Ninie Hammon’s Blog for Writers

Two Things You MUST Get Right: Categories and Keywords

Posted: April 30, 2014, 10:53AM



You spend hours thumbing through the catalogue and finally find a picture of exactly what you want—a pink dress with orange stripes and no sleeves in a size 8. So you flip to the order page. But the dress isn't there. In fact, you can only find three possible selections. One is “fashion apparel > dresses > summer.” That’s not it! Then there is “pink dress” with a list of seasons for you to select. The third option is in the category “women’s clothing” where you can find “dress > stripes >orange.”


Then you notice that there’s a blank space at the bottom of the page of selections where you can fill in a couple of words. But what words? Will typing in “pink” or “sleeveless” or “size 8” with one of the three possible selections get you what you want? Even more maddening is that you can see testimonials of smiling customers who bought the dress! And their completed order forms say: “pink dress > orange stripes > no sleeves > size 8!” How in the Sam Hill did those people use one of the three possible selections on the order page—coupled with some “unknown” words written in at the bottom—to come up with the correct order? And what kind of store lists a product on customer pages that you can’t order from the pages in the back?

The answer to that question, boys and girls, is: The Amazon Kindle Store. Welcome to the world of categories and keywords.

For those of you popping into this blog for the first time, we’re in the middle of a discussion of Driftwood Marketing—which is a diabolically simple method of dividing all the activities involved in marketing a book into four categories: Product, Store, Promotion and Sales.

I said in my last blog on Product that next I’d tell you all about Store. But that’s not going to happen. It’d be easier to jam a sperm whale into a fish tank than to fit the information I’ve accumulated under the heading “Store” into a single blog post. (I can never fit my carry-on into the overhead luggage compartment, either—there’s a lesson in here somewhere.)

For my purposes, I limited “store” to Amazon, since it is the 800-pound gorilla in the book marketplace. For authors, the single most maddening attribute of our big monkey friend is categories and keywords. One marketing expert wrote that the dashboard categories “are not exactly identical to the customer categories.” Ya think? It would be more accurate to say that the dashboard categories “only vaguely resemble” the customer categories. On a clear day. In good light. When you’ve just cleaned your cheater reading glasses.

For those just starting out, here’s the drill: when you upload your eBook, Kindle Direct Publishing allows you to pick two categories where the book will be listed. It’s your job to figure out where Loyal Reader would look if he wanted a book like yours.

Let me stop here in the explanation of the process to share with you a great and profound truth. Are you listening? Write this down: If you don’t get this part right, you can lean over and kiss book sale success goodbye. Nobody will ever read your book because nobody will ever FIND it unless you slot it into the proper categories.

The categories I'm talking about live in the left margin of an Amazon book page. Scroll down to Kindle Store, Kindle eBooks and you'll find a gi-normous list.

Three things to note here.

One: the numbers in grey beside the categories tell you how many books are listed in that category. Big numbers are not a good thing—at least not for the little yellow minions of us out here who aren’t instantly recognizable names to hordes of readers. Pick a big category with thousands of competing books and you become Waldo at a red-striped-shirt convention. You have to keep narrowing categories down until you find one with a small enough pond that your book has a shot at big-fish-dom. Though the number of readers who click through to those sub-divided categories is smaller, those folks are buyers, not browsers. They know what they want and when they see it, cha-ching!

Two: you want a small category so you also have a shot at showing up on one of Amazon’s lists: Best-sellers, Hot New Releases, Movers & Shakers, etc. The best strategy for the short kid in the back isn’t to jump up and down. The best strategy is to figure out a way to get to the front row. Those lists will put your book in the front row.

Three: Lots of readers ignore the category listing on the left of the page altogether and merely type words into the Search box associated with the kind of book they’re looking for. You want the seven keywords you enter into the dashboard to be those words!

I went through this process and figured out that the category best suited for one of my books was: Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery Thriller & Suspense > Suspense > Paranormal. With 1,801 books, the category is big enough to attract lots of lookers and specific enough to find a buyer. (I could have gone down one more level to Psychic, but that puddle has only 275 fish.)

Next, I signed into KDP to select my chosen category from the dashboard. You know where this is going, don’t you. That category was nowhere to be found in the dashboard selections. So what did I do? I used the empirical scientific method of the ancients: I guessed. I selected a category with words “similar to” the words in the front, and the next morning I scanned through all 1,801 books in the Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery Thriller & Suspense > Suspense > Paranormal category to see if my choice of words had succeeded in getting my book listed there.**  It didn’t. So I tried a different combination of dashboard words. That didn’t work either. On the fourth try, I selected Fiction > Thrillers > Suspense from the dashboard and used “paranormal” as one of the keywords—and Houston, we have lift-off!

