Warning! Are You Sabotaging Your Success as an Author?

success as an author

If you yearn for success as an author, you need to take note.

Did you know that over four thousand books are self-published each day?

You can imagine how hard it is to have your book rise to the top of the pile.

Writers face a daunting challenge: discoverability.

Most books sell fewer than a hundred copies—ever.

So how can you give your book—whether fiction or nonfiction—a fighting chance?

The best way to sell books is to target genre.

What does this mean?

It means adjusting what you write or how you categorize what you write so that it neatly fits a slot; a slot that is clearly identifiable in the book publishing world.

I’ll explain why that’s important, but first let’s talk about genre.

What is Genre?

It’s a way to classify the type of book you are writing.

Since most authors achieve their greatest sales from Amazon, we’re going to look at how Amazon defines your books. (Other online venues use similar methods, so what works for Amazon generally carries over to other sites as well.)

Amazon uses the terms categories and subcategories. But it’s all genre—a way to define your book so that potential customers can find it.

Classifying your novel in a specific genre means you are targeting it to specific customers or readers who are looking for that kind of book to buy.

So it’s important to be able to not just state what genre your novel fits—but also to write to that audience, publishing a book that meets reader expectations.

BISAC Categories

When you upload your novel or nonfiction book to Amazon, you get to pick two categories to assign to it.

These are BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) categories, used by the book-selling industry to help identify and group books by their subject matter.

sell more books 1

These codes are used to properly “shelve” your title at retailers. Think of them as your subjects or genre listings for bookstores and libraries.

Like any product, your book needs to fit a category.

Writers often resist thinking of their book as a product, but it is.

And by positioning your “product” to fit a specific slot, you’ll have the best chances for discoverability.

Drilling down to the most specific and appropriate subject ensures your title will be placed in the best possible category on retailer sites. Not only will this help customers find what they want to read and bring your title to the forefront, it will also increase your title’s chances for higher rankings.

When you pick the BISAC codes for your novel, the first choice should be the one that fits best, as that’s the main or first one that will determine your book’s category. (Some sites only allow you to pick one.)

Be sure to pick two fiction categories that are specific.

(Don’t choose Fiction/Mystery/General and Fiction/Mystery/Detective, for example).

Subgenres are the Ticket

Within a genre, you’ll find subgenres—sometimes dozens of them.

In romance you have paranormal, YA, romantic suspense, historic romance, erotic, etc. There may be sub-subgenres under those. You could have YA paranormal romance, or Victorian historical romance. Each subgenre will have its own market, and supply and demand.

When you look at the genres listed on Amazon, you’ll see many subgenres listed on the side bar. You can click on these and note how many books are listed for that category in the search results. These are not the same as the Amazon bestseller lists. And they’re not the same thing as categories, which are general.

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The more of those lists you can top, the more visible your book will be to potential customers. And by targeting genre, you’ll have a better chance at getting atop those lists than if you just tag your book with general keywords.

Note in the screen shot, there are 40,000+ results for historical romance at the time I wrote this post. But for the subgenre “holidays,” there are only 931. If you target this subgenre—so long as you see that many of these novels are selling well (ranking under 10,000 in the paid Amazon store overall)—you have a much better chance of being discovered, of having your novel come up at the top of the search results.

A ranking of about 10,000 equates to sales of about fifteen books a day. At $2.99 and a 70% royalty, an author can make about US$32 a day or $960 a month. (Use this handy calculator to estimate sales based on ranking.)

Aim for a Niche Genre with High Popularity and Light Competition

While this is a generalization, it should give you an idea of how targeting a specific niche can give you the best chance of big sales.

You can’t sell more books if no one can find you.

What you need is current data—real-time stats on which books are selling, what keywords they’re using, and what revenue they’ve generated in the last thirty days.

The best tool to use—which I feel is invaluable for authors of any type of book—is KDSPY. It is the only way to get real-time data, and it has a handy way of rating competition and popularity for any genre or keywords searched.

The keywords you input when you upload your book for publishing, and sprinkle throughout your product page, need to be specific and target your subgenre.

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If you use only your general category for your keywords, you won’t get discovered.

If you list your book only under the genre Romance, or Mystery, or Thriller, you will be competing with hundreds of thousands of other books.

If you don’t specifically target a genre and a subgenre and list and market it online to target your niche market of readers, you won’t get discovered.

Discoverability is the key.

You can’t sell more books if you don’t get discovered, if your books don’t come up at the top of the search lists.

Fit into that Slot

You may not feel comfortable with the idea of categorizing your novel in one specific slot.

I resisted this for years. I wrote novels that crossed genres. My psychological mysteries were also women’s fiction or literary fiction.

This posed a serious problem for me. My many agents, who loved my books, complained how they couldn’t sell them because publishers couldn’t easily categorize them.

One of my novels was with Penguin’s publishing board for four months. My agent was sure they’d buy the novel, but they ended up turning it down.

Their reason?

The senior editor said, “We love her book, but we don’t know where to place it in our lineup. It just doesn’t fit anywhere.”

