I love Amazon. They have so many tools in place to help an independent author succeed. Here are a few ways to make Amazon work for you.
Don’t think of Amazon as a store.
Think of it as a search engine. As an author, you don’t need to rank higher on Google. You need to rank higher on Amazon.
Amazon works as a search engine very much like Google or Bing so you need to think SEO (search engine optimization) for your book. That means metadata. Most authors’ eyes glaze over at that word. But metadata simply refers to the keywords that are associated with your book and its category.
TIP: Your previous Amazon searches will influence your results, so be sure to log out to clear your past viewing history before conducting any keyword or category research.
Keywords will help you enormously on Amazon.
Nowadays, keywords are phrases. No one searches for single keywords. When was the last time you went to Google and typed in a single word? Think of keywords as search strings, such as werewolf romance suspense or mystery novel 99cents. Use theme words in your keywords, such as Moods (light, scary), Characters (female PI, wizard) and Settings (14th century, England.)
The cool thing about being Indie is that you have control. You can promote your book via KDP Countdown Deals or Free Days. When you plan such a promotion, you can go to your book and adjust your keyword search strings to include 99cents or free eBook, etc. After your promotion, you can take those words out again.
But how do you find keywords?
One way to find keyword strings is to go to ubersuggest.io and type in a phrase that pertains to your book. For example, I typed in werewolf book and got 836 suggestions. That sounds overwhelming, but you don’t have to use them all. Just type a few phrases into their search bar and write down the search strings you like.
Now, take those search strings to amazon.com and type them into their search bar. Type slowly. Like any search engine, Amazon will offer suggestions as you type. These suggestions are the most popular keywords people use on Amazon.
So basically, Amazon is telling you what keywords to use.
See what suggestions pop up then plug the best ones into the keyword area of your dashboard. (If you are traditionally published, ask your publisher to do this for you. They will be impressed with your interest in marketing.) Get at least twelve keyword search strings so you can switch them out and see which work best for your book.
KDP allows seven keyword search strings. CreateSpace allows only five. In addition, CreateSpace limits you to twenty-five characters per string with a comma in between.
TIP: Don’t put a space after the comma. That will give you an extra character.
BONUS TIP: Don’t use commas at all.
BONUS BONUS TIP: You don’t have to use the same keyword strings at KDP and CreateSpace. You can actually get twelve strings by spreading them out. Make sure that Amazon has linked both the print book and the eBook. Then when the reader searches for any of the keywords, both editions will pop up.
(If 48 hours have passed and your Kindle and print edition are still not linked, let Amazon know by clicking Help on your dashboard then Contact Us on bottom of the page. Make sure to include the 10-digit ISBN of the print edition and the ASIN of the Kindle book.)
Okay, you’ve plugged in your keywords. Now what?
Don’t stop there. Use your keywords in your title or your subtitle. Every book today should have a subtitle. You may have seen books with a novel as a subtitle. Those books are one up on you if someone searches for mystery novel or humorous novel. Putting a thriller on your book may seem redundant when the book is obviously a thriller. But it makes sense when you think of it in terms of keywords. If you don’t have a subtitle and want one, email Amazon. (Click the Contact Us link at the bottom of your dashboard.)
Use keywords in your book description. Don’t saturate it, however, or your book might be pulled. Put keywords in the first paragraph and the last paragraph but only if they make sense. And don’t skimp on your description. Amazon allows 4000 characters for your book description, and you should use all the space allotted. Put the concise blurb on top. Add the name of your genre and your target audience. Then have fun with the rest of it. You can add partial reviews or blurbs from other authors. Add an excerpt. Try to choose an excerpt that has some of your keywords in it. You can even add a Q&A with yourself or with your main character.
Now comes the tricky part: Amazon Categories.
The categories for CreateSpace and KDP don’t match. That’s because Amazon is actually two sites: one for print and one for Kindle.
Print categories are based on an industry standard called BISAC. These categories are static and limited.
Kindle categories come from years of data collected by Amazon’s search engine. They are unlimited and ever changing. This gives the Kindle Store many more niche categories to explore.
