I’ve had a number of people ask me about my experience publishing my books on Amazon. After publishing my second book, (Run Guts Pull Cones – available now!), I did several things differently than I did the first time which has helped me to clarify my thoughts on the matter. So here is how to publish a book on Amazon’s platform.
Up until a few years ago you had two options to publish a book. You could go with a traditional publisher or you could self-publish. Those two options still exist today. Self-publishing means that you pay a printer to print all your books which you need to pay for upfront. You then attempt to sell all of those books yourself. I’m told that the minimum order is a thousand books but often much higher. This is a significant financial outlay that is most often never recouped as the books sit languishing in boxes in the back garage, a miserable reminder of a poor decision.
People are still attempting this today. Only last week I received a group email from a foreign rafting association which was encouraging people to donate to one of their members’ Kickstarter campaign to raise money so she could print 1000 copies of her book. She needs €30,000 to print these books, a simply astounding sum. I mean, are they made of platinum or something? I have no doubt that the printing company in question was just rubbing its hands with glee when she showed up at the door.
I did email the association with guidance on how to save all that money and do it differently but I do not think they understood what I was saying. And this is simply because the vast majority of people do not understand that there now exists a third method of getting your books out there.
You use Amazon and its three services, print books, ebooks, and audio books. Each of these are separate entities that feed into Amazon’s main distribution network. It costs you nothing to set it up, (although you will most probably have some costs getting your book ready in the first place), and it costs you nothing when it is running. Not only do you have no printing costs but you have access to Amazon’s worldwide distribution system which includes bookshops. In other words, even though I am technically self published you can go into any bookshop anywhere in the world and order my books.
That girl trying to raise money to print her books will not have that huge advantage. Even if she does raise the money required she will then need to work out how she is going to unload them. It is an enormous obstacle which is why until Amazon came along, self publishing was a virtual guaranteed road to failure. The publishing houses had the market sown up as they were the literal gatekeepers. They held the power of distribution. But Amazon broke that monopoly. It is the third way.
This has given authors the ability to reach readers without third party publishing cartels getting in the way. You can price the books as you wish, (although a minimum price is set for paperback books due to printing costs), you can publish as often as you wish, you can even go back and adjust books that you have already published, (I have done this myself).
As an author this means that the power is in your hands. Does this mean that you’re going to sell books? Not at all, just like someone opening a clothing store might not sell any clothes. Opening the store is just the first step. After that you have to get your customers in the door. This is really important to understand. When I finally finished writing my first book I assumed that I had actually finished. As I was to discover, I had only just begun. For a full and in-depth look at the advantages of publishing through Amazon, go to Joe Konrath’s blog. You’ll need to go through some of his back posts but he nails every argument on the head with regards to traditional versus Amazon publishing, though this article is a good start. As for self publishing, if you persist in going that route after getting all of this information then you’re plainly nuts.
So lets say you’ve finally finished your grand masterpiece and you’re ready to get it out there. My advice to you is to stop right there and think about who is going to buy your book. Does anyone know who you are? Forget family and friends, I’m talking about other people out there in the world. Consider when you go into a bookshop and you see thousands of titles there waiting to be discovered. Who do you go for? Chances are that you will go for someone who you already know. Likewise on Amazon there are hundreds of thousands of titles. How do you think people are going to find you?
The answer is that they won’t. You will publish your book, some of your friends and family will buy it, and that’s it. No matter how good your book is, and you could be the new Shakespeare for all I care, you won’t sell any. You need to have an online audience before you publish your book. I was extremely fortunate that I already had just that through the following I had on the two plus two poker forum, but even that wasn’t enough to help me along. Which was why I set up this blog and my podcast as well as the writing I do for other sites around the internet. All of this I have developed over the past year but the reality is that I should have been doing this the entire time I was writing my first book. If I had done that then it really would have taken off when I launched it. So that is the first lesson learned.
Develop your audience before you publish for the first time.
How you do that is up to you but there are countless ways to connect with groups of people on the internet. However, even if you do all that networking it will be useless if your finished product isn’t any good. Second lesson thus is:
Write a really good book.
