I've discussed in several articles how easy it is to get your work published on the big bookseller websites (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords), but getting it up there is only half the battle. Once it's available, how do you get people to buy it? Well, even if it's the greatest masterpiece since Shakespeare, no one's going to buy it if they don't see it, and that's where tagging comes in.
There are many different marketing approaches an independent author can take, but Amazon book tagging is a cheap and easy one that no author should ignore. When shoppers search on Amazon for a particular word or phrase, such as "candle making" or "epic fantasy", Amazon has tens or hundreds or even thousands of books to serve up and has to determine how to order them. The frequency of related tags on a book is one of the variables in their secret recipe for ordering that list, and more importantly, it's one of very few you can directly control!
You're probably familiar with the term "tagging" as it is applied to images on social media sites like Facebook, or articles on websites like BellaOnline, or links on bookmarking sites like Digg. Tagging is just the process of labeling something in order to increase the odds of people finding it. For example, I have tagged this article with the words Amazon, tagging, tags, ebooks, books, book sales, and book marketing, because even if I wouldn't have used those exact phrases in the article, I know that people looking for this information will probably use some combination of those words to find it.
So what's involved in getting your book tagged on Amazon? The first step is to create some tags yourself. In order to tag an item on Amazon and have other shoppers able to see your tags, you have to have an account on Amazon and have purchased at least one item with that account. Otherwise, your tags show up only to you and don't really count towards increasing the book's popularity. Each person can tag an item on Amazon with a maximum of 15 tags, so start out by choosing 10-15 useful tags for your book. For example, I tagged my book, Little Miss Straight Lace, with the tags I felt would be used by people searching for this type of novel, like "romantic suspense", "medical mystery", "multicultural romance", and "abortion drug". Other readers later tagged the book with words they felt were appropriate, such as "North Carolina", "beach read", and "Judith Krantz". (Judith Krantz wrote epic tales of strong heroines back in the eighties and nineties; I assume the tagger thought my book was similar to hers.)
I do not recommend tagging your book with words you simply feel will be popular search terms, such as "Stephen King" or "Twilight". If readers are looking for these products, they will be annoyed at finding yours in the list and ignore it, or worse, take the time to vote down the tag or even add a negative tag to your book like "so-o-o not Stephen King". Remember, any Amazon customer can tag your book with whatever they like, and negative tagging ("maltagging") is an unfortunate side-effect of this freedom.
To add your tags, simply look for the section of the book's page that is labeled "Tags Customers Associate with This Product", if the book already has tags, or "Tag this product", if it has none. Once there, you can simply type your tags into the little box and click "add" (see red rectangle below). Hitting the T key twice quickly or using the "edit" link allows you to add or subtract a bunch of words all at once in a pop-up window.
Once you have some tags on your book, you will see them listed out with little checkboxes next to them and with a tag count in parentheses after them, as in the image. The checkmark shows that you tagged the book that way (green rectangle); if the box is not checked, the tag is someone else's, and you have not tagged it that way (purple rectangle). The count in parentheses is the number of people who have used that particular tag on your book. In this image, 171 people (including me) have tagged Little Miss Straight Lace with "romantic suspense".
The main book page will only show the top 10 tags, but clicking the "See all tags" link will take you to another page that shows all your tags, in this case, 26. The "Agree with these tags?" is a confusing link. It is not, as many think, a way of tagging the product. It is only a way of voting on the existing tags. If you click that link, it will display arrows after each tag that allow you to disagree with or "vote down" a tag. This is useful in situations where a book has been maltagged, as in the "so-o-o not Stephen King" situation I described above.
So now that you know all about Amazon tagging, will it help you sell books? Well, honestly, having tagged your book yourself isn't much help. What you need is to have lots of people tagging your book. Once your book has a particular phrase tagged 50 or 100 or 200 times, it will move up significantly in a search list for that phrase, but unless your book is already a bestseller, you won't get a lot of tags without asking for them. That is where tagging threads come in, and that is the topic of this article.