SPS-407: How to Choose Your Amazon Categories – with Dave Chesson
With recent changes to Amazon KDP’s metadata system, Authors are now presented with a wide array of categories! But is this a good thing? To help you avoid getting stuck in a ‘Ghost category’ We’ve brought on Dave Chesson to speak about these changes.
- The changes to KDP’s metadata.
- How Amazon categorizes it’s books.
- Ghost categories.
- How to stay on top of the system.
- Atticus and it’s services.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
SPS LIVE: Get your digital tickets here
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
How to Choose Your Amazon Categories - with Dave Chesson
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join Indie bestseller Mark Dawson and James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been A better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It's a self-publishing show with me, James Blatch
Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: It's going to say where we've been, but I don't think we can say where we've been secrets. We've had a series of secret meetings.
Mark Dawson: We can say we've had a series of secret meetings and I've kind of hinted in a Facebook post that we might have some fairly big news to announce at 20 books, but we can't say much more than that.
James Blatch: They're intense meetings, and they were in London.
Mark Dawson: They were, yes. And with an interesting wrinkle, one of our colleagues who was in a small, badly ventilated room for two of the three days sitting next to me on the second day, didn't come with a third day because the cough that she had post covid. So that's great, especially because I've got to go, I'm hopefully going to itinerary for a holiday, which I really badly need next Friday. So a week today as we
James Blatch: Record this. Oh, I think you'll be all right.
Mark Dawson: Well, we'll see. We, let's see. I woke up this morning, woke up this
James Blatch: Morning
Mark Dawson: And felt a little bit grotty, but that might just be because I've been commuting for the first time in 10 years, going back and forth from London and had a couple of beers last night, didn't we? And so, I dunno, I feel okay. I've got a bit of a frog in my face
James Blatch: And I got back to St. Pancreas and my train was cancelled, so I had to wait an
Mark Dawson: Hour
James Blatch: For the next one, which is not fun.
Mark Dawson: That's bad.
James Blatch: Reminded me why I don't like commuting anymore.
Mark Dawson: Yes. Well, we don't do that. But anyway, so yeah, I've got my fingers crossed. So dear listener, actually, it's pointless because when this goes out, I'll know if I've got Covid or even if I asked listeners to
James Blatch: Too late for their thoughts and prayers.
Mark Dawson: Think about that. Thoughts and prayers is way too late. So we'll see. We'll see.
James Blatch: Okay, so we have a couple of announcements. First of all, I don't think we've announced it before, but we are, as we do every autumn opening launchpad, self-publishing launchpad for enrollment very shortly on November, the first of the open for a couple of weeks. So this is your foundation course. This is the course that will tell you everything in terms of your platform you need on which to build a commercially successful career as a self-published author, what the word was then. So things like main lists, things like choices about whether to take exclusive or why things like your product page, how you product your book. Basically from the moment you've written the end to the moment you start running ads, that's everything else you need in place. Getting reviews, metadata, everything's in it, and there's a little tie in to today's interview. Today's interview is a must listen interview, whatever stage you are at in your publishing career, whether you've got a hundred books or you're about to publish your first book, today's interview is a must listen interview that's coming up in a moment.
Lots of good stuff in that does tie in. Now, if you want to know more about Launchpad, you can find out more at self-publishing formula.com/launchpad. It's going to be open on the 1st of November, Wednesday, the 1st of November. It'll open around 10:00 PM in the uk. So that's a little bit earlier in the day in New York and in Los Angeles. And if you want to know in person anything about Launchpad and you want to have a chat and maybe even buy us a beer, you can do that because Mark and I, a couple of days after the opening of launchpad will be getting in aeroplanes , hopefully we'll be over covid by them and flying to Las Vegas, come and say hello will be at 20 Books Vegas, which is the probably is the world's largest independent author conference. I dunno what Vegas is going to be like. I mean, it looks horrific at the moment trying to walk down the strip dodging the F one grandstands. I'm very excited about F one being in Las Vegas, but I don't think we're going to have the best of it three weeks beforehand with construction everywhere. The fountains closed, the volcanoes closed, everything's closed to make way for it. But anyway, anyway, that's our problem, not yours.
Mark Dawson: I bet they're really thrilled. It's such a competitive year.
James Blatch: Yes, I know the championship's actually over and
Mark Dawson: Well, I point this
James Blatch: Race. It's a race for second, isn't it? Which is actually quite an exciting race for
Mark Dawson: Second.
James Blatch: Yes, I know, but it's still going to be thrilling to see them. And I know the drivers actually, there'll be quite a party mood, but I think because the championship is over, I think Max might even relax and smile as he does occasionally. It is going to be quite awesome to see it, but it's going to be disruptive for us for sure. And I was looking at some of the video, the stands, I mean, they look permanent. I mean, these are big structures going up and obviously I guess they're going to take them down. Hope so. Otherwise we'll never see the Bellagio Fountain again. But anyway,
Mark Dawson: Yeah, no, I forgot about that. It'd be fun.
James Blatch: Yeah, so we've got that coming up. I'm going on a little road trip and I'm taking Thomas with me. I forcing him, it is basically an abuse of power. So he's coming with me to look at Crater Arizona and then the Level Observatory on the Saturday. I think you get in on the Saturday or Sunday, so we'll see you on the Sunday. And yeah, he had no choice. I said to him, this is, you're coming to Vegas, you're going to sit to me in the car and listen to me talk about now, he loves all that stuff. He's a science fiction author.