However, the categories you will find in your research are even more diverse. That’s because Amazon is replacing categories with themes. Themes are sub-sub-categories that you won’t see on your dashboard. The only way to get these themed categories is to research them then email Amazon support with the precise category string. (Contact Us. It’s on the bottom.)
So how do you research this sub-sub-category thing?
Go to amazon.com, click ALL on the search bar, and highlight either Books or Kindle Store in the drop down menu. Leave the search bar blank. Hit Enter. That brings up the new themed categories. (They’re on the left side. Scroll down to find them.)
Let’s say you write Urban Fantasy. Click the category of Science Fiction & Fantasy. That brings up the sub-categories. Click Fantasy. That gives you the sub-sub-category of Paranormal & Urban. Your category string would be Books>Science Fiction & Fantasy>Fantasy>Paranormal & Urban.
But not so fast.
The numbers next to the categories indicate the number of books in that category. That particular category has thousands of books in it. You want to find a category that is pertinent to your book yet has fewer books.
Narrow categories are best. Don’t use General anything because the competition will be too stiff. You want to rank higher in your category because if you hit the top ten, Amazon’s internal algorithm will push your book to the top of customers’ search results. They will show your book in the customers also bought area. They will recommend your book to readers.
In other words, Amazon will promote your book for you.
REMEMBER: It’s a bad idea to choose any category that isn’t a good fit for your work. The readers who buy your book will probably be outside your target audience and will likely respond with poor reviews.
TIP: CreateSpace allows only one category while KDP allows two. However, you can get a second category for CreateSpace simply by emailing support (Contact Us) and requesting a second browse category. You need the exact string to do this, such as Books>History>Military>Naval>Social History.
BONUS TIP: Some categories won’t show up until you have certain keywords already in place. To find out what keywords are necessary, go to https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41 and click the category you are interested in.
BONUS BONUS TIP: As an Indie author, you can play with your category. Let’s say you wrote a series that has elements of Time Travel Romance, Historical Fiction, Historical Romance, Historical Fantasy, Mystery, or even Romantic Suspense. You can switch categories from one to the other prior your KDP promotions. You can even place different books in the series in different categories, widening your visibility.
The biggest challenge to authors today is visibility.
Authors often lament we want to be discovered. We need visibility. Yet, Author Central is probably Amazon’s most underutilized tool. With it, you can create your own Amazon Author Page, share the most up-to-date information about you and your books, and reach millions of readers.
Don’t feel like maintaining your own website? Use Author Central. You can add your photo, biography, upcoming events, and even link your blog. Your books and covers are added automatically. Or you can add them manually.
Don’t feel like maintaining an email list? Use Author Central. Readers can now favorite you so that every time you publish a book, Amazon will let them know about it. Ask your followers on social media to follow you on Author Central. (I hate using an email list because it feels so spammy, but I have no problem asking everyone to like my Author Central Page. See? Please click FOLLOW on my Author Central Page.)
Author Central pages will soon be integrated into Goodreads. This move will really heighten your book’s visibility and exposure. Goodreads is a popular book recommendation and review site owned by Amazon.
How do you get into this Author Central gig?
- Go to https://authorcentral.amazon.com/ and click Join Now.
- Enter your e-mail address and password and click Sign in using our secure server.
- Read the Author Central’s Terms and Conditions, and then click Agree to accept them.
- Enter your pen name. A list of possible book matches appears.
- Select your books. If your book is not on the list, you can search for it by title or ISBN.
TIP: Because Amazon sells books internationally, your books are available around the globe. You should set up your Author Central pages in other countries as well.
But I don’t read Japanese.
The Author Central International sites are in different languages, but they are structurally the same. You can guess what’s in each field. Keep your amazon.com Author Central page open so you can compare. You’ll know what’s being asked even if you can’t read all the words.
You can also use Google Translate or download Google Chrome (which comes with a built-in translator) to use as your browser while you create your pages. The translations won’t be perfect, but they’ll be good enough to allow you to fill in your author pages.
Amazon is always adding new countries. Here are a few sites to get you started:
http://authorcentral.amazon.co.uk — United Kingdom
http://authorcentral.amazon.fr — France
http://authorcentral.amazon.de — Germany
Now go celebrate being an international author.
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