Maximizing Digital Book Sales, Part 1

By Carolyn McCray, Author | @craftycmc

I think it is safe to say that everyone from the Big Six to smaller publishing houses to the independent author would like to sell more books.  And given the extremely crowded “virtual bookshelf” on Amazon, etc it is extremely difficult to get your book (s) noticed.

How do you rise above the “noise?”

This two part article is going to tackle exactly that question.  The first part of the article will go in-depth regarding the importance of choosing the proper categories for your book and the advanced use of tags to maximize your book’s exposure. The second half the article will focus on what to expect from your book sales and how you can leverage the internal recommendation systems, especially of Amazon, to enhance your bottom line. Also know that the vast majority of advice given in these articles can be applied to other digital sales platforms such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc.

However, before we can begin to discuss categories and their importance, we must first understand how sales arise on Amazon.

The first type of sale is the “external” sale.  This is a sale generated by you (or your publisher) through either paid advertisements or social media promotions. You have “externally” pushed a reader from outside of Amazon directly to your book’s sales page and generated a sale.  This sale did not depend at all upon Amazon’s internal recommendation systems.

Since external sales are a topic all of their own, we will not discuss them in any great depth here,  however it is important to understand that, while external advertising is usually consider a low yield investment, if you use external sales to help drive internal sales you can many times double or triple your ROI. We will discuss that aspect of external sales in the second half of this article.

Which leaves us with “internal” sales. These sales are generated by your book either being randomly found through genre searches (which is the lowest yield of all), by your book being placed in front of a potential buyer through one of the many recommendation queues that Amazon has running, or by a reader finding your book by browsing a Top 100 Bestseller list.

Obviously, you cannot rely on high sales from readers interested in your genre searching through hundreds if not thousands of books and stumbling upon your book and liking it enough to purchase it. A much higher yield internal sale is generated through Amazon’s internal recommendation system.  Currently (since they do change frequently based on what appears to be the load on Amazon’s servers) these queues are…

“Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…”

“What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item…”

“Customers Who Highlighted This Item Also Highlighted…”

“Continue Shopping: Customers Who Bought Items In Your Recent History Also Bought…”

As you can guess the lower down the page a queue is positioned, the less effect these queues are at driving sales.

Basically, the “king” of internal recommendation queues and therefore sales is the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” This queue is directly beneath your book’s sales information and is filled with books represented by fairly large book covers.  This queue is placed in a prime position on the page and is extremely eye-catching. Unfortunately the only way to drive your book into this vital recommendation queue is by selling more and more books.  Amazon rewards increased sales with increased placement in the recommendation queues.

But how exactly do they determine how many times your book goes into the recommendation queue? Well, no one but Amazon knows that for sure. They are extremely guarded about the exact mathematical matrix they use for recommendation queue placement.

However, we can make fairly educated guesses regarding some fundamental criteria that Amazon uses to both rank a book in overall sales and then place the book into a recommendation queue. Overall Amazon seems to reward books based on hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly sales performance.

We will discuss why that matrix is important in the second half of this article.

The last way a reader can find your book internally is in Amazon’s bestseller lists. These lists are generated purely based upon sales (although clearly a complex logarithm is used for this placement as well which will be discuss in the second half of this article).

So to sell as many books as possible we would like our book out into the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” and Bestseller Lists queues as much as possible. As stated above the recommendation queue is based on sales and therefore as the author or publisher you have very little control over placement.

The Bestselling lists however are a completely different story.  The reason is that you control which bestselling category your book is listed under. Ultimately you will need to sell enough books to climb into those bestselling lists, however it is vital to understand that not all categories are created equal. The number of books within the category and their relative sales are what makes a category more or less “competitive.” i.e. more or less difficult to join.

Clearly as an author or publisher you want to be able to qualify for a Top 100 list as easily as possible with the fewest sales as possible.  Why? Because even at the #100 berth, your book gets added exposure that can translate into sales. The higher you climb amongst the Top 100, the more internally generated sales you will see. We will discuss this in far greater depth in the next article.

How does one know if any given category is more or less “competitive?”

Research.  You want to investigate each category’s “buy-in” value.  For both the #100 berth, but also the #1 berth (because let’s face it, we all can dream). Let’s take for example a crime novel. Many people would simply click the “General Mystery” & “Thriller” categories. Because the book is in fact both a mystery and a thriller.

However we need to dig deeper to truly understand how categories can effect sales.

If you go to the General Mystery Top 100 Bestsellers List and click on the #1 title.  This book is OVERALL ranked #16. Clearly we are not going to top that list any time soon.  However the more important “buy-in” number is how easily can we get into the #100 berth? Go to the General Mystery Top 100 Bestseller List #80-100 and click on the #100 title. It is ranked #776. Clearly you would need to sell a large number of books consistently to even dream of nabbing the #100 berth in this category.