A couple of side notes here:

First: This process took days. If you’re not willing to go to this much trouble, just stuff your book into a bottle, toss it in the ocean and hope whoever finds it on the beach doesn’t use the pages to house train a puppy. Whining about this doesn’t get very far with me. Whatever you have to do, I had to do SEVEN times.

Second: To add another nut to the trail mix, you can’t see all the dashboard category choices at once! You’re provided a two-inch window and you must scroll up and down the list, trying to remember what was above and below the items you can see—like trying to find the elephants when you watched the whole parade through a knothole in a fence.

I finally went so crazy I took screen shots of all those two-inch windows and put them together into a list I could print out and hold in my hand. My list has all 52 of the main headings and the drop-downs of the ones I use most often. Even with just those two drop-downs, there were 261 items on the list. (I’d be glad to share my incomplete list with you if it would be helpful. Just sign up for my email list at and I'll send it out.)

Next blog we’ll talk more about Store. Practice your mantra: “My book is worth it!” Because it is.

**Turns out there is an easier way to find out if you book has been slotted into the category you picked out. Scan down to the bottom of the book page until you find: Look for Similar Items by Category. The categories listed there are more than a guide to other books like yours. They're also a list of the categories where YOUR book is listed. Who knew?  Mary Lou Locke did! And she just told me--thanks, Mary Lou.


Lynn Demarest April 30, 2014, 9:15PM |

You could have looked at the source code of the web page to see all of the selections at once.   Reply

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Diana June 27, 2014, 4:39AM |

Great Article, I dont write books, but I read and am always searching for certain books to read and this helps as well.   Reply

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Carol Bodensteiner July 27, 2014, 4:09PM |

Once again you've nailed a really important aspect of book marketing. I'm off to track this down for my new book. I tracked the right path for my memoir some years ago by doing exactly what most relevant competitor did. That worked, too.   Reply

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Helen Cassidy Page August 4, 2014, 11:54AM |

Hi, great post, but can you give some insight on picking keywords? I do the usual thing, put in something I think is relevant and then see how books pop up. But since I'm not burning up the internet with sales, I'm looking for more guidance. Many thanks. So glad I found your site.   Reply

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Gabi Plumm November 10, 2014, 1:03AM

Wow! You have certainly given me something to play with for the afternoon. I have Screen Print and notebook in hand and I'm off to find a slot for my Children's book.
Thank you. Wonderful!   Reply

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C.M.T. Stibbe December 13, 2014, 7:44PM

Thank you so much for this information Ninie. It's a gem!

Not sure how to categorize Historical Fantasy, suspense, thriller, adventure - if indeed those are correct for my book. Having real trouble finding it myself!   Reply

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Eric M Hill January 6, 2015, 11:13AM

Great advice, Ninie. I did this maybe a year ago, and again recently. I was able to get my book added to a few more categories. One method I used was to type a few words into the search box. Amazon automatically tries to help by providing several ways to finish the search. These are search words or phrases that readers are using to look for books. I did this to add another small pond. It worked.


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Michael January 21, 2015, 8:45PM

I'm going through this conundrum now with a middle grade fantasy I recently published. I also went through the customer categories until I found exactly what my book fit into, only to find that category was not listed in the author's search categories. In fact, there is not even a teen & young adult category to choose. Only 'Juvenile", which I guess encompasses children, tween and teen. Also, why is it that when we make the slightest change to our book page, we have to wait up to 12 hours for the changes to take effect? So now I'm playing with keywords, hoping to find seven that make my book more visible. So far, no change in sales. Very frustrating.   Reply

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Virginia Sharples January 22, 2015, 3:08PM

Ninie, what a resource you are for me! I just discovered you, so please tell me how I can read what you wrote on the marketing a book activity: product.
If it's nearly as good as "store" it will be fabulous. Thank you, my dear.   Reply

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"Oh, and about the 9 and the e beside my name. Say it fast, emphasis on the 9. That’s how you pronounce my first name -9e. (Think “rhymes with tiny and shiny, NOT with skinny and penny.”)

Suspense Author

I have soooo many stories I want to tell you, so many worlds I want you to see, so many people I want you to meet. People in trouble, most of them. Big trouble they didn't ask for but there it is. Ordinary folks like you and me who are forced by circumstances to fight for their lives. And then, smack in the middle of their everyday worlds they encounter the unexplainable. It's always the game-changer.

Welcome to my world. If you'd like to know more about me, I'm easy. Click on Meet Ninie and you'll see. My life isn't really an open book; it's more of a pamphlet, and you are cordially invited to read it. I'd love to interact with you on Twitter, Facebook Fan page, and Goodreads. Or come visit with me at 9e's Kitchen Table, a Facebook group where readers and I hang out. I think you'd like it.