So you want to self publish on Kindle: Part Three - Kindle Direct Publishing
This is the second part of a multi-part series on self publishing. This series will cover: writing, editing, beta reading, sensitivity reading, setting up a pre-order, using Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle Select, NetGalley and other means of getting reviews, and marketing. Read part one on writing, read part two on editing, beta readers and sensitivity readers.
A few people have asked me several questions on self publishing on Kindle. I've talked to people who want to publish small technical books that, for one reason or another, O'Reilly doesn't want to publish. I've talked to fiction writers who want to publish a novel. I've talked to a lot of people who have thought "I wish I could…" And I want to tell you that you can.
There's a lot of steps, and they do not always have a 'correct' order. But they are achievable and you can determine what order you want them to happen in for a lot of them. There are some cart before the horse problems, but largely, writing is the first step, and hitting publish is the last. Everything between there is a malaise of interlooping and overlapping steps to make the writing publishable.
I made a small power point last April to share at a technical conference with other Rails devs who have small or niche book ideas. I am going to heavily self plagarize from that for this post. So if some of my cat photos look familiar to you, that's why.
I've been writing stories since I was five. My first one went something like this:
There once was a cat. The cat loved to eat. The cat loved to nap. The cat loved her human. Her human went to school sometimes. That made the cat sad. But the human always came home. The end.
I am sure my mother still has the bare book complete with hand drawn illustrations somewhere. I actually minored in creative writing in college, and while most of my classes focused on poetry, the itch for stories never left. I was just as confused and scared by the self-publishing maze as anyone else. I won't lie and say it is easy, but it is definitely easier than you think it is.
In order to set up a successful pre-order, you will need a cover. If you are artsy and great with Photoshop, you can try to make this on your own. If you are not, you will want to hire someone. This is another place where I suggest not attempting to be frugal. Sometime in the middle of having early readers and editors, you will want to hire this cover artist. I hired Louisa of Juneberry Design to make my covers. Look at an artist's portfolio, see what else they have done and if you think they can execute on your vision. Look at other self published books in your genre and find covers you like. Ask the authors who they hired to do their cover.
Find other books in your genre, the ones that you know are making money, self pub'd or not, and see what elements they use. I know Stephen King is the god of the horror genre, and his covers very prominently display his name. Don't do this. Stephen King could sell books by having nothing but his name on the cover. You can't. You aren't a 'big name' (yet), so you will want a cover that sells.
Once you have chosen an artist, you will want to provide this artist with at least the basic gist of the story, the tone, and the genre. Many genre's have a certain feel or style for their covers. Look at some of the bestsellers in your genre and pass those covers onto your artist, letting them know what you do and do not like about them. This can be very back and forth. The artist will probably send you early drafts or stock art and ask how you feel about it. Be honest. If the artist picks a stock art model that looks nothing like how you imagined the character, let them know. It is sometimes helpful to pass along your own images that you might have grabbed way back when you were making character profiles. They will probably not be able to use those images as they are copyrighted, but they can get a better idea of what you are going for.
Kindle does have its own cover maker. I do not suggest using this. You want your book to look original, and Kindle only has so many stock photos. There is a saying, "do not judge a book by its cover," but no one actually follows that when it comes to books. A professional looking cover tells a reader that they can expect professional level storytelling. There are numerous examples where this was not true, and yet people still have this assumption. You will not be able to convince them otherwise. Have a professional cover.
The cost for this can be anywhere from $75 to $300, sometimes more depending on who you are hiring. It is absolutely worth every penny to have a top notch cover. There are people on Fivrr or other freelancing sites that offer these services for $5 to $10. I know this is tempting. But what you will end up with is a cover you could had your cat make by setting her on the keyboard while MS Paint is open.
For ebooks, you just need the front cover. If you are going to choose the paperback route as well, you will need a back and spine cover too. Usually you put this together as back, spine, front, left to right. Once you have your final manuscirpt uploaded, you can get the dimensions that you need. At first, I used amazon's cover creator for paperback, choosing to use the ebook cover and just type in my own summary and info on a solid colored back. It didn't turn out that great. So I asked Louisa to design a back / spine for me, too.
Top in both pictures is the one I asked Louisa to professionally create, bottom is what I tried to do myself with Amazon's paperback cover creator. Note the difference in fonts, and the overall better look of the one Louisa did for me.
Louisa gave me back the full cover as an image file. But Amazon wants it as a pdf, and just saving the image as a pdf isn't gonna work. So I opened the cover creator, got the dimensions that Amazon wants, and then followed the instructions in this tutorial for making a cover for createspace. The height is going to be 9 inches, but the width wants to take into account the front and back plus the spine - the spine can change depending on how many pages you have. Keep this in mind when making changes to your manuscript - anything that adds or deletes pages will affect your paperback cover dimensions. This tutorial uses Open Office, which is a free suite of software similar to Microsoft Office. I've been using Open Office products since 2009 when I got my first ubuntu machine, so I was already familiar with lots of the tools. The tutorial also says its for Createspace, Amazon owns Createspace, and while this tutorial pre-dates that acquision, it's still a very good tutorial on using Open Office Draw to scale and save your cover as a pdf for Amazon. I would wait until you have your final final final manuscript, plus front copy, a table of contents, back copy, etc, all in one uploaded file before trying to size your paperback cover.
