Study Your Competition

Here’s an undeniable fact: if your book is placed in the wrong category, it’s not going to sell. I think most authors know this, but judging from what I see on Amazon, some of them may not understand how to use categories to help boost their book rankings on Amazon. Or they go about it all wrong.  

For instance, some people, in an attempt to get the bestselling status on their book, select an obscure category, thinking that since there aren’t many books in the category, it will quickly rise to the top. And while that may be true for a very short amount of time, those books quickly fall into the Netherlands on Amazon’s rankings. Why? Those categories are obscure because not many people browse them to find books. And if your book has a bestseller status bar next to it but no one sees it, what good does it do?

A better strategy is to first figure out which categories your book belongs in, and then select the one you can rank the best in. This will give you a huge advantage over most authors on Amazon because if your book ranks well in the right category, it can have an enormous effect on your sales. And get this—even if your sales rank is lower than the competition, you can still beat them to bestseller rank if you choose your categories correctly.  

What’s more, if your book is in the top ten of the categories list, it will show up in other places as well because Amazon recognizes its worth and puts it in front of customers. Your book will be seen in the recommended list, most wish for, top rated and hot new releases list. All with no marketing effort from you! And if you make number one in the category, you will not only be able to call your book a bestseller, but Amazon will promote it outside of the site, too.

Obviously, the stakes are pretty high when it comes to choosing the correct categories for your book. But there are more than 13,000 categories on Amazon—how in the world do you choose the right ones? It’s actually not as difficult as it sounds. In fact, here’s a simple 3-step plan that works every time.

Step One: Create a List of Possible Categories

Before you can select your categories, you need to understand your options. Rather than starting with the options Amazon gives you in the set up page, you’ll have to do a little detective work. That’s because Amazon only lists the most general categories on the setup page, and in order to find the perfect category for your book, you’ll need to dig a little deeper. (And don’t worry, I’ll explain in a minute how to get your book into the unlisted categories.)

Your first step in the process is to type in your most relevant keyword into the Amazon search engine, and using the down arrow to the left of the search bar, select “kindle store.” Then take a look at your competitors. For example, when choosing the categories for this book, I typed in “publish a book,” and found that there are a little over 3,600 results. Now some of those results are books that were published in the past and aren’t relevant anymore, while some of the results aren’t really relevant, but must use the appropriate keywords in their description and set up page.

Next, I selected the top ten relevant books and looked at each of the categories they are listed in. I came up with this list of the most relevant categories. (I wanted to contact a few of the authors and ask what the heck they were thinking when they listed their book in certain categories. For instance, I saw one “how to publish” book listed in business life>mentoring and coaching.) This just goes to show you how important categories are, and how, if you do it right, you’ll be ahead of the pack with your book.

Step Two: Find a Low Ranking Category and a High Ranking One

Next, for each of the categories you’ve identified, you’ll need to do some research to determine what ranking your book will have to achieve in order to a) make it to the number one spot, and b) make it to the top ten in the category. Do this by looking at the sales rank for the book in the number one spot, as well as the book in the number ten spot. Make notes as you go along for each category.

Now it’s time to select the two categories where you’ll list your book. You may be tempted to choose the two categories where it’s easiest to rank the highest, but don’t. Instead, you should choose one where you’ll be able to rank high without achieving a super low sales rank and another where you need a better sales rank to reach at least the number ten spot. Sound counterintuitive? Let me explain.

Every book on Amazon has a sales cycle. When you first release a book, provided that you plan your launch right, you should see some pretty good sales. In fact, if you’ve written a good book and promote it correctly, you should be able to get to at least the number ten spot in the most difficult category. For instance, when this book is released, I fully expect to reach at least number ten for the Kindle eBooks>Writing, Research & Publishing Guides>Publishing & Books>Authorship category, which means I’ll have to hit about a 20,000 sales rank.

But every book, including this book, will begin to lose sales at about three months. Now, you can prop up those sales by running the occasional promotion, but once your sales numbers start slipping, it will be more difficult to rank well in that difficult category. But if you’ve selected another category that’s easier to rank in, it will help your book continue to sell because you’ll still have that all important visibility. That’s why I chose Kindle eBooks>Reference>Writing, Research & Publishing Guides>Nonfiction for my second category—I only need a sales ranking of 97,000 to be a bestseller in it. (Keep in mind that these numbers change all the time, so don’t rely on these figures for your categories.)

Step Three: Ask to be Put in the Category

As you’ve probably figured out by now, most of the categories you want to be in aren’t in the list that Amazon provides you when you set up your book. That’s okay because there’s a way to get it done.  

First of all, when you set up your book, if the categories that you want aren’t shown in the list, you should select “Non-classifiable” as your category. I spoke to a rep with KDP and she told me that although this step isn’t necessary, it simplifies the process and makes it easier for them to add the desired categories.

Next, go to the “Selecting Browse Categories” page on KDP, and look to see if your category is listed there. If so, that means Amazon requires that you use specific keywords in the seven keywords you are asked to select during the setup process. It also makes sense to use the keyword in your title (if it sounds natural), and in your description. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction titles.

