Amazon Makes Huge Change to KDP Book Categories
If you’re a self-published author relying on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform, you need to be aware of a recent change that can significantly impact your book’s visibility. The publishing giant has revised its category selection process, limiting authors to just three KDP book categories instead of the previous ten. While this simplifies the process and addresses abuse, it also raises concerns about your book getting lost among the vast sea of titles.
As Ginger describes in his analysis below, there are a variety of implications to these changes and potential ways you may be impacted. Authors that don’t take action soon may find their existing books recategorized automatically, and leaving something that crucial to an algorithm or poorly trained rep is unlikely to do your career any favors. By proactively fixing them yourself, you’ll ensure you are placed in the best categories possible for your book, leading to maximum discoverability and giving you the best chance of success.
In June, Amazon quietly rolled out a huge change to the way self-published authors choose and select the categories they want their books to be listed in.
Since its inception, Kindle Direct Publishing has allowed self-published authors to select two general categories for their books to appear in – largely the “big buckets” like romance, thriller, and suspense. These are categories described as BISAC categories (which stands for Book Industry Standards And Communications) and are the globally accepted categories used by booksellers worldwide to categorize their books.
Amazon, however, adopted a much more comprehensive list of KDP book categories, and for years have secretly let authors actually choose up to ten of these categories for their books to appear in – something of a “cheat code” which allowed clever writers the opportunity to pick and choose categories that were easier to score a high rank in. We’ve written a number of blog posts about that here.
This used to be one of the most powerful and effective ways to get your book noticed without having to spend a large amount of money on advertising. While it’s pretty difficult to get your book ranked in the Top 100 sellers for a BISAC category like Romance (around 3,000 sales in a single day) it was actually pretty achievable to get your book ranked in a more obscure Amazon-only category (like Asian Myth & Legend, which required just 210 daily sales to earn the coveted #1 Best Seller flair which would appear wherever your book was displayed.)
In fact, a whole industry practically popped up around this, with courses and tools designed to help authors figure out which KDP book categories were “hottest” and then a process for asking Amazon to add books to those particular categories.
Dave Chesson, founder of Kindlepreneur and creator of Publisher Rocket, is one of the most knowledgeable experts on the subject (we even interviewed him about it here) and in a recent email to his subscribers, he warned everyone about the new change which is neatly summed up by the line: “You now only get three chances to make an impact.”
What do these changes mean to you?
The first and most fundamental difference this is going to make for your self-publishing process is simplicity. Instead of selecting two BISAC categories and then having to email Amazon directly to get them to add or change up to 10 Amazon-specific categories, now you directly choose from those more extended KDP book categories right there on the KDP Dashboard, when you’re adding or editing your book details.
But simple doesn’t always mean better, does it?
The second difference is the more impactful one, and that is that you can now only be listed in three categories, as opposed to ten, and that fills a lot of us authors with concern that our books will disappear among all the millions of other titles on Amazon vying for ranking positions in those same categories.
However, that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Earlier, I mentioned above how a book in the Asian Myth & Legend category would only need 210 daily sales to earn a #1 spot – and score the coveted #1 Best Seller ribbon that revs up your Click-Through-Rate in advertising and marketing.
Until recently, the book that held that spot was none other than The Princess Bride, William Goldman’s iconic fantasy adventure that inspired not just a timeless movie starring Fred Savage and Peter Falk, but also a “family friendly” cut of Deadpool 2 called Once Upon a Deadpool that stared Fred Savage as well.
Great book. Great movies. But nothing to do with Asian Myth & Legend.
The downside of Amazon’s previous 10-category system is that a not-insignificant number of authors and publishers literally tried to “game” the system by selecting inappropriate categories for their books simply because they knew they’d be able to rank higher in those categories than the appropriate ones. With so many categories available, this was an unpoliceable system for Amazon and I believe preventing it is one of the main reasons for this new shift to three categories.
In fact, as part of this change, Amazon have even added a disclaimer to their Help topic on this subject which reads: “We reserve the right to change the categories of a book at any time to ensure a positive customer experience. The categories you add and the categories shown online may not always match. Your book may be added to additional or different categories to improve the customer experience.”
So, yes, while this change does make an impact to authors who’ve deliberately tried to maximize the number of categories their books are featured in, the ones who’ll be hurt by it most are going to be the authors who are using the category system disingenuously (and I won’t waste too many tears on them!)
I mean, it hurts other authors too – I loved having my books featured in specialist categories like Sea Adventures – but Amazon always chases after the best “customer experience” they can deliver, and the only safe and consistent way to “game” the system has always been to actually play the game the way Amazon intended (something we learned during the first iteration of Kindle Unlimited, and in the battle against “book stuffers.”)
What should authors do?
If you head to the Details page of any of your books in the KDP Dashboard, you’ll immediately see that the options for adding categories have changed. Your book might well have retained the two original categories that you selected, but now there’s a third one you can add – plus this message:
Categories update: You can now choose three categories that match Amazon store categories. If you make changes, all your existing categories will be removed and this action cannot be undone. Your new categories will not go into effect until you submit and publish your book.
Obviously, the first thing you can do is select that third category! The drop-down list you’re presented with includes all the regular BISAC categories as well as the KDP specific ones, and all you need to do is select a third one.
However, when you do so, it will take your book out of all the previous categories you’d selected beyond the original two. If you’ve spent the time adding up to eight additional categories, all that work will now be lost.
But before you complain, be aware that this will be happening regardless. Just today I checked the categories for the best selling book in my catalogue using Publisher Rocket and four of the categories I’d previously chosen had already been removed, with other authors reporting the same. It’s not likely to be long before only those three categories remain.
So, whether you take action or not, this will impact your books – and the advantage you have in taking action now is some control over that impact. If you just leave everything alone, Amazon will default your books into the two categories it thinks they belong in (and if you know anything about Amazon’s algorithms, you might know that these will probably not be the categories you want.)
So, it’s worth heading over to the KDP Dashboard and making these updates now. Hopefully this simplification will work in the favor of authors who focus on writing the best books they can; but like with everything else Amazon does, it might take some getting used to.
What do you make of these changes to Amazon’s category selection process? Do you think it will help or hurt self-published authors? Let us know in the comments section below – and don’t be afraid to share your real-life experiences with this change, so we can report on the actual impact in the near future!