Mark Dawson: No, he doesn't. He's a
James Blatch: Science fiction
Mark Dawson: Author. He told me how much he loves your road trips. So yes. Anyway, so yeah, that'll be interesting. And the other thing we have to mention is the live show. We our own, speaking of live shows, our own one tickets will be available as this goes out. So yes, move quickly. I think we usually have a bit of a rush in the first few days. We don't think it'll sell out immediately, but you never know.
James Blatch: Yeah, so Early Bird Price, which we're going to put up for about a month actually, so that'll be your chance to get a good price to come to the conference. Europe's biggest independent author conference back in London, Southbank Centre, the home we know and love and hopefully be middle of June. Nice. Beautiful Summer's day in London, hopefully. And looking forward to that. We are just starting the process. I guess you are just starting the process of scheduling now, but we're going to have some good names. Well, we know from the past three conferences we get big names.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, so I'm starting to look into that now. I had a couple pencilled in already, so I'll start getting into that in earnest in the next month or two. Start slotting people in there. But yeah, it's 25th and 26th of June. So that's the date. And the U r L you need is
James Blatch: Self-publishing formula.com/sps. Live.
Mark Dawson: S P s Sierra Pap Sierra Live
James Blatch: Lima,
Mark Dawson: Exactly.
James Blatch: Indigo, no, India,
Mark Dawson: Lima,
James Blatch: Victor, echo.
Mark Dawson: Echo.
James Blatch: Indigo sounds better than India.
Mark Dawson: Okay.
James Blatch: Yes. So
Mark Dawson: That's
James Blatch: Everything. Launchpad will be open on November the first. You can buy your tickets to Self-Publishing Show Live London now. If you're anywhere in the world, come over an excuse to come to wonderful London, glorious Western Europe, maybe even other parts of Europe. And yeah, come and say hello to us. It's a great show, a theatrical like show you sit in a theatre, well lit, well-produced. It's everything. Yeah,
Mark Dawson: Cast are a bit shit. Anyway.
James Blatch: Lots of it. Shit.
Mark Dawson: The cast is a bit,
James Blatch: Cast is brilliant.
Mark Dawson: They're kind of the compares. They leave a bit to be desired. The guests are amazing comedy. Gold. Gold. The
James Blatch: Compares good. Okay, I think that's all our announcements for this week as it seems to be a lot going on, a lot changing in the world at the moment of self-publishing. So we've had a few things going on with Amazon in the background. We talked about some of it category changes, we talked about the AI questions that have come in. There's a explicit question. I don't even know when that question came in.
Mark Dawson: That's been there, been there
James Blatch: It been for a while. But yeah, people have sort of stumbling across it now and I think couple people have found it ticked for some reason. So we've had all that probably in the last year, but the category changes potentially are the most significant of those in terms of its immediate impact on our book's. Visibility and understanding the choice you face now in making category choices is really important. And we have one of the best voices in the world on this subject, which is Dave Cheen who's over there in Tennessee. And Dave makes it his business to be on the inside on these questions. This is a really strong interview, really insightful with some direct advice for you, and Dave does a great job of explaining it. So let's listen to Dave Cheen and Mark and I'll be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.
Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer,
James Blatch: Dave Chesson, and welcome back to the Self-Publishing Show You've been on here, I've had two or three times at least, but you are a pillar of the community, I would say.
How do you feel about being a pillar?
Dave Chesson: Well, I guess that puts a lot of weight on me now. I'm just saying it's been a lot of fun being a part of the community for so many years and just always kind of keep trying to keep my finger on the pulse of Amazon. I mean, Amazon keeps me busy. We'll put it that way.
James Blatch: Yes, they keep us all busy, don't they? Now, if people don't know who Dave is, you can introduce yourself in a moment. But if you've done our launchpad course, you'll be familiar with Dave's beautiful southern tones because he's the guy who teaches you all about metadata, which is everybody's favourite subject. And that's what we're talking about today because I'm going to guess at some point we're going to need to rerecord little bits of that as we're already going through the K D P bookshelf stuff as well because that's changed because of AI recently. But that's what we're mainly going to talk about today.
But Dave, why don't you just tell people who perhaps aren't so familiar with who you are, who you are.
Dave Chesson: Yeah, well, I'm Dave Chesson and I'm the creator and the guy behind kindlepreneur.com, that's like Kindle entrepreneur. I'm also the creator of Publisher Rocket and Atticus for me, I grew up with having problems with dyslexia and I always struggled with writing and grammar and things like that, but it didn't mean that the dream to actually be an author would disappear. And so for me, I started looking at the markets and I started using kind of that understanding to help me with my writing and that's really where I took off. And so I started chronicling that inside a kindlepreneur and had built tools from there as well.
James Blatch: And those tools for many of us are go-to tools when you are setting your book up, working out where to place the categories, the sort of information you can find out using Publisher Rocket in particular can be the difference between your book being profitable or not
Dave Chesson: And if it even shows up on the website to an extent, that's been kind of the biggest thing. It's really my whole journey started with me just asking this simple question of why does Amazon choose to show this book first and this book second, what is it that has happened that has created this kind of system? Why is it that I can't find this book, I'm searching for the title and yet it's not showing up, whereas these other books are showing up, they don't even have that in the title. And so it just really sent my kind of analytical brain down this path and it's always been just kind of a wonderful journey.