If you are truly in a rush, and you want people to be able to pre-order now, make a small cover that says "COVER COMING SOON." I am getting a little ahead of myself, but once you have your pre-order set up, you will want to get the title on Goodreads. Goodreads archives all versions of a cover except one that says "COVER COMING SOON." You do not want a cheaply made placeholder cover to be in the archives of your Goodreads listing.
You want around 200 words for the description. This should not be a synopsis, this should be the stakes. There are a few rules when it comes to description writing for fiction: keep named characters to a minimum, don't include sub-plots, end on a question or the stakes. You want to hook the readers here, which is pretty hard to do seeing as there so very many books out there they could also be reading. For non-fiction, you want to tells readers what they will learn, how it will help them, and your authority and expertise on the subject. Regardless of what you are writing, you want to keep the description tight and short. Workshop this with friends, family, colleagues, and even your editor.
You can always change your description later, but you definitely want to get it to a good spot for launch. This is what you would want on your paperbacks back cover, too, if you are doing paperbacks. As I suggested with covers, look for books in your genre and see what they have as their description. Check out both self pubbed and traditionally published. Amazon will show you top books in genres, so use that to read those books descriptions.
Setting up the pre-order
I will get into the ins and outs of pre-release marketing, but the long and the short is that during your pre-release marketing, you want people to be able to pre-order. You want them to be able to click that button while they are thinking about it. They will not remember to check back on release day to get it. Having a ton of pre-orders in will also help your ranks. If you start off with a ton of buys on release day, your book may make it to the top of the pages in Amazon.
First, you want to navigate to https://kdp.amazon.com and connect it to your regular Amazon Account.
You will want your banking information, a version of your manuscript (does not have to be final), and your cover. Amazon will let indie authors set up pre-orders up to 90 days in advance of release and at least 10 days ahead of release. There might be a temptation to have a shorter pre-order window, but you will want those full three months for reasons I will get to later on.
Banking and Tax Information
You will want to get your banking and tax information taken care of right away. Amazon pays out via paper checks mailed to you or direct deposits into your account. Thing is, they won't send out a check until you've had at least $100 in sales per market after the first 90 days. A "market" is basically a country or region, there is a US market, a UK market, etc. Some markets are super small and you might only ever get $0.10 from them. In check payment, this means you will probably never see that $0.10. But, you can get that at the end of the month if you have Electronic Funds Transfer enabled. So set this up for direct deposit so you can start getting paid sooner.
Creating your book
Once your tax and banking information are done being entered, you will get to a dashboard called your "Bookshelf" - this is where all of your books will live. To start a new one, just click on the "+"! You can pick the ebook option now, and add paperback later if you decide to do it.
The first part of setting up your book is the details section. Many of these fields are optional, so if they do not apply to your book, you can leave them blank. You do need a language and a title. I picked English, as that is the language my book was written in. My book does not have a subtitle, it is not part of series and therefore does not have a series name or a series number. Yours might!
Amazon will also as for edition numbers, I put 1 in here because this is the first edition. Should I make major changes or edits and re-publish, I would add that as edition 2! New cover? Also edition 2!
For the author field, you can seriously put (almost) anything here. Don't want to use your legal name? That's cool. Want to use a pen name? Also cool! Amazon will let you have multiple names, too. So if this is your first book and it's about computers, you can use one name, and when you decide to start writing about competitive dog grooming, you can take up another pen name. You can have as many pen names as you want. I'd just steer clear of using something like "J.R.R. Tolkein" for what should be obvious reasons.
Contributors fields are if you are compiling an anthology or some other work with a ton of other people involved. I've seen it also used to credit editors (ask first!). You can certainly leave this blank if you don't have anyone else who contributed.
Also you will need to provide your description. Pictured here is my not so great first stab at a description. It limits you on characters, but do not feel compelled to use every character they offer - keep it around 200 words!
Amazon then asks that you agree that you have the rights / copyright to your work. If you live in the US, this is pretty easy to do. You can either snail mail yourself a certified mail print out of your manuscript, or you can email yourself a copy. Anything that puts a date on your work is enough for copyright. In most instances, this will be enough. Big name authors, like J.K. Rowling, get huge amounts of frivolous copyright claims (Rowling had someone after her for 'muggles'), the odds are that you won't be one of those big name authors and therefore will never have to produce huge amounts of evidence of copyright. Select the box, and move on!
