How to self-publish your own novel

I learned a lot along the journey from the author to self-publisher. Here’s what you need to know about self-publishing on Amazon…in 5 minutes.
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It’s estimated Amazon controls over 70% of the eBook market. You may or may not have six amazon boxes outside your own door right now, so that might not surprise you.

But self-publishing on Amazon is not a one-size-fits all approach. Yes, you need to publish your book on amazon for it to have any chance of getting meaningful sales, but is exclusively publishing on Amazon right for you?

Whether it is or not, what do you really need to know about getting your book to appear on Amazon?

I’ve self-published several books on Amazon—both photo books and novels—but most recently a novel called Bao. I learned a lot along the journey from the author to self-publisher. Here’s what you need to know about self-publishing on Amazon…in 5 minutes.

How to Publish a book on Amazon

Not the actual author, but we’ll count it.

There are two questions to ask yourself that will impact how you self publish.

  1. Where do you want your ebook to be sold?
    Publishing on Amazon is done through a site called Kindle Direct Publishing, best known as KDP. You’ll upload your manuscript, cover image, and create your book description page through KDP. Although the site is called “Kindle Direct Publishing,” this is also where you publish a print book in addition to what will become the kindle version of your book.

    KDP also offers a program called KDP Select, which Amazon will encourage you to publish through. Do you need your eBook sold outside of Amazon? Think about your answer, as we’ll discuss the impact of opting-in to KDP Select below.

  2. Are you publishing a photo book?
    Distribution is Amazon’s calling card. Quality is not. Using Kindle Select Publishing (KDP) to publish an illustrated novel with high quality, color pages is likely not the route to go. You can still use Amazon to sell and fulfill your sales, but publishing through KDP, where your quality is likely not to be up to par, is not advised. Couple that with the relatively limited number of trim options KDP offers, and you’re likely better off publishing a photo book through a book print and using amazon to fulfill and sell the book, opposed to publishing.

    Assuming that you’re certain you want your book sold mainly on Amazon and it’s not heavily dependent on color pages or illustrations, publishing on Amazon is likely right for you. Here’s the business as to what it entails.

Amazon KDP or KDP Select

If you only want your book on Amazon, it’s highly likely KDP Select is for you. KDP Select gives Amazon exclusive rights to distribute your eBook. It doesn’t transfer ownership to them, it simply means your eBook will only be through the Kindle library.

This means your book won’t be on Apple Books or Smashwords or any other eBook platform. The offshoot is that your book will be included in Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Lending Library.

What is Kindle Unlimited?

Kindle Unlimited is sort of Amazon’s version of Spotify for books: readers pay a flat monthly fee that allows them access to a library of books they can borrow for free.

The hidden costs of self-publishing usually involve cover design and editing costs. You’ll likely spend $750 on a decent cover designer and $4,000 on 2-3 editors and proofreaders.

It’s estimated that 60% of Kindle Unlimited Reads are from self-published authors, so Amazon is motivated to keep authors publishing their works through this portal.

Kindle Lending Library

If you own a Kindle and are an Amazon Prime member, you can choose one book a month from the Kindle Lending Library to read for free (aka borrow).

When you enroll in KDP select, your book becomes included in this program. The royalty for Kindle Lending is a bit complicated: if your book is over 200 pages and if it was read in full in Kindle Unlimited 100 times, you’d make $2,000.

If you priced your eBook at $9.99 on KDP and opted not to choose KDP Select (Kindle Unlimited) you’d need to sell 287 copies before making $2,000. But with KDP you wouldn’t have to worry about how many people completed your book. 

It’s worth noting that KDP Select doesn’t prevent anyone from buying your book for $9.99.

What it costs to publish on Amazon

Nothing. Publishing on Amazon is free. The better question is: how do you make money selling your book on Amazon?

not easily is the answer.

Amazon takes a 40% cut on print books and a 30% cut on eBooks sold on its site.

If this is your first rodeo self-publishing a print book, print royalties are taken out AFTER the cost of printing your book.

For instance, one of the books I published is 250 pages. Amazon charges $.012 / page, plus an additional, fixed $.85.

So my book cost $3.85 to print ((250 x .012) + .85)). Take your list price, subtract the print cost, and multiply by .6 (60%). That is how much you will make.

eBook royalties are obviously easier: take your list price and multiple it by .7 (70%) and that’s how much you will make off selling your ebook on Amazon.

The hidden costs of self-publishing a novel usually involve cover design and editing costs. Unless you’re a do-it-all savant or have good connections, you’ll likely need to spend $750 on a decent cover designer and $4,000 on 2-3 editors and proofreaders.

CreateSpace is no longer a thing

If you previously published through Amazon and are just getting back into the game, CreateSpace was purchased by Amazon in 2017 and rolled it into what is KDP.

KDP is the home for creating books and ebooks on Amazon, while Audible is where you make an audiobook for amazon.

Self Publishing with Kindle Create

Kindle Create is a turnkey tool that allows authors to easily turn their manuscript into a decent looking Kindle Book. The program has a few templates which to use, but mainly, the ease of use is the advantage.

Draft2Digital offers a similar tool with a bit more bells and whistles, but Kindle Create is a more seamless integration with Amazon, ensuring your manuscript will be formatted correctly and has a few better looking templates in my opinion.

The Final Minute

Here’s a recap of what was just discussed.

  • KDP Select is Just KDP with exclusive rights to Amazon
  • Unless you have a social media following or some other way of creating exposure for your book, the increased distribution and promotional tools of KDP Select make it almost a no-brainer.  
  • Amazon Unlimited is a monthly subscription service for readers
  • Amazon, Draft2Digital, and IngramSpark are all competitors
  • Kindle Create is how you format an Amazon Kindle book
  • Audible is a separate service from Amazon for creating an audiobook
  • KDP is for print and ebook. Audible has its own site for creating an audiobook called Audible Creation Exchange (ACX). Here’s ACX in 5 minutes.
  • Amazon does not edit your book
  • Amazon sells and prints your book. It does not edit your manuscript. For that, you’re going to need to hire an editor.

Amazon is a monster of a company. It’s many moving parts can create some confusion (someone tell me the difference between Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh…actually no thanks). Self-publishing is really no different, so before even writing a book, I recommend you consider how and where you’re going to publish so you understand your audience and begin to think about properly marketing it.


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