James Blatch: Now I do want to talk about Atticus and one or two other things that you do, but we are mainly going to talk about categories and that metadata which has changed. So just to set the stable, so not everyone's published a book yet, it listens to the show. Some people have published a hundred of them as most of us are in between. So we know that up until recently when you uploaded your book to K DP Amazon, you got to choose two categories. There was if you knew people like you who were told by you that actually you could access 10 categories in total where that was done via an email to customer support effectively and in conjunction with using again your tools to work out which of those categories, what they're called and where they sit in there because different for print and different for UK U Ss A and so on. However, that has all just changed.
Do you want to set out what's happened?
Dave Chesson: Yeah, absolutely. So the best way to start with this is to understand why Amazon used to do it the way they did. And this will help us to kind of unveil what's really going on because on the surface, the new system of categories seems pretty easy, but it's actually pretty bad. There's a lot of what I call landmines that authors need to skirt around and it kind of sucks that Amazon hasn't made this information available. So let's take a step back and look at what they used to do and why they did that. And this will help us to understand why they tried to change it a bit. So you, before when you would go into K D P, you could select two, but here's the thing. The two that you selected inside of K D P were not categories. They were actually B sacks.
B sacks are like an international standardisation categorization code. What that means is, is that back in the day we used to have problems where publishing companies would just kind of come up with a category. They would look at the book and they would say, oh, okay, well that's going to be kin, just like a random example here. And then they would send it off to the bookstores and the bookstores would open it up and some person would look down and be like, oh kin, Hey Bob, do we have a section on Wiccan? Bob would scratch his head and be like, I don't know, maybe put in religion and then somebody else, another store might say, oh, okay, put it in fantasy. The problem was was that because all the categories were very different, it caused problems on the logistics where people wouldn't know where to put them.
So they created this international standardisation code where it's like, look, publishers you can only select from these and that helps all the other stores in the stores having their database. This ability to say, okay, well if it is this particular Biss sec, then we in our store have to put it there. And it took out the subjective opinion and it really made sure that it streamlined and made everything good. So Amazon abided by this B sack system where you would select from those B sacks and then Amazon would figure out which Amazon category to put you in. But this caused a lot of real confusion because there's about 4,800 B sacks and there are over 14,000 Amazon categories. So it ended up being that authors that were just using the B sacks and sitting back were getting put into the same 4,800 super competitive categories, and the other categories weren't really being used or fulfilled.
So later on, Amazon came up with a form that authors could go to and they could write in and say, Hey, Amazon, I selected these B sacks, but please put me in these categories. An Amazon human would actually go, okay, no problem. And within 24 hours you would be added to more categories. So this is how it used to be. Now granted, that's such a confusing way of handling it, right? A lot of authors didn't understand B sacks and they didn't understand the form. And quite frankly, the system had two major problems that occurred from this. The first is, is that Amazon was having to expend a lot of energy answering categories. Now I'm sure many people I've seen in the news that Amazon's been trying to cut costs and increased profitability. I have a very strong feeling that this might've been a part of that was we'd no longer need this team of all these people answering these forms and this is taking up too many resources.
So that was one part of it. The second part of it too was that there was no subjective opinion. And so people could request whatever categories they wanted, and I think this caused a lot of problems where books were being put in things that it shouldn't be in people were gaming the system. And so Amazon probably realised that this was lowering in the customer value. So they decided to now shift to this new version, which is where when you go into K D P, you can select three categories. And what's beautiful is that it's no longer bi sacks, it's actually Amazon Categories makes it super simple. You can now see the 14,000 different categories to choose from. You can go select them and when you're done, those are your three. But on the surface, most people think that's it. But there's a lot of really big problems about this.
The first thing to bring up with this is that when you have your three categories, Amazon has the right, and they say this publicly, they have the right to remove you from any of the categories you've chosen and add you to any categories that they deem. Now this is crazy because a lot of authors that are watching this constantly see their categories change, and a lot of times they're being put in categories they don't like or that they do not feel fit their book. And this has caused a lot of confusion. So to answer that particular thing, we found out that what Amazon is doing is they're using the keywords that you've chosen to help their algorithm figure out what category you should be in. So if your keywords are talking about romance, this different types of romance, but you try to put your book into say, space opera, and there's no sci-fi term in there, even though your book may be, but you didn't describe it as such, and there's no metadata that helps the algorithm figure this out.
Amazon's just going to remove you out of this space opera, even though that might actually be what you have. The other thing too, and on the plus side, so that's the negative on the plus side. If Amazon sees, let's say that you chose these three categories, but man, your book feels like it could be in this fourth category, and the keywords are saying that it could be in the fourth category, and the shoppers who usually buy in that fourth category, you're also buying your book. Amazon's algorithm will then put you in an extra category. And the reason for this is that what they're trying to do, Amazon's always trying to make as much money as possible, right? Let's face it, the best way to understand Amazon is does it make the money right? If you can answer that, the answer's yes, then that's probably what they're doing and why.
