Having trouble getting reviews on your book after publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. There are lots of different techniques for getting more reviews. Some are difficult and require advance planning (such as building a mailing list). Other methods, meanwhile, can be applied easily and have a strong impact on your review rate. We’ll cover a variety of different techniques in this multi-part series on Getting Reviews on Kindle Direct Publishing.
Why do reviews matter?
Reviews are crucial for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, they affect how your book ranks on Amazon. When users search for “ABC Book”, are you first, last, or somewhere in between? The likelihood is it’ll be somewhere in between. The most important factor to ranking, of course is sales (and momentum of said sales). Other factors include personalization (whether your product is relevant for that user) and page content. Reviews also play an important role. Review count as well as review score contribute, which means your goal is to collect as many reviews as possible and do what you can for those reviews to be generally good (which starts, of course, with writing a good book!).
Direct links to improve conversion
A “direct link” gives your users direct access to the review submission form that they can fill out to give you a review. Instead of providing them your store page, make sure buyers have access directly to the review form. Here’s how to get it done:
1. Locate your book’s ASIN code under “Product details” in the product page.
3. Share the link with buyers to give them easy access to your review form.
By providing your users with direct access to your book’s review form, you’re reducing the hassle they have to go through to write a review. This will make it more likely for your buyers to leave you a review.
My third ABC book, Robots Emote ABC, is an alphabet tracing book about robots with emotions. I worked with a Venezuelan artist I found on freelancer.com named Carlos Eduardo Fernandez. He produce playful and gorgeous robots for each scene illustrating the emotion of the page. Carlos was fantastic, worked efficiently throughout and incorporated my feedback accurately along the way. My toddlers, unsurprisingly, are full of emotions. This book helps me teach them about the alphabet as well as the numerous feelings they experience every day.
For this book, I decided to add tracing pages to help little ones learn to write. Each page contains ruler guides just like in school notebooks and dotted lines showing capital as well as small letters, along with a sentence describing the scene in the picture. This way the littlest ones can learn letter basics by tracing individual letters and those starting to learn to read can enjoy short phrases to go along with the visuals. The paper used by Kindle is suitable for writing with a pencil, pen, or marker.
When deciding on the cover finishing option in the Kindle Publishing tools, I decided to go with the “matte” rather than “glossy” option this time around. The photos above give you a glimpse of what the book looks like, but it’s most noticeable when you touch the book and adds a great smooth feel to the cover. This also works well for the retro style I was going for with Robots Emote ABC.
I hope you and your little ones enjoy Robots Emote ABC – An Alphabet Tracing Book. If you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments below. Finally, if you’re interested in other similar ABC books, have a look at Dreams of Monsters ABC and Princess Spells ABC!
Search & Find are terrific options for kids starting at the age of 3 all the way into their teenage years. For younger children (3 to 5 years old), they provide a great way to build concentration and develop a sense of focus and attention to detail. These are valuable traits for toddlers who are essentially learning how to learn. Focus and concentration can help them learn other things more effectively. They also help build memory, as you’ll find your children eventually surprising you by remembering the locations of characters. And if all that’s not enough, these books are great fun where you can participate and engage with your child. So without further ado, here’s our list of the top 5 Search & Find Books out there, otherwise known as the Best Books like Where’s Waldo!
1. Where’s Waldo – Deluxe Edition
The ultimate classic when it comes to Search & Find books is the original Where’s Waldo. This Deluxe Edition celebrates the first edition with some added fun, including a free poster on the underside of the jacket, a spot-the-difference game between the jacket and self-cover designs, and some new items to search for in the pages. There are scenes for everyone, and enough secrets to keep coming back again and again.
2. Star Wars – Where’s the Wookie
This is my personal favorite, but then again I love all things Star Wars, so I’m certainly a bit biased. In the 1st volume of “Where’s the Wookie”, you’ll travel across different lands in the Star Wars galaxy to spot Han Solo’s best pal, Chewbacca. You can find all sorts of other characters, such as bounty hunters, Luke, Leia, Han, and of course, Darth Vader. It’s a load of fun and was the book I used to introduce my daughters to Star Wars!
3. Where’s Waldo? In Hollywood
This is one of the most fun editions of Where’s Waldo. In this one, you get to follow him and his band of buddies through a variety of Hollywood sets. The scenes are hilarious and as detailed as ever. Adults will have a lot of fun looking through the landscape as kids sharpen their concentration looking for Waldo.
4. Where’s the Unicorn?
So I have two daughters, and of course – they love unicorns. But really, what’s not to love? They’re colorful magical creatures that do nothing but smile, jump, play and, in this particular case, hide inside beautifully drawn landscapes full of fun. There are 7 to find in each scene – Leaf, Ruby, Snowflake, Blossom, Luna, Stardust, and Amethyst. That means you won’t quickly run out of playful unicorns to look for.
Bonus! My daughter Luna loved this book so much we did a “Read Aloud” together. Watch the video here:
5. Where’s Waldo? The Spectacular Spotlight Search
There are so many Where’s Waldo books to pick from it can seem difficult to figure out where to start. As you’ve seen above, my recommendation would be to start with the original and the Hollywood versions. For a twist however, the “Spectacular Spotlight Search” edition does a wonderful job of bringing new elements of fun. Armed with a spotlight you can move around, you’ll navigate each page like a true detective to find Waldo and. And as usual, other fun elements are hidden throughout each scene.