I wish I knew thirty years ago what I know now. I would have spared myself decades of misery and disappointment—if only I had known about targeting genre.

I wanted to write my books, in my style. I wasn’t willing to “compromise.” That’s how I saw it.

I didn’t look at my writing as producing a commodity for customers, and until I did, I could not sell my books.

I finally had to concede that the only way I was going to sell big with my novels was to target genre—write novels that fit in a very specific and easily identifiable genre. When I did that, I went from selling a few copies a month to sometimes, thousands.

Ask this about the book you are writing or considering writing:

  • What genre am I writing in?
  • Can I break down that category or genre any further?
  • What possible subgenre can I target more specifically?
  • How many books are competing in that category?
  • Are very many of those books selling really well?

Picking your niche genre is the first step to writing a book that will fit just right and that your target readers will love.

And while there is much more involved in targeting genre, this is the first step to discoverability.

After all, you don’t want to sabotage your success as an author!

What are your thoughts about writing and marketing your book to fit a niche genre? Share in the comments, please.

About the author: 

C. S. Lakin is the author of twenty-two books and works as a professional copyeditor and writing coach. Her award-winning blog helps writers survive and thrive in their writing life. Her new online course will teach you everything you need to sell big and be discovered. Click this link for 25% off. Register before 2-20-16 for a special gift! 

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36 thoughts on “Warning! Are You Sabotaging Your Success as an Author?”

  • Richard says:

    Some great tips, thank you. I am particularly amazed by your keyword revelation; I didn’t realise so many could be added with the correct use of the commas.

  • PD Simeon says:

    Excellent! I’ve been bamboozled by genres and subgenres in the past. Thanks of making this so clear.

    I’m still a bit confused about exactly what kind of content qualifies for a particular genre. I want to write in the mystery genre and the subgenres don’t seem so clearly defined.

    Any suggestions?

    • C. S. Lakin says:

      Hi PD, while I explain briefly in this post how to do this, my course goes in depth to lay out just how to find and compare the niche sub genres and then how to write to fit in to those slots perfectly, so I hope you will check out the course.

    • C. S. Lakin says:

      Hi PD, this post explains a bit of that, but there’s a lot to searching out subgenres and seeing what keywords and other elements like setting, mood, and topics come into play for that niche genre.
      If you want to learn more about this and get the tools and steps needed to find just the right big-selling subgenre that doesn’t have tremendous competition, be sure to take my course. I explain clearly how you can get this wired, and then how to optimize your product page on Amazon so your book will have the best chances of coming up at the top of the search lists.

  • Vanessa says:

    Amazon never allows me to pick one of the niche categories for my books. They only suggest the general categories. What can I do?

    • C. S. Lakin says:

      Right, Vanessa. That’s the point. So what you do is search down into the subgenres, find one that sells well, and choose appropriate keywords to use in your description and KDP portal so your book will populate in that niche genre.

      My course goes in depth to show you how to do this.
      C. S. Lakin recently posted..Scene Structure: Your Opening SceneMy Profile

    • catie says:

      Try using the keywords listed here under Categories with Keyword Requirements: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41
      I’ve literally just stumbled onto this myself, so I don’t know how well it works.

      • C. S. Lakin says:

        Hi Catie, yes, to get your novel to show up on particular best-seller lists (the hidden ones, mostly) or certain subgenres, Amazon requires specific keywords used. They are pretty obvious, though. For instance, if your novel is a Christmas romance and you want it to be categorized as such, you would have to use “Christmas” as one of your keywords or part of a keyword phrase.

        They also now have other identifiers. For instance, if you click on romance, you’ll see Romantic Themes and Romantic Heroes. You would need to have two of your keyword phrases include the appropriate terms (such as Love Triangle or Cowboys) to have your novel be included in that section (not really a category but a type). This selection will vary by genre and only applies to fiction.

        So there are a lot of nuances to the fine art of mastering marketing on Amazon, but some of what Amazon recommends doesn’t work best, including the types of keywords Amazon recommends authors use (which I go into at length in my course). I feel it’s so important for authors to learn and understand how this works because just having a great novel is no guarantee it will hit the tops of the lists.
        C. S. Lakin recently posted..Scene Structure: Your Opening SceneMy Profile

  • Hey C.S.,

    Thank you for teaching us about navigating the troublesome waters of genre!

    I’m struggling with this with my own fiction novel. All I have is the tagline: “It’s about a man who wants to save the world with coffee.” I wonder if “Caffeinated Adventure-Satire with a Splash of Realism” is a sub-genre on Amazon….
    David Safford recently posted..New Year, New TitleMy Profile

  • Greg Reed says:

    Nice article BUT I am still confused. If Amazon only allows you to place your book into 2 categories ( which are generally highly competitive) how, after using a tool like Kindle Spy, do you get Amazon to place your book into the dozens of multiple evergreen sub categories?

    There is only 2 category choices and a limit of 7 keywords including phrases allowed by Amazon. Yes you can load your title, sub title and description with keywords but I’m still confused how to get discovered into more categories. Perhaps a working example of one of your high ranking books can help this ‘frustrated author’ and perhaps hundred more who read this article.

