Self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has revolutionized the way books are published and sold. The platform has democratized the world of publishing allowing anyone to easily publish their story and reach an audience. Removing the “gatekeepers” of publishing has created a new world of opportunity. Previously unknown authors like John Locke, J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking have made millions selling their books using the KDP platform. That same ease of publishing with KDP has also created immense competition. To succeed in the current world of KDP you need to be informed. Here are are the eight most important things to consider before Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP Select.
1. Is Kindle Direct Publishing for you?
Your first consideration is to decide whether KDP is the right option for you. Before listing the many advantages of KDP, let’s be clear that there are real benefits to going the traditional publisher route. A traditional publisher may offer an advance which can help offset your initial time and cost. A traditional publisher takes care of or provides help with certain key aspects of publishing that a lot of writers don’t know how to do, like marketing and distribution. And traditional publishers, because of their distribution mechanisms, are able to get books into brick-and-mortar stores which KDP usually cannot do.
For the majority of authors there are just as many, if not more, benefits to using KDP. Traditional publishers can be good if you are already a well-known author or if you have a large pre-existing audience like a celebrity. In fact, many authors with a following are using the hybrid approach to publishing, using both traditional and self-publishing platforms. But, if you are an unknown name or an unproven author, then it can be a far less ideal approach.
Getting a traditional publishing deal that makes financial sense can be challenging to say the least. With KDP there are no “gatekeepers”. You can have your book published in record time. If it’s a good book and you market it well–and those are the two key factors–it can be successful.
KDP also allows you to control your marketing and promotion. Even writers with traditional publishers often find that they end up doing a lot of the marketing themselves. When you publish on KDP, you can decide how to position it and best reach your target audience.
You might also be surprised at how little authors receive from each book that they sell with a traditional publishing deal. Publishing houses have high costs that they need to cover and so will take as high as 85% of the total income your book earns. With KDP that formula is flipped around. Books that are priced between $2.99 and $9.99 earn royalties of 70%. You need to sell far fewer books as a writer on Kindle Direct Publishing, compared to a traditional publisher.
“Don’t go into self-publishing just because you think you’ll make more money. With Kindle, there is a payment threshold meaning you have to sell $100 worth of your book before you get a check for your royalties, although you can see royalties earlier if you provide direct deposit to your bank. That said, the upside is more money when you sell more books.”Susanne Jaffe
2. Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP Select
One of the first decisions you will need to make is whether you want to publish your book using the standard Kindle Direct Publishing platform or use Self-Publishing with Amazon KDP Select. Before addressing the differences between them, let’s have a look at what they have in common. Most importantly, both options give you access to Kindle owners, whether they are reading on a Kindle device or using an app. Both options have the same pricing structure of 70% royalties if you are pricing your book between $2.99 and $9.99.
The key difference is that if you choose KDP Select then you are opting for one hundred percent exclusive access with Amazon. Your book cannot be sold on any other platforms either online or off. But by accepting this exclusivity you are provided with a number of benefits. One of the best is the ability to promote your book for free for five days or alternatively to discount it for seven days as part of Kindle Countdown. Enrollment for Select is for 90 days per title, and is automatically renewed unless you decide to opt out.
KDP Select books are also included in the Lending Library. This is free for all Amazon Prime members. When you consider the fact that nearly half of all US households have Amazon Prime, that’s a massive potential audience. Each time that your book is borrowed from the library by a Prime member you receive a share of a monthly pool. While this may not add a huge amount to your monthly earning it can be a nice little extra boost.
One good way to determine which is the right choice for you is to first just use Kindle Direct Publishing. Determine how many sales on average you earn from other platforms than KDP. Then try using the KDP Select Program, along with the promotional option, for a month. See if the boost in sales is higher than what you would miss out on if you went exclusive. You can learn more about the KDP Select Program here.
3. Proofreading and editing your book
Writing your book for electronic publication is no different than for paper form. Whether fiction or nonfiction, readers expect to be gripped in the first few lines, or else they move on. The first 10% or so of your book will be viewable on the Amazon site as a sample, so make sure the opening is especially good, and tempts the reader to want to read more.
