How to self-publish a book on Amazon (Kindle and paperback)
Want to self-publish a book on Amazon?
But does require some knowledge and some time.
Here I’ll explain what you need to know to self-publish your book on Amazon (as well as some other popular platforms like iBooks).
Self-publishing is the wave of the future for a lot of authors – now you can earn income from your writing without the support of a big publishing company.
Pros and cons of self-publishing your book on Amazon
I once had a flatmate who fancied herself a writer.
She didn’t acutally write, as far as I know. But she did consider herself to have ideas that she should write about sometday.
Once, I told her I had some books on Amazon and she asked me who my publisher was.
“None. I’m self-published.”
She said it like it was the worst kind of insult.
The fact was, though, I was cashing royalty checks every month, and she wasn’t. (She later claimed to have paid her college tuition by working for a “nude cleaning service”. So whatever.)
Anyway, these days I’m living a lifestyle that would have been ridiculously out of reach just a few years ago…
More money, less work.
And a lot of it has to do with the royalties I earn every month from my self-published books.
Self-publishing your book can be great, for a couple of reasons:
- Depending on the country of sale, Amazon will pay you 35% or 70% of the book’s price in royalties. That’s a lot more than a “real” publishing company will give you.
- You have basically full control of what you publish. Amazon has a few rules against certain kinds of content, but for the most part, you don’t have to worry. Write what you want, and publish it.
- Work once, get paid “forever”. I’m still selling copies of the first book I ever wrote, back in 2011. So 7 years later, I’m making money off of work that’s already done. (When has your boss ever called you up and said “Here’s a little extra for that hard work you did 7 years ago…”? I’m guessing never.)
- You get to share your expertise (or whatever) with the world, build a relationship with your readers, start a movement or tribe. Whatever you want.
- You can publish books even if your potential audience is small. A lot of publishers won’t work with tiny niches, but on Amazon you can find your people and make a profit. (It might not be enough to inspire the folks at Random House, but a couple hundred extra bucks a month would definitely help out most people I know a lot.)
The fact is, a lot of “traditionally published” authors out there are really badly paid. Unless you happen to be Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, good luck getting more than a few cents a copy from your publisher.
In fact, most books out there (even with a publishing house) sell fewer than a couple of hundred copies a year, and the authors rarely end up paying back their advances – if they get one to begin with.
So by all means, get self-published! And don’t let the haters bring you down.
If your book is priced at $5.00, and the royalty is 70% (which it is, in certain Kindle marketplaces) you make a cool $3.50 per sale…
Not enough to retire to an island in the Caribbean, probably.
But it’s passive income – money you earn while you eat, sleep or Netflix and Chill with your spouse or significant other.
All in all, publishing on Kindle is not a bad deal.
But there are some cons…
Cons of self-publishing your book
I can only really think of one major con to self-publishing your book, but for some people it’s a deal-breaker:
You’re gonna have to do your own marketing.
For me, that’s fine, most of the time.
I started my blog first, and already had an audience willing to buy my stuff by the time I discovered I could publish a book on Kindle.
From there, I’ve grown my blog (and my audience) considerably. I’ve become something of an expert in marketing, email, social media and copywriting. I’ve got fans on YouTube who are happy to watch my videos, and lots of people reading my email newsletters.
But some people just can’t be bothered with marketing.
I guess I don’t have a great comeback for someone who considers himself to be a “serious artist“, and who’d never want to dirty his hands by trying to sell something.
Enjoy your artistic poverty and suffering, though!
‘Cause here’s the honest truth: most of the authors you can actually name spend a significant amount of time on self-promotion.
Pablo Picasso, one of the most prolific artists of the 20th century, was also a tireless self-promoter. And so, I’m guessing, is virtually every other successful writer and artist.
So if you’re unwilling to do whatever you can to get your work in front of people, you might just spend your whole “career” wallowing in obscurity.
Good luck with that.
Some minor cons are that you’ll probably have to go out and hire your own cover designer, and think about formatting your book yourself. But we’ll cover those later.
Anyway, let’s get down to the nitty gritty…
The first step to self-publishing: write the damn book
But writing a book, as you may have guessed, is hard work.
