Janey Burton


Editor & Contracts Negotiator

When listing your book on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), it’s important to put some thought and research into choosing your categories and keywords. Choosing a few broad categories and whichever keywords come to mind is likely to bury your book at the bottom of the listings where no one can find it.

You need to be aiming to get your title alongside the books it is most like, because that’s where your readers will be looking. If you succeed, your book will appear in the ‘also-boughts’ section of other successful books’ product pages, which will bring you even more customers.

Your first step is to get familiar with the other books in your categories and come up with a brief list of potential comparable titles. It’s also wise to jot down a few initial ideas about potential categories and keywords to begin your research.

Use an Excel sheet (or other database tool) to record the titles and their categories. You’ll need it in order to narrow down the data you gather to the most promising choices for your book.

Categories and sub-categories

Familiarise yourself with the categories on Amazon by going to the sidebar and clicking through the categories, then the sub-categories, going deeper and deeper. The deeper you go, the fewer books there are likely to be in that category (which makes it easier for a book to dominate that category, but also means readership might be very low).

  • Which categories and sub-categories are your competing titles in? Amazon shows 3-4 categories on the product page in the Product Information section, but for a full list of a book’s categories use the CATFINDER tool on Bklnk.com
  • Repeat for all your competing titles and note down any extra books (and their categories) you come across which seem likely additional candidates. Also, see which books come up when you type your keyword ideas into the search bar, and if they are relevant, add them to your list.
  • At this point, you’ll have an Excel sheet full of category strings. You can get rid of the duplicates and the definitely irrelevant.
  • Once you have a master list of relevant categories, you need to look for sub-categories which have traffic (so you can sell some copies) AND in which you have a chance to rank at the top (so your book has a chance to be a bestseller in that sub-category, but more importantly so it won’t be buried on page 8 of the listings when your readers are looking for a book like yours).

Analyse your categories

If you’re using the CATFINDER tool, the data will include the ABSR (Amazon Best Seller Rank) of each book you search for, and the results page will include links to the best seller lists for the book’s categories.

  • Go to the best seller list for the category you want to analyse.
  • Get the ABSR of the top 5 or 10 titles in that category (again, this can be found on the book’s product page under Product Information). If the rank is top 20, the category is hyper-competitive (very high traffic). If the rank is lower than 1000 it’s a niche (far fewer competitors). The sweet spot is to create a mix of categories that attract traffic, and categories that are more niche (and, if you want to go for bestseller status in a category, one that’s very niche, as it’ll be easy to be a bestseller in that small category without selling lots of copies.)
  • Create a list of 4-10 broad categories and deep-level sub-categories that a) accurately describe your book and b) are a mix of high traffic categories and smaller niche categories.
  • Select two from your list when first uploading your book. Then email Amazon to add the others (by going to KDP support, Book Details, Update Categories and Keywords). Send one email per book and give them the full category path for every category you want to be listed for. If they say no (although this is rare), wait a couple of days and try again.
  • DON’T be tempted to use irrelevant categories or keywords – it will pollute your ‘also-boughts’ and send you the wrong kind of traffic.
  • Keep an eye on your categories and refresh them if necessary. New ones will pop up from time to time, and older ones will become much more competitive as new titles join them.

Choosing keywords

Keywords are words and phrases which you attach to your book, in order to help readers who are searching for a kind of book (rather than a specific book) to find your book. You want to choose keywords that readers who are searching for a book like yours will type into the search bar.

Once you have them, you can use your keywords in the following ways:

  • On the back end: your 7 Kindle keywords (you are asked for these when listing your book on KDP)
  • On the front end: your book title and subtitle (these shouldn’t be the same words as your back end keywords, so that gives you a couple of extra words/phrases)
  • On the front end: your book’s description

You’re looking for words/phrases that:

  • Shoppers actually type into Amazon
  • Shoppers will buy
  • Where the competition isn’t too fierce (for context: the very top keywords such as ‘Thriller’ or ‘Women’s fiction’ will bring up 60,000-80,000 results. Whereas, ‘domestic thriller books’ has 10,000 or so results, and ‘urban fantasy romance with strong heroine’ has closer to 1000 results.)

To get an initial list of candidates, Google ‘[genre] category keywords’ and look for KDP Help pages with a list of relevant keywords.

Also, consider other aspects of your book:

  • Setting (American Midwest, Chinese countryside)
  • Character types (superhero, doctor, single mother/parent)
  • Character roles (female lead, best friend)
  • Plot themes (grief, redemption, addiction, self-discovery)
  • Story tone (suspenseful, feel-good, dark)

And you can use the autofill function on Amazon for ideas:

  • Switch to Incognito mode (so Amazon doesn’t base it on your search history)
  • Select Kindle Store or Books
  • Start typing a word and see what Amazon suggests populating the field with.
  • Once you’ve chosen an interesting word/phrase, see what Amazon produces for the next word e.g. Science Fiction a, Science Fiction b … and so on.
  • To find out exactly how popular your keywords are, you can use a paid tool like Publisher Rocket.
  • To see what shoppers are actually buying (and not just searching for), check the ABSR of the top three books which come up for a particular keyword. Then use the Kindle Calculator (this is a free tool) to see how many books per day the author is selling to get that rank. If the sales are low, it means the keyword isn’t popular or people aren’t buying, so that keyword isn’t going to help you and you should choose another.
  • Use the KDP Help pages for more tips e.g. Keywords to Avoid


Shoppers will click on results 1-5 for a particular keyword, so your book needs to show up there or the keyword won’t create sales.

Look at the following aspects of the first five results and see how your book will compare in the eyes of a potential customer:

  • Cover: can your cover compete?
  • Titles & subtitles: is the keyword in the titles?
  • Reader reviews: how many? are they recent? Verified or not? Rating? Can you get more and/or better reviews than them?
  • Book description: is it well-written? Well-presented and structured?
  • Age: newer books are still benefiting from Amazon pushing them forward. If the book is old but still a bestseller, it’s going to be difficult to top that.
  • Author popularity: are they famous? Go to their Amazon Author Page and check their rank. Check their social media accounts and see if they’ve lots of followers.

Using all the information you’ve gathered, carefully filter down your options – remembering to keep them relevant to your book, as well as choosing keywords with traffic and sales – until you’ve selected the most promising options for your 7 keywords and the additional ones you will use in your book description or subtitle. Again, keep an eye on them and refresh if necessary, as keywords fall in and out of fashion with readers.

Further Reading and resources

KDP Help



This summary of best practice methods for choosing your book’s categories and keywords is only available to subscribers to my newsletter, The Inbox Edition. If there’s a topic you’d like me to add to the subscriber exclusive library, feel free to email me.