Sunday, August 28, 2011

Want to Sell Books on Kindle? Keywords are your friends!

Whenever another Kindle author asks how they can amp up sales, I always say (or email), "Have you thought about changing your Keywords?" And then, because I'm so enthused about the power of Keywords, I tend to expound on the subject, suggesting words or phrases they can use and urging them to do it right away.

They almost never follow my advice. I'm not sure why. Adding or changing Keywords is easy, takes only minutes to do, and can potentially make a huge difference in the number of readers who come across your book. It seems like a no-brainer to me, but what can I say? I have three kids. I'm used to people not listening to me.

The topic came up again recently when I had an email exchange with another author, Karen Dionne, and I realized that maybe I hadn't done a very good job explaining about keywords in the past.

I received an email from Ms. Dionne announcing that her internationally published thriller, Freezing Point, was available on Kindle for $0.99. Even though I'd already read it in paperback, I bought it for Kindle because--hey, it's 99 cents! Plus, I always like to support a fellow author.

Then next thing I did, nosy person that I am, was to find out what Keywords she'd chosen.

Keywords are entered when the book is first uploaded to Kindle. Up to two Categories can be picked from a predesignated list. Keywords of the authors choosing are entered at the same time.

This part of the process is completely optional and some authors gloss right over this step, thinking it doesn't make much of a difference. Other authors pick Keywords that are specific to their book--things like character names or the fictional town where the novel takes place. To me, these authors are missing the point.

Karen actually had a pretty good list, but I thought I'd offer some suggestions on how she could improve it. I emailed to ask if she wanted some buttinsky advice offered in the spirit of being helpful, and smart woman that she is, she welcomed my thoughts.

In my email to Karen I said: One of my strategies for getting visibility for books on Kindle involves making full use of the allowable Keywords and Categories that Amazon has you enter when you first upload the book. You can change them after the fact at any time. I haven't uploaded a book recently, but the last I knew, each book was allowed two categories and twenty (edited to correct number--seven) keywords.

The reason Keywords and Categories are so crucial is that this is how people who are looking for your type of book find yours when they enter a search word or phrase. The idea is to use keywords that people are likely to use, but not such common keywords that everyone is using them, because you want your book to show up within the first few pages of results.

Make sure you pick two categories. It ups your chances of getting on more lists as the book sales start to pick up. Take care with your seven chosen keywords. (This is where I gave Karen specific advice) You might want to correct the spelling of Antarctica--unlike Google, the Amazon search engine is non-forgiving of typos. Also, you can take out your own name, since the book will automatically come up when people search for your name. That's a slot that could be used for another search word. Thriller is good. Eco-thriller is even better, because there are likely to be fewer results for that term. I'd also suggest keywords like: cheap kindle, new release, suspense, action adventure, suspense thriller, scientific thriller, disaster movie, etc. and so on.


I then mentioned that this would make a great blog post, but that she shouldn't worry that I would put her on the spot by using her name.

To backtrack a bit, you should know that Karen has a history of being generous to other writers. She is the cofounder of the online writers community Backspace, and organizes the Backspace Writers Conferences held in New York City every year. Knowing this, I wasn't surprised when she responded that she had no problem with me using Freezing Point as an example on my blog.

She also noted that it took several readings of my email to see exactly what I was talking about, because at first she had looked at the wrong place on the Amazon page and thought I was referring to this:

This is a common misunderstanding. These are tags. Tags are added after the book page has been created. Anyone can add tags and anyone can check existing tags if they agree they are relevant to the book. A lot of writers spend a lot of time adding tags, and getting other people to check the boxes next to their tags. Tags, schmags, that's what I say. I never bothered with them, and as far as I can tell, they don't have much bearing on readers finding books. But I could be wrong. As I said, I have three kids and they can tell you that I'm wrong on a regular basis. :-)

If you're a Kindle author, I hope you find this information helpful. Go forth and reassess your keywords. You never know, there may be room for improvement.



Edited to add: I've had a few people ask exactly how you would change the keywords on an existing Kindle book. I noticed the question also came up on Karen Dionne's Facebook page and author Steve Lehto answered it so well, I'm going to borrow his response:

 Steve Lehto - Go into the Kindle account and then hit EDIT on each book. The keywords are on the first of the two pages that contain the details for the book in the Kindle system.