I’ve done it about a dozen times, and sometimes (especially for the first few) it’s a bit like a slow type of torture.
If you’re still thinking about what to write, my advice is to think of your audience. Does the world want or need your book? Why?
Who will read it?
Different authors say different things about how much you should focus on your audience and how much you should “follow your heart“.
And in the end it depends, as well, on how much you’re hoping to sell. Detective thrillers are easier to sell (usually) than literary fiction. So take that into account before spending months writing a book.
But let’s assume you’re able to sit down and write for an hour or two a day, get your manuscript together, and have something you’re willing for the public to see.
(Remember, good writing is in the editing. Or to put it more bluntly, “The first draft of anything is shit.”)
Now, it’s time to…
Open a Kindle Account and Add Your Book’s Info
If you already have an Amazon account, this part is super easy.
You just need to add some tax info and bank account numbers (so you can get paid) and you’re good to go.
Go to kdp.amazon.com to get started.
It’s a pretty simple process. Takes about 5 minutes.
After that, you can go to your “Bookshelf”, click on Create a New Title and add your book’s info.
You’ll have to choose a category, add the author’s name, a book description and a little bit more.
On the following page, you upload your book’s content file and cover image.
(You should probably pay a professional designer to make your book cover – unless you have an eye for design yourself, it’ll help a lot.)
Having said that, there are tools you can use. Canva is free, and has book cover templates. And Amazon has a cover generator you can use inside the Kindle publishing platform.
Just don’t publish something that looks absolutely terrible and then wonder why it’s not selling.
(Full disclosure: I have absolutely no eye for design, myself, so I get a professional off of 99designs to do it for me.)
Now that you’ve got your cover, let’s…
Export your file in a Kindle-friendly format
The trickiest part of this whole process, for most people, is exporting a file in a format that will work on Kindle.
I personally write on an application called Scrivener, which exports directly into an .epub or .mobi file.
Kindle uses .mobi, but I’ve had more success exporting an .epub and uploading it to both iBooks and Kindle.
In any case, these days Kindle will let you use a lot of different file formats for your book. They’ve even got a tool called Kindle Create that will supposedly help you out.
Your results may vary, though – you don’t want to publish something with awful formatting, so try to do your best.
The nuclear option is to get a designer on Upwork or something similar. For a few dozen bucks you can get your Word document turned into something decent-looking for Kindle.
Ready to continue? We’re almost done here.
Let’s move on…
Upload your book to Kindle, set a price, and publish
Back on kdp.amazon.com, after you’ve uploaded your cover, it’s time to upload your Kindle-optimized file.
It’ll take a few minutes to process everything into a readable format, and if everything’s good, you’ll be able to click through to the next page, entitled “Kindle Ebook Pricing”.
But first, you should take a look at the Kindle Preview – it’s a sort of app they have there that’ll let you see what your book will look like on a Kindle (and perhaps on a few different types of tablets).
If everything looks good, you can head off to set your price. If not, you might have to spend a while fiddling with your book’s text file until it looks like you want it to.
Be prepared to do several exports of your book file before getting it “perfect” – especially the first time you self-publish.
But then, assuming there are no big errors, it’s time to think about…
Setting a price for your self-published masterpiece
How much do you want your book to cost?
If you choose the 70% royalty plan – and you probably should – there’ll be a limited price range of $2.99 to 9.99 for your book.
If you choose the 35% royalty plan, they’re more flexible. But most Kindle books are priced pretty low anyway, so you might as well do the 70% plan.
My Kindle books all cost 3 to 6 bucks, because that’s generally the maximum I’m willing to pay for someone else’s Kindle book. If the ebook costs more than that, I usually just spring for the paperback.
Anyway, on the final page, you select the price and royalty scheme for different marketplaces, and click publish.
And you’re done!
Amazon takes 24 to 72 hours to review the files and add all the info to the site.
When they’re done, they’ll send you an email.
Congratulations: you’re a real (self) published author now.
Feels good, doesn’t it?
Get an ISBN for your self-published book
Worried about getting an ISBN?
The good news is you don’t need an ISBN for a Kindle book. Amazon will assign an ASIN to your book, which is an identification number for the Amazon platform.