Well, for them, if they see a book that's really doing well, they want to do things, they want to show it off more, they want to put it in front of the shoppers that they believe will buy. And so this category system again, allows them to automatically without humans and therefore paying for resources, figure out where the book should go. And so the lesson learned for authors is that if you've done your research and you've chosen the categories that you really believe fits your book, then what you need to do is make sure that you are using certain keywords inside of your seven Kindle keyword boxes to solidify your spot in that category. And if you aren't doing that, you're going to leave it up to this category algorithm to figure out where you'd go. And so my new recommendation to people, especially with keywords, is that you have your seven Kindle keyword boxes, and I recommend at least using two of those boxes specifically for category specific keywords so as to ensure Amazon doesn't mess with your categories.
James Blatch: Okay, so one takeaway from that is that the keywords are not a place to be clever thinking.
If you've got a romance storyline in your military thriller, and I think Ill put some romance keywords in there in the past, maybe that's going to help direct the odd person to your book and alert them to the fact that there's something in it for people who like that aspect. But now that could trip you up.
Dave Chesson: It could, yeah, fiction authors who are writing in a author in time, which by the way, aian is a category and that is a time period. If they haven't used any words that are very specific at the time period, they have a weaker chance of staying in author. But if they have keywords like author and there's a whole list, I don't have the list in front of me, but if you're using those things, then Amazon's like, okay, clearly this book, algorithmically speaking, this book should be in this category and now you won't find yourself no longer in the category selected.
James Blatch: Does Amazon take account of the text of the book, the manuscript itself?
Dave Chesson: So my understanding is on that, and this is again from past information, is that, so the search engine, they used to have its own website because the search engine's algorithm is called a nine, and it used to actually have a website called a nine.com. Funny thing is a couple of years ago, the people behind a nine really ticked off Amazon and Amazon shut 'em down and moved them under one of their VPs. Awesome news article about that. It was crazy. But in that battle between a nine and Amazon, a lot of really good nuggets dropped from it. I think it was a Wall Street Journal, or maybe it was the New York Times or so busted open, but basically a nine started complaining that Amazon was making them do things that they didn't think was right. And so some of their people let slip public information and then next thing you know, they got shut down.
But on the context of this, when that website existed, they used to say on their site that they would crawl the text of books to help better understand some things. So back then there they were at least publicly claiming to do so. I'm of the opinion now that they don't do it. And again, I'm going to stress to all the listeners that this is an opinion. I don't have facts on this, but there's two things that make me feel as though they don't do it. Now, the first is, is that it would probably be through the look inside component. So they're probably going to scan if just the programmatic component of it, they're probably going to crawl the look inside aspect of it. Well, as many of us authors know that the look inside thing is pretty trash. They have a lot of problems in their programming.
There's a lot of issues on what actually shows up on the look inside. And so there's a lot of issues that can lay in there. The second thing is that that just feels like a whole bunch of unnecessary load of resources to have to interpret the beginning of the book and basically analyse that. I think that it's a lot easier and less resource intensive by just looking at the title, the subtitle, the book description, the keywords, the categories, and that's more than enough for them to kind of paint the picture than having to O C R or go through and crawl the words and kind of figure out those kinds of things, especially when their system's kind of junky. So
James Blatch: Yeah, although we do know that they read the book at the beginning when you upload it because they'll pick up spelling errors and obviously, thankfully it never happened to me. I'm sure it's never happened to you, but I'm told it can reject books at that stage as well on quality basis. So there must be some level of machine learning AI that scans the text at the beginning, but maybe that's probably knowing Amazon, a very different department from the departments later involved in the category placing.
But with AI and machine learning, this stuff becoming more powerful and quicker, wouldn't surprise me in the future that they do start reading text and reviews.
Dave Chesson: We have access to their system on how they check for the spelling. It's great. They've actually been working with us on Atticus. One of the cool parts for Atticus is is that they're working to give us the ability for books using Atticus to have Amazon if they want to check it beforehand so that they'll tell you before you publish it, here's all the spelling or the things we would flag, and then you can tell it, Nope, I intentionally misspelt it because my character has a stutter. Or nope, disregard that because it's a part of the story. And then when you upload it, they won't flag it anymore.
So we're actually inside of that coding, and that coding is not unless they're doing something crazy beyond it, but with an a p I key looking at their coding, they're specifically just looking for spelling errors and certain flags that they have, but there's nothing that shows any, again, machine learning from that respect. And if they're willing to hand it over to something that's not sending them the data, by the way, which is great in my mind, I don't think that they're using it from a interpretation component of it. Now with Amazon getting closer and closer to using AI every day, I'm sure that might change,
James Blatch: But you've always got a look on the inside there, Dave, which is brilliant now. So that's a really good takeaway in terms of the keywords, and I'm immediately going to go and look at my keywords after this conversation to make sure I haven't been too cute there and been reinforcing the genre. I do love the whole reinforcing genre. It's like a mantra of mine. Anyway, when you do your blurb, do you cover every aspect to you? Facebook ads and copy reinforcing genre is the number one task in all of those bits. So it makes sense that your keywords would do that as well. Now, there's something else that I've picked up that you've been talking about, which is that some of the categories we're being offered are what you've described as zombie categories.
So not all is what it seems, even when we're selecting Amazon's own categories, right?
Dave Chesson: So this was the biggest shocker of the entire Amazon category system, and I actually call 'em ghost categories. And the reason for it, well, the reason for it is they're kind of like undead category. Well, I guess you could call 'em zombies too,
James Blatch: Right?