Thanks, Steve! You said it more succinctly than I could have.


(If you found this post helpful, please consider sampling/buying one of my books. Maybe this one? EDGEWOOD Just a suggestion. Thanks! :-)




Tim McGregor said...

Karen, I love your blog. I'm always learning something new.

Thanks for being so generous with the advice.


Karen McQuestion said...

Tim, thanks for letting me know this was useful. I come from a family of teachers and I guess some of it rubbed off on me.

(Not enough to want to face a classroom full of grade schoolers every day though. :) My blog is a safer, less stressful place to impart information.)

Karen Dionne said...

Karen's insight regarding the importance of Amazon Keywords was certainly an eye-opener to me.

Thanks, Karen, for taking the time and the initiative to help this e-publishing newbie!

Karen McQuestion said...

Karen, it was my pleasure!

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Thanks, Karen. I'm going to go check my keywords now. I have not thought about them in quite awhile.

Barbara Sissel said...

I second what Tim said. I read your blog and learn something new every time. My understanding of this was like looking at a bowl full of alphabet soup, but now I get it and it's a good thing too as I am poised on the threshold of e-pubbing my second novel! Plus I get a dose of your humor. My kids almost never take my advice either!

Michelle Muto said...

Thanks, Karen! I'm thankful of your post for another reason - when I went to look for Look for Similar Items By Subject, I didn't find any for my book, despite that I have keywords.
This could explain the sudden drop in sales. I've notified Amazon. Thanks! Who knows how long it would have taken me to figure this out on my own?

PV Lundqvist said...

Great ideas!

I've been experimenting with tags, keywords, and categories like a mad scientist. I believe they can really help, but it is hard to compare different choices because of so many variables.

I will say that Amazon keywords are now limited to seven. I know, right?

It's tough to find out keyword popularity (at least I don't know how) but tags can be found here:

Katherine Owen said...

Thank you so much! I need to revisit my novel listings (key words) to ensure it's relevant. Thanks for being so generous with the advice.

Karen McQuestion said...

Karen Wojcik Berner, thanks for leaving a comment. I think it's a good idea to visit your Amazon page from time to time and decide if everything is working. The joy of epublishing is that you can make changes at any time, which reminds me--I love your new cover.

Barbara, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one whose kids don't appreciate their wisdom. I have all the answers, but they want to do things their way...

Michelle, that could absolutely explain a drop in sales. I'm glad you noticed that.

PV Lundqvist, thanks so much for weighing in. I'll change the blog post to the current number of SEVEN allowed keywords (liked it much better when it was twenty, but oh well), and I'll check out your link about the tags.

Katherine--you are very welcome!

Sheri L. Swift said...

Thanks Karen, always appreciate you going on before us & helping the *underlings* Lol! God bless! ; )

Karen McQuestion said...

Thanks, Sheri. I do what I can.

Sean McCartney said...

Great advice Karen. Thanks again for all of the great material for those of us on the bottom of the heap looking to move up.


Bill B said...

Helpful info again, Karen. A friend I hike with who is a developer at Amazon had some suggestions, but your [legitimate] advice is more appropriate!

Thanks again for taking the time to pass along such useful info!

Moses Siregar III said...

Hi Karen (and Michelle),

I think it might take a while for your keywords to show up. My new book (released July 31st) still doesn't show the keywords on the product page. I checked a couple more new releases and none of them show this info.

Thanks for this, Karen! Great info.

Libby Hellmann said...

Duh... how could I have been so myopic? Thanks, Karen. I'm redoing ALL my category tags. Really helpful. said...

I know my keywords probably need assessed, but I have such a hard time of thinking what to use. I'm going to look at them again. I know they are super important. I just hope I'm using ones that are helping me. Good Post.

Karen McQuestion said...

Sean, Thank you, but I'm not so sure this blog post will be all that helpful in your case. I've learned marketing tips from you!

Bill, I'm so glad to hear I'm legit (or at least my advice is)! I've been waiting.

Moses, that's a long time to wait for keywords. Things sure have changed since the last time I uploaded a book. Thanks for letting us know how things stand now.

