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Amazon Categories as Mountains - how to sell on Amazon

Climbing some Amazon categories is an epic journey. Others … not so much.

Deciding how to sell on Amazon

What bucket does my book belong in? You get confronted with this question about your book just as you’re deciding how to sell on Amazon. Maybe you’ve got a mystery or a fantasy, and you always assumed it belonged there. All of a sudden, there are a pile of sub-genres to further whittle down your book into its core themes and concepts. Which ones fit your book best?

For eBooks, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing only allows you to select 2 categories. It might sounds straightforward, and if you wrote the right sort of book it would be. A lot of times though, books will fit into numerous categories – some of which you might not even know exist. Unfortunate? Not at all!

Understanding the available categories and how they can work for you is a good way to garner some free marketing from Amazon via their bestseller lists. The more popular a category of book is, the more people will view that category’s bestseller list. On the flip side, the more popular a category is, the harder it is to crack that list and get your book onto it to be seen.

Climb the Tallest Mountain That You Can

The key part of this idea is the “that you can” part. Clawing your way to #101 on the urban fantasy list doesn’t do you much good, since only the top 100 even get seen. If you can, find another category that fits you, but has an easier time of it? How do you do this? Let’s look at an example:

A young boy in the early 1900’s learns that he has the power to see into another dimension. Follow along as he learns to use this power to communicate with the faery realm and extend his natural life. When he lands himself in 1960’s Chicago, he decides he can put his powers to use making the world a better place. He becomes The Seer, hero of the downtrodden.

OK, this probably sounds like a ridiculous story, but think of all the genres it crosses: alternative history, coming of age, fairy tales, metaphysics, urbans fantasy, and heck, maybe it’s even a bit dark. So, if you wrote this weird literary train wreck, where would you want to categorize it if you were hoping to sneak onto Amazon’s bestseller lists for some free exposure?

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Interpreting the Chart

Every one of these categories has its own bestseller list. But every book on those lists also has an overall rank on all of the Kindle store. That means that a book that’s ranked #2,500 on Amazon may be top 10 in one genre and barely in the top 100 in another. What you want to see is which sub-genres have the easiest lists to get onto.

The blue bar on the chart shows you all the books that are ahead of everything in the genre. Unless you’re a major player in that category, it’s not an area to worry about. The next bar is the top 10, with the top of the bar showing the #10 book in the category. The green bar is the top 100, with the top of that bar being the #100 book.

If you have some idea where your book is going to land ranking-wise, see what lists you can land on and take your pick. If you’re flying blind and launching a book with no feel for the sales you’ll see (don’t worry, this is where most of us are), pick the softest categories that apply to your book. The “softest” being the one with the highest ranks making the list. If you change your mind later, it’s easy change. Don’t beat yourself up if your marketing strategy needs to change on the fly. The best method for how to sell on Amazon is a moving target anyway, so experiment.

Note: the vertical axis of the chart is a log scale. The categories aren’t as equal as the look at a glance.

Things to remember

Don’t cross into genres where you don’t belong! Oh, that list might look juicy. But if your book has nothing to do with it, you’re going to mislead and upset the people who find your book there. Be prepared to get negative reviews for doing this.

(Some writers don’t care. Romance and erotica are hard categories to climb, and disreputable writers cram their works into absurd categories to get any exposure they can, deserved or not.)

Don’t forget to check the genres yourself. The data I present here was collected on Sept 1, 2013. On that day, Myths and Legends looked like a tough category, at a glance, because an Urban Fantasy juggernaut at #12 overall on Amazon was cross-listed as mythology. Before you make the call on the categories you pick, take the few minutes look where they stand.

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Thanks for the info.

    I recently saw an erotica novel classified under a sub-genre of Photography. It was a top seller in that category, but had nothing to do with photography. Sticking with your true genre is what will grab and maintain a following of loyal readers.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Amazon really ought to police those types of things more. I had my short story War-Bringer reach #9 for fantasy short stories in the free store, but it was behind 4 erotica/romance novels that had nothing to do with fantasy (I checked, and one romance was legitimately PNR, which I can sort of give a pass to). Horrifically bad reviews on the misplaced ebooks had no effect on hurting their sales, either.

  2. LOVE, this post. Thank you so much. I haven’t decided yet to self pub, still querying, but with any marketing strategy this is good info. Hmmmm, I’m surprised to NOT see Romance or Women’s Lit (Chicklit) on that chart. Very interesting…So does that mean Amazon is not a good fit for those genres? Or am I reading the chart wrong? Romance are not SUB genres. Got a list of Main genre sales?

    1. I write fantasy, so I just focused on that section of Amazon. You can do the same comparison for any genre though. Consider all the ones that would fit your work, then look at the #1, #10, and #100 books in those categories to see which you’d get the most exposure from.

  3. I wrote a novel (The Internet President: None of the Above) that crosses a dozen genre boundaries like the “train wreck” you describe (comedy, drama, romance, action, politics, road trip, legal drama, science fiction, suspense/thriller, conspiracy, and even a rock opera). It’s gotten feedback like “I expect more from books” and it’s hard to market it. I can pretend it’s just a political thriller that happens to be funny, but it’s an odd mix. Is there a good category for this sort of thing?

    1. I’m no expert in either thrillers or political novels. But here’s what you need to do. Take a look at your prospective genres. Look at the best sellers in each, and go into Amazon’s “look inside.” Get a feel for the style of writing, the level of detail, the pacing and use of language. Try to get an idea for what best matches the novel you’ve written. The idea is to find where readers who’d be predisposed to your type of book already go and go there with them.

      1. Until Amazon has a viable cross genre I guess I should stick to politics related genres. I see a lot of top books mention what other books are similar. Using the “look inside” is a great idea. I can figure out some aspect of my book that’s similar if I go to a more granular level like pacing or writing style.

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