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Amazon categories

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If you think of Amazon’s book categories – all books on Amazon.com are placed into subject categories – as either crowded or lightly populated, where would you prefer your book to be?  The answer may not be as obvious as you think.  You’ll find more customers in the fast lane, which is where the highest-ranked (for popularity) books can be found, but your book may be lost in the crowd there.  The reverse is also true: there are fewer readers in the less-populated categories, but your book is more likely to stand out there.  If you’re not an established author, standing out is probably essential to selling your book.

stand+out+from+the+crowd+illuminatedMany readers scan the categories as they search for books to buy, and Amazon helps them by listing the 100 top selling (or, at least, ranking) books in each category.  The books toward the top of those lists get the most attention.  That also means getting your book toward the top of one of those lists is a brilliant marketing move.

If you can get your book to number one on a list, you can use that as a promotional talking point, describing your book as “number one on Amazon” (explaining somewhere that this was a category record).  You may gain sales simply by hitting the upper reaches of a category.

The most and least popular categories should come as little surprise if you’ve examined the books on offer at a bookstore or even a supermarket.

The top popular category, persistently (the rankings change a little over time), is Romance ->Contemporary.  Most of the rest of the top ten are romance categories too, and moving down the list you find mystery, fantasy, young adult, science fiction and, after a while, general literary fiction.  This is partly because there are fewer fiction categories than nonfiction, but it also reflects fiction’s popularity.
romance

The least popular categories tend to be technical and scientific, and nonfiction.  When TCK Publishing.com earlier this year put together a list of the most competitive and least-competitive categories, it said this was the least competitive of all: “Nonfiction -> Science -> Experiments, Instruments & Measurement -> Microscopes & Microsocopy.”

You can find opportunity here if you discover which categories relevant to your book are more or less popular, and then get your book placed in those which give it the most visibility.

How can you easily tell which categories are more popular?  Look at the entry for the book which is number 1 in the category and scroll down to find its “Amazon Best Sellers Rank,” which is its ranking among all Amazon books.  If you compare that ranking for the books most popular in various categories, you can easily see how competitive the category is – and how easy or difficult it may be to rise toward the top in that category.

Amazon automatically assigns categories to books, but you may be able to change those selections.  If you want to change your category – which is often possible – you may be able to improve your rank, even if you’re not selling more books.  And simply changing your ranking (through getting into a less-competitive category) may make your book more visible, which in turn could lead to selling more books.  Moving your book to a category that doesn’t match it would be a bad move, whatever the statistics.  But more than one category may reasonably match your book.

What if you’re writing fiction, where so many of the categories are crowded?  Look into the subcategories, and consider aiming for a place two or three levels down from the top.books cropIf the available categories don’t include the one you want, pick Non-Classifiable and look at the bottom of the page for the Contact Us link.  There, you can advise Amazon which category you think is best for the book.  Amazon will not add a category to accommodate you, but generally it will shift books between existing categories upon receiving a (reasonable) request.

Anthony Wessel, who published a 30-page book about his father, shared online a part-amusing, part-inspiring story about the power of categories.

“Recently I took this book (not really a book – sold one copy – to myself) and went through the process of putting it into categories. I contacted Amazon and told them how I wanted my book categorized. They responded twice within 6 hours each time. ‘One Minute Washington D.C. Travel Stories’ is now an Amazon Bestseller – in a very small category. I used 2 of my KDP select free days. Promoted it on our The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List. Gave away 251 copies. Initial rank was 756,256. After my free days it reached an overall rank of 244,849.”