Playing Tag the Self-Publisher Way

by Joel Friedlander on January 30, 2012 · 17 comments

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Editor’s comment: Please note that since this article was originally published, Amazon has eliminated the use of tags.

by Judy Croome

I’m pleased to welcome back South African writer Judy Croome, who contributed 12 Easy Steps to the Making of a Book Trailer in May, 2011. Today Judy’s writing about the importance of tagging your book on Amazon and other sites. This is an important lesson in discoverability. Here’s her article.

I used to think playing tag was a child’s game. I was wrong. In the world of self-publishing, playing tag is far more important than that!

I’ve always pooh-poohed the notion of tagging a book on the Amazon product page.

But I learnt the importance of tagging in a recent marketing promotion.  Playing tag is an important marketing tool and, in this game of grown-up tag, we ‘tag’ our books.

What’s a tag, you might ask?  You can read about Amazon tags here, but the short version is that a tag provides more information about the book in question. If your book is about faith, and is set in South Africa, “South Africa” and “Faith” would be appropriate tags.

Tagging on Amazon

Click to enlarge

In essence, a tag is a label that helps readers find all similar books in a single category. The more readers who “tag” your book in a certain category, the higher up the list your book will appear when someone does a search for a particular tag:

What Difference Do Tags Make?

Well, the more popular your books tags are, the more exposure your book will get. In an exploding market with too many books and too few readers with money to spare, any extra exposure to readers browsing books to buy is worth the effort.

How do you get your book tagged sufficiently to have it bubble to the surface of a relevant tag category?

You can call on every family member or friend you can possibly think of and ask them to tag your book. Or…you can do what I did, and participate in a marketing promotion, where authors help each other and cross-tag their books.

The advantages are that your book can be tagged enough times to leap to the top of a variety of categories. Every reader who searches for something to read in that particular category may see your book cover on the bottom of his screen.

The disadvantages are that some authors do all the tagging and others don’t do the reciprocal tagging. In addition, tagging the other participating authors’ books is time-consuming.

The Game of Book Tag

Tagging on Amazon

Clicl to enlarge

As ignorant as I was about the importance of tagging, I made some basic mistakes. Here are some tips to help you start the tagging process:

  • Prepare a carefully thought-out list of the top categories where you want your book to appear. You can only have a maximum of 15 tags per person per book, so make your tags count. Activate your tag choices by clicking on “Agree with these tags?”
  • On your Amazon product page enter these tags as soon as your book is up for sale. Remember, your book isn’t tagged until you click “Agree with these tags?”
  • The paperback and kindle editions of your book operate on different tags. Be sure to enter your tags separately for each different edition. Ask your “taggers” to tag both (and remember to tag both for other authors.)
  • Book tags do not transfer to Amazon’s international sites, so tag your book separately on each Amazon website.
  • The reader site LibraryThing also operates a “tagging” system.  And, as at date of writing, it has nearly 1.5 million members most of whom are readers. Tag your book there as well.

While Amazon doesn’t specifically prohibit authors from using tagging as a marketing tool, the system is open to abuse. Be responsible in your tagging. Why ruin a good thing? Every game of tag has its rules and this one is no different. Play tag on Amazon, but play it fair.

Judy CroomeJudy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition, other short stories and poems have been published in journals and anthologies. Her independently published novel, Dancing in the Shadows of Love, is available from Join Judy on Twitter

Photo by DaveBleasedale

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    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    Hilary February 5, 2012 at 5:50 am

    Hi Judy and Joel .. it’s always good to know more and I do add tags to authors’ books .. as and when I see them or am asked to do so in the process of buying a friend’s book.

    One question .. re different Amazon sites – I was asked a while ago by an Australian author to tag her book .. and I struggled to do it – getting muddled with the .com, and .au Amazon sites .. do you know are they tied in now?

    I can’t exactly remember the connotation .. but Amazon can be challenging at times ..

    Cheers Hilary


    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) February 5, 2012 at 6:55 am

    Hi Hilary

    Thanks for adding the tags – that’s so helpful to authors! :)

    Re your Amazon question, perhaps Joel can help you better. I mainly go to the US site, with occasional forays into the UK site. As I’m used to those two, I (sort of) know my way around them!