Dave Chesson: So here's the worst part of this entire system. 27% of all of the categories that Amazon presents to authors are what I'm calling a ghost category. These categories are categories where no matter what you do, if you select it, you cannot rank in that category, which means you cannot get a bestseller tag. You can't even state that you're a bestseller even if you're selling better than any other book in that ghost category. The other really bad part about these ghost categories is that there is no category page for that category. That means that if I'm a shopper and I'm looking for categories to choose from or buy, or maybe there's a category I love, if I try to find it on the Amazon store, it doesn't exist. And so if you select out of your three categories, a ghost category, that is one of those categories where you cannot hit bestseller and shoppers can't find it now, but my biggest, biggest overarching statement is try to avoid 'em.
There's little to no cases where it actually benefits you. And so I think it's very important for authors to understand, whoa, if that's a ghost category, the only reason why you should check select that is because you have no other option. That ghost category really fits your book then. Okay. Alright. So to best understand the weirdness of this, I'm going to start by explaining some terms to categories to help us so we can talk about it better. So there's the first term that I'm going to use in this discussion, which is called category chain. And a category chain is like the path to the category. So it's like books, science fiction and fantasy. Fantasy dragon, that entire term is what I call a category chain. The next term that I'm going to use is called either broad or main category, and that's the first one.
So science fiction and fantasy is what we call the broad or the main category. Alright? The other parts down that chain we call subcategories, but the final word, which in this case I believe I use Dragon, okay? The final part, that's what we call a placement category. And so when we talk about the placement category, that is really important. That's the one where when you're in K D P and you select that little box and you select that category, that is your placement category. So with all of that information, this is why it's really important to understand ghost categories. The ghost category is the placement category. So all of those other subcategories that I listed, and again, I'll say it again, books, science, fiction and Fantasy. Fantasy. And then dragon, the dragon is the placement. And I don't know if this one particularly is a ghost, but I'm just using it as an example.
The subcategory of science fiction, or I'm sorry, fantasy, that's still a category, you're still in that chain. So if you select Dragon, let's say dragon is a ghost, you cannot be a number one bestseller for Dragon no matter what you do, no matter how many sales you make, because there is no ranking system for it. There is no page to show who ranks number one, two, or three. It doesn't matter. However, though you're still in the fantasy subcategory. And so that means that the only way you can rank number one from that is if you're number one in fantasy, you can go up the chain to the next subcategory if it has placement. This is really important for authors to understand because by selecting, say Dragon, in this case, you are basically just selecting fantasy. That's kind of a huge waste. The other really bad problem is that sometimes the subcategory above it has five ghost categories under it. And if you select the three ghost categories inside of it, really all you did was just select fantasy and that's it. So to kind of recap on that, these ghost categories, and again, it's a one in four chance that the category you select is a ghost. These ghost categories, you cannot rank number one for, you can't become a bestseller and shoppers can't find you and it can waste one of your three, if not all three of your selections.
James Blatch: Wow. How do we know if we selected a ghost category?
Dave Chesson: So really there's two ways, okay? The first way is that you need to basically investigate and see if there is a category page on Amazon. And if there isn't, then that's a very strong indication that it is a ghost category. So one thing that I need to clarify with everybody here is that when you're in K D P and you go to select your categories, okay, Amazon shows you a link and you can click that link and that supposedly takes you to a category page. But here's the thing, that is not a category page. It is never a category page. It is so weird and so bad that Amazon doesn't send you to a category page. And some of makes me feel as though this is their way of hiding the fact that there are ghost categories. What they do is they send you to a browser node.
It's almost like an Amazon search, if you will. You will notice that when you click those links in K D P to go check out what you think is a category page, you're going to see weird things that say editor picks and some of our favourites and all this information. You won't find the ranking of the bestseller in the second, third, fourth, and fifth. They just send you to these browser nodes. So you can't use that in order to say, oh, I clicked on a link and I see a page. It must not be a ghost. Nope, nope, nope. Instead, what you need to do if you're doing this manually is you go to amazon.com and you start going down that category path on the left side. And if you can't find this category in that category path, then it doesn't exist. It's a ghost.
That's about 90% of the way that you can do it. When you do find a page, and by the way, they still have the numbering system, but if you do find a page, you'll know that this is a ghost page. If you don't see the category system on the left side, and they also don't have the name of the category at the top, they just say bestseller. So that's the way that you can manually do it. And again, it's a lot of clicking around and finding it. If you own publisher Rocket, it's actually really simple. We tagged every one of the categories on whether it's Ghost or not a ghost. We also give warnings and information about that ghost. So if you hover over it and click, you can see. And so again, it's like if you're using the category feature on Rocket, you find a couple categories and you see that tag that says Ghost beware.
James Blatch: And is this set in probably not stone,
but how fluid is this system? Does Amazon dynamically think, actually lots of people have been clicking on this subcategory. Let's give it a placement. Let's make it take it out of ghost and make it a proper category.