Composing & Formatting – Microsoft Word is the easiest to use with Kindle submissions. But you can certainly write with other software, provided you save the file in the Word format as a ‘doc’. If you are not familiar with how to use styles, learn how to use them, they can save you countless hours. If you don’t have a good word processor already, you can download a free one from OpenOffice.org. You can also use the superb Google Docs, which I recommend. I use Google’s G Suite which includes Google Drive and Google Docs as well as Gmail, the email platform that I use for my email. You can sign up for a free G Suite trial here.
- Table of Contents – Amazon also recommends that you include a Table of Contents (TOC) at the front of the book, after the Title page and copyright wording. Novellas often only have chapter numbers without titles. But consider splitting your book into 4 or 5 major parts or sections, with titles, to make the Table of Contents look good. NOTE: if you do this, use the built-in TOC facility in the word processor – don’t type your own, as it won’t work in the eBook.
- Editing – A common complaint about Kindle books is that they have too many mistakes and haven’t been professionally edited. For readers of traditionally published books that have been edited, this can really ruin their reading experience. Poorly edited books have been one of the most frequent complaints about indie publishing.
Although spell-checking and some levels of grammar checking are built into Microsoft Word, this is not enough. I always suggest a second level of proofreading. Proofreading and editing services are relatively cost effective and will pay off in terms of improved reviews. You can find a number of inexpensive proofreaders and editors on the online freelancer marketplace Fiverr. Simply go to Fiverr marketplace and select “Writing & Translation” from the top menu and then “Proofreading & Editing” from the drop down. Sort by “Avg. Customer Review” to identify the most prolific and highly rated freelancers.
If you can’t afford to invest in a professional editor, then there are a number of free apps available to check the spelling and grammar of your book. Two of the best are Grammarly and the Hemingway App.
4. Your Book Cover Design
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of your Kindle cover. To understand why, put yourself in the shoes of a reader browsing through the books in your category. What is going to catch their eye and make them want to learn more? A poorly designed cover equals lowers sales. So it pays to invest time (and money) to get your cover right. There are four essential elements to a good cover. You can see the covers of all my books here.
Book covers needs to stand out – A browsing customer needs to notice your book from all of those that are around it. Remember that the thumbnail that a customer will see when searching is relatively small. Your cover design needs to be clear with distinct, readable text. Avoid small or difficult to read text for your headline and subheading. If you do not have the skills for a great cover design, I would recommend professional book cover & magazine design from 99Designs or another similar service.
A cover should also inspire a sense of emotion that the book will convey – A thriller should give the feeling of dread or anticipation. Science fiction or fantasy may want to deliver a sense of awe or wonder. It’s a high bar, but a good place to look for inspiration is the Kindle Award Winners which include the RITA Award, Nebula Award, Caldecott Medal, Man Booker Prize Winner, National Book Award, Newbery Medal and the Nobel Prize winners among others. Another good source is the Top 50 best covers for Self-Published and Indie Authors on GoodReads.
If your book is part of a series then you may want to use a consistent design theme – Have you ever bought something and then you noticed every other time someone else had exactly the same thing? Before you bought the item you never noticed these coincidences. Our brains look for patterns. When you use a consistent design theme for every book in your series you can leverage this “pattern recognition” aspect of human attention.
In fact, series can be an effective tool to growing your audience.
One-off vs. Series – One of the secrets of the most successful writers on Kindle is that they produce their books in series. The mathematics of writing as a series make it clear why this can be a profitable approach. Imagine you are selling your Kindle books for $2.99, with the 70% royalty rate that means you make approximately $2.10 for every book you sell. Sell 2,000 copies and you have made $4,186. Finding 2,000 new readers can be challenging. Instead, imagine finding 500 readers and selling them 4 books in the same series. Kindle buyers are rapid readers. If they find something they like it’s not too difficult to convince them to buy the rest of the books in that series.