Hope you liked this list! Let me know in the comments which other Search & Find books you’ve loved and had fun with as kids & adults, and which ones you’ve found to be great for your children.
Princess Spells ABC is the second children’s book that I self-published on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). It’s an ABC book featuring princesses and the things that princesses love. Like my first book, Dreams of Monsters (which I’ve posted about here), it was inspired by my daughters.
I obtained the illustrations for Princess Spells ABC using freelancer.com, my favorite online community for finding great freelancers. When I posted the project, I indicated to potential bidders that I was looking for a style that was pretty and cute as I wanted to create a feel that resonated with kids when they think of classical Disney princesses. The bids came in quickly but a lot of them were quite bland and lacked emotion. Many of the bids in fact looked like they were the same art from different sources – perhaps some freelancers act as middlemen and source from the same pool of artists behind the scenes? Anyways I did receive quite a few good bids, and ultimately went with a style that seemed playful and sweet.
After awarding the bid to the freelancer, they started working on sketches for me to provide them more guidance. They provided concepts of both grown-up and child princesses, which both looked amazing:
I was also looking for what I call a “consistency element” for my ABC book and went with something I use often – a cat that’s part of every illustration which kids can look forward to on each page.
This orange tabby is inspired after my own cat Tofu. Here he is sleeping on my daughter’s changing pad (…) – he’s the one on the right, and the small Siamese next to him is Nori. We have a third cat, Miso, who’s a fat grey tabby.
Although I had already chosen the items for each letter of the alphabet and the scenes I wanted the illustrators to provide (of course these were needed to get them started), I hadn’t yet decided what I wanted to do in terms of text for the book. It’s important to have some text in picture books to help parents have built-in story line to read to their kids. I think a lot of parents end up improvising, but providing something to start with certainly helps, even if it’s “just” an ABC book. Also it’s useful for when toddlers get to the stage where they begin to read. So I decided to play with alliteration and write a short sentence for each page, e.g.:
He Alerted her About the Apple but she Ate it Anyways
She Beamed under the Bright lights of the Beautiful Ballroom
She felt Completely Carefree in her Cool, Classy Carriage
Simple enough, helps stress the letter and the sound it makes, and gives the parents a little something to read along as they go through the book. While reading it to my daughter I’ve found it effective to help describe the scene and she regularly asks me to read it to her, so at least it’s working for my personal little audience.
The entire job took about 3 weeks to complete and after discussing it with the designer we decided to go with 3 milestones: (1) sketches, (2) final colorless illustrations, and (3) color. When we got to the color stage, they explained that I had a few options and that full color illustrations would be a bit more expensive.
The first option (above) only colored the main elements of the art. It looked quite good but I felt children would struggle with the ambiguity of having some elements missing the color, and it did look a bit incomplete. The second, full color option gave a lot more life to the drawing, and felt like an obvious choice.
This time around I decided to go with a different trim size than the 8.5″ x 8.5″ that I used for Dream of Monsters. I went for 8.5″ x 11″ which is a portrait aspect ratio, partly because several of the illustrations had more of a portrait size and partly to try out something different. Regarding the illustrations it occurred to me that I hadn’t been specific enough in my guidelines to the designers about the size that I wanted, which is why I was improvising a bit at this stage of the game. Obviously not ideal, but I was able to frame the illustrations in a way that worked out. Here’s a screenshot straight from the source InDesign file showing a sample set of pages for E and F:
I obtained a few additional illustrations from the designer in order to assemble the cover which you can see below. To be frank I’m not 100% happy with the cover and may redo it at a later date, particularly as it has a crucial impact on a potential customer’s decision to buy.
That’s it for this post – hope you enjoyed reading about some of the steps that saw this ABC book come to life. Please check it out on Amazon and let me know what you think.
BONUS – YOUTUBE VIDEO!
To make the book more freely available, we decided to make a YouTube video where Luna and I read through Princess Spells ABC together. We go through the entire book, so please check it out and let us know what you think! Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDAPN-n66Kg&t.
I followed a straightforward process in order to publish this book which took around 3 weeks:
Chose a genre I’m passionate about and for which there’s demand (educational children’s books)
Selected a theme (with my daughters’ help) that I felt would stand out and be fun for children and parents
Wrote the outline for my book and decided on the format and structure of the book
Found a freelancer online to provide illustrations
Ran some user tests
Put the book together using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign
Published the book on Amazon KDP
THE GENRE – EDUCATIONAL TODDLER’S BOOKS
My daughters are currently 3.5 and 2 years old, so they’re both around the age where they’re learning how to read. That starts with learning the letters of the alphabet of course. It’s something I’m obviously passionate about, and by doing some very basic keyword analysis as well as doing some preliminary research on Amazon for similar products, it’s clear I’m not the only one. ABC kids books are perfect gifts for parents with toddlers, particularly when they make learning the alphabet fun.
Nobody said this would be easy though – just look at the number of results for “abc book” on Amazon!
THEME – MONSTERS!
Ok, so maybe monsters aren’t the most obvious choice for a book targeted at 0-4 year olds… but my daughters would beg to differ, and while picking a theme of course I consulted them. Luna (my older one) told me, when she was 2, that she wanted to grow up to be a vampire (Hotel Transylvania was the culprit there). I offered her a few different themes for the first book, and she kept pushing for monsters. Thinking about it some more, I figured an advantage here would be that parents could also find some enjoyment in reading about monsters. So the goal here was to create a book that preserved the core of what monsters are – exciting, fascinating, and a little scary – without making it so scary that children wouldn’t want to read it or that parents wouldn’t want to give it to their children. Challenge accepted!