And the general “Thrillers” category is equally competitive. The #1 buy is overall ranked #2! And the #100 bestselling title is ranked #856.

So unless you are selling about 65-100 books per day you can forget to even grab the #100 berth for either of those highly competitive categories. But what about if this crime drama had a female sleuth and was fairly hard-boiled? Well, that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Let’s look at the Women Sleuth Top 100 Bestsellers… Yes, #1 is still hypercompetitive (Jayden Skye topped it), however the #100 ranking was #2,288.  It is a far cry easier to rank #2,288 than either #856 or #776 (#2,288 equals about 20-30 books/day). Therefore the “Women Sleuth” category is a far less “competitive” category. It is easier to get onto and move up this bestseller list than either the Mystery or Thriller bestseller list.

Before we draw this example to a conclusion, let’s look at the “Hard-Boiled” category. It’s #1 “buy-in” has a ranking of #43 (lower than any of the others, but clearly not an easy rung to reach), however its #100 ranking is only #6,646! Obviously this category is a far “softer” or less “competitive” category.  You would need to only sell between 7-11 books per day to gain a berth in this list.

If I were consulting this author/publishing house I would strongly urge that they reconsider their categories and switch from the General Mystery and Thrillers categories to the less competitive categories to gain better exposure and enhance their sales. Because remember the more books you sell by ANY means, the more Amazon rewards you with increased exposure through their internal recommendation queues.

Now as you begin to really investigate categories and dig around in the various bestseller lists you will begin to notice that there are many Kindle Bestselling Lists that are not reflected in the categories you have available to choose when you select your categories at the time of publication. Amazon officially gives no explanation for this and many times customer sales personnel will give you the official, “there are no Kindle categories by that name.” Then of course you send them a screenshot of the Bestselling List that clearly states that it is a Kindle list, and they tell you they have no official explanation.

But no matter, this should not stop you from joining the ranks of these “hidden” bestseller lists.

Let’s return to our example. If you go to the Mystery category you will see that under its banner is an option of the bestselling list, “Series.” However if you go to your KDP page, and try to select this as one of your official categories, you will find it does NOT exist as an option. Yet clearly it is an official Bestselling List. Better yet, it is a far less “competitive” list since the #100 “buy-in” is only #15,388. That means you would only need to sell about 5-7 books per day to make it onto this bestselling list.

But how do you get your book qualified for this “hidden” category?  Appropriate tagging.

Now tagging has gotten a hugely bad rap and I am not going to go into the abuses that tagging can create. What I am talking about is intelligent, selective, strategic tagging. For this author/publisher, I would recommend that not only do they tag their book with “mystery series,” but also ask their social media presence to tag and “agree” with the “mystery series” tag. Again, Amazon does not give specifics as to how many tags generate a category listing, however though experience, it normally takes between 25-50 tags to obtain Amazon’s attention and place your book into that “category” and qualify you for that bestselling list.

So that wraps up this first portion of the article. If you have any questions, express your views or want to relate your own experience please leave a comment below. Also if you would like me to do a “snapshot” review of your categories please leave the following information in your comment; the link to your book, the two categories you choose when you first published your books along with the links to the Top 100 Bestsellers for those two categories and the link to at least one other bestselling book in an alternate category. I will get to them as quickly as I can, but even if I get swamped I promise to eventually get to each and every one of them!

I strongly urge everyone commenting to subscribe to the comments since many times far more information comes out in my responses than was able to fit into this article!

Carolyn McCray is a social media and sales consultant to writers and publishing houses alike.   And using the principle laid out in this article, her recent non-fiction book, “Dollars & Sense: The Definitive Guide to Self-publishing Success” debuted at #1 on the Amazon Bestselling list for Study & Teaching and reached #2 on the Authorship Bestselling list beating out such rock stars as JA Konrath and Zoe Winters.  Carolyn is also the founder of the Indie Book Collective, an organization dedicated to helping writers utilize social media to sell their books.

72 thoughts on “Maximizing Digital Book Sales, Part 1

  1. Belle Whittington

    Hello! I would love it if you would do a snapshot review of my categories! Here’s the info you requested:

    Link to my book:

    Two categories I chose upon publication: fiction, young adult

    Top 100 Bestsellers in categories:
    young adult:



    Thank you!


    1. Carolyn McCray

      As a rule, you never want to use a general category. You want to drill down to the most specific category as possible with the easiest buy in.

