Self-publishing your own book on Amazon is easy, but you may find a bit of help useful the first time. A simple step-by-step guide.
People often ask me for advice on self-publishing. Here is the first of what I plan to be several blogs on how to publish your own book. A list of all my books is on my Amazon author page. So far, all except my Istanbul thriller Palladium are self-published. If you find this blog helpful, please buy one of my self-published books to see how they look! They start at $0.99.
Self-publishing your own book: introduction
Congratulations! You have written a book. You have studied your craft (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). Maybe you have attended writing courses, such as these ones. You made your words shine with the sweat of your brow. You are ready for your book to be published.
What do you do next?
Finding an agent or publisher
For many people, the next step is to send your precious manuscript off to a literary agent or publisher. This remains the highway to success for many authors. I have been sending books off to agents and publishers for years. My blog “Slow publishing: a case study” sets out the results so far, including the commercial publication of my Istanbul thriller Palladium.
Paying a publisher to print your book
What if you can’t find a publisher? Until recently, options for publishing your own book were limited. Some respectable publishers would publish your book, for a fee. But you never knew for sure what the quality of the book you ended up with would be like. Even if the quality was great, you risked ending up with dozens or hundreds of copies of your book but no way to sell them.
This method still works fine: some publishers do a great job, and will store books for you, for a price. Some will also handle sales – again, for a commission. People who have done this tell me that it works best if you want to print a few copies of your book to give to friends, but not to make a living.
You also have to pay a significant amount for design, layout, printing costs etc – you are likely to be many hundreds or thousands of dollars, euro or pounds out of pocket before you have sold a single book.
Finally, be cautious of so-called “vanity publishers”. These are companies that pretend to be normal publishers and are enthusiastic about your book, but then ask you to pay the costs of publication, and may not deliver a good service. If possible, use a publisher someone you know has recommended, or that you know about.
Self-publishing your own book: enter Amazon
In 2007, everything changed. That was the year Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader. At the same time, they made it possible for any writer to publish an e-book and publish it in the Kindle store.
At first, the self-publishing process was a bit clunky, and sales of e-books were slow to take off. But over the years, what is now called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has become easier to use. You can now use KDP to publish paperbacks or even hardbacks as well as e-books. A few key points:
- self-publishing your own book on Amazon is free. You don’t have to pay to use the service, and Amazon provide basic tools to design your cover, upload the text, and publish your book to Amazon’s unique sales interface. This makes it available to a global audience;
- if you self-publish your paperback on Amazon you don’t have to pay printing costs or storage costs because the books are print-on-demand. E-books of course have no printing or storage costs anyhow;
- self-publishing your own book on Amazon is fast. Once your text and your cover are ready, you can upload the whole thing in around an hour. The book will be on sale within 72 hours – often, quicker;
- some bits of the process are a bit fiddly and not quite obvious. We’ll come to those;
- but overall, the whole Amazon self-publishing thing is fairly easy. I’m not technically gifted or a computer whiz, but I manage it fine.
Let’s get started: self-publishing your own e-book
Enough history. Let’s start publishing your book. We will start with self-publishing an an e-book on Amazon, because that is easiest. In a later blog we will look at self-publishing a paperback on Amazon.
Here are the first steps.
- To self-publish your book on Amazon, you must have an Amazon account. The one you use to buy books, ice-cream scoops or whatever you usually get from Amazon is fine.
- Go to the Kindle Direct Publishing 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.
- Click on the yellow “sign in” button, under “sign in with your Amazon account”. This takes you to a “Bookshelf” page – ie a bookshelf of all the books you’ve published. If you are self-publishing your first book, the page will be empty.
- 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. I’ll talk about paperbacks and series later. For now, click on “Create eBook”.
Self-publishing your own book: filling in Amazon’s form
When you click on “Create eBook”, this 3-page form appears. It looks a bit daunting but it’s easy to work through.
Bear in mind that most of these details will be exactly the same if you later decide to self-publish a paperback to complement your eBook, or if you self-publish a paperback first and then do an eBook. You can copy and paste most of the same content.
Let’s go through the form.
Filling in Kindle eBook details: Page 1
- Language: choose the language that your book 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. I do use it for 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 book, 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 eBook 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 book 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.
- 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, 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 book 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.
Filling in Kindle eBook details: page 2
The second page of the form for self-publishing your own book on Amazon, Kindle eBook Content, is where you upload the text and the cover. Let’s take the points in turn:
- Digital Rights Management (DRM): the Amazon explanation of these is clear. I usually click “no”.
