi, thanks for another informative article. As a self-published author, I find your articles helpful. When I first published (in late 2019) I did panic about my sales ranking, now I don't bother looking. I am making some sales on Amazon but am finding that I'm selling more books by word of mouth, giving out my promotional bookmarks and from my book launch that was on Sept 27. I write for pleasure so if I sell some books then that is a bonus.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 16, 2020:

Hi Susan! You're right to question whether any self published books sell. Honestly, most sell very few each year. I've done survey research of real self published authors that confirms that.

What's most important is that authors understand what they hope to achieve from self publishing. It's not a money bonanza like it may have been earlier in the self publishing movement. Too much competition from absolutely everywhere.

But if authors are doing for the joy of writing and sharing their work, they'll have a satisfying experience, regardless of whether it fattens up their bank accounts.

Thanks for asking a great question! Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on October 16, 2020:

Brenda, self publishing is certainly challenging and it's getting more competitive all the time. But at the same time, the systems to get your book self published just keep getting better and better, especially KDP. Glad to hear you're not panicking. There are so many more resources on how to do it than there were in the past. And I'll keep posting information on it, too.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us! Have a great weekend!

Susan from Dover Delaware on October 16, 2020:

I wonder do people really sell their own self published books? I suppose anyone could write one, and pay to have it published, but just curious do they really sell?

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on October 16, 2020:

I have never tried self publishing & it sounds like opening another can of worms. More questions than answers but I might try it one day.

I have seen the kdp one. There are others or so I've been told.

Your article is good & informative. If I ever get that far...I will not panic.

Thanks for the share.