Categories and keywords are the words and phrases used by online retailers such as Amazon or Indigo to help categorize your book among similar titles, similar to how a bookstore shelves books with others of the same genre. This is the metadata linked to your online book listing.
Choosing relevant keywords and categories will help readers interested in the subject matter to find your book among similar titles when searching online retailers, which can help you sell more books.
Selecting your categories can be as simple as scrolling through the available categories (or BISAC codes) and picking the ones that most closely fit your book’s content.
- Pick categories that actually match your book’s content.
- Pick the most specific categories available.
- Follow the guidelines below:
- Fiction and non-fiction don’t mix. If your book is fictional, all categories must be under the “fiction” heading. A book can’t be both; if it has elements of fiction in it, even if it is based on a true story, it must be categorized as fiction.
- Age groups don’t mix. Pick either Juvenile (0–12), Young Adult (13–18), or General Adult (all ages).
- This means that all of your codes will start with one of the following:
- JUV for Juvenile Fiction
- JNF for Juvenile Non-Fiction
- YAF for Young Adult Fiction
- YAN for Young Adult Non-Fiction
- FIC for General Adult Fiction
- None of the above for all general adult non-fiction titles (may include a variety, for example, you could have a BUS code and a SEL code for a book that combines elements of both business and self-help.
- The first two categories you select are most important, because some distributors only accept a maximum of two categories.
If you want to put in a little more effort, a great place to start when deciding how to categorize your book are the Book Category Lists on Amazon.
- Click here to look through Amazon’s sub-bestseller lists (left-hand menu), or enter “books’ in the dropdown box next to the Amazon search bar and hit enter.
- Explore the categories and sub-categories along the left-hand sidebar, and drill down to the most specific categories that are relevant to your book.
- Selecting more niche categories reduces competition and increases your chances of getting on one of the Amazon best-seller lists. Try to come up with categories that correspond with the bestseller lists you want to and realistically might appear on.
- Once you’ve found some relevant lists, note the names of the top three.
- Choose those categories.
An added benefit of selecting a sub-category (e.g., Self-Help/Personal Growth/Success) is that the book will automatically be listed under the parent category (in this example” Self-Help). This means you should pick specific sub–categories, to both maximize your reach and narrow your competition.
For some categories, such as the one mentioned above, the narrowest sub-category will still be pretty broad, with numerous pages of mainstream titles at the top of the best-seller list. This is where keywords come into play.
People can search retailers for books in four different ways. Keywords are used by retailers to help readers find your book when they search for different subjects and themes, as in the “general search” described below.
- Author name (“J.R.R. Tolkien”)
- Book title (“Return of the King”)
- Series name (“Lord of the Rings”)
- General search (“Epic fantasy trilogies”)
Below are our tips for choosing keywords. You can choose up to five keywords in Octavo.
- Use Amazon bestseller sub-categories as your first keywords.
- You may use single words or short phrases. Yes, keywords can actually include multiple words together (eg. sailing adventure memoir)
- Check your spelling!
- Combine keywords in the logical order that people will search in (“make money fast” rather than “fast money make”).
- Before choosing, try searching the keywords you’re considering on Amazon or another book retailer. Use the autocorrect suggestions that appear to help you refine your terms.
- Think like your readers. What terms would you be searching if you were them?
- Useful keyword types related to book content include setting, character types, character roles, themes, and tone/atmosphere.
Here are some keywords to avoid:
- Words that are already included in your book title, contributors or categories
- Statements that are time-linked, like “new” or “on-sale”
- Common words like “book”
- Spelling errors
- Words that don’t actually represent your book, and may mislead the customer
Get more publishing tips in our free guide to self-publishing here.