The Dirty Little Secret of Amazon Category Rankings

Pssst.  Hey, self-published authors.  I’ve got a secret for you.  Do you want to know how to get more exposure for your book on Amazon?  Are you confused about why a certain novel is on some ridiculously specific Top 100 list while you’re languishing in the #100,000’s for Fiction > Fantasy?  The Amazon KDP platform is generally pretty easy to navigate when you’re publishing a Kindle book, but there’s a hidden method to getting access to the more detailed category lists, which will expose you to a targeted audience and give you some ranking figures to boast about.

When you look up a listing for a book on Amazon, scroll down past the reviews to the section titled “Look for similar items by category”.  If you visit the page for The Last Death of Tev Chrisini, for example, you’ll see this:


The book is listed under an increasingly specific series of categories, including epic fantasy and sword & sorcery.  But anyone who has gone through the KDP publishing process knows that sword & sorcery isn’t a BISAC category, and you can’t select it from the list that looks like this:


You can select two BISAC categories, and they’re all relatively vague.  BISAC codes are assigned to help publishers and libraries make sense of book subjects for the purposes of developing metadata.  Amazon uses BISAC codes to some extent, but they also have their own internal ranking and categorization system that determines the all-important Top 100 lists.

So how do you further specify your genre?  It’s actually pretty simple.  Go back to your book listing and click on Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy.  You’ll get a page that’s dominated by George R.R. Martin, unsurprisingly, since he’s the hottest name in the genre at the moment:


But look on the side, where those convenient red arrows are.  Look at all those options!  Broad things like epic, historical, and paranormal are there, as determined by BISAC, but check out those other ones!  Arthurian!  Fairy tales!  Superhero!  And better yet, look at the relatively small number of books in each of those categories, as compared to a broader BISAC designation.  If you write an Arthurian fantasy, you’ve only got 400 other competitors for a spot on the Top 100, as compared to 12,000 epic fantasy novels.  Much better odds of making it to the front page, right?  That makes you much easier to find when readers who just want to hear about Camelot come looking for a new story.

Now, here’s what you do.  When you’re publishing your Kindle book, and you’ve filled out your BISAC options, you’ll see an unassuming little box for seven keywords right underneath:


The Spoil of Zanuth-Karun is basically about a young man navigating a world of chaos, and learning the meaning of responsibility, courage, honor, and duty along the way.  So I chose “coming of age” as one of my targeted categories.  I put “coming of age” as one of my keywords for the free Kindle preview of The Spoil, and look at this:


Bam!  Easy as pie.  All you need to do is make sure that your keywords match a category on that extended meta-list, and you’re good to go.  I only had to give away seven copies of my preview in order to make it onto this list, and anyone looking for a coming of age story will see it right there in front of them.

I hope this little walk-through helps you in your quest to find the right audience.  I urge you to use some of your keywords for this very simple way to get your book in front of the right readers.  After all, that’s what keywords are for!  I don’t know why Amazon doesn’t explain this better during the process, but it’s fine with me that it’s still relatively under the radar.  Yay for search optimization!

28 Replies to “The Dirty Little Secret of Amazon Category Rankings”

  1. Thank you so much for this! It was very informative and now I know why my book wasn’t doing as well. This is why using the right tagging is so important and thinking outside the box . 😉

  2. I’m going to try this and see if it helps me at all with my science fiction/dystopian novella. I put it under science fiction>dystopian and science fiction>apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. I gave it the tags genetic engineering, coming of age, and so on. Hopefully it helps.

  3. Thanks, Jen! I pulled my hair out, wondering how to categorize my novels more specifically than “Fantasy — General” and “Fantasy — Epic,” which seemed to be my only choices. I will definitely reexamine my keywords. Bless you!

  4. This is brilliant! Always wondered where those categories came from. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Fabulous information – have just spent most of the day trying to figure it out until I read this!

  6. Thanks Jen! If I understand right, as your 7 keywords, it is best to choose ” category words ” that you would choose from an extended meta-list ( as in your example with the categories on the left of George RR Martin’s books ) and not the BISAC categories. That is for the “search keywords” box; however how do you best fill out the ” add categories ” box for maximum exposure? Do you also choose from this extended meta- list or from the normal BISAC list which is given in FDP select?

  7. I’m not sure I completely understand your question, but the “Add Categories” box is the BISAC Box. You can only choose from a limited number of check-boxes. Those are the BISAC categories. You choose one main genre heading (fantasy, literary fiction, non-fiction) and one sub-genre category (epic, historical, contemporary) for the best effect.

    The only free-text input is the “keywords” section, which is where you would use the extended meta-list. Does that help?

  8. You answered my question perfectly. Thank you so much!

  9. I have been experimenting with this and having varying degrees of success. This helps further clarify things and saves me some legwork. Thanks!

  10. Your post was just the resource I was looking for today! Thank you so much for explaining this so well.

  11. Then make sure your copy includes keywords too. You can plug the url of the Amazon category into Google keyword tool to find what keywords to use in the copy. Just paste in the category url and get keyword ideas on that topic for your product description.

  12. In the second to last paragraph you said, “I only had to give away seven copies of my preview in order to make it onto this list.” I followed the instructions from your article, but what/how do you give away seven copies of your preview? Great article, by the way! I’ve been researching this process for days with my novels.

  13. You need to enroll your Kindle book in Amazon’s KDP Select program in order to offer free promotions. Basically, in exchange for selling your ebook exclusively on Amazon, you get some perks like five days of setting your price to $0.00. You can’t make an ebook free on Amazon without being in this program (unless they decide to price match your book from another website, which you can’t really count on).

    Here’s the info on KDP Select:

  14. Thank you! Great advice and informstion, generously shared.

  15. Thank you so much for this information! Jackie Weger shared this with us eNovelAuthorsAtWork, and it’s a gem. 🙂

  16. It’s so interesting that Jackie Weger shared this with our group eNovelAuthorsAtWork today. I’m in the middle of changing and updating all of my KDP books and this information is very helpful and timely. Thank you!

  17. To make this technique even easier, I’ve compiled a searchable list of all 10,000 Amazon book categories with a title count for each category.

    Good luck with your books.

  18. I’ve never published, so I wouldn’t know if that is still how things work, but I wanted to thank you for this tip. It looks like a ton of help to an average first – timer.

  19. This may seem like a dumb question, but is there something special that you do in order to see those numbers? When i bring up those categories i just see the words. I don’t see the numbers like the 400 beside Arthurian or the 1,000 beside coming of age. I do not see any numbers at all.

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