Guide to Amazon's Advanced Search for Books

It seems simple enough to search for books on Amazon, doesn't it? But there really is some finesse necessary to navigate millions of books, often listed with unreliable underlying data.

99% of the time when you look for a book on Amazon, the first place you're going to go is the universal search at the top of the page, just as you would search for anything else. But on Amazon the book category in particular has a sophisticated advanced search that any book collector should get acquainted with.

The advanced search page now has a prettier URL, but I will describe how to find it and include the URL below. From the Amazon home page, you would click on the hamburger menu in the upper left corner, click Books, then Books again. Once you're in the books section, in the white navigation bar just right of the word 'Books', you will see a link to the Advanced Search that you can click.

The first and most important area is also the most obvious one. These are the fields that you can enter your search terms into. The fields are keywords, author, title, ISBN, and publisher. Normally, you will just be using author, title, and publisher. If you know the ISBN, you don't really have a need for the advanced search to begin with, any search box will work.

The vast majority of your searches can be accomplished with just author, title, and publisher, but next to this section there are some other drop-downs and form fields.

There is a field for condition, format, reader age, language, publication date, and sort. There's also a drop-down under the search Fields called subject. We'll go through all of them, but the most important ones are format and publication date.

The subject drop-down is not particularly helpful. If you really are searching for a book by subject and you don't know much other information about the book, choosing the subject is not going to be a lot of help. The condition field is does what you would expect, but the book page itself is going to show whether a particular condition is available or not anyway.

Reader age is a lot like subject, in that it is a field that is more likely to derail your search than narrow it usefully. Language can be useful if you are searching for a specific book written in one language but desired in another. For example if you were searching for Jorge Luis Borges, but you wanted a book that was translated into English, you could use the language drop-down. Normally though, the publisher and publication date will already narrow that down and be displayed in results.

The sort drop down isn't necessarily useful for finding a particular edition of a book so I wouldn't change its setting. The keywords field is a wild card, you can use it to search for keywords within the descriptions of the book, or at times to rule out certain types of books. The Advanced Search page on Amazon describes searching for books written by Malcolm X but not his autobiography. In that case you would use the minus operator before autobiography ("-autobiography") in the keywords field. The minus character means 'leave out results' that are include the keyword 'autobiography', or mention autobiography in the description. There is a chance that this can mess up your searches as well, because the description might say something along the lines of "this is Malcolm X's finest work outside of his autobiography" and you could rule that out of your results. This is something that is helpful to keep in mind while you are trying to search.

Also, do not assume that all of the information in Amazon database is going to be accurate and you'll have an easier time finding what you're looking for. Publication dates are a good example. You can find editions of a book you know was writted in 1979, that claim to be from the 1700s.

The format is another example, you will run across hardcovers that are listed as paperback and vice versa. We have spoken before why you might choose to purchase books from an incorrect listing, but we're talking about searches for now. When searching, if you see books with inaccurate data, try avoiding searching by the inaccurate fields.

One side note, the ISBN field in the Advanced Search actually does have a useful purpose. If you have a list of ISBNs and you want to look at all of them, for example if you are in school-- you have ten books for your class, and you can enter them into the ISBN field separated by pipes ("|") and it will return just those books. That's a nice time saver but it is of limited usefulness to most of us.

We've included links to the search to tips and the advanced search itself below if you have any, please email them to us and we will add them to the article as necessary

Amazon Advanced Search for Books

The search tips page for Advanced Search has been removed by Amazon or folded into their search system for support, so we are including it here.

You can also search by subject, ISBN, or publisher. Specifying these facts can be very helpful if you are trying to distinguish one book from many similar items, but we recommend doing so only when absolutely necessary. If you choose to search by ISBN, search only by that and make sure you type the number correctly, without any dashes. If you choose to search by subject or publisher, we suggest you specify only the main word from the subject or publisher's name. For example, conduct a search for "O'Reilly" to find all titles by O'Reilly and Associates.

You can refine your search even further by format (hardcover, paperback, Kindle book, audiobook, large print, calendar), reader age (baby-3, 4-8, 9-12, teen and older), language (Spanish), or publication date (before, during, or after any year).

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