Before going too far down the rabbit hole, it’s important to put together an outline for the book. Otherwise you find yourself going back and changing core elements that are time-consuming to edit once you’re already at the illustration/writing/formatting phases of the publishing process.
It’s also important to have a clear outline of what your book will require in order to provide clear guidelines to freelancers about what it is you’re looking for. You need to know exactly what illustrations you’ll need and how your text will work alongside the illustrations. I use Adobe InDesign to put mockups together of what the content will look like ahead of time, and usually write 80% of the text in the book before going out to look for illustrations. Why? Because often as I write I find inspiration that may alter the direction of the book, and I don’t want to revisit that once the illustrations are already under way. It’s also important to decide what the trim and bleed settings for the book will be (wouldn’t want to end up with square illustrations if you want to make a book that’s a portrait aspect ratio).
For the content of Dreams of Monsters ABC, I decided to write a short passage for each monster with some small rhymes to give some storyline to the book and help kids (and parents) discover the monsters. For example, here’s the Headless Horseman:
Through dark woods his horse he rides
And somewhere else his head resides
Who’s that galloping through the night?
IT’S THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN!
Until his own head he regains
He’ll search the forests and the plains
As Sleep Hollow’s fallen knight
I decided to overlay the text on top of the images, which is a guideline I provided to my freelancer so she’d know to leave some space on the illustration to accommodate for the text.
Finding illustrations is much easier nowadays than it was in the past, thanks to the multitude of freelancer communities that are available. My personal favorite is Freelancer.com, and for Dreams of Monsters ABC I posted a project there to gather some bids. Check out my guide on sourcing illustrations from Freelancer.com here.
While looking through the bids for this project, there were 3 freelancers that I shortlisted. They were all terrific and had fairly distinct styles.
I was initially tempted by options 2 and 3 which I think appealed to me more as an adult because they were less abstract. Between the two I had a preference for option 3. However my kids were pretty adamant that option 1 worked best, so I decided to do a bit of user testing to select the one that would work best.
Note: make sure to always request the layered PSD files from your freelancer as well as these come in handy (in this case I made a few tweaks later on that were way easier to do myself than to go back to the designer, and I was also able to re-use some of the illustrations for other things like the cover).
Throughout the process it’s important to test your ideas with other people around you, particularly those that are in your target audience (in my case that means both kids themselves as well as parents of young children).
I had tested my concept before getting to the illustration stage, but I was now at a fork in the road – two very different designs to choose from that would shape the look and feel of my book. My personal preference was for the more realistic picture (option 3 above) but my own children (and some of their friends) were pushing me to go for the more abstract and playful option 1. I decided to run a Facebook poll to get some more data. It’s easy and free to do this and can help give you a second opinion from the crowd. On a side note, it’s a good reason to have a large community of contacts on Facebook…
Ok so these are FAR from being statistically conclusive results. 27 votes is clearly not enough to judge a winner, but it’s still somewhat of an indicator. At least it showed me that there are quite a few adults (since all the respondents were adults) that were in favor of the more abstract option. I did also receive some qualitative feedback while posting this poll with some folks saying it shouldn’t be too scary as that Cerberus may cause some nightmares. Good reminder to keep a good balance of fun in the illustrations, which I passed on to the designer as I had now made my choice to go with option 1: Keto Monaselidze, who you can see the art is attributed to on the cover of my book.
I worked closely with Keto during the design process to guide the tone of the illustrations, but didn’t provide too much guidance as she proved to have lots of creativity which I didn’t want to stifle. I think that’s an important part of working with a designer, particularly as they are more likely to put heart and soul into the project if they feel like they can bring some of their own elements and creativity to their work rather than just following your exact guidelines.
Once I had all the illustrations in hand, I started putting together my manuscript in InDesign, making sure to format my pages carefully according to my choice of trim (8.5″ x 8.5″) and bleed (adding 0.125″ to the top, bottom, and outer edges of the pages so my illustrations could go to the edges of the pages). I formatted my text, taking time to ensure the text didn’t cover core elements of the illustrations.
Here are samples of a few of the pages from the final manuscript.
Once I was done with each page I moved on to the cover (front and back). I hadn’t thought about these when getting my illustrations from the freelancers (something to think about in the future) so was left to do it myself. I decided to go for a dark cover with just the outline of a monster, and the werewolf fit the design perfectly. All I had to do was grab the werewolf layer from the PSD for that page and add some outer glow to make the outline stand out on the black cover. For the back, I took the Yeti (can we agree he looks hilariously cute?) and added a bit of text and my logo.
I can’t stress the importance of proof-reading enough. It’s embarrassing to have grammar or spelling errors in your book. Having customers spot those after they’ve purchased the book isn’t what you want. I would consider myself pretty detail-oriented and I was very careful when reading through all the text in my book. However, I missed a spelling error in the back cover (“creatues” instead of “creatures“). How embarrassing! Fortunately, it was quickly caught by a friend mine. Unfortunately, though, it happened after publishing, so I had to quickly make edits to the live book. No matter how careful you are, always have a handful of people to read through your entire book before you publish it to avoid silly mistakes.
