How To Self-Publish on Amazon

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As the saying goes, everyone has a book in them. But how do you get that work to the public, develop an audience, build a literary brand and sustain a writing career? 

In the past, heading to corporate book publishers and pitching in person was how it was done. Today, many writers have opted for a quicker route: self-publishing their works through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.

The online retail giant’s global market is massive compared to the scope of traditional publishers. It also allows authors more creative freedom — KDP authors have control over editing, design, marketing and pricing. They also keep much more of the profits their works earn.

Self-Publishing on Amazon

The process of self-publishing on Amazon is relatively easy, but as with any endeavor, attention to detail is key in making the product stand out from a crowded, competitive field. Here’s a look at the steps you’ll need to take to get started.

Register for an Amazon Account

New authors must have an Amazon account to get started on the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Point your browser to the KDP sign-in page. You can use an existing Amazon account or create a new one on this page. 

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Below the sign-in buttons, links will bring you to pages on various popular book genres. If your work fits one of these categories, click through and have a quick read on authors who have published in the genre through KDP. 

Once the account is open, click on the “Update” button to provide tax information to Amazon, including your Social Security number or tax identification number. The company will track your revenues for federal tax regulations.   

Format the Book

Before uploading a title to the KDP platform, it’s necessary to get books into the correct format. You can publish a manuscript free of charge as a paperback, an e-book or a hardcover book. Amazon charges your printing costs against your royalties for paperbacks and hardcover books.  

Review the Kindle Publishing Guidelines. For e-books, this handy page links to another page that compares the different formats that will convert to a usable Kindle file.

The guidelines include helpful information on:

  • Cover images
  • Navigation through the book
  • External links
  • Interior photos
  • Tables of contents
  • Indexes
  • Other details that go into book production

The most common formats for e-books are Microsoft Word, Kindle Package Format, EPUB and MOBI. Each of these formats handles text and images differently. It’s vital to research these formats to understand how they set up images, text frames, bookmarking and related information. It’s also important to know how these different aspects of your book will work once the whole thing is uploaded to the KDP platform.

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Amazon requires authors to upload a manuscript file and a cover file for paperbacks and hardcover books. The manuscript file includes all front and back matter, as well as the main text body. The cover file includes the front cover, back cover and spine, with text and images placed where they will appear on the physical book.

Amazon provides templates for these files in different trim sizes. It also offers the Kindle Create application for authors who need assistance setting up and polishing their book files. 

Create a Cover

Contrary to wishful thinking among authors and publishers, people judge a book by its cover — and do so critically. Even in text-heavy media such as physical books or e-books, images win the contest for reader attention.

A good cover does more than hint at the story and style of a book. It grabs attention immediately and inspires curiosity in the prospective buyer. Without reading any text, the cover and the title are the only means for someone to evaluate the book and make a decision on buying it.   

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Many professional book designers can create a dynamic, intriguing cover for your book. Unless you have graphic design experience, hiring someone for this step is a good idea. Browse freelance sites such as Fiverr for cover artists, check the genres they work in and look at their past work. If a particular design strikes your interest or seems to work well in your genre, contact the designer and ask for a quote. 

List a New Title

After you open an account, get a book into the proper format and prepare cover art, it’s time to list some vital information on your book for Amazon’s detail page. This is a crucial step in the process. It’s important to write and revise the information carefully to depict the book to prospective buyers accurately. Once the book is published, many of the details are locked and can’t be modified.    

Enter the Book Details

Click on “Bookshelf” from your account page, then hit the “Create” button. This is where you enter all the public details of each edition of the book.

Choose the type of book to be created: e-book, paperback or hardcover. The book details include title, subtitle, author name and International Standard Book Number. The ISBN is a unique identifier assigned to each edition and format. Authors can purchase ISBNs for their books from Bowker or take advantage of a free ISBN offered by Amazon.

Create a Book Description

The next step is to create a full book description. Explain what your book is about and why readers will find it useful or entertaining. Intrigue the public with hints about the content, snippets of text or interesting quotes. Make the description as fun and readable as possible by using short paragraphs, bulleted lists and bold or italic highlights. 

Choose and Enter Keywords

Consider how readers who search Google or Amazon will find your book. There are millions of listings on Amazon, so the most important problem to solve is getting the book to the top of a search results page using effective keywords. With a high ranking, buyers looking for relevant subject matter will be more likely to find your book.

After the description, Amazon allows booksellers to enter up to seven keywords. These are words or phrases associated with the book that will help it show up when a user of Google or Amazon is doing a search. Before deciding on this essential information, enter a keyword you’re considering into Google and Amazon to see what it brings up. 

Several apps can help you select keywords. For example, Publisher Rocket compares Amazon and Google search results for certain keywords, scoring each phrase on a scale of 1 to 99. The tool also shows the revenues earned by books with similar topics and keyword phrases. KWFinder is a similar tool that ranks the popularity of specific keywords. 

Select Categories for the Book

After entering keywords, it’s time to select categories for the book. These will show up on the details page, and it’s a good idea to search for more popular categories before selecting them. On the details page, the categories appear along with the book’s sales rank within that particular category. The lower the number, the more popular the book.  

