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KDP's best kept secrets

It occurred to me today, as I’m preparing for our next publication (more on that soon!), how tricky the KDP dashboard is to navigate when you’re using it for the first time.  


When setting up Getting Published, I had a successful self-published author, a certain Harry Bingham, to lean on. There were countless emails from me to Harry’s inbox: ‘what does this mean?’, ‘will it break if I do this?’, or just a simple ‘help.’ This got me thinking, what about those of us who don’t have a bestselling, self-published author to hand? So that’s where today’s blog post comes in. I’m going to tell you all about the KDP dashboard’s best-kept secrets I’ve discovered so far. 

 

Preparation is key

It’s true. Preparation really is key when it comes to setting up your book (fiction or non-fiction) on your KDP dashboard. As with our cover selection process, we wanted our decisions to be driven by data and research. So, when it came to setting up our books on KDP, our methods were based on actual data.  


Categories  

When setting up your book on KDP, you’ll be asked to select two categories for your title. These categories (and subcategories) will help amazon customers find your book. Basically: what shelves are most highly relevant to your book? For example, if you look at ‘humour literary criticism’ category, you’ll find 52 Letters in the top 5.

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When you choose your categories on the KDP dashboard you need to make sure they're relevant to your book. Remember that if you opt for a specific sub-category, you are also in effect choosing the category above. So, if you chose “Romance > Historical romance > Regency romance” for a novel, you have also in effect popped your book in the “> historical romance” and just plain “> romance” categories too. 


But how do you select those categories? And more importantly, how can you be sure that those categories are the right ones for your book? Now, KDP does offer guidelines on how to assign your book to certain categories but not on how to choose your categories.  


As with any business, your first priority is to research your competitors: What are they doing? How successful are they? Have they missed something? Which is exactly what we did.  

  1. Identify your competitors. For Getting Published, we carried out a simple search on amazon looking for comparable titles. We looked for titles in certain categories, like ‘nonfiction authorship,’ and titles that shared similar keywords to ours, such as ‘publishing’ or ‘how to get published.’ You might try ‘crime and thriller,’ ‘YA suspense,’ or ‘magical realism,’ whatever you feel matches your title.
  2. Research those titles and the categories they’re assigned to. Using the NerdyBookGirl book category hunter we researched our comparable titles and noted down the categories they were listed for. To do this, you’ll need their ASIN number (you can find this on a book's amazon page, under product details. It'll look something like ASIN: B08DQSVRG). We did this for each title. 
  3. Identify bestseller opportunities. We followed Dave Chesson’s advice, and identified those categories that our title could rank as a bestseller in. We used the Publisher Rocket Dave mentions in his article, but the same process applies for a manual search. We researched each category and then identified categories that we could compete in.  
  4. A little-known fact: KDP allows you to choose 2 categories when your setting up your book, but did you know that you can actually choose up to 10 categories? That’s eight more chances to get your book seen by potential customers! So, identify all the categories you think are relevant. Then when your book has been published and you have your ASIN, email KDP and ask them to update your book categories to include x, y and z. Dave Chesson’s article goes into much more detail for you, if you’d like to know more then you should definitely check it out. 

We used this exact process for Getting Published, and achieved #1 bestseller status in both the UK and US across multiple categories:

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Keywords and phrases

Another feature that we need to get just-right, is selecting the keywords we want our book to be identified with. Essentially, you’ll need to identify words or phrases that you think people are most likely to search, in order for your book to appear in the results. Don’t guess that. Cross-check your keywords by the auto-fill suggestions on Amazon.com. We also used Dave Chesson’s Publisher Rocket to help identify our keywords.  


Top tip: don’t rely on google to help you. People searching for keywords on google will likely be looking for something other than a book. For example, if someone googles ‘how to get published’ they’re probably looking for a blog, course, or YouTube video. But if someone searches that same term on Amazon, then it’s likely they are looking for a book. So although google can help focus your keywords, don’t rely on it. Find out more on choosing your keywords, here


You’ll probably end up with 2-3 phrases that really work for the book. Use those. Then use 1-2 keywords to fill the other boxes (you have 7 all told.) Don’t keyword stuff for the sake of it – it won’t help and will end up hurting it. For Getting Published, we only used 5 keywords and phrases, for that very reason. 


Amazon book description 

Writing a description is one thing, but I found the html formatting the most challenging element. Initially I followed the KDP advice, and used several online html previewers to make sure the formatting was correct. It was not. In fact, the more complex I made the formatting, the more errors I found in the description. From random spacing between paragraphs to haphazard bullet points, it was a mess. So my advice would be to keep the formatting simple. Try using, 

<b> to bold </b> 

<i> to italicise</i> 

And for bullet points – 

<ul>
<li>Bulleted List Item</li>
<li>Bulleted List Item</li>
</ul>


My one grumble with KDP is that you can’t see a preview of the book’s page before you hit ‘publish.’ The good news, is that you can make edits to the page when it’s live. So if like me formatting your amazon description made you want to crawl into a corner and hide, rest assured that you can always edit the page until you get it right even after you publish. 


And remember...

When you hit 'publish' you won't be able to access or change the manuscript, cover, or book details while the changes are ‘in review.’ This normally takes 6-12 hours but can take longer. After that though, you can go back in and edit any of those areas at any time, and then re-publish. 


Oh, and don’t forget, these features aren’t permanent. The categories, keywords, and book description are changeable. The world of publishing on KDP moves quickly, when one day you may be competing in an ‘easy’ category, the next a bestseller could come in and make that category very competitive. So, keep an eye on your books; change up your categories, keywords and book descriptions as needed.  


The beauty of publishing on KDP, is that the journey doesn’t end the moment you hit ‘publish.’ Now it’s about supporting your book and giving it the best chance of continued success.  

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Comments (3)
  • Great overview of working with KDP. Thank you! I had a question: I have a novel from 2013 that I'd like to revise slightly and perhaps give it a new cover. Is there any point in investing time in a novel that's seven years old? Could a facelift, updating some of the facts in the story, taking the steps in this article and doing some Amazon advertising give it a new (read new readers) life?


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    • Hi Kristin! Thank you, I'm glad you found it helpful! A quick question: was your novel self-published or traditionally published? 

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    • Thanks Rachel. Yes I use Publishers Rocket.  Great software for Amazon ads 

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