I can’t help you with that. Good writing is hard and the vast majority of people are in serious delusion as to what their actual abilities are. But lets assume that you have written a really good book. Now you’re ready to have a look at Amazon’s printing site and see what their parameters are. The site is called createspace. This is where you need to go for the paperback version of your book. Sign up and create an account. Then click on a new project. I think I’ll call my book, “Cats are Cool”
Now we click on the get started button after choosing the paperback option.
Add your name and all other relevant information. Carefully consider adding a subtitle. I omitted this when I published my first book but it was an oversight as Pushing Rubber Downhill while a great title does not really communicate what the book is about. I recently added the subtitle, ‘A journey to manhood via whitewater adventures’ which I feel is a vast improvement.
Leave the publication date blank as createspace will decide that for you, (more on that later).
Now they can assign you an ISBN number, (you actually get two of them – a 10 and a 13). This is brilliant as it means that your title will have a bar-code and bookshops will be able to order it, (although you will need to select the “expanded distribution option” when choosing which areas you want the book to be sold in). It also doesn’t cost you anything for your ISBN when done this way.
This screen-grab is really crucial to understand. This is your interior file, the actual words in the book. I used the recommended 6 x 9 size which is very nice for people who have difficulty in reading very small print. It also fits nicely on bookshelves. Notice on the right hand side the “download a Word template” area. If you look at a printed book you will notice that the type on the left and right hand pages is offset due to the spine of the book. In order to fit your words properly on the page you need to download one of their templates. It’s easy to do and will save you a great deal of hassle.
Now for the cover. A great cover is crucial. I am extremely fortunate in this regard as I have a very close friend who is an outstanding artist and a computer geek to boot. The reason that I’m not mentioning his name is that he only does covers for me as he has no time for anyone else due to the nature of his work. Saying this, I still pay him as I want it to be worth his time as well. I won’t say how much I pay him but it is in the hundreds of dollars. And it is worth every cent. How you go about getting your own cover is up to you. You can utilize the Createspace option which starts at $399 or you could find your own artist to work with. There are plenty of them out there on the internet.
Once you have uploaded the interior and cover files you will be asked to complete the setup and submit the files for appraisal. This normally takes 24 hours and then Createspace will get you to approve the review process. You can view the completed book using their online digital reviewer or you can get an actual proof copy of your book printed and shipped to you. This will cost you a few dollars but it is worth it to check that the cover works. (Just as an example, the cover designer needs to take into account how many pages are in the book so as to make sure that the spine is wide enough).
You will also need to carefully consider the categories you select for your book to be in on Amazon. My new book is in three:
- Books > Sports & Outdoors > Outdoor Recreation > Rafting
- Books > Travel > Europe > Italy > General
- Books > Sports & Outdoors > Water Sports
I hit number two in the rafting category when it released which is crucial for your future book sales, although number one would have been much better but I can still make that when I run future promotions.
Once you are happy with everything you will need to click the button that states that you are accepting the review process. Pay attention! Once you click that button your book is live! It will appear on Amazon’s site almost immediately and gradually over the next few weeks on every other of their worldwide sites. It will take about a month for your book to be ready to order from bookstores.
At the end of the review process Createspace will ask you if you wish to submit to Kindle for an ebook copy. I really recommend that you do this. Probably 70% of my sales are through Kindle. However, I do not recommend enrolling in Kindle’s KDP select program. This gives the author money for each page that a subscriber reads. In theory it’s good but Mike Cernovich crunched the numbers and it really isn’t worth your time. In fact, for a new author it will cost you money.
Createspace prints a book when a copy is purchased or ordered. This is how the printing costs don’t come back to you the author. However, it means that you will also have to pay for copies of your own book, no freebies here! You only pay the printing price plus shipping but it’s important to understand that you’re not getting 20 free copies of your book to hand out to friends.
So there you go. That’s how easy it is to publish a book today. As for my ‘Cats are Cool” book, I could upload a file with ‘cats are cool’ repeated fifty thousand times, a groovy cover, and Amazon would list it. Doesn’t mean it would sell though.