Upload Your Book

With a book in a supported format, it’s time to upload it to the platform.

A list of your books appears on your Bookshelf, which you can find on the account home page. On your Bookshelf, you can view the ISBN, list price and how the book will appear on the Amazon detail page. Click on “Kindle eBook Actions” next to the appropriate title to upload your book. Then click on “eBook Content,” then “Upload eBook Manuscript.” 

Once the process is complete, Amazon sends a confirmation message. This would be the time to preview the file for any problems in formatting, appearance and the like, and to give the text, table of contents, captions and all other textual material a close once-over. 

Consider the Costs and Set the Book’s Price

Authors choose the price charged by Amazon for their books. Compare the price of other books in the same genre and of the same length. Consider the size of your audience and whether or not you have previously published works on the platform. Also, take into account any reviews your work has garnered. A high number of good reviews will justify a higher price for the work. 

Before setting the price for your book, you’ll also want to consider the costs associated with self-publishing on Amazon. There’s no upfront cost to publish e-books on the KDP platform. Amazon charges printing costs for physical books. Here are the details on those costs and other factors you should take into account.

Royalties

Royalties vary by format and run from 35% to 70%.

Note that KDP is a print-on-demand service. The printing costs are charged against your royalties when a book is sold and applies only to that book. It’s not necessary to order a minimum number of copies in advance or keep any physical inventory. This simplifies the economics of publishing and makes it easier to earn a profit from your writing. 

Printing Costs for Paperbacks

Printing costs for paperbacks using black ink are as follows:

  • 24-108 pages: $2.15 per book, no additional cost per page
  • 110-828 pages: $0.85 per book plus $0.012 per page

For paperbacks using color ink, printing costs are priced slightly higher:

  • 24-40 pages printed with premium ink: $3.65 per book, no additional cost per page
  • 42-828 pages printed with premium ink: $0.85 per book plus $0.07 per page
  • 72-600 pages printed with standard ink: $0.85 per book plus $0.036 per page

Printing Costs for Hardcover Books

Printing costs for hardcover books using black ink are as follows:

  • 75-108 pages: $6.80 per book, no additional cost per page
  • 110-550 pages: $5.50 per book plus $0.012 per page

For hardcover books that are 75-550 pages long and are printed in color ink, printing costs are priced slightly higher at $5.50 per book plus a per-page cost of $0.070.

Maximum List Price

The maximum list price you can set for a paperback or hardcover book is $250.

Enroll in KDP Select

Authors can enhance their marketing reach and their royalties by enrolling in KDP Select. This service draws on Kindle’s growing worldwide readership and Amazon’s self-publishing marketing tools. The work will appear on the Kindle Unlimited platform, which reaches a global market and allows readers and subscribers access to as many books as they want. 

Authors commit to making their digital work available through the KDP service exclusively for a limited time, although they can also issue the work in nondigital formats. In return, they earn higher royalty rates. Amazon offers a royalty rate of 70% for sales made to customers in Mexico, Japan, Brazil and India.

KDP Select offers authors a choice of two promotional tools: Kindle Countdown Deals (offering limited-time discounts) and Free Book Promotion (offering a limited-time free download).

Publish Stories on Kindle Vella

If you’re working on short stories or novels in serial form, consider posting your work on Kindle Vella. This new self-publishing platform offers Kindle users short-form works that appear in regular installments. The first three episodes of the work are free, while subsequent chapters are paid for with tokens. 

When a reader “unlocks” an episode using tokens, Amazon rewards them with a Fave. Readers then award the Fave to the work they’re enjoying the most. Amazon limits Faves to one per reader per week and produces a Top Faves list, giving the most awarded works more visibility.

Royalties

Installments on Vella are limited to 600 minimum and 5,000 maximum words and can be updated or deleted. Authors receive 50% of installment earnings, depending on how many tokens the individual reader buys. It may seem counterintuitive, but the smaller the token package, the higher the per-token rate readers pay to Amazon, and consequently the better the royalty rate for authors.

Limitations

Amazon places some restrictions on Vella content. Authors can’t serialize a previously published work or use public domain content or translations of works already published in a foreign language. It’s possible to collect Vella stories into a novel or anthology, but there must be at least 10 episodes included in that book, and the last episode must be available for at least 30 days as a Vella installment. 

Good To Know

Amazon’s Author Central is one of the most effective marketing tools available, and it’s free to use. You can use it to set up your author page, where your readers can find your author bio and links to the Amazon pages for your other books. You can also use it to share blog posts, photos and videos via your author page.

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Information is accurate as of May 5, 2022.

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About the Author

​​A writer and editor with more than 100 book credits in the juvenile and young adult non-fiction format, Tom Streissguth has mastered the craft of explaining complex, difficult subjects clearly. His books have covered history, geography, economics, media and current affairs; he's also written biographies of historical figures for Lerner, Enslow, Facts on File, Greenhaven and other major educational publishers.
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