Keywords. It’s the phrase that every author not only needs to be familiar but intimate with. And yes, so few authors actually know what they are, where to get them, or even what they’re good for. Some people get keywords and categories mixed up. (You are either nodding your head understanding this confusion or chuckling at it, but don’t laugh, it’s a very easy thing to mix up as they are both essential for getting your book noticed at ebook retailers.)

Categories are the classification of your book. They are based on BISAC codes—those are the “Book Industry Standards and Communications” codes given to every book published anywhere. They’re a way to say what your book is about. You can find the complete list of codes here.

What’s annoying is that none of the e-retailers precisely use these industry-standard codes, but rather, their own version of them. It can make finding the right category for your book a bit tricky. The other funny thing with categories is that authors will put their books into categories that don’t strictly fit the subject of their book just so that they can get into less populated categories and therefore rank higher in Amazon’s lists (if your Regency romance is one of five million, you’ll have less of a chance at ranking high than if it were one of five hundred).  You, therefore, end up with Regency romances in the Tudor Romance category, or Victorian Romance. I sigh and think it’s a bit wrong, but understand why people do this.

If you want to learn more about categories, check out this Writers’ Block Party Podcast episode where Pru Warren and I discuss the topic in great detail.

Keywords are not categories although they are also used to describe what your book is about. Keywords are the words or phrases that a reader might type into the Amazon search bar when browsing for a particular type of book or a book with particular characteristics.

If I am feeling like reading an Arthurian fantasy that features Merlin, I can search for just that: “Arthurian fantasy Merlin”. I’ll get everything from Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave to a “Modern Day Arthurian Urban Fantasy” (so says the subtitle of a series that came up when I did the search). But the point is that Amazon’s search engine takes the keywords I typed into the search bar and gives me a list of books that fit those parameters. If your book is an Arthurian fantasy and Merlin shows up within its pages, you need to have those words as your keywords so that the next person who goes searching will find it.

Where does Amazon find those keywords?

So many places!

The most obvious are the seven keywords and phrases you are prompted to put in when you publish your book on KDP. But it doesn’t stop there. Amazon will also scan your book description for keywords, your book cover, reviews written about your book, and some even claim that if you link your blog to Amazon, they’ll scan that too.

Keeping all this in mind and knowing that your book is one of millions on Amazon that can only be found by new readers typing keywords into the search bar, don’t you think you need to do a quick scan of your own to make sure you are using the right keywords across your Amazon sales page? Read through your book description. Are you comparing your book to that of another author who writes in the same genre as you? Do you use a descriptor like “Harry Potter meets Bridgerton”? (I’m throwing that one into my Storm series description – it’s so evocative, isn’t it?) If you put these sorts of things into your description, those keywords (the name of the other author, Harry Potter, and Bridgerton) will all be picked up and used by Amazon’s search engine to deliver your book to readers.

Keywords are essential to discoverability, that elusive golden key to book sales. Not only that, but even better, they are free marketing! Get creative with them and put them everywhere you think Amazon, and other e-retailers, might find and use them to send readers your way.