Self-publish your paperback book

Self-publishing a paperback

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

Self-publishing a paperback is easy – but a bit more complicated than self-publishing an e-book. In particular, the cover, manuscript and pricing need care. A step-by-step guide.

My post self-publishing your own book sets out a step-by-step guide to how to publish an e-book on Amazon. Let’s look here at how to publish your own paperback.

Self-publishing a paperback: what’s different?

The good news is that most of the steps to self-publishing a paperback are the same as self-publishing an e-book, ie it’s pretty easy. All the first few stages in my post self-publishing your own book still apply. Those include:

  • Finding an agent or publisher (or not);
  • Paying a publisher to print your book (or not); and
  • Self-publishing your own book: enter Amazon.

So what’s different?

Let’s get started

Let’s look in detail at how to self-publish a paperback on Amazon. To avoid you having to flip back to the earlier blog about self-publishing an e-book, I have made this step-by-step guide complete and self-contained.

Here are the first steps.

  1. To self-publish a paperback on Amazon, you must have an Amazon account. The one you use to buy books, household appliances or whatever you usually get from Amazon is fine.
  2. Go to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) website – you can click on the link if you like. The little cartoon on the page is a masterpiece because it encourages you to have a go. In my view it overstates the likelihood that you will earn a lot of money with your book. But it’s worth watching.
  3. Click on the yellow “sign in” button, under “sign in with your Amazon account”. This takes you to a “Bookshelf” page. This shows all the books you’ve published. If you are self-publishing your first book, the page will be empty.
  4. Click on the yellow “Create” button. This takes you to a page headed “What would you like to create?”. It gives you the option of creating a Kindle e-book, a paperback, a hardback (which I have not yet tried) or a series. My earlier post looks at self-publishing an e-book. This time, let’s click on “Paperback”.
Self-publish a paperback
What would you like to create?

When you click on “Paperback”, this three-page form appears. It looks a bit daunting but don’t worry! It’s easy to work through. Just follow the steps below.

“Paperback details”

Bear in mind that most of these details will be the same as if you have already self-published your paperback as an eBook. You can copy and paste most of the same content.

But let’s go through the form on the basis that you are doing this for the first time.

Filling in paperback details: Page 1

  • Language: choose the language that your paperback is written in.
  • Book Title: insert your title. Bear in mind that if you later change the title, or the author of the book (for example if you use a pseudonym) you have to publish a whole new book. So it’s best to choose your title and stick with it if possible.
  • Subtitle: this is optional. I don’t use it for my novels or full-length paperbacks. I do use it for the e-books of my “Hotel Stories”, which are part of a series. For example, for my Hotel Story The Latest Thing, the title is “The Latest Thing” and the subtitle is “Hotel Stories, No. 12”. You may like to look at other books similar to yours before deciding whether you need a subtitle.
  • Series: if you are self-publishing your first paperback, you can probably ignore this. If you know your book is part of a series you can complete it now; or you can amend it later when you publish another book in the same series. Most of the fields in the Kindle paperback details can be amended later – except for title and author.
  • Edition Number: optional. I usually fill this in with a “1” the first time I upload a book, or a “2” etc if I am making significant changes to an earlier version.
  • Author and contributors – both self-explanatory. Remember that you cannot change the author name without making a completely new book – just like the title.
  • Description: this is probably the single most complex bit of the form to complete. Take your time with it. The description – together with the title and cover – will be the shop window for your paperback on Amazon. You should work hard to make it as compelling as possible. Check out the Amazon descriptions for other books like yours. Try googling “How to write a book description on Amazon” – for example, I like this piece by Jericho Writers. Make your description as good as you possibly can. You can see my own efforts by checking out my books on Amazon, here.
  • Publishing Rights – if this is your book and you have not sold the rights to anyone else, you probably own them.
  • Keywords: choosing keywords is a dark art. I have tried lots of variants without getting the sense that it makes a huge difference. Again, you can try googling “How to choose keywords for Amazon books” for ideas.
  • Categories: click through the options, and have fun. Try to match the categories to your paperback as closely as possible. Remember that the more specialised your categories, the likelier that your book will reach the top of best-seller lists. Again, try googling for advice. As with keywords, it is open to debate how much difference categories really make.
  • Age and Grade Range: this is an optional field. If you are writing for children, or producing a book that is definitely not for children, you may wish to fill it in. I usually leave it unchanged.
Blood Summit by Leigh Turner
“Blood Summit”, first published under my Robert Pimm pseudonym in 2017 and republished in the above form in 2022, was my first paperback