      Also you can update your book and it has no effect on your ranking 🙂

  2. Carolyn McCray

    Thanks so much for being brave enough to put your title forward 🙂

    First off, nice cover so kudos 🙂
    You didn’t ask but I feel compelled to give you a bit of advice regarding your Amazon page…
    Get those reviews up. Social media is great for that along with the “Likes” (I added one for you:-)

    Your product description is a bit dry. You might want to look at my other article covering optimizing your Amazon page here:
    to see how I would recommend punching up your description and driving a reader to purchase 🙂

    But onward to categories.
    The two you have chosen are far too broad as to be any help to you. You basically HAVE to be the Hunger Games to get into the general YA and Fiction categories.

    If you look to a deeper category of YA, you will find the Science Fiction and Fantasy sub-category with a buy in of 3,785 rather than under a 1,000 🙂

    Or go for Science Fiction, adventures which has a buy in of 7,437…

    Explore various titles and follow their bestseller lists to see if any categories are an even better match 😉

    Obviously you need more sales tp hit those bestselling lists. I would recommend getting involved in more social media promotion.

    The IBC has the which showcases the best indie titles and we are having the this Labor Day weekend.

    You might want to check into both/either and the #IBC for more info 🙂
    Hope this helped!

    1. Belle Whittington

      Carolyn, you are a wealth of information! I’m going to have to read your response several more times so that I can fully absorb all the info! 🙂 Thank you sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much! I’m going to do my best to follow every bit of your advice! And then I’ll come back and let you know how it’s turned out!

      BTW: I knew I needed help with punching up my Amazon page, I just didn’t know how to go about getting it! So I thank you so much for including that info in your response, too!

      I’m off to re-read your article a few more times!

      Talk to you soon!


      PS: Did I mention how much I appreciate your help? 🙂

  3. F P

    This is probably a silly question, but what is tagging, as it applies to Amazon and categories? How does one tag their book? How / when do you \agree with\ a tag?

    I understand the rest of the article and found it very helpful, but the tagging part is new to me.

    Thank you!

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Tags are usually found low on your page, after the reviews and several other “if you like this” queues.

      You are limited to 15 (at the time of the writing, it does change nearly daily sometimes).

      Choose wisely!

      These tags are the key to getting into the ‘hidden categories’ that many times are far less competitive.

      Let’s say you put your book into Police Procedurals and Thrillers but you have a heavy techno-thriller edge. Now there is not a techno-thriller category to choose from when you publish your book.

      Therefore you would want to tag your book with “techno-thriller,” “technological thriller,” etc and hopefully others will follow suit.

      If enough people tag with Techo-thriller and enough people agree, Amazon will put you into the sub-genre 🙂

  4. David Mark Brown

    Thanks so much for this added detail. I’ve tagged my books and messed around a bit to see if I could increase my top 100 ranking, but after reading this I understand how to try to advance within the hidden lists much better. Now I know I have not gotten enough people to like the tags I’ve set, so that will be my next step.

    THanks again.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Yes. Amazon needs to see many people both tag with the hidden category name AND have people “agree” with the tags. Those seem to be the two things that convince Amazon you deserve to be in those categories 🙂

  5. David Stoddard


    Thank you for giving me quite a bit of necessary reading and contemplating tonight. I hope to put the information about Amazon to use in the next few days… and can not wait for part 2. Subscribing for the comments as well.

    Thanks again for this post.


  6. Arnaud Saint-Paul

    Hi Carolyn,

    Thank you for your wonderful article.

    I was wondering if you were able to help me.

    On this book:

    We have setup the categories:
    BODY, MIND & SPIRIT > Inspiration & Personal Growth

    My problem is that I cannot find the first one and therefore cannot assess if it is the right one to gain access to the best selle list 🙂

    Also for the other, I was thinking of selecting Books > Health, Mind & Body > Self-Help > Motivational. What do you think ?

    Last question :). What is the difference between the book and ebook categories / best seller lists ?
    One should privilege ebooks over books as it might be easier ?


    1. Carolyn McCray

      It would be super helpful to me if you could give me the link to a book in each of the categories. That would make it much easier to track down.

      To answer your other questions…
      The book and eBook categories are different and you can only select eBook categories when you are publishing your book.

      However you can get into these ‘hidden’ categories through tagging the words from the category that you want to gain entrance into 🙂

      If you supply me with the links I will evaluate the best categories for your book 🙂

      Then obviously you want to work your social media to gain more reviews and likes 🙂

        1. Carolyn McCray

          This is the Top 100 self Help list under creativity… Would your book fall under this sub-category though?

          The other book was a memoir but in the Rock n Roll sub-category.

          Sorry, but I feel I must send you back out to do more research, which is great because this is a super valuable skill to have.

          Get back to me with at least 3 bestselling lists (a link to the Top 100 for each) that your book is the closest match more and we will go from there 🙂

  7. acmamall

    what do you think of amazon’s idea of advertising e-books via their kindle? do you think this will help independent publishers in the long run or will they be eaten up by big publishing companies?