Finally, the publishing phase. I’ve written an overview on self-publishing with KDP. This was my first time through so obviously I made mistakes with trim, with bleed, with files. I even made a mistake using a font that wasn’t embedded and which I didn’t have rights for. I went through my entire manuscript to ensure the font I used was one I had commercial rights for. While doing final checks I realized some of my gutter (inner) margins were too small so fixed those as well. Basically lots of rework that added about 30% more time to the project. Had I known or planned ahead more carefully, I would have saved a lot of time.
In the end, though, I’d finally gotten there and was able to publish my book on Amazon. Tons left to do (*ahem* marketing is hard), but the work to get it published was done. This mark the start of my adventure as a self-published children’s book author! If you’re interested, please check out my book on Amazon here: https://amzn.to/34i6Uah.
Thanks for reading and let me know your comments on this post, or on the book. If you do purchase the book, I would appreciate unbiased reviews on Amazon to let other prospective customers know what you think.
READ ALOUD NOW ON YOUTUBE
We’ve now made Dreams of Monsters ABC available on YouTube as a “read aloud” book. I started noticing “read alouds” recently after my daughters browsed their way to some of these videos on YouTube. So, I decided this was a perfect place to give Dreams of Monsters some extra visibility. Please check out the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WG0lCAVDxBQ&t.
If you have a chance to take a look at Dreams Of Monsters ABC, please let me know what you think by leaving a review!
I’ve published several children’s books on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), one of the largest self-publishing platforms available today, and one thing I struggled with initially when first going into self-publishing was understanding exactly how my trim options affected how I should prepare my files, as well as what to take into account for images that I wanted to “bleed” to the edge of the page. In this post I describe some of the things to watch out for. These guidelines are specifically for KDP but should generally apply to other self-publishing platforms as well.
First, some definitions:
Trim: The “Trim” is the size of the paper in the end product.
Bleed: The term “bleed” is used for colors or images that extend all the way to the edge of the page.
Margin: This is the the amount of space you should keep between your content and the edges of your pages.
PICKING THE RIGHT TRIM SIZE
Different self-publishing platforms offer various trim sizes you can select for your book (click here to check out Amazon KPD’s trim options). Trim sizes are expressed as width by height. There are some standard trim sizes, like 8.5″ x 11″ which is very similar to the well known A4 size (that’s what you typically use to print standard documents) but is actually a bit larger (A4 is 8.27″ x 11.69″). Another common trim size is 6″ x 9″, which is the most common size for traditional paperbacks in the US. However 6″ x 9″ may be too small for children’s books, which will typically be a bit larger.
My favorite trim sizes are 8.5″ x 8.5″, which is a large versatile square, and 8.5″ x 11″. Another cool option is 8.25″ x 6″ which, although it’s a bit small, can be suitable for books that requires a landscape aspect ratio.
What you choose is completely up to you, but it should be something you decide at the BEGINNING of your project. Think about how you want to organize the images and text on your pages so that you can obtain illustrations that fit your desired trim.
CONSIDER BLEED WHEN DESIGNING YOUR FILES
My first book which I made with Adobe InDesign was meant to be 8.5″ x 8.5″. I made sure to select that size for my pages and carefully placed all my work into the pages, going all the way to the edges given that my intent was to have bleed (i.e. images were meant to go all the way to the edges of the pages).
Once I was finished with my file, I opened up KDP, got to the content section, selected that I wanted “bleed” and uploaded my manuscript. I waited patiently (it can take a few minutes for a large file with lots of images) and then opened up the preview, which barraged me with warnings about the pages not being large enough to account for bleed.
You see, the way bleed works is they will print your content on a LARGER trim size than what you select, and then cut the paper to match your selected trim size. This way the printer can ensure that your content correctly goes all the way to the edge of the paper, just as you wanted. What it means for you is that you have to use make your content a bit larger than the final trim size in order to account for what gets cut off. This is the margin you need to account for on the outer edges even when your book’s images bleed to the edges. The amount you need to add for outer margin is 0.125″ on each side. You don’t have to take into account the inner edge (i.e. the edge that’s connected to the spine), so you’re adding 0.125″ to the width and 0.25″ to the height (for the top and bottom). This means that your 8.5″ x 8.5″ book will have pages that are 8.625″ in width and 8.75″ in height. When open, it would be 17.25″ in width (which is 8.5″ + 8.5″ + 0.125″ + 0.125″) by 8.75″ in height (8.5″ + 0.25″).
After you figure out the right page size for your files, make sure you actually extend images and colors all the way to the edges, but do remember that 0.125″ of content will be cut off the sides, so don’t put essential content (particularly text) in those areas.
Here’s an image of what that looks like. The yellow parts are the bleed
The inside margin (also known as “gutter”) margin is applicable for all books regardless of whether you are using bleed or not. This is the amount of space that you need to leave between your pages and the inner edge (the one that connects to the spine) of the book. This margin depends on the number of pages in your book. Why? Open up a book that has a lot of pages and you’ll understand why – the larger the book the more the content should be separated from the spine in order to be visible when the reader opens your book. So if you submit your book to KDP and receive an error that says “Interior – Your manuscript content extends past the margins. Margins prevent your content from getting cut off when your book is printed” then make note of “Interior” as it is referring to your gutter margin’s being too small. Push content on the inner edges of your pages outwards and re-submit.
When self-publishing, it’s important to understand trims, bleeds, and margins and planning your content ahead of time will save you headaches when you go to publishing your book. The time you spend planning will ensure that you get a higher quality output in the end.
Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is one of the biggest self-publishing platforms available today. As of August 2017, Amazon reported sales of $3B in the first half of 2017 alone, while e-book sales totalled $750M (if you have more up-to-date information, please let me know in the comments). That’s a huge marketplace, but of course it also means there’s lots of competition – millions of books of various genres available on the popular online retailer’s platform. This post won’t go into marketing, which is a very important thing to consider when getting into self-publishing. I will cover marketing and promotion tools in separate posts. Instead, this post gives an overview of the process for self-publishing your first book on Kindle Direct Publishing.
PAPERBACKS & E-BOOKS
Though many people immediately think “e-book” when they think of Kindle, that’s not the only thing you can publish today on KDP. In 2005 Amazon acquired CreateSpace, a print-on-demand self-publishing platform, and the ability to do print-on-demand soft cover paperback books which historically was only available on CreateSpace is now available on KDP.
Note however that, as of today, KDP doesn’t allow you to publish hard cover books (only soft covers). That’s a bummer as these are hard covers are typically well suited for children’s books. That’s something you can do on other platforms such as IngramSpark and Lulu which I will cover in separate articles in the future.
GETTING STARTED ON KDP
It’s extremely easy to get started with KDP. Registering takes minutes. Simply go to Kindle Direct Publishing and sign in with your Amazon credentials, go through a simple registration flow that asks for some of your information (where you reside, your tax information, how you want to get paid) and then you’re through to the main dashboard. Easy!
Your Kindle dashboard looks something like this:
At the top you can find links to:
Bookshelf (see above): this is the home page you land on when you sign in, and which has links to create new books and see your published books and works in progress. The books also have useful links to do things like promote your work and edit content.
Reports: this is where you can see ongoing sales of your books.
Community: if you get stuck, are looking for feedback, need help with anything from formatting to usage of the online tools, there’s a pretty vibrant community available to help out.
KDP Select: This is a program available on KDP which gives you some privileges related to your e-books (not paperbacks). You get higher royalties when users who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited (which gives free access to Kindle e-books) read your book, you get access to new promotional options for your e-books, and can reach a larger international audience. Being part of KDP Select requires you to make your e-book exclusive to Amazon. Personally I’ve decided (so far) that it’s worthwhile based on the added visibility it gives my books on Amazon, and also because Amazon Kindle is the largest e-book store in the world.
PUBLISHING A BOOK
When you publish a book, you start by selecting whether you want to format an e-book or a paperback. Don’t worry – you can do both for your book, but the formatting will be a bit different (you’ll supply different files and set different pricing) which is why you need to start with one or the other. It’s good to know the differences between what’s required for paperbacks and e-books before you get started, so I’m working on creating a checklist that makes it easier to plan ahead (link to that soon).
Let’s take a look at the steps, screen by screen, for a paperback.
STEP 1: BOOK DETAILS
First, you provide basic details of your paperback:
Language: This is the language your book is in.
Title: The title of your book
Subtitle (optional): If your book has a subtitle, put it here
Series information (optional): If your book is part of a series
Edition number (optional): Rarely used in the first edition, but useful when you make key revisions later on
Author: That’s you!
Contributors: I like to put artist’s names to give them credit, but before you put your freelance illustrators names make sure to ask them first to check that they’re ok with you putting their names.
Description: This will appear in the store listing to tell viewers what your book is all about
Publishing rights: It’s good to have a written agreement handy such as the Freelancer.com IP agreement, just in case there’s ever a dispute, but you won’t need to provide it here.
Keywords: These are the words you believe users will search for that should lead them to your book. Amazon has a link with some explanations on picking your keywords, but you can also use tools like Sonar to check what keywords are popular.
Categories: These are the categories your book belongs to, which helps when users browse specific book niches in Amazon.
Adult content: If you’re writing children’s books, then you’ll select “No” (I hope) but if your genre and content is inappropriate for children under the age of 18 then pick “Yes”
CreateSpace Books: Here you point out if you’ve published the book previously on CreateSpace, in which case Amazon will help with the migration
STEP 2: CONTENT
This is where the fun begins (and the formatting nightmares in some cases – but don’t despair it’s totally doable).
ISBN: An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique number that identifies a title’s binding, edition, and publisher. KDP lets you use your own ISBN if you have one or lets you get a free one assigned, which is awesome for independent self-publishers. Note that some other platforms charge for an ISBN, so this is a cool perk from KDP.
Publication Date (optional): You can put the publication date or leave it blank if this is the first time the book is published.
Print Options: Here you select the kind of paper you want, trim size, bleed settings, and whether the cover should be matte or glossy. Check out this post on trims, bleed, and margins to learn more about those.
Manuscript: This is where you upload the file that contains your manuscript. More details on that below.
Book cover: This is where you upload the file that contains your book cover. More on that one below as well.
Book preview: After you’ve provided files for both your manuscript and cover, you can see a preview before going to the next step.
FORMATTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT AND BOOK COVER
In order, I would say the hardest aspects of self-publishing, in order, are (1) marketing, (2) producing the content, and (3) formatting your files. Yep, marketing takes the cake here because it’s just incredibly tough for an individual to get recognized out there. Producing content obviously isn’t simple, but it’s something where you’re totally in control of your destiny and, with the help of freelancers, illustrations are easier (though not free). Getting all the formatting right is up there too – it’s easy to make simple mistakes that require many revisions, and requires specific tools that you may not have used before. Technically you could outsource it too, but I think it’s better to do it yourself so you’re not dependent on someone else every time you want to make revisions or publish new books. I have several articles which discuss formatting which can help you with this process. Here are my high level tips:
Tools you need: Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign. These tools aren’t cheap, but they’re the most reliable tools to produce high quality manuscripts and covers and export the right files that you’ll need to produce your books. In a future post I’ll discuss these at a high level to explain why they’re important.
For your paperback manuscript, you’ll need to export to a high quality print-ready PDF. This is something you can easily do with Adobe InDesign (don’t use something like PowerPoint which will produce low quality PDFs – if you do, your paperback will come out looking blurry). Make sure to take into account trims, bleeds, and margins when selecting the paper size of your source InDesign file.
For your book cover, you can use a web tool provided by KDP or build your own as a PDF. I prefer going the PDF route which provides more flexibility, but it does mean that I need to carefully look at the trim guidelines provided by Amazon in order to get it right. Note that when you format your cover, you’re including the back cover, spine (the side of the book), and the front cover. The total size of this will depend on the number of pages (which will determine the thickness of the spine). Amazon has provided some useful cover templates to figure out what size you need and where to place your content here.
If your book is full of illustrations, which is often the case for children’s books, it may take a few minutes for your files to get uploaded. For example my manuscript for “Dreams of Monsters ABC” was about 31MB and took about 5 minutes to upload. Don’t worry, just let it upload!
Once you’ve uploaded both your manuscript and your cover, open the previewer (this can also take up to 10 minutes in my experience as KDP formats your book for the online preview mode). Here’s a sample of what it looks like for my book “Princess Spells ABC”.
The previewer gives you alerts if any content is outside the margins based on your settings. If also alerts you if it finds other issues such as linked fonts rather than embedded fonts (which may signal an issue with usage rights). In the example above, which shows the paperback cover for my book Princess Spells ABC, you can see my content is inside the dotted lines. The white dotted lines on the outside show where the cover will be cut, and on the inside show the spine. The red line shows margin beyond which content shouldn’t extend.
KDP automatically adds a barcode to your book if you don’t already have one. It thenplaces it on the bottom right of your back cover, so don’t place content there.
STEP 3: PRICING
Once you’re done with formatting, you’re onto the home stretch.
Territory rights: This is where you indicate if you have content rights worldwide or in specific territories.
Pricing & royalty: Here’s where you indicate pricing for your book in different marketplaces. Generally speaking I would recommend looking at similar books to the one you’re about to sell and price in that range.
Royalty is calculated as follows: (List Price * 0.6) – Printing Cost. So in the example above, my royalty is on the primary Amazon marketplace is ($9.99 * 0.6) – $3.65 = $2.34.
Note that there’s an option for “Expanded Distribution” under the primary marketplace. This is to give Amazon the ability to sell to books, online retailers, libraries, and academic institutions. I haven’t seen the results of this yet but decided to opt in and see what happens. However note that it does increase the minimum price for you paperback as it reduces the royalty rate while keeping the printing price constant.
PUBLISH YOUR BOOK
Once you’re done setting the pricing on your book, you can publish right away. If you’re not too confident about your formatting, save the draft and order proofs to make sure the print worked out as expected. In general, it’s best to order the proofs to ensure that if buyers get your book there aren’t issues with it that cause them to write negative reviews.
I hope this is a useful, albeit somewhat high level, overview of the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. More importantly, I hope this gets you a step closer to proudly self-publishing on Amazon. Once you’ve published, feel free to put a link to your book in the comments!
One of the first online freelancer communities I tried was Freelancer.com, which is one of the largest of its kind in the world boasting over 21 million freelancers on the site. If you’re interested in trying it out, I’d appreciate if you would use my Freelancer.com referral link, which gives both you and me $20 in credits once you’ve released at least $50 in milestones.
Freelancer.com’s fee structure can be found here. Project fees are 3% for fixed projects (or $3, whichever is higher) and in the case of hourly projects 3% for each payment made to the freelancer. There are also some processing fees which seem to range from about 2.4% to 3.9%, and it seems that in order to get the lower processing fees it’s best to load up your account with some funds and then pay out from those funds rather than make a payment for each transaction. I put a snapshot of some of my transaction history below, where you can see a $0.74 processing fee was levied for an IP agreement I paid for with PayPal (3.89% charge) while the $500 deposit I made was charged $11.80 of processing fees (2.36%).
TYPES OF PROJECTS
There are two ways to find freelancers on freelancer.com – posting a project (which you can then choose to pay for with a fixed price consisting of milestones) or posting a contest.
Normally I use fixed projects because my experience with contests (which I will post about at a later date) hasn’t given me great results and gives less flexibility in my opinion (ties you into a specific cost rather than allowing freelancers to bid, and there are also many freelancers who choose to never participate in contests as it’s too uncertain for them).
A project post consists of the following elements:
Project name: Choose something descriptive that’ll immediate tell freelancers what it is you’re looking for
Project details: In here I quickly let freelancers know what I’m writing and why (usually referencing my daughters’ inspiration), let them know some high level details of what the illustrations will be (I leave the full details for later once I’ve selected a designer), as well as provide guidelines of the number and format (sizes and file types) of the images. I also put in a line letting the freelancer know that I’ll be paying for the IP agreement upgrade which gives me commercial right to the work produced.