Self-publishing a paperback: page 2

The second page of the form for self-publishing a paperback on Amazon, Paperback Content, is where you upload the text and the cover. Let’s take the points in turn:

  • Print ISBN: your book needs an ISBN (an International Standard Book Number). You have two options. Option 1 is to take Amazon’s free ISBN number. This is what I have always done. It is, indeed, free, and works fine. The only potential downside is that recently Amazon has started issuing ISBN numbers that start with 979. Most other books have ISBNs beginning with 978; and some software (eg at the UK-based Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Site, ALCS) does not accept 979 numbers. But this has not proved a problem for me. Option 2 is to procure an ISBN yourself. How easy this is, and whether you have to pay, depends on where you are based – try googling “How to get an ISBN” or check out this guide at Kindlepreneur.
  • Publication date: you can leave this blank unless you are re-publishing your book.
  • Print options: ink and paper type: this looks a bit scary, but don’t worry. You can choose between Black & white interior with cream paper; Black & white interior with white paper; Standard color interior with white paper; and Premium color interior with white paper. For fiction, unless you have illustrations in colour, you will want one of the first two. I have so far always picked Black & white interior with cream paper. This has produced good results.
  • Print options: trim size: this means the size (width and height) of the finished paperback book. Amazon offers you a range of options. To see what will work best for you, try measuring some existing paperbacks on your shelf. I have so far always used “5 x 8 in”, ie 5 inches wide and 8 inches high.
  • Print options: bleed and paperback cover finish: Amazon’s explanation on the page of what “bleed” means is clear enough: I have always ticked “no bleed” for my novels and short stories. For the cover, you have a choice of “Matte” and “Glossy”. I have so far always used “Matte” – again, results have been excellent.
  • Manuscript: this is a difference from the e-book. For e-books, you can upload a “Word” document or e-pub file. For a paperback, Amazon recommends you upload a formatted PDF file. For all my paperbacks I have paid someone to produce a professional-looking text with different fonts, formatting, layout etc. I use Kate Coe at Book Polishers – very good. Alternatively, you can produce your own PDF; or upload a Word document. I have not tried either but if you do this I would be interested to hear (in the comments below) how it goes for you.
  • Once you have uploaded your manuscript, Amazon spell-check it. They may pick up typos, or words you have used – such as foreign words or slang – that are not in their dictionary. It will highlight them and give you a chance to amend them. You can do this by editing your manuscript on your computer and uploading it again. But that’s it. Your manuscript is now uploaded!
  • Book Cover: this is another big difference from publishing an e-book. In both cases, the cover is important – it can have a big impact on potential readers. For an e-book, Amazon’s “Cover Creator” works OK. But self-designing a paperback cover, with front, back and a spine whose thickness is tailored to the number of pages in your book, is more complicated. If you have a technical or design bent, feel free to have a go. My experience: after dabbling early on with self-designed book covers, I have in recent years always used a professional to design a good cover for both e-books and (always) paperbacks. You can pay anything from $5 on Fiverr to hundreds of dollars. I have used two great designers: Creative Covers in the UK and Barney Design in the US.
  • Book preview: Click on “Launch Previewer”. After a moment’s thought, Amazon provides a mock-up of your paperback: cover, title page, index (if any) and so on. This is invaluable: unlike an e-book, where the reader can vary the font size, the mock-up of your paperback you see on the previewer is exactly how your book will appear. This includes whether there are any problems with the design and layout of your cover (this is where I gave up trying to design my own paperback covers). I always use the previewer carefully to check the layout of the whole book. Do all your chapters start on a new page? Is the layout consistent throughout? Is the title in the right place? If you are not happy with the layout, you can simply edit the text of your book on your computer; then upload it to Amazon again.
  • Summary: Amazon then gives you a fascinating bunch of data on your self-published paperback. In particular, it includes the printing cost of your book. This is important. First, Amazon take this cost; add a profit margin; and then produce a basic price for your paperback. The smaller and thinner your book, the less the printing cost will be. Other factors, such as illustrations, colour etc, will also affect the printing cost. Like a real publisher, for a given price, you will be able to make higher profits, if you wish, from a book that is cheaper to print. Second, the printing cost plus the Amazon profit margin will determine the cheapest price for which you can sell your book (see page 3, below) before you add on any profit margin for yourself. You may not want to make your book shorter – eg by cutting a chapter or a scene – to reduce your printing costs, but bear in mind that it’s possible.