Dave Chesson: We haven't seen many changes from Ghost to live and live to Ghost. I think a lot of this was just the system that they put in place. And a lot of people have asked me too, well, why would they do this? And honestly, it's kind of a head scratcher. Some of me believes it's just Amazon being a little bit lazy. So there are a lot of times where maybe authors have requested certain categories be created or there's a lot of changes in the whims of people terms that were nobody knew about 10 years ago or now, kind of somewhat mainstream. And I think sometimes Amazon says, fine, we'll create this category. Okay, we'll just add it to a little list in K D P, but we don't have to restructure a website. We don't have to add to that link system. We don't have to create a brand new category page. And so they just kind of throw it in there. My team and I are constantly crawling and monitoring this and checking and verifying. So if we start to see them make changes, we're going to publish that and make sure people understand. But so far we haven't seen them do anything with that. And just to show the problematic side of this system, did you know that there's seven categories right now that are called rename?
James Blatch: Oh really? No
Dave Chesson: Joke. That does
James Blatch: Sound like I, I'm being lazy,
Dave Chesson: Right? There's one in the placement category name is turtles, and then in parentheses next to turtles, it says in all caps rename. That's how bad this. So all of that to say is I don't see Amazon spending a lot of time
James Blatch: Improving
Dave Chesson: The system or realising that, oh, we should do something about this when they still have seven categories that are called rename. The programmers put a note there and said, oh, we should rename this and nobody cared. I mean, I
James Blatch: Dunno why they don't get you in Dave to talk to 'em for the afternoon and point all this stuff out to them.
Dave Chesson: Oh my gosh, I really believe that would if they did that. There's a lot of things that I would highly recommend and I think it would be incredibly beneficial for them as well as author community. So it's not like a one-sided thing of I come in and say, okay, here's the five things you guys need to drop what you're doing and do for us. I'm saying, look guys, you do this and it improves everybody's lives. But sometimes I just think that Amazon is such a multi-headed hydra that you can talk to one of the heads and it has no idea what the other heads are doing.
A fun fact, just to kind of highlight this, we've been doing a lot of programming work with Amazon, and you'll laugh at this when we were working with them and specifically we're working with them about that thing I told you about, which has given us the ability to be able to see the mistakes beforehand and send it to them. Well, I was talking to their head of Kindle development and that particular person had said that when Amazon made the change where they were recommending epub files and no longer Moby, they totally forgot to tell Kindle about this.
James Blatch: Oh my goodness.
Dave Chesson: Their Kindle device. So all the programmers in the Kindle device had no idea that Amazon was going to now send them EPUB instead of Moby files and they were scrambling. And for anybody who's ever tried to send an epub to a Kindle device, even today, we all know that that is stupid hard. It's weird. Well that's why because Amazon, one of the heads of the Hydra made a decision and the other head did it, had no idea. Wow.
James Blatch: So
Dave Chesson: I say all that to kind of paint a picture of a lot of people are like, but why do they do this or why is it? And that's kind of an example of what it's like. And so
James Blatch: It
Dave Chesson: Also, I don't think they're going to do much with it.
James Blatch: We shouldn't overestimate this system. Understanding it and using it to our and exploiting it. I don't mean that in a negative sense, but making sure our books are best placed to be successful is something we can do. It's just not an all powerful thing that we have no control over. It's not as clever as we think it is, is basically the answer there.
Dave Chesson: And that's really it. It's not about gaming the system or hacking the system, but it's sadly Amazon didn't do a very good job with the system and I think it's incredibly important for authors as well as publishing companies to really know about this. I mean, can you imagine what it would be like for a major publishing company's launch if they selected three ghost categories and they had no idea why they weren't a bestseller? Well, same thing with authors. You've done all of this work to create this book and you do a major marketing push and you should be the number one bestseller in your category. You should have that mark you should have, and no matter what you do, you can't do it. And so really it's just being intentional. It's verifying the categories you're going to choose, make sure that they fit your book and are great, and then ensuring that you're not shooting yourself in the foot by selecting a ghost. The other thing too is that once you've done all that research and you've chosen these categories, just take a couple of lines on your seven kennel keywords and solidify your placement. Make sure that you're not at the whims of the algorithm who can choose to put you in orphan or this thing that you didn't select or want to be in. And by the way, seriously, if you haven't, you should try checking your categories. It's weird. I
James Blatch: I was going to ask you what's the best way of doing that?
Dave Chesson: Yeah, well rocket donors easy. You can just put in the A S I N number of your book and it'll pop up and it will tell you what Amazon is listing you for another one, there's a free tool out there called, I think it's like nerdy book girl category tool. If you just Google that, you can put in your A S I N in there as well and it will tell you exactly what Amazon is reporting your categories to be. That's a very important distinction for both the tools because sometimes we've seen where the website, Amazon says one thing, but in Amazon's database it says something else. And that's exactly what both Rocket and nerdy Booker are pulling it from. So their records state that you're a part of these and that's how you can see it.
James Blatch: So there is a possibility is that if you get your keywords a bit mixed up, that you will end up being put automatically into a ghost category. So one of the reasons for checking,
Dave Chesson: Yes, absolutely. That's one of the hard things for a lot of authors is that because also too, Amazon took down that form basically for most people, you can't use the form, you can't communicate with them and tell them, guys, I selected these three and you got me in this weird thing. That's not my book. Please state me out. Nope, you have no comms. So if you find yourself in that situation where you have selected these three and you go to look on Amazon, you find yourself in completely different ones. The best way is to go back into your K D P dashboard and update your categories and update the keywords to reflect it. And then that way they'll reanalyze. And we've seen that generally speaking, give it three to four days for them to take the right move. But that's been a really good tactic for authors.
