Book Categories and Keywords: How to Find The Right Fit
Here’s a question: If you were self-publishing a book—let’s say Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, what categories and keyword tags would you choose? Fantasy and Magic? Children's Action and Adventure?
Maybe you’d get more specific than that. Wizards and Sorcery. Magic Spells. Wizard School. You’re definitely barking up the right tree with any of those. No one can deny that those are all very good, specific elements to your book, and hopefully it won’t have any trouble beating out the competition. A good rule of thumb is that the longer and more specific your keywords are, the better.
As of my writing this, J.K. Rowling’s original classic is ranked #23 in the Kindle store over all, and it does hold the expected spots in fantasy categories, but it doesn’t end there. There's more to picking effective keywords than being specific. You need to approach your book from the point of view of a reader who's never heard of it, who might look under something different than your original classification.
As it turns out, Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone also holds the #1 spot in…
...wait for it…
Teen & Young Adult Fiction about Friendship.
True story. Out of all the genres, all the widely different ways the Harry Potter series could be categorized, YA friendship fiction is one of several winning spots on the list. Was that how you would have categorized it? Probably not, but an unfamiliar reader looking for a book on the topic would be pleasantly surprised to discover Harry Potter in this way.
Different platforms allow for different numbers of categories, subcategories, and keywords. Amazon currently allows for two categories, but up to five keywords. Draft2Digital and other self-publishing distributors allow for more. The ability to choose multiple genres and keywords is a powerful tool for ensuring that you rank highly among similar books.
With so many categories to choose from and only a limited number of slots to fill, how do you know which categories and keywords will be most effective in helping readers discover your books? Keywords are infinite, especially when you consider the effectiveness of precise, long-tailed keywords that use descriptive phrases instead of single-word topics. You can't read through them all, and a single word off might make the difference.
One option is to review your comp (comparison) titles and see what genres they list. It's reasonable to assume that books similar to yours will it have similar keywords, and there's no problem writing down every keyword you want to steal.
Another option is to look through a list of genres and pick out the best. A complete list of genres is hard to compile, and not as thorough as full categories allow you to be (but I'll let you take my list of 244 genres for free, if you sign up onto my list). Keep in mind that genres are not the same as categories and keywords. Some of the best Search terms available for your might not even be listed. Don't allow genres to limit what you put in for your book, but instead use them as a guide to find areas to consider.
Is it possible to get too specific when choosing keywords and categories?
Short answer, no.
You don't have a lot of control over how specific your categories get, since they're already built into ebook distributors. As for keywords, many writers find that the more specific you can get, the better. If you are only allowed a small number of keywords for your book, don't shy away from using very specific and accurate keywords. Every now and then, you might want to experiment and change your keywords around to see if something else works better. Some books so much better after the keywords have been fixed and updated so readers can find them more easily.
As an exercise, try listing categories and keywords you would use to list some of the following books:
The Lord of The Rings
The Hunger Games
A Wrinkle in Time
The Great Gatsby
Test out your picks by checking the books’ listing on Amazon and seeing how close you were, and which categories might have surprised you.