- Upload eBook manuscript 1: you can do this in various ways. First, you can upload a “Word” version of your story. This works fine – I have done this for short stories. But you need to check that the layout is OK later (see “Kindle eBook preview” below). This has the advantage of the entire process being in your hands. You can edit your Word document, and upload a new version, any time you want.
- Upload eBook manuscript 2: the second way to upload your self-published manuscript is to pay someone to make an epub file for you. I have done this with my novels as part of a deal to produce a nicely laid-out PDF for the paperback (see my post on publishing a paperback). I use Kate Coe at Book Polishers – recommended.
- Upload eBook manuscript 3: a third option is that Amazon have recently added to page 2 of the Kindle eBook details a new option: “Kindle Create“. You can download an app that they promise will produce a good-looking eBook for you. I haven’t tried this yet – if you have used it, do tell us about it in the “Comments” below.
- Once you have uploaded your manuscript, Amazon 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!
- Kindle eBook Cover: the cover is important. Amazon offers a “Cover Creator” that works OK. But in my view, it’s worth getting a professional to design you a good cover. 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. For an e-book, you just need a front cover – often a JPG file that you can upload. If you plan to publish a paperback, you will need a front, back and spine tailored to the thickness of your book (more on this later).
- Kindle eBook preview: Amazon provide an “Online previewer” and “Downloadable Preview Options”. I have only ever used the former. For an e-book, click on “Launch Previewer”. After a moment’s thought, Amazon provides a mock-up of your e-book: cover, title page, index (if any) and so on. It’s a bit tricky to visualise because, for example, on a Kindle e-reader the layout will change if the reader makes the font bigger or smaller. But 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, until you have a product you are happy with.
- ISBN: you don’t need an ISBN (a unique reference number for your book) for an e-book. Amazon will assign its own reference number. Nor do I usually fill in the Publisher if I am publishing the book myself.
Filling in Kindle eBook details: page 3
We’re nearly there, now. This may all seem complicated but becomes easier with practice. Here are the questions on the final page for self-publishing your book, Kindle eBook Pricing:
- KDP Select Enrollment: click on the “learn more” tab to read the details. I have so far always signed up for KDP Select for the following reasons. First, you can promote your books with “free book promotions”, which I often use with my short stories to spread the word. Second, Amazon users who sign up for the “Kindle unlimited” scheme can then read as many of your books as they want, without paying – and you get little payments for the number of pages they read. If you are not selling large numbers of books it’s gratifying to see people nonetheless reading your book, or your stories (the “KDP reports” feature you get once your book is on sale shows sales, and pages read, live; it’s quite addictive). The downside is that you cannot sell digital copies of any books enrolled in KDP Select on any non-Amazon platforms.
- 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.
- Pricing, royalty and distribution: this is important. When Amazon first introduced this service, authors could only get 35% royalties. Later, Amazon introduced a 2-tier system. If your self-published e-book is priced at $2.99 or above, you can choose to receive 70% royalties (you can also in theory choose 35% royalties, although no sane person would do so). If your book is priced between $0.99 – the minimum allowed – and $2.99, you can only receive 35% royalties. What price you put is up to you. A lower price is likely to sell more books. A higher price will get you higher royalties per book. But the balance between price and actual income is hard to predict. Many commercially published books have e-book prices just a bit lower than a paperback, even though an e-book has lower production and distribution costs. I tend to make my e-books cheaper than the paperbacks, but it’s a fine balance. I will address pricing of paperbacks in my separate blog on self-publishing paperbacks – it’s a bit more complicated.
- Book Lending: this allows you to permit readers to lend your e-book to other people. I tend to tick “yes”.
- Self-publish Your Kindle eBook: see that bright yellow button, bottom right? Click on it! That’s all done, now. A message comes up saying that your book is under review, and will be available on line after a certain period, such as 72 hours. Often it is available somewhat sooner. Amazon will send you an e-mail when the book is up on its site.
When Amazon tell your self-published e-book is up on their site, it is available for purchase by Amazon customers around the world.
Self-publishing your book: what happens next?
Once you have self-published your e-book, you may also want to self-publish a paperback version of your book on Amazon. This is not complicated but there are a few tricky bits. I shall do a step-by-step guide in a future blog post.
One tip: as I have mentioned, the chap in the Amazon cartoon, who encourages you to publish on KDP, is showered with money as soon as he publishes his book on line. For 99.9% of people this will not happen. Your 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 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 look at a summary of my books on this website, click on the picture below. I’d be delighted if you decide to read one – let me know what you think.
And if you’ve just self-published your first book, congratulations! You’re an author!