    And Amazon is definitely challenging…especially to my credit card!! :):)
    Have a great week!
    Judy, South Africa


    Marcia Richards February 3, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Great tips, Judy! I’ll be approaching the task of self-publishing in a month or so. You’re was timely for me. Thanks.

    Thanks for bringing Judy back to us, Joel!


    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) February 3, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Hi Marcia, I’m glad you found the article on tagging useful. And good luck with your own self-publishing journey – it’s an exhilarating ride! :)

    Judy, South Africa


    George Angus January 31, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Hey Judy. Very cool article about playing tag. I guess I would say if Authors don’t play tag, they’ll be forcing their potential readers to play Hide and Seek.





    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) January 31, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Good one, George! Only thing is I was useless at playing hide-and-seek as a kid – don’t think I’ll be much better playing it as a reader on Amazon!!! :):) Glad you enjoyed the article!
    Judy, South Africa


    christopher wills January 31, 2012 at 4:55 am

    Interesting post about tagging. I took part in a tagging exercise on a site devoted to tagging about 9 months ago and it resulted in a lot of tags on my book on the Amazon USA site. However this has not translated into a lot more sales. I know; my book cover design, the subject of my book, the way I wrote it, the plot etc. might have something to do with it… :) I think tagging can help drive potential buyers to your stall but when they get there you still need to have the product they want to buy.


    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) January 31, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Excellent point Christopher! I didn’t notice a marked upswing in sales either but, as you correctly say, while tagging may drive potential buyers to our books, we still need a top notch product to get them to commit to buying!
    Judy, South Africa


    suzanne Jenkins January 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Judy, thanks for the email alerting me to this great blog post. I went to Amazon and tagged both my books and the kindle editions. The comments regarding metadata frightened me, too because I just tonight tried to complete my own Nook conversion and finally gave up. It will be worth it to pay someone to do it for me. There is a limit to how much I want to know about the computer.

    Thanks again!


    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) January 30, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Suzanne, I sympathise about conversions – a while ago I decided I’m an author, not an IT specialist and I’m quite happy to pay experts to do the conversions for me! Worth every cent! But tagging is something that’s quite useful, free and easy to understand: just up my street! :)

    Good luck with your writing and marketing!
    Judy, South Africa


    Gary Roberts January 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    and don’t I just wish Amazon would allow use of proper metadata information by their marketplace sellers? I can add some information, but not enough. Tags are helpful but uncontrolled.


    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) January 30, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Hi Gary,

    Learning about metadata is something I still have to face but (for some unknown reason) the thought of metadata scares me!

    And,yes, because tags were essentially set up by Amazon as a way for the readers to manage their own books, some tags -from an author’s point of view- could possibly do more marketing harm than good (for example, if a reader had a tag list called ‘books I hated’!) But it is a good idea that, as an author, you have tags set up and ready as your book goes live – if only to encourage readers to pick tags that you, as author, have suggested. Nothing can stop the reader from adding his or her own tag, but hopefully if a set of tags appropriate to your book is already set up, it limits (but will never stop) the temptation to make up an “unusual” tag that doesn’t help the book at all.

    Thanks for adding to the discussion! :)
    Judy, South Africa


    Bill January 30, 2012 at 6:34 am

    “While Amazon doesn’t specifically prohibit authors from using tagging as a marketing tool, the system is open to abuse.” Ummm… maybe like running a contest on your blog offering a juicy prize in exchange for tagging your book? That’s a good way to get kicked off Amazon. Tagging is a great way to get exposure, but be smart about it.


    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) January 30, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Hi Bill, I’m also learning as I go along so thanks for bringing this to my attention! I’ve re-checked the Amazon Tagging page and there’s no rule that suggests it’s a banning offence, but on the general rule page Amazon does state this “The use of the Service for commercial purposes such as advertising, promotion, or solicitation” so I’m going to ask Joel to remove that suggestion as, like any other game, playing tag on Amazon should be both ethical and fair. Thanks again for pointing it out
    Judy, South Africa


    Judy Croome (@judy_croome) January 30, 2012 at 1:28 am

    Hi Joel!
    Thanks for having me back again. :)

    Is everyone ready to play tag?

    Judy, South Africa


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