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9.12.2012

How Amazon Helps You Discover Books

There are three ways in which Amazon supports book discovery: customer reviews, the "like" button similar to the Facebook one and the "tags". Customer reviews have been recently bashed in the blogosphere with several bloggers coming up with evidence of unethical behavior from authors and in some cases a flood of favorable reviews that clearly come from friends or have been paid for. It seems that best-selling author John Locke has admitted to buying 300 reviews...

I won't pronounce myself on all this except to say that we authors really appreciate when a reader leaves a review - it's nice to know there's somebody out there who likes your work enough to make the effort of putting pen on paper! And if there's no time to write a review, hopefully the reader would go back to the book's site on Amazon and click the "like" button!
Available on Amazon at a special launch
price for a limited period for
 friends, blog readers and
Twitter followers !

But as I recently uploaded two books on Amazon (see cover above and in right margin the Amazon "buy" icons: A HOOK IN THE SKY, a BB novel and TWISTED, Four Tales of Love and Hate - yeah! Victory cry!! They're out!!!), I became almost painfully aware of the third important Amazon tool for book discovery: the tags.

Let me explain. I say "painfully" because tags are words most used in searching for books and they are meant to describe your book's contents and that's no easy or obvious task. For example, A Hook in the Sky, is a love story, but it's much, much more! It's about aging and trying to start a second life after retirement, it's about contemporary art and the place of Art in our lives, it's about a marriage falling apart, it's about a young woman in love with a much older man! Same with Twisted, these are very contemporary, psychological, suspenseful short stories.

Amazon allows you to indicate up to 7 tags when you upload your book to KDP, their publishing platform. But it doesn't stop there. Once your book is up, you can add tags again after the description section, i.e. the 7 tags you've used before when uploading plus others at will. So, in practice, you can have about a dozen of words to describe your book.

This is very useful, since a 68,000 words-plus book (like my Hook) easily needs a dozen words to describe it! But let's consider how the tag system works. Because once you the author have put up the tags you want, others (the readers) are free to add tags of their own and click the ones they think best fit your book (not necessarily all of them, some tags get clicked more than others). So over time, the tags associated with your book evolve, the longer your book is up there on Amazon, the more meaningful the tags become. And since they're the result of contributions from readers and turn up automatically in Amazon's computers, presumably tags can't be gamed.

Some authors try to get their friends to click on tags in the (probably mistaken) idea that this can change something and kick your book up in the classification...But what classification? This has nothing to do with ranking; it's meant as a book discovery searching system to try and help readers zero in on desired content (there's a box to search products by tags). It's difficult to see how it can be gamed and I sincerely hope it's not! If you know of any instances where the tags have been somehow subverted, please tell us in the comments!

Amazon also helps you when you tag by showing you a cloud of tags, with the most popular ones in bold letters and bigger than the others. Currently the most popular tags on Amazon suggest that the following types of books are most sought after:
  1. highest ranking (more recently used): adventure, comedy, fantasy fiction, Kindle freebie, paranormal romance, romance, science fiction, suspense, thriller
  2. second highest : action, children's books, christianity, historical fiction, history, horror, humor, mystery, erotic romance, erotica (here's the 50 Shades effect!), romantic suspense, vampire, inspirational
  3. third highest (and less recently used): Christian fiction, family, love, magic, contemporary romance, historical romance, vampire romance, romantic suspense, young adult
Much further down you get things like contemporary fiction, post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy or World War II.

Obviously such a cloud is subject to daily change and fluctuations, but the very tags chosen by people in their searches are interesting and suggest that changes are afoot in readers' preferences. For example, it is surprising how Young Adult and vampire romance have lost ground or how  erotic romance and erotica are not quite as high as you might expect given the incredible success of 50 Shades of Grey with over 12,000 customer reviews and over 2,000 likes!

Overall, the impression is that people who read fiction are looking to be entertained above all else. I can't blame them, that's my case too! Fiction is for fun - it can make you cry or laugh but it should never be boring! Certainly when I write that's what I strive for. And whenever I find that my first draft bores me, it goes in the trash can and I write something else!
What do you look for in a book?

PS. Here are some pictures of my HOOK IN THE SKY setting that you might enjoy (this is the Umbria where my protagonist, Robert runs to everytime things go wrong for him (which is quite often...):
 
A HOOK IN THE SKY Robert's Umbria
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