File uploads: Generally I like to put references to public works that resemble the sort of style I am looking for. It’s very important to ensure that you properly reference the work so as to not infringe on anybody else’s intellectual property.
Skills required: This is filled out automatically by the site, and although you can update the skills in this section I usually leave the default ones and have gotten good results.
Project type: This is where you select a regular project or a contest (detailed in separate post).
Payment type: Select a fixed price or hourly price. Personally I prefer the fixed price as the deliverable for the chosen price is defined, meaning there is less likelihood of surprises coming up along the way that end up costing you more.
Budget: Select the approximate budget (as a range) that you’re willing to pay. Note that bids can come outside of this range but this will give a guideline to freelancers about what you are willing to spend.
Standard vs. Recruiter project: I haven’t tried the “Recruiter” project which provides assistance for selecting a project. Doesn’t sound very appealing to me as I’m not sure how this “helping hand” would know exactly what I want, and I’m willing to take the time and do the research to find the right freelancer for me rather than outsource that to an assistant.
Advanced options: This lets you pay for upgrades, including:
Recruiter: same as above
Featured: higher visibility to freelancers, which I don’t think is necessary given I’ve gotten plenty of bids for every project I’ve posted
Urgent: let freelancers know time is of the essence, which presumably gets you more freelancers
Private: hides the project from search engines and logged out users; if there’s anything sensitive, private, or confidential in your project this is a good upgrade
There are other upgrades you can make later, such as the IP Agreement which is in my opinion a necessary upgrade for all projects.
Once you’ve made all your selection, it’s time to post your project.
Now that your project is live, you’ll almost instantly start receiving bids from freelancers. Here’s a sample of 3 out of the 60 bids that I received when I posted the project for my project Dreams of Monsters ABC which is now live on Amazon. Note that I’ve covered the images and names of the freelancers for their privacy.
You can see that this project, for which I put a budget of $250-750, received bids ranging from $250 to $3,888. The majority of bids were within the range I preselected, and the highest quality bids were in the $600-700 range. On the right side of the bids screen you’re able to filter down based on price, reviews the freelancer has gotten, their star rating, and the days they state they’ll complete the project in. Personally I’m not really on a timeline, so I don’t pay any attention to the “days to complete”. This is also because, from my experience, it can frequently take longer due to the back & forth conversation you’ll have with your freelancer to iron out all sorts of details. I don’t put pressure on my freelancers to finish quickly but rather opt for getting a good job done. Of course if they work quickly (because they want to get paid) then I reward that as well.
A handy way to keep track of your favorite bids for a project is to use the heart (which shortlists them) and to also use the trash to remove bids that don’t meet your requirements (sadly there will be lots of those, as some freelancers don’t quite read the project descriptions when submitting their bids).
In my experience it’s worth waiting 3-4 days before starting to evaluate bids, but better not to wait until the last minute, as you’ll want to start some discussions with your shortlisted bids. You can ask them for samples, or specific illustrations in their existing portfolio that match the quality of the output they expect to deliver based on their bid. I find this technique to be very effective in setting the right expectation with the designer.
AWARDING A FREELANCER AND SETTING MILESTONES
Before awarding a project, make sure you discuss a few details with the designer, including:
Clear expectations on the quality of the output (particularly when you’re requesting many illustrations) as well as the style (best to have them point out something in their portfolio that’s close to what they’ll deliver for you)
Confirm the specs of your project (# of illustrations, file output required, file size required, etc.)
Reiterate that you’ll require them to sign the IP Agreement if you choose that upgrade
Clarify expected timelines (if any)
Decide how to set the milestones
Milestones were something I found a bit confusing at first, particularly because different freelancers think of them quite differently, which is why it’s good to clarify their expectations ahead of time and make sure you’re ok with how to structure the progress of the work (which is what the milestones are designed to do). Milestones basically break up the task in various steps so you can keep track of the progress of your project as well as pay your freelancer for the work they’ve completed along the way.
Suppose you have a $300 project consisting of 9 full page color illustrations. You may structure milestones in a few different ways (and freelancers will each have their own preferences as well). Here are examples of two ways that I’ve successfully structured similar project in the past:
Three milestones ($100 each) for (1) sketches of every image, (2) final designs, (3) final color renderings and source files (PSDs)
Three milestones ($100 each) consisting of the final output (full color renders and source files) for 3 images in your project
In theory you could do one milestone for the entire project, but I wouldn’t recommend it as you should strive to make measurable progress as you go along your project, and I also doubt any freelancers would accept this as they’ll prefer to be paid along the way (even though you’re an honest, trustworthy person, they don’t know that!).
While your project is live, here are a few recommendations to make sure things go smoothly:
Communicate frequently: it’s important to maintain a good communication rhythm with your freelancer. Don’t let them go dark for several days, and give them clear and honest expectations that’ll encourage them to do the work.
Set clear guidelines: make sure your initial guidelines are clear and as comprehensive as needed (I sometimes like to leave creative space to designs, in which case I tell them that deliberately, but for cases where I know exactly what I want I let them know as well). If something changes (you may always change your mind) be sure to be very clear about it (in some cases freelancers may ask for extra milestones in the case of a scope change, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, so the more planned you are the better for your budget).
Give clear (and respectful) feedback: when you start receiving designs, give clear and transparent feedback to your designer. I would recommend being thoughtful and respectful about your feedback as well – remember you’re dealing with humans who have feelings, and who are more likely to do a good job if they like you, so telling them something sucks probably won’t help you.