James Blatch: They're the leavers. We have categories, those ones. Okay. I've got one other question for you, David. I dunno if we have an answer for this yet,
but people who haven't played around with their categories since these changes came in May well still be in the 10 categories that they originally emailed and asked for. Should they stay put or should they reselect three, is there an advantage to moving forward this process?
Dave Chesson: That is a phenomenal question, James. And honestly, the answer's going to be, it depends. So there's a pro and a con to both of those arguments for my books. I'm not touching them.
James Blatch: I see what you're saying.
Dave Chesson: Well, because, and I think the go, no go question for an author is how satisfied are you with say the traffic and the sales of your book? Okay, so if you are sales and traffic, your keywords, your category, they're all working, no need to rock that boat and you could jeopardise or hurt your traffic, hurt your rankings hurt the amount of times Amazon shows you by changing them up. And so therefore, like I said, if your book is doing well and you re-look it, I would refrain from touching it for as long as you can. However though, if your book is not doing well, the sales aren't happening or you feel like there's problems with it, and generally speaking diagnosis is you don't feel like Amazon's utilising your book the way it should, then I say go in there and clean up your keywords and use the system.
Because the pro to this is system I believe, and again, I'm going to stress that word I believe because I don't have data to back this statement. I believe Amazon's new category system is more in line with their algorithm, their metadata algorithm. And so they're using that information to better understand your book. So going in and aligning your book with the three categories and making sure that you've got keywords that stress those three categories, I feel like that's like using an updated version of a software then using the legacy version. Because right now my books are running on the legacy version and I'm okay with it because I don't need anything more. But for those of you that want to give it a little spin and maybe spruce it up or so, absolutely update that and get in line with their new system. Is that a fair way to answer
James Blatch: That? Yeah, I think it is. And the only thing I can't remember is
if you have to make some other changes to your book and you want to update the blurb, are you forced into doing the category change at that point or can you leave it as is? I can't remember that.
Dave Chesson: So from what I've seen, and again, I don't know if they're going to change this, but I've made a couple of changes to my books and they haven't forced me to, but I have heard of other people saying, so either A, it depends on what you're trying to change, or B, it is a time period or a location.
James Blatch: So I
Dave Chesson: Can't answer that specifically.
James Blatch: I know you do have to answer the AI question now, even if you've made one move to full stop in your blurb, but the categories, I had a feeling you're right at the moment, it's not forcing you to reselect. Okay. Alright. Well look, that section of the interview is brilliant. I've take, I've been making notes for things that I'm going to do to my books and the books. We've got to infuse books to make sure that we are optimised in that sense. And your knowledge is really second to none on that data. So we appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Before I let you go, Dawn, just to ask you about Atticus, which is, well, you better describe what Atticus is, and I'm quite excited about this collaborative rollout that's going to happen. Something we talked about probably two years ago to start off with.
Dave Chesson: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So it's funny, as an author, I've always, I've used so many sets of software. I use software for plotting, I use software for taking notes. I use software for then actually writing the book. Then I use software to work with my editor, and then I use software for formatting. And so as an author, I've always just, I wish there was one, I didn't have to learn seven different softwares and pay for seven different softwares and work within it. And so I've always wanted to have what I call as the one software to actually write your book. And so a while ago we started this company called Atticus, atticus.io, and instead of trying to hit 'em all at once, we started with formatting. There's another great software out there called bellum. But the problem with Vellum was it only works on Mac. And we also felt like there's a lot of features that could be added and some areas that could be improved on in just the formatting component.
But also too is that we added on the writing component. So authors can write inside of Atticus and we've been adding more and more to make it so and then they can format in it, which is nice. But the biggest thing that we've been working on is what's collaboration. Now imagine that you could write your book and you can collaborate with another writer. You can then bring in an editor and work within that same software, and then you can bring your ARC readers and you can look at their comments and you can have your co-writer look at their comments and you guys can discuss it together. And so we've been designing this, and I can't say the exact date when the collaboration is coming out, but we're really on the cusp of something great. I'm really excited about this because I think that will really change the way, not just that writers work, but also publishing companies.
If you're a small to medium publisher, imagine that you can open up a dashboard and see all of your projects where they're at, how authors are doing. You can tag in your editor to start editing this book that is now ready and bring in your ARC readers and then you can start planning your marketing because of what you see. And so I'm just really excited about that. But I think by the time, and maybe my co-founder will be bummed about this, but I'm going to announce it anyways, by the time this comes out, we should be either really close or should have a whole bunch of really awesome new features in Atticus to include all of the Google fonts. So instead of choosing six or seven fonts and formatting, you can actually access just about any font you want in that respect. And we've got a couple of other things coming out soon too.
James Blatch: It's
Dave Chesson: Just been a wonderful project.
James Blatch: Yeah, yeah, sounds good. And we'll keep an eye on that evolution. So Atticus io is the place to go if people want to learn a bit more about that, how much does it cost Dave Atticus?
Dave Chesson: So it's a one-time cost of $147 and that's it. So you get your updates and all those capabilities, and when collaboration comes out, you'll have that right away too, which is nice though.
James Blatch: Super. I'm
Dave Chesson: Not much of a subscription based fan. I know,
James Blatch: Especially
Dave Chesson: On something if I'm writing my book, I don't like the idea of having to pay just to keep using the thing that's holding my books. I don't know. It's just
James Blatch: Never
Dave Chesson: Been my jam.