It’s something like this: B0743KVNKV.
If you decide to publish a paperback version of your book, Amazon will also assign you a free ISBN. So don’t worry.
I guess there’s an option of buying your own ISBN somewhere else.
But that’s more if you have a publishing company of your own – which, if you’re reading this, you probably don’t.
I’ve always used free ISBNs, and I’ve never had a problem.
Anyway, that’s also more for people who want to self-publish a paperback book, which is (conveniently enough) our next topic…
Self-publish a paperback book on Amazon
This is very new: you can finally self-publish a book directly on Kindle.
Previously, Amazon had a company called CreateSpace, which they used to publish and distribute paperbacks on Amazon platforms in certain countries.
(As far as I know, paperback distribution is limited to the USA and a few countries in Europe. But it’s always expanding.)
Now, however, you can publish your paperback right on Kindle. It’s really simple, but might require you to hire a designer again.
I get my books designed on Upwork, and it doesn’t cost much. Definitely better than trying to do it myself.
Anyway, what you basically have to do is transform the file into an appropriately sized PDF: if you want your book to be 6 by 9 inches, then you need to make a PDF with pages that size.
Then, you need a cover file (also PDF) that contains the front cover, a back cover, and the book’s spine, all laid out on one big page.
You upload that, and check out a digital proof.
You can also order a physical proof to look through it. Since you’ve spent a lot of time so far writing your book, I’d recommend you go through it one more time for errors.
Ideally with a physical proof, which Amazon can ship to you in a few days – you just pay the printing costs and a few bucks’ shipping.
After that, it’s time to get down to business – and by business, I mean marketing.
That, however, is a topic for another article.
Let’s finish up with…
Self-publishing on iBooks
The iBooks platform from Apple is also available for self-publishing ebooks. And Google Play also has a bookstore, presumably for those people (I’ve never met one) who might want to read books on their Android tablet.
The problem with iBooks is you have to download a program called iBooks Author to then upload your file to Apple’s servers.
The program and the iBooks platform aren’t very user-friendly. Google is easier.
But you can get set up for people to buy your book on iTunes in a couple of hours. iBooks uses an .epub file format that you can export from a number of programs, and you can usually use the same cover that you used on Amazon.
Careful, though: if you signed up for KDP Select when you published your book on Kindle, you’ve promised exclusivity to Amazon for at least 90 days.
Don’t publish your book on other platforms unless you’ve opted out of KDP Select.
These days, in any case, a vast majority of my sales come from Amazon, and so I don’t worry too much about iBooks or Google Play.
Also, if you want to sell a PDF copy of your book, you can do it on a platform called Gumroad. They take a cut of your sales (for payment processing and such) but send you the rest at the end of every week.
It’s very simple and easy to use, I’ve been doing it for years.
Anyway, that’s about it…
Final notes on self-publishing a book on Amazon (or wherever)
Okay, so you’ve written your masterpiece.
You’ve published it on Amazon.
Well, that’s the big question. It’s time to get your hands dirty with the marketing end of things.
Actually, it would be much better for you to start marketing and building an audience even before you publish your book
Do you have a blog? A bunch of followers on Twitter or Instagram? Now’s the time to start selling the book to them.
I’ve tried the other strategy: put it up on Amazon and hope for someone to buy it.
Lemme tell ya: it’s pretty hit or miss.
What’s far better is to have an idea of who would read it, what benefit they’ll receive, and how to get the book in front of them.
In my case, I know my target market very well, so I’m able to write new books based on what I know they need and want. And they visit my website, follow my Facebook page, and are otherwise hungry for the type of knowledge I’m offering. So it all works out. Your case is probably different.
Anyway, I could go on and on about marketing, but that should probably be another article or ten.
Want more inspiration to self-publish a book?
You’re in the right place.
So while we’re here, check out my book, The Zen of Blogging.
It’s self-published, and pretty good (if I may say so myself).
If you read it, you’ll learn how I went from dead-broke English teacher in Madrid to being a pro writer and blogger – and how you can use blogging and self-publishing to design the lifestyle you really want.
Then pick up a copy, and enjoy!