How to choose keywords for your self-published book

I’m celebrating the countdown to launch on Tuesday of Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat: On Finding the Meaning of “Like” in 1982 with a month-long blogging bonanza, which means I’ll be blogging here every day this month about my book, about memoirs in general and about the launch.

On Fridays during this crazy blogging bonanza month, I’m be writing about different aspects of self-publishing. Let’s call this Indie Tips Friday. Having self-published two previous books and helped several other authors publish their own works, I have a little experience to share with other aspiring publishers. Today I’m tackling Amazon keywords.

* * *

Amazon helps readers find your self-published book by giving authors the opportunity to list keywords about the story.

In CreateSpace, you can list your search keywords in the “description” section of “Distribute” when you’re creating your book. In Kindle Direct Publishing, it’s “Description, Keywords and Categories.” Amazon describes search keywords this way:

Search keywords can help your title show up on both and search engines. Pick phrases that you think customers are likely to use when either searching for your title specifically, or when shopping for products that may be similar in subject matter.

The keyword about keywords: Phrases. A keyword is not always only one word. It can be a phrase.

You can add up to five keyword phrases (seven on Kindle), but in the words of the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, “You must choose. But choose wisely, for the true Grail will bring you life, a false one will take it from you.”

First, some don’ts:

  • Avoid using phrases in your title or subtitle. This is a waste of a good keyword.
  • Don’t use words or phrases you’ve used already used in your description.
  • And don’t use the categories you’ve used to locate your book (categories are like the sections in a bookstore or library).

To really help seed search engines, use different words or phrases among your keywords. How to best choose?

  1. Think like a reader who’s looking for a book to read.
  2. Use Amazon’s own autofill feature to help.

Begin by pretending to be a reader looking for something to read. If you’re like most authors I know, your to-read list is long (I love Goodreads for keeping track of mine), but not all readers are the same way, especially not readers trolling for book reading suggestions on Kindle. If you’re that reader, what might they type into the search bar that your book qualifies for?

My book, for example, does not qualify for “Japanese history” or “small engine repair.” But it is a love story of sorts set in Minnesota in the 1980s. Someone looking for that type of book might use “kissing” or “80s.”

search terms

The autofill feature is the mechanism that suggests phrases to people typing in a few letters in Amazon’s search field. For example, if you begin typing “Monica” in the search field, 10 other last names appear below the search bar awaiting a click, but none of them are “Lee.” So clearly my name is not yet well-known enough to inspire a search (hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?).

I discovered by using Amazon’s own autofill feature that people who type in “Minnesota” usually complete the thought with “travel guide,” “history” or “mysteries.” My book could qualify as history or a mystery, but that’s a stretch, so I didn’t end up using anything Minnesota related in my keywords.

Instead, here are a few keywords I’m using for Truth, Dare, Double Dare, Promise or Repeat:

  • nerdy romantic
  • french kissing
  • sex education for teens
  • new adult
  • diary of a teenage girl
  • kissing
  • romantic
  • love

An author can spend hours experimenting here, which probably isn’t worth your time, but it is worth 15 or 20 minutes to help readers find your masterpiece.


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