James Blatch: It is. Well, it's the same with us as you know, you buy a course and there's some people who've done extremely well behind the course in 2015 and have had so much more added to it. Oh my
Dave Chesson: Goodness.
James Blatch: Yeah, it seems like a fair and equitable way rewards those early adopters as well. Absolutely. Okay, Dave, brilliant talking to you. Love actionable interviews and it's always good to talk to an expert. So look, I really appreciate the time and effort you put into the community. I'm sorry we're not going to see you out and about St. Vegas. We were talking off air before we started. You've got a lot of things going on in the non-art world as well, and I know that's going to start occupying you over the next year or so. But you won't be far away from us, I'm sure. No, no, definitely. Especially if I get out to England or so have to stop by and say hi. But as always, really appreciate you and I look forward to maybe sharing a beer sometime. Thanks Dave.
Speaker 1: This is the self-publishing show. There's never been a better time to be a writer,
James Blatch: Dave Chester. I do love that Southern accent he has and he's like Peter Pan Dave. He looks younger.
Mark Dawson: He does, yeah, I think I've said it before. There's a portrait in his attic somewhere
James Blatch: Or a filter
Mark Dawson: Or indeed A filter. Yes, it is entirely possible. He likes his text, so maybe he's got some kind of weird filter on his webcam. Who knows? Did you say webcam anymore? Probably don't say
James Blatch: Webcam camera. Builtin camera.
Mark Dawson: His camera. God, I sound, yes,
James Blatch: It's probably a filter. Talk about a filter. I interesting Tom on TikTok, the one, I dunno if you geek out about aeroplanes , not quite as much as I do, but about 30. I mean, I noticed this yesterday because I have Flight Radar 24. My watch gives a pinging if any aircraft anywhere in the world squawks the emergency code 7, 7, 0, 0. So if they like to lose an engine, have a medical emergency on board and some services, they get priority and it just lights them up on the air traffic boards. Well, yesterday loads went off and I thought, oh, something. There was stuff happening of course in the Middle East and there's something happening this morning about 70
Mark Dawson: Aircraft
James Blatch: In Russia, all Squawked emergency at the same time, never seen anything like it before. And I looked at the map and did a TikTok post on it. But we are now thinking that somebody is doing some sort of hacking of the A D
Mark Dawson: S B system,
James Blatch: Maybe not the aircraft themselves, but is mimicking their squawks, which will be causing chaos in air traffic control. But all of that's happening in the moment. And
Mark Dawson: Welcome to the Self-Publishing Show, self-Publishing Show. Welcome. Welcome to Flight
James Blatch: Radio Tech. TikTok. Visibility is a very important part of my marketing, so any excuse you get to stick something up there. That's what she said. Anyway. Good.
Mark Dawson: Oh my God, this gets worse. Sorry everybody. He's even worse than all this.
James Blatch: I'm admiring my teeth now. I've got finally after two years, lost my braces.
Mark Dawson: Oh my goodness. Very good.
James Blatch: I haven't done the whitening yet. They're pretty white, but they need, apparently
Mark Dawson: I'll be like Ross
James Blatch: The Whitenings next week. It'll be like Ross. It's only since I started doing this podcast, I can became worried about, not worried, but it just noticed that my teeth were crooked. And I think it's not a bad thing to get sorted out.
Mark Dawson: I think the word you're looking for is vain.
James Blatch: Vain, that's
Mark Dawson: The word you're looking for.
James Blatch: Vain, vain. Vain. It's a new word.
Mark Dawson: You are so vain. You probably think this
James Blatch: Podcast is about you. Well, apparently it's not because you did it by yourself last week and you got loads of positive feedback. It's about you meanies audience. Why did you say that? What didn't you say about me? Anyway, good. There we go. No one's listening at this point. So there be no
Mark Dawson: Comments.
James Blatch: You good? Okay, look, I want to say thank you to Dave Cheson, our interviews, excellent fountain of knowledge, and he's taking a bit of a backseat. He's not going to travel as much next year, but we hope to see him around at some point. Must get back to Nashville at some point. It's such a fabulous city. Fun night out. That's it. Thank you to Catherine and Tom and Stewart. Is everyone in the background, Mel, who helped put this podcast together? Lots of hands make lights work. And don't forget, launchpad is open Self-publishing formula com slash launchpad on November the first. And you can buy tickets to the Self-Publishing Show live to this show, but live on stage in London, June the 25th, 26th. If you don't know anyone in the self-publishing world, come along because we're going to make sure that there's a way that you will meet people or if you just want to stand by yourself, you can also do that. But you can definitely come and say hello to me and Mark, and we'd be delighted if you did that. So it'd be a good chance for you to dip your toes into live events. That is June in 2024. Tickets on sale now. It will probably sell out before the event, so buy sooner rather than later. And that's self-publishing formula.com/sps live.
Mark Dawson: That's it. Thank you very
James Blatch: Much
Mark Dawson: Indeed. All it remains for me today
James Blatch: Is it's a goodbye from him
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Speaker 1: Get show notes, the podcast archive and free resources to boost your writing career at self-publishing show.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at self-publishing show.com/facebook. Support the [email protected] slash self-publishing show. And join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author. Publishing is changing. So get your words into the world and join the revolution with the Self-Publishing Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.