ant a number one bestselling book? Instead of thinking big, an even better idea is to think small. Very small.
In the entertainment business, it’s called niche. On Amazon, this magical world is simply called categories. And using the right one may help you climb the charts to number one.
Marketing has changed over the past twenty years, along with ways to reach an audience. And the savvy self-publisher can take advantage of these changes.
This article focuses on how to use niche categories and choose them correctly, when you publish your book through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP program. However, you can use the concepts in this article for your marketing or if you list your book on Amazon or other major book sellers, published in a different way than through KDP. Making sure readers know exactly what category your book falls into is helpful in today’s publishing world. Your publisher can place your book in a niche category, such as Fiction > Romance > Paranormal > Vampires, too, when he or she lists it to be sold online. You can also post this category information on your website and social media accounts. So even if you don't plan to use KDP for your self-publishing needs, make sure you take notes while reading this article and think about which niche category your work falls into.
The old way of thinking about marketing used to be: put your book out to the biggest market possible. The same went for movies. And TV series. The idea was to cast the widest net possible and hope to catch the most people.
And then something magical happened in the early 2000s—in the entertainment business, for example, producers, studios, and screenwriters noticed that the biggest successes were not in traditional mainstream releases. The biggest successes were smaller niche markets. (Just think, superhero movies used to be a niche!) And these niche markets already had a built-in and engaged fan base. And these fired-up fans would not only support a product, but also come back again and again for more.
As for publishing, the same type of movement is occurring. It’s a very exciting time right now because of such vastness of choice in the marketplace. Niche is the word—to quote Grease. And this is true especially for self-publishers who are unconstrained by marketing departments and the need to appeal to “everyone.”
Traditional publishing certainly has genres, whether it be romance, mystery, or thriller. But what if there was a way to appeal to an even more specific subset of readers looking for exactly what you write?
As a general rule, marketing guru Seth Godin suggests finding what he calls the “minimum viable audience,” and then doubling down on selling right to them. It’s a theory that, when applied to self-publishing, can help an author find a devoted fan base.
And it definitely worked for me.
Before I undertook my successful adventure in self-publishing, I was a TV writer for many years and then finally wrote a thriller under a pen name. My goal with my book was to create a mainstream, female-centered, softer, warmer, Elmore Leonard-type, page-turning thriller. I had a wonderful book agent who sent the finished manuscript out to all the top editors in New York and London. The responses were incredibly kind and enthusiastic—but rejections nonetheless. And although they were expressing keen interest in publishing the book, the line we kept getting was something about the marketing department. And I was like, “Ohhhhh...”
In my quest to create a very mainstream thriller, the fact that my lead character—a clever, beautiful Beverly Hills police detective who gets into a Die Hard situation at a glamorous Hollywood award show—happened to be gay, was, to publishers, a marketing dilemma. Not due to homophobia (I would hope!), but because to them, this book straddled genres.
So I put my mainstream publishing quest aside for a short time while I worked on a TV show. About a year later, I decided to just venture into the exciting world of self-publishing. And I thought, Hmmmm... what if I used my rejection letters as my inspiration? Had I been so eager to fit into a mainstream world that I was overlooking a great audience? Possibly.
So when it came time to choose my Amazon categories, instead of just clicking the “General Fiction, Thriller” box, I also chose the category “Lesbian Fiction.”
From that choice, from that opening up of my mind to the possibility of big success by going smaller and appealing to those whom the lead character might most resonate, my thriller, This is Devin Jones, became an international bestseller. It went to number one on Amazon in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. It sold beyond my wildest dreams. And it sold to incredibly engaged, incredibly enthusiastic readers, who knew their stuff and loved their genre.
“The book has since had well over two million page reads and much to my shock, sold thousands of copies. It was even a BookBub pick and sold almost a thousand copies in a single day.”
I remember coming out of a TV meeting one afternoon and checking my phone to see the Amazon stats for my book, and there were 30,000 page reads that morning alone! The book has since had well over two million page reads and much to my shock, sold thousands of copies. It was even a BookBub pick and sold almost a thousand copies in a single day. And I’ve recently signed an option to have the book made into a film with a great company in L.A.
All because I got over my old dream of: Be an important writer! And I went for a new dream of: Touch people’s hearts who most want your book.
I clicked a specific box and found an audience.
So the key in this day and age is niche. And on Amazon, that’s found in the categories, specifically subgenre categories.
How do you get started with Amazon categories?
Start by browsing. Find other books like yours. Or if you don’t have a book finished, just have fun and scroll through listings, looking at Amazon books in the genre you might be interested in writing. And once you’ve landed on a book, glance down the product page and see what category the book is in. Because what you think might be a bestseller in Fiction>Romance may actually have that #1 bestseller badge in the subgenre category of Romance>Paranormal>Vampires.
There are two main advantages to going small in categories on Amazon. The first, as I mentioned, is you will be writing for people who are specifically looking for what you’re putting out and be thrilled to find you and your books! But the other advantage in going small is that these are the roads less traveled. In a world with so many books released each day, a lot of authors don’t know about the subgenre categories, so there’s less competition in the category.
Say, for example, you’ve written a travel book. You’re ready with your own, Eat, Pray, Love. The divorce is done; you hit the road; you saw the world, ate good food, wrote your masterpiece; and it’s time to put your book out. It might become lost in the thousands of books in Amazon’s general travel category, so try something like this less-crowded category: Travel>Specialty Travel>Solo Travel for an easier way to be found by new readers. And then watch your work potentially climb the charts.
Here is a link to a page where Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing provides all kinds of “secret categories.”
One important thing Amazon needs is for you to include keywords in your product description (or your title even). These are descriptive words that are appropriate to the genre that people might enter in a search (and must match the genre of your book). For example, for the category Mystery>Thriller & Suspense Characters>Amateur Sleuth, the keyword Amazon needs you to put in your product description is “amateur.”
Choosing keywords can be as simple as thinking of what someone would type into a search that would lead them to your book. For This is Devin Jones, my Amazon page product description definitely evolved, as I realized how helpful including these words were! The first description I put up was the kind of thing you would find on the back page of any novel. But I soon realized, Amazon has an algorithm, unlike a bookstore; so when you include keywords, they help point not only the reader to your book, but also Amazon’s algorithm towards your reader.
So for mine, I included words like “lesbian fiction,” “thriller,” and “romance” all on the product page. Another example of using these keywords to your advantage would be: say you’re writing a gripping love story set during the American Revolution. Using a phrase like, “a page-turning historical romance,” in your product description would help tell Amazon whom to point towards your book.
Don’t worry if you already have books on Amazon and haven’t used the niche category strategy. Here’s a super quick, step-by-step “how to” for unlocking the category of your dreams, if your book is already listed on Amazon:
- Sign in to your author account on KDP.
- Click on the Help/Contact button.
- Where it says, “Select an issue,” choose “My Books.”
- Under “Select Details,” choose “Update information about a book.”
- Choose “Select Categories.”
- Then choose: “I want to update my book’s category.”
- Enter your phone or email for them to contact you. (I decided to use email for this.)
- In an email, after the friendly greeting, type your name, book title, ASIN number, and the category you want your book to be added to. (Remember to include the entire string of the category, i.e., Fiction>Romance>Historical>United States.)
And you’re done!
So next time you have a self-publishing meeting with your marketing department (you!), mention the fact that the way to big success with your book may be by thinking small. Very small.
Jane Ford has created and executive produced five series for network television in Canada and the US, most recently for NBC. She is also the author of two #1 bestsellers, This is Devin Jones (under her thriller pen name Kristen Conrad) and a book of literary fiction, This Will Be.