After you’ve added the required keywords, if necessary, go to Author Central and click on the “Contact Us” page. There, you’ll be given the choice to either send them a request via email or initiate a phone call with them. Choose one (either is fine), and ask them to put your book in the category you desire. I’ve had this take anywhere from 24 hours to 2 weeks, so be sure to plan ahead and get it done before your book is released.

When to Change Categories

No matter how well you select your categories, chances are that sometime after you publish your book, you’ll feel the need to change them. It might be because your sales have slipped and you want a less competitive category, or just the opposite. Your book may be selling so well, you want to put it in a more visible category to get even more sales. Either way, it’s good to know that you can change your book’s categories any time you want. You should go through the same process listed above to change them, and, since you now understand the process, you could also head on over to TCK Publishing and make use of two great lists on their site. The first is a list of the 100 most competitive categories on Amazon, and the second is a list of the 100 least competitive categories on the site. Pretty useful stuff, huh?

Remember, the categories you select can make the difference in whether or not your book sells. Put a lot of thought and research into this process, and then stay on top of it. If you see that the categories you selected aren’t working for your book, change them!

Okay, let’s move on to another vital area in the sales aspect of your book: writing a book description that makes people push the buy button.

Check the top and bottom reviews on Amazon to discover what people want and don’t want from your book in the category you are writing for.

A lot of people are so focused on their books that they, most times, forget that there are various books that had been written in their genre. It is very important for you to allow such genre take over the meter of your movement while writing too. Search out the mistakes that the readers, your potential readers, might have seen in the other works. You wouldn’t want them to place your book under the same weight of bad reviews some people have gotten. Here, I’m talking about the ones that get low ratings. Be careful not to be too strict, making your work devoid of creativity, but you should also look out for things that will make the readers dump the book and wish they had not wasted their time and money on getting such a book.

How do you do it?

This next step will enlighten you on how you should study the way your competitors have successfully written to the satisfaction of the readers.

Beginners – As a first-time writer, research other successful books in your genre and category via Amazon. There are a lot of best sellers that you will need to study and figure out the pattern they use. Success always leaves clues.  

The next step after getting their books would be to see how they wrote their book synopsis, how they created their book covers- the colors, the naming style, the fonts, etc. I am not saying completely copy what they are doing but use the patterns to create your own uniqueness. There is nothing new under the sun so don’t get stuck trying to be different or “Think outside the Box.” Outside the Box for a new author usually means you will more than likely be out of sales outside of your circle of friends and family.

Then, you should proceed to pay close attention to their marketing strategy. Whatever they are doing is obviously working. Please stay away from mirroring the “Household” names because the numbers can be misleading since people could be buying because of the brand and not the book. Choose a couple of the books featured on the first page of Amazon (Usually the top 20 in your category) that are most like yours. Check out sales ranking, reviews, and keywords they use in their title and book description. You too can learn from them by studying them and doing some things they have done to succeed in the sale of their books.  

Advanced – Search via keyword search Amazon or Google  

This aspect is for the advanced writers. A way forward for you is to ensure that you search for Keywords as regarding what you want to talk about online. The presence of those keywords will energize your work and make it robust for people to gain a lot from it.

Searching for keywords is very simple, all you have to do is search for popular keywords on Google, Yahoo, and most importantly Amazon. When the result of the search appears, you can then pick your choices of words from the keywords. Afterward, proceed to use the available keywords to write your synopsis and/or title. Here is an example of how to do a keyword search on Amazon.  

  1. Go to Amazon.com and select kindle store from the drop-down menu.  
  2. Start typing at least one of the keywords that you are considering using as a title or subtitle.
  3. Pay attention and take notes on the keywords and phrases that Amazon starts to auto-suggest.

What this means is whatever phrases Amazon automatically suggests means that they are the top searches on Amazon for that keyword. You can use that to your advantage by taking that information to formulate a title. By doing this you at least know that your book will show up in searches giving you a chance to sell your book.  

That’s just the beginning of your Amazon sales funnel. Yes you can look at this as a 3-Step sales funnel. I like that. That came to me as I was writing, and I am wondering why I didn’t think of that while outlining the book.  

Step one – Choose the correct keyword to show up in searches.  

Step two – Entice them to click with an eye-catching cover design.  

Step three – Hit them with a shot of the bumble bee with a book description that sells. At least 7-10 positive reviews is also important to have.

Everything we have covered thus far has been the manual and most time-consuming way of doing things. It is very effective, and you learn a lot during the process but who has the time or patience to do all those things? You didn’t have to answer that by the way. For that reason, I will give you what Staples calls the “Easy Button.” At the end of each phase, there will a section called the “Easy Button.” It will give you tools or software that does all the work for your lazy behind. I am sorry I meant to say with your productive self. Without further ado. I present the Easy Button.

Easy Button  

1. KDP rocket–shows you the exact book ideas that will make you money on Amazon. Visit kindlepreneur.com for in-depth content if it fits what we are doing.  

2. Kindle Spy – helps you research any niche for competition, probability, and popularity

This brings us to the end of Phase 1 of this book series. By now you should be equipped enough to:

  • Research and Identify your target market
  • Choose the right category to place your book in
  • Provide valuable content for hungry readers within your genres

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