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Unfortunately that aspect of Kindle advertising will more than likely be monetized by the Big 6 and price out smaller publishers.

      Luckily there are other venues, GoodReads, Adwords, Kindle Nation that are still fairly reasonable 🙂

      I mean, I hope Kindle advertising isn’t outrageous, but I can only guess it will become that way very quickly.

      Remember also that your backmatter is an in-book ad for your other titles or your “virtual” backlist. And it is FREE so use it wisely 🙂

  8. Michelle

    Thank you so much for so much great information. I’m just starting the process of self-publishing my novel, Concilium, and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us. It is so helpful to have someone to help us newbies navigate the ins and outs of epublishing.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      You are very welcome and I would strongly recommend that you hang out with us at the Indie Book Collective. Being indie doesn’t mean you have to be alone. Lots of great info/workshops/radio show and dedicated authors to help you through the tough times 🙂

  9. Rob Blackwell


    This was a great post. I’m about to publish my novel, \A Soul to Steal,\ but I’m having problems figuring out what genre it is in. On the one hand, it’s a mystery and thriller, but it also has a strong paranormal element and some romance to boot. Where’s my best bet? \Horror\ is nominally appropriate, although I worry that puts it into a harder-core category than it really belongs.

    Also, and I could use some advice on this, the novel prominently features the Headless Horseman. I know, I know: some people will dig that and others will think I’m rehashing a classic for no good reason. You’ll just have to trust me on this, but it’s a completely different storyline and I’m using the Horseman in a new and different way. My problem? I guess I want to play up the Horseman — he’s on the cover, for God’s sake — but also signal to folks that this is something unique, not campy and derivative. Any ideas? Also, any ways I can make sure a search of \headless horseman\ leads to my book on Amazon without putting it in the title?


    Rob Blackwell

    1. Carolyn McCray

      This is hard to comment upon without seeing the cover. Why? Because your cover is your genre.

      In for a penny in for a pound. As I mentioned in the article, selling books is HARD. You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention and drive them towards a sale.

      We want to stay within the sub-conscious good/bad realm and hit all the right marks to make sure out book is “good” all the way.

      Trying to fuse so many elements is nearly impossible. You need to drill down to the core of your book.

      If you have a headless horseman on the cover than you have thrown your lot in with horror. Plain and Simple. Unless this is a Sherlock Holmes type switch where we prove it isn’t a headless horsemen (in that case you would be more in the mystery/thriller categories), however that is going to be hard to get across in the twelve seconds you have their attention 😉

      Again, I would need to really see the cover to know how strongly you are leaning to horror.

      Remember your cover art is your very first ad. It needs to be strongly branded and capture the RIGHtT people’s attention 😉 #buyers

      I would strongly recommend you do your research now. Go to books who are the most like yours that are bestsellers. Go into their lists and see which are “soft” and which aren’t.

      If you want to send me a link to 4 of those books (who are listed as bestsellers in the appropriate categories) feel free and I can assess more 🙂

  10. Rob Blackwell

    Also, the link above to your advice on building your Amazon page is not correct. Could you post the correct one, please? I would really like to read it!

    If you have any advice on building Facebook pages, I’ll take that too. Sorry to be so greedy this early in the morning.


    1. Carolyn McCray
      That should be the right link. Sorry about that I copy and pasted it from the browser, but the internet gnomes must not have liked it 😉

      Also you can always just search for “Carolyn McCray” on the site and all of my previous articles will come up 🙂

      As to Facebook pages, you should hit up the Indie Book Collective. We do a ton of social media stuff over there, way too much to type in here 🙂

  11. Mike Schneider

    This is a great resource, Carolyn. I was just looking at making the categories for my novel – \This Book Does Not Exist\ – more specific:

    I did run into an interesting dilemma though. At the time of publication, Amazon allowed me to select 5 categories for my book. Now they have changed that to two. My novel has sold pretty consistently – and decently for the past year – about 600 copies, which isn’t a ton obviously but not so bad for an indie author who hasn’t focused on marketing. If I alter my categories now I have to give up three categories and drop down to two. In other words, I’m weighing the merits of being in more categories versus being in fewer, more specific ones.

    Would be curious to get your insight on this. Thanks!

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Your categories really only kick in when you hit bestseller status (which is relative given how competitive a list is).

      Right now your categories do no really matter since you are not showing up on any bestselling lists. However if you were to get below 10,000 and especially 5,000 your categories would really matter.

      It is not the number of categories you are listed in but whether they are the correct ones.

      You need to do the research on the 5 categories you are chose and see how competitive they are and see if there are any less competitive ones. If there are and it qualified you for bestseller status, then yes, it would be worth it to change categories.

      Without more info, like the categories you have chosen and more research by you as to what popular books like your own are listed as, it is hard to advise you further 😉 But get me the info and I would be glad to take a look 🙂

  12. Vicki Keire

    What a great article! I really need to re-categorize; I hadn’t thought about how important it could be.