Having a series also allows you to easily market each of the subsequent books. If someone finds one of your books, and likes it, then they will look for the other books in that series. You can use KDP Select to offer the first book for free to draw in readers. The other books in the series would have a price. And by using consistent cover design, you provide a way to make people notice–and remember–your series.
Lastly, Amazon has specific requirements for your cover – Kindle covers can be uploaded as JPEG or TIFF files with a maximum file size of 50MB. The ideal size for your cover is 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. If you vary the size Amazon prefers that you keep a ratio of 1.6: 1. So if the cover has a height of 1,600 pixels, then the ideal width would be 1,000 pixels. You can learn more about the requirements for publishing your book cover on this KDP help page.
Getting good reviews for your book is critical. When a potential reader is deciding whether to buy your book on KDP they only have a limited amount of information to work with. The quality of the cover and the description of the book can help to sell it. Even more importantly are the reviews that the book has received. A good review should never have less than 4 stars on Amazon, preferably 5. And these good reviews are a key marketing tool for you. If your book doesn’t have good reviews then it’s going to hurt your sales immeasurably.
The most important ingredient for getting positive reviews is to write a good book that is properly formatted. Even if you are able to “engineer” some positive reviews initially, you will soon start to get bad reviews if the book isn’t actually any good. So first focus on providing a quality experience for your reader.
Next look for reviewers for your book. Begin with your friends. Don’t be shy. Anyone who is an Amazon customer can post a review. Ask them to do so. The following technique also can be used to find reputable reviewers for you book. First do a search for other books in your genre. Next go to the review section for that book. Sort the reviews by “Most Helpful” and “All Positive”. These are reviewers who both leave a lot of reviews and have left at least one positive review. Go to that reviewer’s profile page. Look at some of the other reviews. Do they tend to be positive and did they leave a review recently? If so, look to see if they have contact information on their profile page. Aim to collect a list of at least 50 – 100 reviewers. Then send them an email saying that you noticed that they leave reviews, that you found their review helpful, and that you would love to send them a free copy of your book to review. Be sure to follow up with those reviewers who agree to write one.
6. Self-published Book Promotion Lists
Book promotion lists are an excellent place to start when promoting your book. Book promotion websites have large lists of people who like reading Kindle books. You add your book to the list and they send a promotion for your book out to their email list. The book promoters add in their Amazon affiliate link and receive a commission on anything that people buy within 24 hours after visiting the Amazon website. Below are several free and paid book promotion lists with some of the most popular including:
- Story Cartel – Free
- Pretty Hot Books – Free and paid upgrade
- Awesome Gang – Free
- Indie Author News – Free
- Free Discounted Books – Free
- Digital Book Today – Free and paid upgrade
You also can find a full list of more than 127 book promotion lists here.
7. Marketing Your Kindle Book
Richard Kiyosaki author of the best-selling financial advice book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” was once criticized by a reader at a book signing. The reader remarked to Kiyosaki that he was a poor writer and there were far better written books on the subject in the market. How then could he explain why his book was such a best seller? Kiyosaki replied that he never claimed his book was the best written, only that it was the best marketed!
This anecdote underlines an important point. In order to be a financially successful writer on KDP, you need to be an effective marketer, almost as much as a good writer. Fortunately, there are a number of different approaches you can use to market your book.
Author Blog – Starting an author blog gives you a hub for all of your marketing efforts.. With a blog you are in full control of the content and how it appears. If budgets are a consideration then you can use free platforms like Blogger or WordPress.com to create a blog. On your blog you can engage your readers, show off your writing, get subscribers for your email newsletter and send readers to your books.
Email Newsletter – An email newsletter is a great way to keep readers informed about upcoming books and to alert them when a new book is published. On your blog you should give readers an easy way to subscribe. At the end of your Kindle books include information about your newsletter and tell readers where they can subscribe.
To encourage people to sign up for your email newsletter you can provide a giveaway. For example, for a non-fiction book this might be a checklist which the reader can use to implement the information in the book. For fiction you might want to include a short story featuring the same character as the longer book. In order to get this free giveaway, readers need to visit your website and provide you their email address.
