Smaller Ponds: How to Use Categories to Sell More Books

Smaller Ponds

It’s a problem most of us face as indie authors: We feel like we ought to be selling more books, but we’re not sure how. When the KDP Select Free the Countdown deal days are up for your book, how do you continue to get exposure while you wait for more? Or, how do you maximize the effectiveness of the jump up Amazon’s charts that comes from your KDP promotion?

Perhaps the answer to both of these questions lies in your book’s categories. You probably remember when you first added your book to KDP and went through the process of deciding which categories were the best fit for your book. But did you think about the marketing benefits?

Yes, I said marketing benefits of your KDP categories. See, some categories contain more books than others, and that’s where the strategy comes in.

Swimming in a Smaller Pond

Jumping Fish

Let’s start out by looking at the concept of category size. Follow along with me by going to the Amazon Kindle store and looking at the categories in the sidebar.

Amazon categoriesWhen you stop to think about it, some categories are going to be bigger than others. Science Fiction & Fantasy, for example, has over 200,000 books as of this writing. How do you stand out in there?

Sub-categoriesFirst, you look for sub-categories. This is simple in our example of Sci-fi & Fantasy, since the first sub-category choice is either Fantasy or Science Fiction. Even choosing the sub-category of Fantasy cuts the pool of books roughly in half. But you can go even deeper than that. Fantasy has 18 sub-categories (or sub-sub-categories), each with a different pool size. For example, Superhero has about 3,000 books—much smaller than the huge Fantasy category!

The Top 100 Lists

Now let’s take a look at Amazon’s Top 100 lists. There’s a Top 100 Paid and Top 100 Free list in the Kindle store for every category. Quite obviously, you will get maximum exposure in your category if you make either Top 100 list. We’re going to focus on Top 100 Paid, because that list can generate more sustainable sales in the long run.

If you take a look at a Top 100 list (like this one for the Superhero category), you’ll notice that it’s broken into five pages, with 20 books on each page. That means that the best spots on this list are on that first page of 20. How do you get there?

Sales Rank and Making the List

You’ve probably seen your Amazon Sales Rank. It’s the number at the bottom of your book page labeled “Amazon Best Sellers Rank”. This number is a ranking list from best to worst, so #1 is the best selling book. Lower numbers are desirable. Only Amazon knows exactly how this number is calculated, but it’s safe to say that a good deal of it has to do with the number of books you’re selling. This number will help us evaluate the Top 100 lists.

Find a Top 100 list you’re interested in. Let’s go back to our Superhero example and check that list out, as well as the top-level Fantasy category. Here’s what you do: Go to the bottom of the Top 100 Paid list, #100, and click on that book. Make a note of that book’s Sales Rank. While I’m writing this, the #100 book in Superhero is at #28,559 Sales Rank, and the #100 book in Fantasy is at #980 Sales Rank. Those are the numbers your book has to beat to get on the list. So, if you wanted to be on the Top 100 Paid Superhero list, you’ll need a Sales Rank better than 28,559.

Now we can take those Sales Ranks and figure out how roughly the number of books you’ll need to sell to beat them. You can search around for a chart, or you can try this handy calculator. Plug in the Sales Rank of the book you need to beat to get an idea of how many copies you’ll need to sell per day to make the list. With our examples, in Superhero I’d need to sell about 15 books per day, and for Fantasy I’ll need to sell over 100 copies daily.

Strategizing Your Categories

At this point you might be getting a little bit discouraged. It seems like you’ll never make that big Fantasy list. But don’t lose heart, because one of the smaller lists is probably still within reach. You can use it as a stepping stone to get onto the bigger list.

Remember, you get to choose two categories when you publish your book on the Kindle store. That means you can do some strategizing. You could set our sights on the Superhero list and run a promotion to increase sales, which might get your book onto the Top 100 Paid Superhero list. Now you have a foothold. From here, you can continue to promote the book, trying to maintain a position on the Superhero list. That increased exposure could lead to more sales, giving you a shot at eventually landing on the big Fantasy list.

Another way to approach this would be to put your book into two categories with relatively easy lists, then run a promotion. You can make it onto two lists to try and drive sales and get new reviews when your book is first starting out, then go to the other strategy later when you’re ready to tackle the big list.

But What If the List I Want Isn’t a Category Option?

This is the confusing part of Amazon’s system. You can only choose BISAC categories for your Kindle book, so how do you get into the other categories on Amazon that don’t have corresponding BISAC numbers? For example, Fantasy has a New Adult and College sub-category, which isn’t a BISAC category.

While I was researching for this article, I came across an article in Amazon’s KDP support documentation with some details on how to get into the specialized categories. Basically, each non-BISAC category has certain keywords that you’ll need to use for Amazon to add your book to that category. Brilliant!

Some Final Tips

To wrap this up, here are a few final notes on making the Top 100 lists:

  1. Make sure you have a great cover before you get on the list. Amazon’s Top 100 lists are very visual. You’ll need to stand out among 19 other books to get noticed.
  2. Remember to choose your categories honestly. All this talk of trying out other categories might give you the impression that I’m advocating jumping into any category that has an easy Top 100 list, but that’s not what I’m saying at all. Your readers will buy your book with expectations, so be in the categories that fit your book.
  3. Another big thing to remember is that if you’re in a sub-category of a larger category, you are already in the larger category. To put it another way, if your book is in Fantasy & Science Fiction > Fantasy > Superhero, you’re in all three of those categories. Therefore, it doesn’t do you much good to also list your book in Fantasy & Science Fiction > Fantasy. See if there’s another category that your book fits into.
  4. It’s very useful to brainstorm a list of possible categories that your book fits into. Check the BISAC list first, then go scouting on the Kindle store for other categories you might belong in.
  5. If you want to do your own Sales Rank research, there’s a wonderful free tracker tool at eBookTracker that will e-mail you a daily digest with the highest Sales Rank you achieved each day.

I hope this post has helped you strategize your Amazon categories. Here’s to better exposure in small ponds!

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