  13. Susan Fleet

    Hello Carolyn, thank you so much for this very helpful article. I would be very happy if you could do a snapshot review of my latest New Orleans crime thriller, Diva Amazon page is here.

    I believe I chose categories; thriller and hard-boiled mystery (but my brain is fried thanks to new computer hell week, so I could be wrong). I know that thriller is a very huge category. Maybe psychological suspense also.

    Top 100 mystery & thrillers:!1000%2Cn%3A18&bbn=1000&keywords=top+100+best+selling+books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313627401&rnid=1000

    Police procedural (which I don’t think of my book as being, but if it gets my ranking higher … )!1000%2Cn%3A18%2Cn%3A10482&bbn=18&keywords=top+100+best+selling+books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313627502&rnid=18

    Thanks for any help you can give! Susan

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Yes, thriller is far too competitive/broad a category.

      If you book has strong police elements (your hero must be a detective, profiler, someone actually in law enforcement, not say a PI or bounty hunter) then Police Procedurals might be a good fit. Only you know how well it fits.

      If Police Procedurals aren’t your thing, then yes, you need to get into a more niche suspense category.

      You obviously also need more exposure. I am not sure if you are familiar with the but it provides free listings for 99 cent titles and could help up your sales 🙂

      Again, thanks for commenting 🙂

  14. Madeline

    I appreciate the informative article. I have had books categorized wrong and seen the results, so this is an issue I am sensitive to.

    I have to say, not that Amazon will care, that the tagging creates problems with customer search. An online site is only as good as its search engine, in my opinion as a customer, and it is much too important to leave to crowd sourcing. My recent experiences as a customer on Amazon doing searches have been very problematic, and not at all as efficient as they used to be. When I search for nonfiction history books, my search is often cluttered with fiction titles, for example, that have been tagged incorrectly or even categorized incorrectly in order to cross-promote. It has become time-consuming and very annoying to comb through the clutter to find the books I actually am searching for.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Yes, categories are a very under-appreciated aspect of your book’s discover-ability on Amazon.

      As to tags. Yes, people abuse them, rather stupidly, because anything that hurts the reader experience hurts the author’s sales 😉

      What I propose are very specific, targeted tagging efforts to broaden your chance of hitting bestselling lists 🙂

  15. Art Smukler

    Thank you Carolyn; I really appreciated your informative article. I’m a psychiatrist and Chasing Backwards is a psychological murder mystery. You seem understandably very busy, but if you have a chance to check out my website, there’s a picture of my cover and a description of what the book’s all about. It should be out in the month or so, ebook and paperback. Thank you very much! Art Smukler

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Thanks for commenting! 🙂
      I swung by your website.

      I would strongly recommend that you rethink your “blurb” material. Right now it is too long and doesn’t have enough zing to it.

      Think of an old glossy magazine ad. Hyperbole and excitement.

      You might want to take a look at an article I wrote that goes over the fundamentals of kick-booty product description. You need the same level of drive on your website that you do on Amazon.

      I would also have you rethink your cover. When down in thumbnail size, it is very bland/neutral. You cannot easily read the title or the author’s name and the image is not striking.

      It is your cover, but it is also your first visual AD. Treat it as such 🙂

      The title is intriguing and your story may be great, however if you don’t package it well, no one will ever find out!

      I’d also strongly urge you to look into where there is a whole community dedicated to helping authors understand book marketing 🙂

  16. Kathy Bennett

    Fantastic article Carolyn!

    My question is how to get more book reviews and likes. I don’t see many authors ‘asking’ for reviews on FB or Twitter or on their website. I’ve been relying on my readers to take the initiative.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Thanks so much!

      And yes, reader initiative is well… let us say… variable 🙂

      While there is nothing wrong with asking for reviews or likes (in a respectful manner where you either educate or entertain) on your social media platforms, events are the best and more consistent way to get a nice steady stream of reviews.

      You might want to check out my two part article that goes into detail on this subject:

      I hope it helps. 🙂

  17. Amanda Ollier

    Another fantastic amount of information in here. I’ll be changing my categories and tags next week. Thank you

  18. HK Savage


    Your breakdown is very helpful for those of us who have had good months and not so good months of sales who wonder, “Why isn’t my book on a list yet?” I have several books, my trilogy is the one I’ll focus on. Empath listed as Paranormal and I tagged it as YA and vampire because that was the hot stuff when it came out last Xmas. It’s had some spectacular months and I have noticed sales are dwindling now. This month is looking like the first one in 9 months that it will sell less than 100. Is it ever too late to re-tag it? Does that bring up any of Amazon’s warnings? Is it generally a good idea to re-tag a book periodically to change its exposure?
    I’m curious as I am getting ready to release our new publishing company’s newest author and want to help him do well.