Self-publishing a paperback: page 3

We’re nearly there, now. This may all seem complicated but becomes easier with practice. Here are the questions on the final KDP page for self-publishing your paperback, Paperback rights and Pricing:

  • Territories: unless you have sold the rights for some countries to someone else, you can put “All territories”.
  • Primary marketplace: this is up to you. I usually put the US, on the grounds that it is potentially the biggest market and I sell quite a few books there.
  • Pricing, royalty and distribution 1: this is important. Amazon take the printing price and set a minimum price for your paperback, including a profit margin for them. If you like, you can sell the book for that price – the minimum possible – and make no money at all from sales. That will make your paperback as cheap as possible. If you increase the price, the amount of money you receive will increase – and so will Amazon’s profit. You can enter a price in the box (under “list price”) and Amazon will automatically show you the royalty that you will receive for that price. What you decide is up to you: a low price will sell more books, a higher price that will net you more royalties per book sold. Where the sweet spot is to maximise your sales income is difficult to predict. Amazon for a while provided a royalties estimator – a graph showing how much you would earn by putting the price at different levels – but have since removed it.
  • Pricing, royalty and distribution 2: you can set prices for your paperback in two ways. First, you can set a price for the primary market you choose (eg the US), and Amazon will automatically set a price for all other markets. Second, you can choose a price for each market yourself – for example, to make it a round number, or to price your book at £4.99 rather than £4.73. I tend to fix a price for the primary market and let Amazon do the rest.
  • Pricing, royalty and distribution 3: one key thing about Amazon is that your self-published paperback will be a “print on demand” book. This means that copies are only printed when someone buys them. Result: you don’t have to invest money in having copies printed or stored. This avoids the potentially high costs of getting a publisher to print, store and distribute your book mentioned in my earlier blog (see “Paying a publisher to print your book”).
  • Publish your paperback book: see that yellow button in the bottom right? Click on it, and your book will be published! A message comes up saying your paperback book is under review, and will be available after a certain period, such as 72 hours. Often it is available sooner. Amazon notify you when the book is up on its site.

Congratulations! You have published your book!

You’re an author!

When Amazon tell your self-published paperback book is up on their site, it is available for purchase by Amazon customers around the world.

What happens next?

Once you have self-published your paperback, you may also want to self-publish an e-book version on Amazon, if you have not yet done so. This is a bit easier than publishing a paperback. My step-by-step guide is here.

One tip: as I have mentioned, the chap in the Amazon cartoon, who encourages you to publish, is showered with money as soon as he publishes his book on line. For 99.9% of people this will not happen. Your paperback book is in the Amazon store, but it is one of literally millions. The chances of anyone finding it at random, or of you making a lot of money from self-publishing, are not necessarily gigantic.

The good news is that you can increase your chances of your book selling well on Amazon by doing two things. The first is to promote your book. There are thousands of things you can do – start by googling “How to promote your book”. I do a lot of promotion, but haven’t written much about this yet – let me know if you are interested.

The second thing you can do is keep writing, and keep studying your craft. I have written around 50 posts of writing tips. Have a look at the link in the previous sentence!

Finally, if you’d like to hold in your hand a concrete example of a self-published book, you can see all my books by clicking on the picture below. Eternal Life, Blood Summit and Seven Hotel Stories are all self-published and selling well – better than the published-by-a-publisher Palladium, so far at least.

Leigh Turner books


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