Choosing Keywords for Your Self-Published Romance Novel
Today, we’re going to talk about the part of self-publishing your romance novel that isn’t as much fun to talk about: self-publishing. Writing your book, talking about your book, and promoting your book are all the great parts. The not fun part is having to go through the actual self-publication process of your book because there are just so many moving parts.
Choosing keywords to describe your book is an essential part of the process. Keywords are the words and phrases associated with your book that help readers find your book within the bookstore they are listed on. They are part of what is called metadata. The metadata is all of the background information that is attached to your book to help readers find it and the bookstore promote it.
While picking keywords may seem like a pretty straightforward process, there are some best practices you should follow to help pick the most useful keywords for your novels.
Keywords shouldn’t be a single word; use keyword phrases whenever possible.
It is important to use keyword phrases whenever possible because searching just one word when looking for a book isn’t common. If a reader just searches the word “romance,” they’re going to end up with millions of options, from all sorts of subgenres.
Imagine if a reader was looking for a mafia romance or a knight romance; searching “mafia” or “knight” would give the reader all sorts of results they weren’t really looking for. This person is going to end up with history books, dramas, adventure stories--so many options of books they don’t want to read.
Most readers will search at least two words, if not three or four. These words work in tandem to narrow down the options that will be presented to readers. Typically, they will search phrases such as, “regency romance,” “enemies to lovers romance,” “contemporary romance,” and “second chance romance.” The use of keyword phrases will help you tremendously in connecting to your intended audience.
Amazon’s best practices recommends listing about seven keyword phrases of two to three words in length.
Keywords need to be words/phrases readers would search, so don’t use jargon.
While romance writers are also romance readers, there is some jargon that is picked up when talking to other authors. For instance, while some readers may know the acronym “HEA,” not everyone will. But, all readers know what a “happily ever after” is. One acronym that I think even fewer readers know is “HFN,” or “happy for now.”
This is just something to keep in mind as you are choosing keywords and making a plan for your metadata. Think about what you search when you are looking for a book online; don’t think about what you use to describe your book to other authors and industry professionals.
Combine keywords in the most logical order.
Make sure you are combining your keywords in the most logical order. This seems like a small detail, but it is one that can play a large role in readers’ ability to find your book. For instance, it is more common for someone to search for an enemy romance set in the regency romance by typing in “enemies to lovers regency romance” rather than “regency romance enemies to lovers” or “romance enemies to lovers regency.”
Another example would be “clean Christian romance.” There are many illogical ways to combine these words. It’s probably not the best plan to have your keyword phrase be any of the following: “romance clean Christian,” “Christian clean romance,” “romance Christian clean,” or “clean romance Christian.” The only other one that may work is “Christian romance clean,” but I would even try to avoid that.
If you know you have a habit of inverting your words, then I suggest having someone look at your keyword phrases to make sure they aren’t in a weird order. If your keyword phrases are in an unnatural order, then your readers are going to struggle to find your books because they won’t pop up in searches when people are looking for a book to read.
Find the middle ground for your keywords: don't go too broad, but don't get too specific.
Many authors try to use broad keywords to get in as many searches as possible, but this can be an issue if you are focusing on being too broad. When you go too broad with your keywords and keywords phrases, you can get lost in the shuffle. Like I said previously, if your keyword is just “romance,” your book will be drowning in millions of other books. But, you don’t want to commit to being too specific either. As Amazon recommends, two to three words are about what readers will search. So, a six-word keyword phrase will be too focused, but a three-word phrase will help you find the right audience.
If you have a historical romance, try to use things like the setting and specifics about the history to narrow your keywords more. Is your book a regency romance? Is it a 1950s romance? Is it a Civil War romance? Historical romance is just a very broad topic, and you should try your best to narrow it so you are finding the romance readers who want your specific type of historical.
Amazon recommends the following as useful keywords:
Test search words before you commit to them.
I think I’ve mentioned before that my self-publishing career started in the Christian genre. This was a lesson that was pushed hard at the company I worked for because we would often run into issues with keyword phrases bringing up books you didn’t want associated with the book you were working on.
For instance, “preacher and pupil” pulls up a good amount of preacher and congregant-themed romances--just in case you were wondering. While I think problems like this are less of a problem for romance novels, it is still important to run a test search of your keywords wherever you are publishing your novel to be sure similar books are coming up for you.
For instance, if you have written a bully romance, search the keyword phrase “bully romance” in the Amazon bookstore, Apple Books, and wherever you are planning to release your book. Make sure the titles coming up in this search are similar to your book; you want to make sure you are in the right searches, so you can get to the right people.
Use the publishing platforms to help come up with other keywords.
When you are testing your keywords, it is also a good idea to see what other keyword phrases are suggested by the online bookstore you are researching in. This can help you find other keywords you never thought of, and it can help you see what people are searching.
Use an editor or proofreader before you publish. Spelling mistakes will ruin your keywords.
If you have a typo in one of the keyword phrases you have listed for your book, you will be in big trouble. Readers will not search for that typo, so your book will not show up in their searches for that phrase.
Here, I'm not even recommending you hire an editor. Anyone you know who spells well can help. Please, PLEASE, have someone--anyone--look over your keyword phrases, metadata, and book blurb before you hit publish, just to be sure.
If you aren’t getting traffic no matter how hard you try to promote your novel, you can change your keywords and try new ones.
If you are only two months into your book being published, I don’t recommend changing your keywords yet. I recommend promoting your novel more or exploring new avenues of marketing.
But, if you’re six months in, and you’ve been on podcasts, you’ve promoted on Instagram, you’ve gone out of your way to get your book everywhere, but your book just isn’t being found, then it’s time to double check those keywords. That’s the nice thing about self-publishing, you can change what isn’t working and try to make it work better for you.
I do suggest doing more research before you change your keywords. If those you are currently using aren’t working, try to figure out why they aren’t working and what words will actually work better to get you more traffic. Just take some time to really think about your keywords. Is there anything you can tweak?
As a final note, keywords are important to metadata, but they are not as important for book descriptions that are reader-facing. Your book blurb or back cover description should focus on describing your book to your potential readers, not on using keywords to be found by readers. Readers will find a book blurb very odd if it’s keyword-heavy; they won’t be interested in your book. Your book blurb/back cover description should be interesting for readers and draw them into your story after your keywords in the metadata helped them find it.
Keywords play a huge role in readers finding your book in an online bookstore. Picking the right phrases will help tremendously in connecting you to your intended audience.
Joanna Penn, “Choose the Right Categories and Keywords for Your Book,” https://www.thecreativepenn.com/book-categories-keywords/.
“Make Your Book More Discoverable with Keywords,” Amazon KDP, https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201298500.