    1. Carolyn McCray

      You are allowed up to 11-15 tags (depending on Amazon’s servers mood). You only have three (none of which was YA which is an important one) so you have plenty to spare.

      However, even if you are full up, I have no problem refining my tagging system to better reflect my book 🙂

      To comment on more I would need the link to the top 100 bestsellers in the categories you have chosen for your book. Post them and I will take a look 🙂

  19. B.C. Brown

    Thank you so much for this informative article! I will be more confident from now on armed with this knowledge when it comes to my placement on Amazon, and how I can effect real change in that placement with a little more research and consideration of what is already out there and could be working for my paranormal romance, A Touch of Darkness.

  20. Rob Blackwell


    Thanks for the wonderful article. I wanted to let everyone know that your advice really does work. I carefully chose my categories based on your articles and the result was I ended up in two bestseller lists on my first day.

    Here’s my novel:

    I really agonized over what genre to place it in, and finally chose Horror/Occult and Horror/Ghost based on the bestseller lists. I figured it would be far easier to land in either category –based on the sales of #1 and #100 than the other lists I conteplated, including thriller and romance/futuristic. Both of these categories also actually fit the book.

    The result? I’m currently #39 on the Ghost bestseller list and #80 on Occult.

    Granted, this will probably start to slip because my novel just launched and I have a lot of supportive friends, but it does prove that Carolyn is absolutely right in how to approach this. Thanks again, Carolyn, and if you can offer any more advice, please do so.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      I am so glad to hear how my advice worked out in the “real world.” 🙂

      No matter how long you are on the lists, each day you are there, you are getting sales you never would have before 😉

      And your page is nicely optimized. My only concern is your cover art. I know, always a dicey subject because people become very attached to it, but if you have been following my articles you know that I will always give you my honest opinion…

      So here goes. Take it or leave it 🙂

      Even on your sales page your cover art is indistinct. As a matter of fact with the shape and pinkish colors it looked a bit like a ghostly vagina. Either that or the monster from tremors. I am sure that was NOT what you had in mind. Even blown up to the zoomed size I had a hard time telling that was a cape and that the horseman was headless.

      At thumbnail? Sorry, pale vagina it was again.

      I can tell you are going for an artistic, grayed almost bleached look, however you must balance your aesthetic against the metamessage. You do not want the browser to be confused by your artwork.

      Like you said, right now it is friends and family purchasing who know about the book. I would strongly suggest you re-think your cover art and while staying true to your artistic sense, deliver a cover that grabs me and excites me about your book (sans vagina/Tremors).

      But again, just my humble opinion 🙂

  21. Cyndi Tefft


    I’ve been looking for an article on this exact topic, so I am delighted to find you! I spent some time looking through ebook categories and am hoping you can offer some advice on how to improve my tags and/or categories to get better product placement.

    Here’s the link to my YA paranormal romance novel:

    My current Kindle rank is #21,071.

    Here’s what I found on categories:

    Kindle ebooks > Children’s ebooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Magic (top 100 item is #4078)

    Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Children’s fiction > Historical fiction > Europe (top 100 item is #250,809)

    Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Children’s fiction > Literature > Love & Romance (top 100 is #4228)

    Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Children’s fiction > Religions Fiction > Christian (top 100 is #97, 944)

    Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost (top 100 item is #4284)

    Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Historical Romance (top 100 is #1627)

    Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical (top 100 is #24,999)

    My tags: young adult paranormal romance, time travel romance, scotland, afterlife, teen fantasy, paranormal romance, love story, paris, seattle, heaven, highlander romance, 18th century, life after death

    I look forward to your input! 🙂

    Cyndi Tefft

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Fantastic. I am so glad the article was helpful.

      As to categories, while you are ranking greater than 4,000 (which it appears all the action happens on the Bestseller lists), I would go ahead and put my categories at the least competitive ones which looks like…

      Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Children’s fiction > Historical fiction > Europe (top 100 item is #250,809)

      Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Fantasy > Historical (top 100 is #24,999)

      Then if you increase your sales and move down into the 4,000 range, I would re categorize into these…

      Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Children’s fiction > Literature > Love & Romance (top 100 is #4228)

      Kindle ebooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Fantasy, Futuristic & Ghost (top 100 item is #4284)

      I know that you didn’t ask for but I just thought I should comment on your cover. I am worried that it does not read YA or give us the Scotland vibe that you hit so hard in your PD. I also don’t get romance either. This cover felt sci fi or urban fantasy to me. You might want to re-imagine the cover and see if that helps sales. You can always go back if it doesn’t.

      Also you might want to look at my Optimizing your Amazon page article to see how you can amp up the volume of your PD to transform more browsers into buyers 🙂

      Again, thanks so much for commenting! 🙂 And best of luck!