    • PD Simeon says:

      Good idea, Greg!

      I add my voice to yours, Greg: Could we please have a working example of this, C.S.?

      Of course you are promoting a course, but this post needs to stand alone as well, I think.

      • C. S. Lakin says:

        Greg and PD, that is exactly how you do it. You first search and pick genres that are selling well with not high competition. You examine their keywords and the best-seller lists they populate on (the hidden lists), then use those keywords in the KDP portal and throughout the product page. This is how all my books show up in the top ten of the searches using my keyword phrases even before I sell one copy. It’s all about picking a strong niche genre, using the right keywords in the right way, then optimizing your Amazon product page.

        There isn’t one magic trick to this. It takes some experimentation, but this, I’ve found, gives you the best way of getting to the tops of best-seller lists. When you do that, Amazon also kicks in and advertises your book. There are other strategies to add to this, but too much for one post, of course, and this post does “stand alone” without writing tens of thousands of words 🙂
        C. S. Lakin recently posted..Scene Structure: Your Opening SceneMy Profile

  • Pat W. Kirk says:

    I read everything I can read on book publishing and there is a lot that’s new here. Invaluable.
    Pat W. Kirk recently posted..Mary Magdalene: Misjudged for CenturiesMy Profile

  • What a valuable post! This is one of those really classic mistakes people do when publishing their books (or selling their other products or services). You’ve gotta make it easy for your customer to find it! Having a basic understanding for marketing goes a long way.

  • mick says:

    This seems a very useful post, thanks.

  • Thanks, this is a subject that no one else has mentioned the magnitude of importance for selling. I found your article helpful and it now has my mind reeling.

  • C. S. Lakin says:

    Glad this is offering some helpful and new perspective on marketing on Amazon!

  • PD Simeon says:

    I’m still a bit mystified by the BISAC categories. In your article you say:

    “Be sure to pick two fiction categories that are specific. (Don’t choose Fiction/Mystery/General and Fiction/Mystery/Detective, for example).”

    I only seem to be able to choose one. (I’ll try to show a screenshot)

    It looks like I’m limited to just one choice. Could you please explain this a bit further?

  • Thank you for an interesting post. I have a problem as I’m traditionally published and my publishers went with the obvious choices. I would love to alter them, but I’m not allowed to. I’m planning to self publish this year so will have more scope. I’m bookmarking this post. (I came here from Tracey Wheeler’s interview on http://www.toolatetowrite.com
    Shirley Corder recently posted..Who Are You Writing For?My Profile

    • C. S. Lakin says:

      Hi Shirley, yeah, that’s a problem. I have nine books with traditional publishers, and I’m in no position to tell them how to optimize my Amazon page! But when you do self-publish anything, this is the way to go.

      BTW, I tried that link and it didn’t go anywhere.
      C. S. Lakin recently posted..Scene Structure and Character ArcMy Profile

  • Re-read your blog. Go straight to Amazon and make changes to my subgenre. Thank you.

  • What an amazing post! Thanks for the tips — I’ve bookmarked this page so I can come back and reference it when I launch my book later on this year. Very good food for thought here.
    Andrew J. Stillman recently posted..How Do You Know When You’re Ready?My Profile

  • C. S. Lakin says:

    For those who need to know a bit more about KDSPY and how it can help you find the right subgenres and keywords, this article goes into more depth:


    I think it’s the answer to a lot of questions about how to determine a hot subgenre that might not have as much competition as other general or niche genres.

  • This is a wonderful post! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers.
    Academic Papers recently posted..Pros and Cons of Bilingual EducationMy Profile

  • I fall into both non-fiction and fiction camps. What a simple elucidation on the power of targeting subgenres! Especially for someone like me who is looking to publish a LOT, in the near future.

    I believe the stat is that 70% of all books bought come through Amazon? Can someone confirm or deny?
    Chris Douglas Martin recently posted..Write One Sentence And You Can Write A Novel: Some Motivation for NovelistsMy Profile

  • C. S. Wow! This adds more to my fire as to my Christian Memoir. M current book, could be put under at least five different genres. Check out my FB author page, or Amazon for the title. I’m going to check out this Biz whatever you mentioned! Thanks so much for giving us this info.
    Olivia Ostergaard

  • Greats and interesting articles it is nice info in this post.

  • Maira Khalid says:

    Thanks for sharing this post
    This is quite an interesting Article
    Helpful for the students !

  • Ramu K says:

    Informative article, thanks for sharing the knowledge.

  • Alexandra says:

    Great article! Does this also apply heavily to children’s picture books also? Lots of categories and sub genres for self publishing concerns ? 🙂 I’m mainly in that camp but I’d imagine it’s close to the same.. Thoughts?

  • Jary34 says:

    Hmm, I don’t know about such problems! Of course, I realizy how is dificalt to do it, but….I am imprest! To tell the truth only the best genre can have a success! Writing it is very hard hobby, but more dificult to sell your “baby”! LOL, I don’t know what to do!

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