Sailing on Digital Seas: Amazon Likes, Tags, and Categories
Originally published in the Horror Writers Association Newsletter

I was corresponding with a group of new authors recently, and one asked what Amazon Tags were all about. After a few minutes, it was clear the others did not know the purpose of Amazon's Likes, Tags, and (to a lesser extent) Categories. Let's dive right in, shall we?

Likes

Amazon's "like" system allows Amazon visitors to give feedback for an item or an author, just as the Facebook "Like" button allows readers to post feedback on a Facebook status post. There are no purchase requirements to click the Like button, but you must be logged in for the click to get registered.

So, what's the point of the Like button? If you already own the book, you've enjoyed other books by the same author, or you just want to show support for a new book, you can show some love by clicking the Like button. In theory, this will factor into Amazon's secret recipe they use for ranking books. The reason you have to be logged in to click the Like button is it also helps Amazon figure out what to recommend to you when you visit. If you absolutely hate steampunk, clicking on a steampunk novel's Like button will tell their robotic overlord that you, in fact, do like steampunk. Clicking the Like button for steampunk (or horror, or romance, or fetish erotica) will result in getting more recommendations for that genre.

A book with a high number of Likes can help sell books, especially if there are no reviews available. There are Facebook groups dedicated to getting Amazon Likes, although just posting a note and a link in your blog will usually motivate folks who enjoy your work to go click a button.

Another fun fact about the Like button is that it also appears on Amazon Author pages. (You do have one, don't you? http://authorcentral.amazon.com/ for US authors, https://authorcentral.amazon.co.uk/ for UK authors.) My page is located here, feel free to look around and test things out by clicking the Like button on the upper right side of the page.

Clicking the button will tell Amazon that you enjoy this author, plus any associated genres. Again, this should also factor into Amazon's mysterious software code for displaying a particular author to other folks who Liked similar items or people.  

Tags

Tags are currently Kindle-centric, and they help to classify a work so it can be recommended to customers. Tags are factored into Amazon's internal search engine, and can help direct customers to your work, if you use tags effectively.

Besides adding in the obvious tags (horror, novel, scary), think about how someone could filter similar books to find your work. If you have a series, add character names to your tags. If your can describe your book in different ways, use those key words as tags.

As an example, I have an upcoming novel called The Dynasty Sentinel. It is a dark steampunk story, and I've been working on the tags for when it's available on Amazon. The obvious choices are included (steampunk, dark fiction, horror, dark fantasy, science fiction), plus I'll add in key words that will be in the advertising (retro future, retro future steampunk, apocalyptic novel, bioweapon, sentient weapon). If someone was searching for bioweapon-based science fiction or apocalyptic steampunk, both niche searches would hit on two of my key words. This would help my book to rise towards the top of the search results.

Sometimes, tags get added that have nothing to do with your book. Delete, dysfunctional BDSM, and bondage erotica are three tags I see added to books that have nothing to do with the subject. Sometimes they are added by sockpuppets, sometimes by trolls. The good thing is you can also voice your opinion concerning bad tags. There is a link called "disagree with these tags?" next to the displayed tags. Click the link, then select the troll tags. Enjoy watching their counts decrement, then have your friends help by cleaning up the junk with similar downvotes. Only the top group of tags get displayed, so make sure you have 14 accurate tags entered with several other folks agreeing with your choices.  

Categories

Categories are groups that Amazon/Kindle uses to collect similar books. It's similar to the way libraries use classification or the Dewey Decimal System to put similar books next to each other. If you are using Amazon's Createspace service, you can put your book into two distinct categories. Most authors just plop their books into the general group (fiction or nonfiction). Your book will have a tough time rising to the top of the charts if it has to compete with tens of thousands of similarly categorized books. Instead of classifying it as "FICTION", try "FICTION > Ghost" or "FICTION > Horror". The narrower you can focus your work, the better the chance it can end up on one of the top-100 charts.

I have a small ebook that I sell on Amazon for less than a buck (and give away for free on my website). This book, QR Codes for Authors, is a non-fiction guide on using those weird blocks of dots to sell and market your work and your brand. I classified it under two categories: "BUSINESS & ECONOMICS > Advertising & Promotion" and "LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES > Authorship". When it was available for free, it reached #9 on the Free Kindle Books chart under "Authorship". Technically, I can run around and say I'm a top ten Amazon author because this book did reach the top ten list...although I don't do it, because I personally think it's a bit cheesy and passé.

The positive thing about using niche categories instead of broad ones is it does help sales if your book is on a top-100 list -- assuming the category is accurate. I've seen romance novels classified as ghost stories (with nary a spectre in sight), just so they get seen by a different reading group. Note trying this technique can garner low review scores.

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