Age and Grade Range are all optional, if you aren't writing children's books, you can skip these fields. Just a quick note, though. A lot of organizations that attempt to create a rubric for what is appropriate for which ages/grades are incredibly homophobic and transphobic. For example, it has been shown that the MPAA regularly rates content with any sort of queer people in it as "R" even if that queer person never even so much as kisses anyone. Queer people and trans people specifically are not inherently sexual and are therefore not inherently inappropriate for children.
The first thing it will ask you is if you want to DRM your book. As a full time software engineer, I just want to say: DRM is poorly written and shitty software. It doesn't at all protect your book, it is easily cracked, and if it is cracked, you have no recourse. I choose not the DRM my books because it makes them accessible. DRM may prevent readers from using accessibility software. DRM may prevent them from using their own text-to-speech and more. Amazon DRM has also been found to further forced-obsolescence, wherein Amazon will attempt to get users to upgrade their device by making older devices no longer support some DRM'd content. A lot of older Kindles had better text-to-speech than the current ones. I don't want my readers to have to fight to read my book. So I don't use DRM. This also means that someone can buy my book on Amazon and read it on their Nook. Or on any other device that is best suited for them. It's a very important thing for me, but it may not be for you. Select which ever option you feel best about after doing your research on DRM.
The most confusing part! ISBN's! If you are doing ebook only, you don't need one. Really. For real. But what if I want it on Goodreads?! Amazon will give you an ASIN, which Goodreads accepts and with that ASIN GR will be able to port in information about your book! If you decide to also do Paperback, Amazon will give you one for free. But really, you don't need one. If you want ebook only and really want an ISBN, you can pay $250 for one, or $1000 for 1000.
For "Publisher," you can leave it blank. It will display in store as Amazon Digital Services. You can also set up your own small press which will only publish your works and put that in there, too. It's your call.
It will ask you to upload your manuscript and your cover. It will have a previewer, and you should be able to download it too. I highly suggest downloading it and viewing it on some of your own reading devices! I also recommend asking someone else to do the same! Download it and email it to someone you trust to give an honest look over of it. I also use Calibre to convert my file into other formats and preview it there, too. Even after a zillion times of me looking it over, and others looking it over, I still find weird formatting errors sometimes. Make sure your manuscript has any title pages, copyright pages, dedications, etc that you want. I would suggest picking up a paperback and flipping through each of the first set of pages to see what all is where and when. Hard page breaks, not just hitting 'enter' until you get to a new page, are your friend. Look up how to use hard page breaks in your text editor of choice.
This can get a bit confusing - you have two price options in Kindle, either Kindle Select prices, or non- Kindle Select prices. Kindle Select means you will not publish your works anywhere else for sale. No iBooks. No nook. No SmashWords. No PDF on your website.
_Why would I agree to that?!?!?!?!?_
- Better royalties.
- Your book goes on Kindle Unlimited, and you get paid when someone borrows it.
- Your book can into the Kindle Owners Lending Library (this is opt-in), and you get paid when someone borrows it.
- You can use Countdown Deals and other promotions.
I chose to go this route. So far, I've liked it. I am starting to look at other options, though, such as IngramSpark, which offers wholesale discounts to schools and libraries. For the time being, I am still KDP Select.
KDP Select further breaks down your options as far as how much royalties you get. If you ebook is between $0.99 and $2.98, or over $9.99, you get 35% royalties. If you book is between $2.99 and $9.99, you get 70% royalties. I have my short story, The Resignation Letter, for $0.99. I only get about $0.30 per purchase, but it is short, and a lot of people don't want to spend $3 on a short story. A Lake of Feathers and Moonbeams is priced at $4.99, so I get about $4-ish per purchase. A lot of self-pub'd authors with multiple works will price some of them as perma-free or $0.99 as a hook to get readers to purchase the rest of their books. First books in series, shorts, etc - all priced super cheaply to give readers a glance at what they can expect from other works.
Countdown Deals are when your book is temporarily on sale. You can reduce the price of your book once every 90 days and still keep your standard royalty. This means you can price your book at $2.99 and have the 70% royalty, and then for one week lower it to $0.99 and still get 70% of that. This can be a great marketing and promotion tool, especially if you tie it in with social media and blog promotion. It's during these sales that a lot of people will pay for BookBub to feature a book. I'll get more into marketing like this later.
For territories, if your work is an original work which no one else has ever published, and which you yourself have never published before, you most likely have world wide rights. Go ahead and select all territories to make your book available globally.
Once you've set the price, you should be able to set a release date and make it available for pre-order! If you are using a draft manuscript to get the pre-order started, don't forget to upload the final version at least 72 hours before the book is live! Next time I will get in-depth with reviews!
Want this series, and other exclusive content, delivered right to your mailbox? I have a newsletter now! Checkout the latest issue and sign up!