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Determining Your Amazon Categories

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When submitting your book to Amazon one of the numerous selections you will need to make is which categories to list your book in. Amazon only allows you to list it in two categories. As it turns out, this selection of categories can have a significant impact on how many books you will sell - so it's important to make this decision carefully.

Amazon "loosely" uses BISAC Subject Codes, an industry standard, to help determine where your book should show up for browsing and searching customers. You can read more about the BISAC Subject Code system and see the most current list of codes.

How Categories Work

To understand the power of categories you need to think about how customers look for books on Amazon. They will often do a search to get them in the general area they want to browse. For example, searching for "cookbooks". At that point Amazon displays a list of categories on the left which the customer will use to select a subcategory they suspect will have the book they are after. Once they get to their desired subcategory they then will browse for the specific type of cookbook they need.

They will typically browse the first and perhaps the second page of the category before selecting their book. Consequently, it is critical that your book shows up on the first or second page of the category. As a new self published cookbook author it is unlikely that you will be able to sell enough books to get to the first page of the larger categories. For example, the category "Cookbooks, Food & Wine" has more than 60,000 books. As you can imagine you would have to be selling a ton of your books to make it to the first page of that category.

In order to rank in a category we need to move further down the category tree until we find a category we can rank in. To continue the example let's select the "Cooking Methods" category. It has over 9,000 entries and is thus still pretty competitive. Finally, we will take one step further to "Slow Cooking", which has about 1,500 entries.

Jason's book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide is in the top 10 of that category and thus displayed on the first page. His book is also ranked at #25 in the category: Books> Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Kitchen Appliances which has approximately 3,500 books. As a reference his book is ranked #3,337 in Books.

Selecting Your Categories

The following is some advice on how to choose the best browse categories for your cookbook:

Select the Most Specific Categories

As presented above it's better to choose more specific categories instead of more general categories. Customers looking for very specific topics will more easily find your book, and your book will be displayed in more general categories as well (for example, a book in the "Cookbooks, Food & Wine > Kitchen Appliances" category will also show up in searches for the "Cookbooks, Food & Wine" category. You should only select a "General" category if your book is actually a general book about a broad topic.

We believe it's essential to have your book in a category that will put you on the 1st page for customers browsing that category. If, after a few weeks, you aren't making much progress, change to another. Keep at it until you find a category that works for you.

Pick the Most Accurate Categories

Make sure the categories you select correctly describe the subject matter of your book. Don't Attempt to "play" the system by placing your book in some obscure category in order to be ranked. Amazon doesn't take kindly to this and will reassign your book to an appropriate category.

Ensure the Categories You Choose Are Not Redundant

Since your book will be displayed in a variety of searches by choosing even a single category, you shouldn't place it in both a category and any of that category's sub-categories (for example, selecting both "Fiction > Fantasy > Historical" and "Fiction> Fantasy"). Even selecting just one specific, accurate category is preferable to selecting an inaccurate category just to have a second category listed.

A Few Gotchas to Keep in Mind Regarding Categories

The more you get involved with studying and working with Amazon categories, the more you will find yourself occasionally shaking your head in disbelief. Here are some of the things that you may run across:

Multiple Sets of Categories

The categories for printed books and eBooks sold on Amazon are different. So it's highly likely that you will end up with different categories for the two formats of your Amazon books. Also the categories that you select as part of the uploading process for your book normally turn out to be different than the ones that are shown on your book page.

Changing Categories

For reasons no one quite understands, Amazon often reorganizes their category listings.

Amazon Selects Categories for You

If Amazon believes that you will sell more books in a different category it may reassign your book to that category in an attempt to increase sales. Obviously, this is not a bad thing but it is a bit of a surprise if you're not expecting it.

Can't Easily Switch to Some Categories

You may study the categories online and determine which of those would be perfect for your book. You could then go on to the dashboard in an attempt to switch one of your books to that category. But to your surprise you see that the category that's online is not available to be selected from your dashboard.

In this case you need to write to Amazon explaining the situation and giving them the information required for them to assign the category that you desire. This can usually be done relatively quickly - it's just a bit of a hassle.

Although categories can be confusing, they can also have a tremendous impact on the number of books that you can sell.

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