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!