I’ve had great experiences with freelancers from Freelancer.com, and although I’m sure it’s not always perfectly smooth I think by following the guidelines above and being well planned about your work, you can successfully complete a project for a very reasonable price with the help of excellent talent from this community.
If you’re interested in giving it a shot, feel free to sign up with my referral link which gives both you and me $20 once you’ve released at least $50 in milestones. Here’s that link: https://www.freelancer.com/get/davidsalamon.
Upwork is one of the largest freelancer communities available online today. It was formed after the merger in 2013 of Elance and oDesk, which were already two of the biggest players out there at the time, and was subsequently rebranded as Upwork in 2015.
It’s the third platform I tried out (after starting with Freelancer.com and then testing out Fiverr). Unfortunately, my experience with it was cut rather short.
After registering my account I immediately proceeded to set up a project (I was testing a project post for my book “Dreams of Monsters ABC” on Freelancer vs. Fiverr vs. Upwork to see what the difference in bids would be in terms of both quality and price). The project was posted at 11:38pm on 6/15/2018 (by the way the empty 4th bullet point in the email below is, I assume, a typo on their end as this is a direct screenshot):
Exactly 2 minutes later (at 11:40pm), I received the following email:
I was a bit shocked of course, particularly because of how harsh their words were. “Dishonest schemes or scams”? The project I posted was to look for illustrators for an ABC children’s book about robots showcasing emotions; not sure what’s dishonest or scheming about that. They were telling me I was permanently deactivated and that they were unlikely to reply to any correspondence regarding the issue. In other words “Go away and don’t try pleading your case.”
Given that it took them only 2 minutes to make their conclusion, I can only assume that an automatic rule-based system decided there was something fishy about my post. The only thing I can guess may have triggered their system is that my project post included a file with images to show potential bidders what style of illustration I was looking for. Each image included a link to the source as the images weren’t mine (the images were found on Pinterest). Perhaps they felt I was misusing art that wasn’t my own? Or perhaps they thought I was trying to advertise a site (to be very clear, I wasn’t).
I tried re-registering with the same email address and, no surprise, found they had blacklisted me and were giving me the generic “technical error” message:
Tried registering with another email address and it worked, so I guess they are not (at least currently) doing IP blacklisting.
I’d like to reiterate that there was absolutely nothing dishonest about what I did, and I was the victim of a rule-based engine that was built as a one-way communication tool preventing me from defending myself. That means my money went to freelancer.com and one of their freelancers instead. Upwork may work out for some, but in my case this experience means I most likely won’t be using Upwork any time soon.
A children’s book without illustrations is like a bird without wings – it won’t fly. Children love all sorts of illustrations and so many styles can work, but quality art that lights up their imagination (and engages the parents…) is an important part of what’ll make a children’s book work. I know that’s the case for me and other parents I know, and it’s pretty clear from spending a few minutes in the kid’s section of a book store that we won’t get very far without quality illustrations. I don’t draw, and I don’t have someone close to me who can provide all the illustrations I want. Not to mention I want to have different styles in my books, because I just find that to be more engaging. So in come the freelancers…
There are numerous websites available today where you can find great freelancers, and they are crowded with excellent illustrators. This post covers the top options at a high level, with separate posts going in depth on some of the mechanics of the sites I use the most.
Freelancer.com opened shop in 2009 and today is one of the largest sources of online freelancers in the world today, boasting over 29 million designers, developers, illustrators, writes, and more. It’s very easy to set up and get started, lets you post projects nearly instantly, and has a simple user interface which is a bit buggy at times but mostly very functional.
Fiverr is one of the newer kids on the block, having started its operations in 2010 where the original idea was to let freelancers post gigs they would do for $5. Yep, 5 bucks! Don’t get too excited – you probably won’t get the illustrations you want for a mere $5, but you can certainly find some impressive deals on the website.
It has a more modern user experience than Freelancer.com, a more fully functional app, and generally feels a bit more refined and well established. That said it does seem a bit less flexible than freelancer.com. Projects need to be approved before they are posted and you can gather bids, and it’s more geared towards paying for existing gigs rather than building your own custom project from scratch.
With that said, there are some incredible gigs posted on Fiverr and it’s worth checking out.
Two of the earliest online freelancer communities (Elance which started in 1999 and oDesk which started in 2003) were merged in 2013 to create Elance-oDesk, which clearly must have competed for “least appealing brand name of 2013”. In 2015 the company rebranded to Upwork and is now one of the juggernauts of the online freelancer industry.
My experience with Upwork, unfortunately, is very limited as it abruptly ended when Upwork rejected my project proposal and banned my account (for reasons that are still unknown to me). You can read all about that experience here.
The freelancer websites mentioned above all have their pros and cons, and you are probably going to be able to find good talent on any one of these platforms. Personally I’ve used freelancer.com the most and also find the value in Fiverr, but your situation may be different. Start by spending some time looking through listings on each website in order to decide where you want to go. It’s very easy to get started on these and for the most part won’t cost you anything, so dive in and experiment until you find what you like.
There are plenty of other websites out there where users can find freelancers, including Guru, PeoplePerHour, and Giggrabbers. Have you found one you think is particularly helpful when it comes to sourcing art for your books? If so, please point it out in the comments section and I will take a look and do a review.