To collect emails you will need an opt-in page where you can collect them. This could be a page on your blog or you can create a free landing page using an email autoresponder service like SendPulse, or aWeber.
Your email newsletter can be a very effective way to create some pre-launch buzz for upcoming titles. By building excitement leading up to the publishing date of your book you can get a first day spike in sales. This can help to create momentum for your book by getting you featured on the bestseller charts.
Andy Weir author of “The Martian” built engagement around his book by having his readers provide input into the science depicted in the book.”
Involve Your Readers – Another way to build engagement with an audience before you publish the book is to involve them in the creative process. Andy Weir author of “The Martian” built engagment around his book by having his readers provide input into the science depicted in the book. Not only did this make the content of the book more realistic, it also helped to created a “hardcore” fan base that would definitely buy and talk about his book. Weir got this feedback by publishing his initial draft version of The Martian one chapter at a time on his blog.
This is not the only way to involve your readers. You can ask them for input on how they would like to see characters evolve or what plot elements they want to have develop. This works particularly well if you are writing a series. You can run a competition to have readers have a character named after them. These tactics help to give your readers a sense of ownership of the books. By doing this you can create super fans who are more likely to discuss and share the book on social media.
Using Social Media
Even though I am not using it yet, Twitter can be an excellent platform to build an audience for your book. First create an account on Twitter specifically for marketing your book. If you have multiple books under different pen names, then you will want a different account for each pen name. On your profile write a description of who you are and the types of books you write. You should also include a link to your blog or landing page. Add a nice profile photo to your account.
Next you need to build a following of people who will be interested in your content. The easiest way to do this is to look for people who have indicated that they are interested in the subject or genre that you are writing about. To identify these Twitter users, find the Twitter accounts for the biggest “influencers” in your genre. For example, if you were writing a legal thriller, then you might identify John Grisham’s Twitter account as an influencer. Once you have an influencer go to the tab marked “followers” on their profile. Click on this to see a list of all the people on Twitter who are following them. Next go through the list following each of these people. Go into their profile and like one of their updates or retweeting one of their tweets. Aim to do this for around 50 people a day. If you do this every day you will find that some of these people will start following your back. Every few days go back through your account and unfollow people who haven’t followed you. This will stop your follow / follower ratio from becoming too unbalanced.
The key to building engagement on Twitter is consistency. You need to be tweeting on a regular basis to create that engagement. To make this easier you can use a social scheduling tool like Hootsuite. Using Hootsuite you can schedule tweets ahead of time. Using tweets share content about your book and other articles, news items, photos and videos that your readership might find interesting. Use appropriate hashtags to make your tweets easier for new users to discover.
8. KDP Free Book Launch
In DigitalBookToday.com, a book launch sequence using KDP Select free promotion option was explained. The promotional strategy is a little dated (it was written in 2012), but the basic concept still works well today. Here is a slightly revised version of this strategy combining some of the other strategies mentioned in this guide.
- Obtain at least 6 good reviews for your book.
- Submit your book to the Kindle promotion lists detailed above, timed for the free book launch date.
- Use your email newsletter and any social media to build buzz about your book.
- Run a 1-5 day promotion offering your book for free using KDP Select or opt for Kindle Select Countdown to discount your title for seven days.
- Build anticipation of your book in your email newsletter, then send two to three emails on the free launch dates.
- Use any of your social media platforms to announce your free book launch.
- Announce your free book to the Kindle Users Forum.
- If you are writing a series, then you should stagger your promotions. Remember that Kindle Select gives you five days free promotion for each 90 days your book is enrolled.
Self-publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing has opened up the world of book publishing to everyone who has a dream of writing and the ambition to make it happen. Carefully consider the points above and you will be well on your way to success.
Sources and Other Resources
- 50 Book Awards Open to Self-published authors
- Writing Resources – Author Jeff Going’s list of resources. Some of these resources are free, and some aren’t.
- How to successfully self-publish a kindle ebook by Michael Hyatt
- Kindle Publishing: A Step-by-Step Guide for Selling Your Book Through Amazon
- Amazon pays $450,000 a year to this self-published writer