How to choose categories for Amazon Kindle books

How to make money with ebooks orange 270x409A lot of authors that publish on Amazon don’t really understand how to select book categories and why the categories during the submission are different from the categories that are shown on the Amazon site. I covered this issue , amongst dozens of others in my book “How to Make Money with eBooks“, which I will reproduce here.

———From my book ———————–

When you submit your book, you will be asked to specify maximum 2 categories for your book. Now this chapter IS going to be a bit more complicated as the previous ones, because… it is a rather complicated subject.

Actually, on all blogs, forums and books I went through, the most common phrase is “the whole category thing on Amazon is a mess” or something similar. And that’s about it.

I gave this a second thought and said to myself: How come that the biggest multi-billion dollar retailer in the world cannot make this a smooth process? Cannot they pay a programmer for 30 minutes to get this job done? Is this whole thing REALLY a mess? Or is there something behind all this which finally makes a lot of sense?

And my intuition said that there is no such thing as “a mess” on Amazon who is dealing with this stuff already for 20 years now with the smartest developers and marketing people in the world.

So… time to dig into this to figure out how this REALLY works. Why is this important to understand? Because, as I pointed out already in previous chapters, there are THREE things that can make the difference for your book. The cover+title, the keywords and the categories.

So take a cup of coffee, and try to follow this chapter. If you don’t grasp it on first read, reread it again. This IS important.

Let’s start with what Amazon themselves say about the categories on the submission form:

Here is the short description:

“A browse category is the section of the Kindle store where users can browse to your book. Think of the browse category like the sections of a physical bookstore (fiction, history, and so on). You can select up to two browse categories for your book. Precise browse categorization helps readers find your book, so identify the most appropriate categories for your book.”

Well, that doesn’t help us a lot.

On the more extensive help page on Amazon about the choice of categories, we can read the following:

“There are three main criteria that will help you choose the best browse categories.

Picking the most accurate categories. Make sure the categories you’ve picked correctly describe the subject matter of your book.”

That one seems obvious.

“• Selecting the most specific categories. It’s better to choose more specific categories instead of more general categories. Customers looking for very specific topics will more easily find your book, and your book will be displayed in more general categories as well (for example, a book in the “FICTION > Fantasy > Historical” category will also show up in searches for general fiction and general fantasy books). You should only select a “General” category if your book is actually a general book about a broad topic.”

The first part is just plain wrong. You CANNOT select a category AND a subcategory of that same category. You can only choose between lowest-level categories. I’ll explain that further on.

“• Ensuring the categories you choose are not redundant. Since your book will be displayed in a variety of searches by choosing even a single category, you shouldn’t place it in both a category and any of that category’s sub-categories (for example, selecting both “FICTION > Fantasy > Historical” and “FICTION > Fantasy”). Even selecting just one specific, accurate category is preferable to selecting an inaccurate category just to have a second category listed.”

This is a repeat of the second point and impossible anyway. The last sentence is correct. But it does imply: IF you can find TWO categories that fit correctly with your book, you should use these two categories. And it is even better if these two subcategories belong to two different main categories. Like the example I described before.

Now let’s see how this category selection works in detail. When you come onto the submission page you will see a button “Categories”. When you click on it you will get this screen:


There are 51 main categories listed here. Now go back to Amazon to the top of the Kindle eBook store. And have a look at the main categories. You will see the following list (it may have changed slightly when you read this).


In this list there are 29 main categories. If you look at the first entry in both lists, on the submission form we have “Antiques & Collectibles” and on the Amazon site we have “Arts & Photography”.

Yes, the two lists are completely different. And that makes things a bit complicated. Why are these lists different?

The reason is the following: The list that is used on the submission form is the so called BISAC Subject Codes list. This is an international standard that is used by publishing companies to categorize books based on topical content. You can find more on this list over here.

This means that this list is NOT maintained and controlled by Amazon, but by an independent organization. And Amazon uses that list because it is an industry standard.

However, the way that Amazon presents books on THEIR site, IS under their control. And the BISAC list is not the best way to browse through a catalog. Amazon has made it in such a way, that there are multiple ways to find a book by a customer who is browsing around.

Let’s take an example: On the BISAC list you see the main categories “Juvenile fiction” and “Juvenile non-fiction”. Juvenile is a word that isn’t used very frequently in the English language and means “intended for young persons”. If you develop the “Juvenile Fiction” list you’ll see for example:


And if I go to the Amazon site and I drill down in the main category “Children’s eBooks” I now see the list:


And here we see the same categories of Animals, Alligators and Monkeys. Conclusion: Amazon is using the term “Children’s eBooks” instead of “Juvenile Fiction”. And I think they are right from a customer perspective.

So the only complication for you as an author is to find the two best categories where you want to see your book listed, by using the process that I described before with the Dracula example. And then you have to find in the BISAC submission list the entry that corresponds with it.

For most categories this is not a problem. Because the name and subcategories are the same in both lists. But for others you may have to search a bit. To make this is a bit simpler, I have done the following:

  • Expand the BISAC list on the submission form by clicking on all the + symbols. Now I select the whole list and copy and paste it into a spreadsheet. Now it’s only a question of some basic formatting to get the complete list of 4246(!) entries.
  • The same can be done for the categories on the Amazon site. Select all main categories on the highest level in the Kindle eBook store. Including the number of books in that category. Copy and paste into a spreadsheet. Develop every sub category and repeat. Apply some basic excel formatting and voila. Now I have a complete list of all categories and subcategories with the number of books in each. I only did that for the main categories that I’m writing in, because I don’t need all the other thousands.

you can download this spreadsheet here: Notice that the first sheet in this spreadsheet contains all categories from the BISAC list, but the second sheet contains the Amazon categories and this one is not complete.

Now if I have some categories in the Amazon site list, it’s quick to use the find function in excel to find the corresponding entry in the BISAC list.

Another way to do this, is to use the site . Without going into the techie details, with this site you can browse through the Amazon category tree, but it is a bit faster than on Amazon. And you can download search trees in CSV format and then import it into excel to analyze it.

I come back to what Amazon writes on their help page and which I qualified as plain wrong. If I develop the BISAC list under Fiction->Fantasy by clicking on the small +symbol in front of the categories, I see the following


And as you can see, I can only select (=check) boxes that are UNDER “Fantasy”. I cannot select the category “Fantasy” as a whole because there is no check box in front of it. So I can only select the lowest level sub category.

What they MIGHT have meant is that if you select for example the subcategory “Dark Fantasy” don’t select also a second category on that same level like “Epic”. Rather take another subcategory that is in a completely different main category. Again, as long as it fits with your book.

Why are books listed in the category “Kindle eBooks” and “Books”? Like in this example:


The answer is simple. All eBooks are also part of the bigger category Books. The Books category contains ALL books on Amazon. Hardcopy and eBooks. Therefore, IF your book has a rating in both categories, the rating in the Books category will always be lower, because there are more Books in that category than in the category ‘Kindle eBooks’. Also notice, that the category structure under ‘Books’ is NOT the same as the one under ‘eBooks’.

I hope that I have now cleared up this whole issue about category selection.


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