      1. Cyndi Tefft


        Thanks for the feedback. I read your other article and will definitely be posting some review blurbs in the product description section!

        I’m not sure how to recategorize the book on Amazon, now that it’s published. Is there a place on Author Central where I do that? Also, you mentioned that getting my social media contacts to agree with my tags will help. Do you have some input on how I should alter my tags to help gain traction in the categories you suggested?

        I appreciate your help!


        1. Carolyn McCray

          To re-categorize your title, simply go back into KDP and edit your book details. You can go back and change anything. Keywords, your book cover, and price through there.

          Simply click on the “Categories” button and it will allow you to choose new one (after deleting the others).

          And sorry, I should have said that your tags look spot on. Just go out onto your social media platform and if on Twitter participate in #TagItTuesday (just search the hashtag, it is pretty self explanatory).

          You might also want to consider forming a marketing alliance with other authors in your genre to create a “virtual” backlist or “sales node,” for cross promotional purposes 🙂

  22. Amanda Ball

    Hi Carolyn,

    can you offer any advice on a keyword strategy. My book titles use keyword phrases with good google search numbers (eg \about self esteem\ and \how to be confident\) so should I use the names of some amazon bestseller categories that you can’t pick at the KDP selection point? eg \NLP\?

    I’m really finding your information very useful, thanks again!


  23. Carolyn McCray

    I am so glad, Amanda!

    Yes, the best keyword/tagging strategy is to obviously use your genre and major locations or events in your book. However a subset of your tags should be specific to the bestselling lists that you would like to to get onto either because you just didn’t have enough slots in KDP for them or that the lists are \hidden\ or are only listed for print books.

    So yes, use a combo of Google search words for broad discoverability and more refined words for bestselling list 🙂

    I hope that answered your question! 🙂

  24. Edd Voss

    My head hurts…. Your information is valuable but my book is made up of a variety of short stories covering a variety of genre from Westerns to SciFi and few that I am not sure exactly what category they would fall under.
    Here is the link to it.
    The other challenge I am facing is that I spend most of my time driving for a living and have very little time for even internet promotions.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      Yes, short stories are a hard road to hoe, even when they are of the same genre.

      My advice to you. Write more, either in the same genre or at the least novellas. You really need 5-7 properties out there to make a splash on Amazon.

      Also your price tag is pretty high, especially for shorts. If this is your only book out I would recommend 99 cents so that you can get that impulse buy and be able to participate in such promos as

      If you get your sales up to at least 500 units per month, then consider slowly raising your price.

      I would also recommend that you review my “Optimizing Your page” article. Right now your Product Description isn’t really generating much excitement and enticement to purchase.

      As to social media. You can use such things as Social Oomph and Hootsuite to schedule your tweets and Facebook updates ahead of time and then just hop on for some live interaction in the evenings. So sorry, no excuses on that!

      I hope this helped! 🙂

      1. Edd Voss

        Your information was helpful I will pass it on to my Publisher. She controls the product information and pricing. All of my short stories were originally .99 before the book came out. We raised the price hoping it would steer people towards the book. They are all a part of the book plus four that are only available in the book. The funny part is that I have been selling the short stories better at the higher price. I have another book out but went with a publisher that has been anything but helpful. The contract with them is up next spring so I will put it out on my own after that.

  25. Tom Ciolli

    Ms. McCray:
    I really enjoyed both of your articles. From the perspective of somebody with a couple of marketing degrees, it’s extremely interesting to gain insight Amazon’s machinations.

    Also, thank you very much for offering to do a “snapshot” review of categories for your readers. Using your ideas, I went through some links relevant to me and made some tables to help me do some analysis.

    Here is a link to my website.

    Here is the link to my newest book.

    The two categories I chose when I first published this book are:
    Fiction › Science Fiction › High Tech
    Fiction › Science Fiction › Military Science Fiction

    Here is a sampling of links to the Top 100 Bestsellers for those two categories
    Fiction › Science Fiction › High Tech
    #1 is rated #10 overall
    #25 is rated 3,134,

    #50 is rated 6,100

    It may be noteworthy that Chronos, another book in this series is rated is rated 74th in this category: .

    There is no way to menu to my other category of Fiction › Science Fiction › Military Science Fiction.
    How much does this influence a search, especially when compared to tags?

    Here is the link to at least one other bestselling book in an alternate category.
    Kindle eBooks › Fiction › Genre Fiction › Science Fiction
    #24 is rated 974

    #50 is rated 2671

    I saw the obvious advantage in being in the series category, but given the way that you described how Amazon lets people into this classification, I don’t expect to get there anytime soon.

    Thank You


    1. Jack Harney

      Hi Carolyn,
      I was just recently referred to your site so if I’ve come in too late please reply directly to my email address.