Libby, don't be too hard on yourself. There's no instruction manual for this thing, so really, how's a person supposed to know? It will be interesting to see if you notice a bump in sales after the change.

tmsouders, thanks for letting me know you thought this was good post. I appreciate it.

Lorhainne Eckhart said...


This is very kind of you to provide this information to us authors, and I too believe it's important to share knowledge, pass it on. I didn't really understand keywords. Thanks for explaining.

Colleen Gleason said...

Hi Karen:

This is all great info. Thanks.

I just went to Amazon to take a look at my keywords, and lo and behold, there's a new notice on the editing page for each book.

First, you can no longer include words that aren't in the title (there goes the suggestion to add "A Romantic Comedy" or "An Electrifying Thriller")--there's a new notice that indicates such.

Also, as you've already noted, there are only seven keywords allowed now. (Fortunately, the keyword can be a string of words).

I have more than seven keywords listed on the book that I went in to check...and I didn't make any edits to it because I didn't want to lose them. :-)

They are still showing, all of them, on the book's Amazon page right now. So hopefully, they'll stay until such a time as I have to go in and edit something.

Just wanted to give you an FYI. :-)

Nancy Lynn Jarvis said...

Hi Karen,
What a helpful blog. I'm still mystified about keywords and tags after four books, but I'm printing out your blog and going to take a look at improving my "findability" today.

Karen McQuestion said...

Lorhainne,I agree that it's important to share information and I'm always happy to do so. I love to see other indie authors do well.

Colleen, I'm glad you went to the trouble to explain the current situation, esp. that you can no longer enter words not in the title. Why not, I wonder? Regardless, I'll take that part out of my blog post so I don't confuse anyone.

Hopefully what you already have will be grandfathered in, so to speak.

Nancy Lynn, I like the word "findability." I hope readers are led right to your books!

Debra C. Thomas said...

Thanks, Karen, for the useful information. I just have one question: how do I add that "qualifier" to my title? Do I need to list is as a "series," since it says not to add anything but the title itself in the title line?

Now, off to think some more about keywords ....

Karen McQuestion said...

Hi Debra! I just found out that Amazon is no longer allowing authors to add additional words after the title. I actually was told this by Colleen in the comments (Thanks Colleen!) So, that's no longer an option. I'm sorry for the confusion.

Stephen T. Harper said...

Very useful post again, Karen! Thank you. I went back and checked - I had a few categories, but I don't think I had put enough thought into them while uploading the book. Definitely a good idea to go back and adjust them.

Peg Brantley said...

Karen, I reposted a link to this blog post through Murder Must Advertise, and there seems to be some confusion between keywords and tags.

Can you be a little more detailed about the difference between the two?

Karen McQuestion said...

Sure Peg, I'd be happy to.

First of all, I have to say that the keywords I'm referring to are for those books that are uploaded to Kindle by the author (ie self-published works). Traditional publishers also use keywords and categories, but the set-up is different for them.

So, for those indie (self-pubbed) authors:

Besides the fact that keywords and tags are listed on different places on the book page as evidenced by the screen shots in my blog post--

Keywords are put into the system when the book is uploaded, and can only be changed by the person who uploaded the book.

Keywords are a search optimization tool for readers searching for a particular type of book. For example, when I uploaded my book, Easily Amused, a light-hearted chick lit type book I used keywords like: romantic comedy, chick lit, women's fiction, happily ever after, happy ending, love story, humorous women's fiction etc. If anyone had searched any of those terms on Kindle, my book came up. If a thousand authors had chosen romantic comedy, my book would have come up last since I was a newbie with no sales.

Tags are added after the page is created. Anyone can add a tag. Once the tags are in place, anyone can check the box next to the tag if they agree the tag is relevant to the book. As far as I can tell, tags don't do much in regard to leading readers to your book. I think that once readers are on your page, they can look at the tags and see how other readers have classified the book.

Hope that helps!

Karen McQuestion said...

Stephen--sorry I missed your comment!

I didn't put much thought into my keywords initially either. There's so much to think of at first, between the cover and formatting and editing etc., that it's easy to miss. The good thing is that you can always make changes after the fact.

Nancy Lauzon said...


Many thanks for such an informative post. I really appreciate the advice, you rock!


