Portrait of the Reader as a Burrowing Wombat – Sabrina Chase

Portrait of the Reader as a Burrowing Wombat – Sabrina Chase

So, there you are. You want a book. You *need* a book. Just the right one, with this and this and this but NOT that. So you do what so many do now, and go to Amazon. “They have many books,” you say. “Surely they will have just the right book for me.”

You go to the Kindle Books section. Let us say you know you want something in Fantasy or Science Fiction (214,100 books). Wow. I don’t know about you, but my lunch break isn’t long enough to look through *that* many books. So you need to whittle this down, massively. There are preset categories such as bestseller, or recent releases, or you could drill down to the preset categories (e.g. Fantasy | Arthurian | Humor, which only has 65 books, or Science Fiction | Alien Invasion | Clones, which has 59)

However, sometimes the preset categories fail you. They are automatically generated from the tags used by the publisher/author to characterize a book, and sometimes what THEY think is a good tag has no connection to reality. For example, the very first page of results for Science Fiction | Adventure has one of the Game of Thrones books listed. That is NOT Science Fiction. No way, no how. You dig and dig but there is just too much cruft to get through.

So, how do you go about getting the books you want, despite idiot marketers and well-meaning but Turing-fail algorithms?

Here is my secret method. Amazon, like Google, lets you *exclude* search terms by using the “-” symbol. Let us say I wish to find a science fiction book with robots but without vampires, werewolves, zombies, or Star Wars. (Nothing against those categories, zombies are the salt of the earth I’ve always said…) My search would look like this (starting from the Kindle ebook | Science Fiction & Fantasy section)

robot -werewolves -zombies -Star Wars

Put that text in the search window at the top of the page. And lo! 194 results, and the first page has delightful titles such as “Robot General” and “Confessions of a Sentient War Engine”. No werewolves or zombies! Surely I can find a good book during my lunch break from that list!

Let us say you have fine-tuned your search to get precisely the kind of books you want, but it is a pain to remember all the tags you used to get there. Merely save the initial search as a bookmark or favorite in your browser. Note also the “breadcrumbs” under the search box. Did you know they are clickable links? You can go back a step or two in your search trail, and try the search *terms* again in a different category!

Sometimes it will take a bit of experimentation to exclude the stuff you don’t want to see. In extreme cases I have removed specific authors who manage to get into every category imaginable, like kudzu (*koff*Galbadon*koff*). Take a look at the tags for a specific book you DON’T want to see, and add some of those tags to your exclusion list and see if that works.

With a little time spent tuning your search, you will soon have a quick and efficient book hunting tool.

(N.B. for authors, be sure to use all your tags! See how well “human wave” is working as a search term!)


  1. This information is book-searching gold. I didn’t know you could minus out things like zombies (not that I have anything against them.)

    And, yes, we need more human wave on the science fiction list.

  2. It is also a useful tool and method for finding comps (books sort of like yours whose ‘also bought’ pages you want to show up on.

    Or whose covers you want to examine to see what kind of fonts they use.

    Or whose prices you want to see, and whether they have a print version, etc., etc., etc. Or ratings. Or book descriptions.

    For writers, Amazon is the great marketing reference tool: your colleagues and closest competitors’ books are right there at the touch of the search tool.

    I’m going to go limit my searches with the ‘-‘ and get my information faster.


  3. Yes, i suse directed searches all the time, have been since before google, but it still gets called ‘google fu’

  4. thanks so much for this. amazon doesn’t have a FAQ on how to do better searches and I’m sick to heck that when i go to Science Fiction/Space Exploration I get
    Ice Planet Barbarians: The Complete Series: A SciFi Alien Serial Romance
    Tave: The Complete Series: A Scifi Alien Romance (The Ujal)
    in to top three results.

    That not the kind of exploration I’m looking for.

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