      I am as new to this as I can be. Here’s the link to my book.

      I just ran a 3 day KND ad campaign and sold 50 books in 3 days. I then re-wrote and added some things I realized were missing and have plans to do 2 more. My story is about a famed NYPD detective who attempts to track down and kill the pedophile priest who caused his daughter to commit suicide.

      In reading your article, I find my lack of info on just how tags work and how to make use of them is limited enough, your suggestions left me scratching my head. My bad…not yours. Any suggestions you might have about my mystery thriller (based on 2 yrs. of research) would be most helpful. I’m also buying your book as soon as I hit submit below. Thank You, Jack

      1. Carolyn McCray

        Not at all! Anyone can leave a comment anytime and will try to get to it within 24 hours 🙂

        Great news on your KND ad, however since you did not say how much the ad cost it is hard to tell if it was income generating.

        I wish you had come across my article before the ad. Your page could certainly be far more optimized. Look up my other article (by simply searching for Carolyn McCray) on Amazon Best Practices to take your product description to the next level.

        For your book more than likely you are going to want to to look at Hard Boiled and Police Procedural, but I strongly recommend that you look to other successful books similar to yours and research those bestselling lists to make sure there isn’t a category that fits you even better and is even “softer” or less competitive than HB or PP.

        Hope this helped! And thanks for all the kind words!

  26. Susan Paulson Clark


    Thanks so much for your information!

    Can you take a look at my book page? I just published on Amazon two weeks ago … the categories I selected are contemporary fiction and divorce/separation. What I’d really like is women’s fiction > divorce. (The novel has much more to it than two best friends both going through a divorce, but I feel that makes the marketing more unique.) I realize the present divorce/separation category could be misleading – kind of sounds like non-fiction.

    Any advice will be helpful! I am going to keep studying about tags and likes, etc. and also hop over to your Indie Book Collective page.

    Thanks again 🙂

    1. Carolyn McCray

      You can always contact KDP and ask them to put you into an “hidden” categories or tag your way into that hidden category.

      As an aside, I would strongly urge you to lower your price down to 99 cents. With only 5 reviews and minimal sales, you need discoverability over minimal royalties 🙂

      You really need to mature the book up with reviews/stars/likes to make it a more attractive purchase 🙂

  27. Sammy


    I don’t find your email anywhere and I hope to still able to reach you here.

    I’ve been having trouble matching the Kindle bestsellers categories on Amazon Kindle store with the Categories section in Amazon KDP. Unless I’m looking at the wrong bestseller categories in Kindle store (the one I browse is here on the left hand side), it seems the subject categories here are far fewer than the BISAC subject headings in the KDP Add a Title window. Another words, Amazon Kindle bestseller lists don’t cover all the categories in KDP, seems like only a selected few. Also their arrangements are quite different. Many common categories in Amazon bestsellers are not found in Subject Categories in KDP, and vice versa, and I’m not talking about the “hidden” categories derive from tagging.

    It’s so frustrating after spending much time research the bestseller categories on Amazon Kindle website that my titles should be in, only to find there’s no such categories anywhere in KDP page, AND likewise, finding an appropriate categories for my titles available for me at the time of publication, but then there’s no bestseller list for such categories on Amazon website. So any ideas on how to best match them to take advantage of Amazon’s ranking system you often talked about in your optimization articles? Your input and recommendations are much appreciated.

    I came across your articles and roundtable discussions at DBW last year, and been reread them to take in all the good stuff. Thanks again.

    1. Carolyn McCray

      So sorry! I replied the day you posted but apparently it didn’t “take.” 🙂

      In answer to your category question…
      Every category in KDP is a bestselling list on the platform. However they are listed… oddly.

      Let’s say you want in the Legal Thriller category, you need to check the “Legal” box and automatically it goes into the thriller category.

      Techno-Thrillers are the same way. You have to check “Technological” to get into it. Like I said… random.

      If you would like to list the exact categories you want into, just write back and I will try to help.


      1. Sammy

        Thanks for your clarification. It helps me quite a bit. Though I’m still not able to match some KDP Categories with their equivalent Kindle bestseller lists. For instance, which bestseller would Fiction > Science Fiction > Military OR Fiction > Science Fiction > Space Opera in KDP falls in?

        1. Carolyn McCray

          Ah, that question simply takes research. Since I am not in those categories I don’t have an answer off hand, however my guess is if you look up enough indie bestsellers you will find those lists.

          This is the problem with the categories. It is a hunt and search task with a splash of luck needed 🙂

  28. Tanya

    Hey Carolyn, great article! I’m curious as to whether you feel this is all still mostly accurate with all of Amazon’s changes over the years or if there would be a fair bit of info to update on this information? Thanks! 🙂



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