Maryann Miller said...

This was so helpful. I am still trying to find my way through all these keywords and tags and other things on the Amazon book page. I had been focusing too much on the tags and not enough on the keywords. Will go check that for my books now.

Jools said...

Thanks, Karen!
This is really helpful and I'm planning on revisitng my keywords choices this weekend...
And, personally, I'm sure glad you skipped the school teacher scene and opted to teach from your blog!Do you think you'll ever put all these fabulous blog posts together for a book? Just wondering...
Thanks again :)
Jools Sinclair

Foodie Fictionista said...

Dear little McQuestions,

Listen to your mother:she's brilliant!

Laura Freed

Cindy Sample said...

Karen, this is such a fascinating discussion. I'm with a traditional indie publisher so they control the keywords. My first book is listed under mysteries and thrillers and that's it. Can they add keywords such as humorous mystery or romantic comedy? The comments about recent Amazon changes made me wonder if that was still an option. Thanks for sharing your valuable advice with all of us.

Karen McQuestion said...

Thanks, Nancy! Glad to share.

Maryann, I hear people talk about tags all the time. Personally, I think keywords make more of a difference.

Jools, you're the second person who's suggested I put my info in a book. The problem is that everything changes so fast that I'd have to keep updating it. Plus, I just like writing fiction better. :)

Laura, I keep telling them that! Thanks for backing me up.

Cindy, to me, it sounds like they could add the terms you mentioned, but you'd have to check with them to know for sure. They might have a different arrangement with Amazon.

Shayne Parkinson said...

Thanks for sharing this great advice, Karen! I haven't really bothered about tags, so it was good to have my inaction affirmed. :-) But I do appear fairly high up in searches involving New Zealand, thanks to those handy little keywords.

Karen McQuestion said...

Hi Shayne. I was glad to affirm your inaction! I see that you write historical fiction set in New Zealand. Very cool!

ToniD said...

Just found my way to this blog and I'm bookmarking it! Thanks for the spot-on advice.

One question, Ms. McQuestion:
You mention that Karen Dionne used the key word eco-thriller. (her book sounds like my cup of tea--I'll be getting it)

I've given my book BADWATER the same key word, only I didn't use the hypen. So, would someone searching for eco-thrillers also finds books listed as ecothrillers?

Karen McQuestion said...

ToniD, you stumped me. I honestly don't know if the search is so sensitive that it would pick up on a hyphen. If you figure it out feel free to let me know!

ToniD said...

Thanks Karen.

I'll see if I can come up with an experiment to figure it out.

Lisa said...

Hi Karen,
I just wanted to let you know that I followed your advice many, many months ago when Amazon still allowed 20 keywords and it has worked wonders! You are my Yoda master and I bow to your greatness. =)

Anonymous said...

Thankyou thankyou thankyou - after wondering about keywords I did a google search using keywords 'selling kindle ebooks keywords categories' and for once, was lucky enough to find exactly what I wanted first time round (unlike other times when I have trawled the net for hours).

Thankyou for giving up your time to share this was us.

Karen McQuestion said...

Thank you, Anon, for letting me know this was helpful!

Ann Whitefield said...

Hi Tim,

Thoughts are always helpful. You have helped me.


Sell on Amazon

Daring of Dublin at your service said...

Karen, I have spent less than a minute in your 'company', but I betcha that your children understand exactly what you are telling, or explaining to them. It's so refreshing to learn from an ordered mind. Thanks you.

(And with "Fearless Finn" my Action-packed adventure novel, due on Kindle in May, I'm scribbling down Amazon Keywords in my sleep).

Terry Jones said...

Hey Karen
Thanks for the info - great blog.
I promise I will buy one of your books soon.
If you can write a great blog then your books must be awesome as well.

I'm a first time author and not an IT expert either, so it's all - 'learn, learn, learn'.
Hope to upload my very First book soon-
'Food, Diet and Health Crisis-Your Only Way Out"
All excited - like a teen at a prom.
Keep up the good work.


peluang usaha kecil sampingan said...

Karen's insight regarding the importance of Amazon Keywords was certainly an eye-opener to me.

Thanks, Karen, for taking the time and the initiative to help this e-publishing