15 Aug Turn Your Dream Book Into a Reality: An Amazon KDP Self-Publishing Guide
IF YOU HAVE AN EMBER of an idea burning in your heart and soul, there’s never been a better time to turn your dream into a published book. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing allows anybody to turn their idea — be it a five-hundred-page memoir or a children’s coloring book — into a reality.
After recently self-publishing my first non-fiction novel, Arrows of Youth: A Young Man’s Inspiring Journey to Find What Lights His Soul on Fire, I can honestly say that my experience of self-publishing with Amazon exceeded my expectations.
I hope this guide serves you as my honest thoughts after spending the last year contemplating, writing, and creating a tangible book that I’m truly proud of. The first question you might naturally ask: is self-publishing right for you?
Traditional route or self-publish?
As an unpublished writer working on my book, I weighed which route to take: should I self-publish, or try my hand at getting a publisher? My goal was to get this book under my belt and tell my story exactly the way I wanted.
Because of this, I was greatly inspired by best-selling author Hugh Howey, who had his self-published science-fiction Silo series turn into a worldwide phenomenon. He writes in his article The State of Self-Publishing:
One reminder that I’ve blogged about at length is that most books don’t sell very many copies. And that’s okay. It’s not a self-publishing thing; it’s a publishing thing. 98% of manuscripts submitted to agents never get published at all. The false premise seems to be that you can choose to self-publish, or you can choose to have your book on an endcap in every bookstore while you are sent on a 12-city tour by your publisher. That’s not the choice. The choice is to self-publish or submit to an agent. This is the choice.
When I decided to self-publish, it was full steam ahead. Each route will undoubtedly create possibilities the other wouldn’t allow. Howie writes:
If you self-publish, you can immediately move on to writing the next work. If you are one of the 1% to secure an agent, the earliest you might see that work in a bookstore is a year. More likely, it’ll be three to five years. And you’ll be asked to rewrite that work, not based on any artistic vision, but based on what’s currently selling, and what publishers are currently looking for.
With great power comes great responsibility
If you decide to self-publish, you’re taking on the responsibility to make sure the quality of your book meets publishing standards. With no publisher as a gatekeeper to ensure your book looks exactly as it should, the job falls into your hands.
While it might be overwhelming at first, this is a good thing! I truly loved this aspect of creating my book. It will take time to understand everything — there will be trial and error; possibly, probably tears. But the book will be yours.
Perhaps it’s trite to say this, but it’s absolutely true: I didn’t write my book to make money. I wrote it because I felt a calling to put my heart on the page and to create something that exemplifies who I am.
I am forever indebted to author and marketing guru Seth Godin. His books Linchpin, and The Practice discuss how nobody is going to urge us to act on our dreams. Nobody’s going to give us the big deal, the platform, or the microphone to share our voice. But we don’t need it. Godin writes in The Practice:
Identity fuels action, and action creates habits, and habits are part of a practice, and a practice is the single best way to get where you seek to go. Before you are a 'bestselling author,' you are an author, and authors write. The only choice we have is to begin. And the only place to begin is where we are. Simply begin. But begin.
As writers, all we have to do is put the pen to the page and our fingers on the keys. Nobody’s going to make you do it, and odds are you’ll need to find two hours at 4 am or before bed to write. However, if you’re like me, you’ll do whatever it takes. Time to put your head down and begin.
It was often challenging to find online information regarding many of the hurdles I jumped through with self-publishing. Many times, the only information I could find for things like varying book sizes and margins didn’t apply to me.
Some choices I made went against what I read, and I’m happy I followed my instincts instead of what I read. So if something feels right to you, trust yourself.
I wrote my entire manuscript in the Mac Pages application and am very happy with the creative choices it gave me. If you decide to publish your book with KDP and want to create physical paperback copies, you’ll need to determine the size and margins of your book.
Book size and margins
You can choose practically any size, and for my 365-page book, I went with the standard 6 x 9. Many of the pages have photographs and I wanted the book to feel substantial.
Look at your favorite books and ask yourself what size best suits what you’re going for. As for your book’s margins — decide early, because changing later while you’re in the process of creating can cause quite a stir in your book’s overall aesthetic.
The inside margin is called the gutter and requires slightly more room so the words don’t get lost in the book’s crease. For my book, .88 on the inside and .81 on the outside worked really well. I used a 1.13 top margin and a 1.25 bottom margin so it feels like there’s room to breathe around the body text.
Color, or black and white?
When I was well into the process, I discovered that producing a book in color costs substantially more than black and white. I imagined my book in color, as my photography plays an integral role in the book. I created the book in both color and black and white, which required me to create two different manuscripts.
Both versions exceeded my expectations, which was a rather consistent theme with KDP overall. The quality of a KDP self-published book is impressive.
With the color option, the only choice is white paper; however, I found it does the photography justice and is just as quality as any well-made book on my shelf.
Keep in mind that if you choose to go with black and white, you can choose either white or cream paper. I went with cream paper for my black and white version. If you pull out your favorite fiction books, chances are they are on cream paper.
Printing costs and royalties
KDP production costs for books between 110 and 828 pages:
Black and White for United States distribution (amazon.com):
.85 USD fixed cost per book + (page count x 0.012 USD per page).
Example: 0.85 USD fixed cost + (365 page count x 0.012 USD per page cost) = 5.23 USD (printing cost)
Premium Color Ink for United States distribution (amazon.com):
0.85 USD fixed cost per book + (page count x 0.07 USD per page).
Example: 0.85 USD fixed cost + (365 page count x 0.07 USD per page cost) = 26.4 USD (printing cost)
The minimum list price for books on Amazon:
Production cost / 60% (royalty rate) = minimum list price
Creating and editing
Writing a book is a beautiful journey if you have the grit and determination to see it through. Annie Dillard writes in her classic The Writing Life:
You climb a long ladder until you can see over the roof, or over the clouds. You are-writing a book. You watch your shod feet step on each round rung, one at a time; you do not hurry and do not rest. Your feet feel the steep ladder’s balance; the long muscles in your thighs check its sway. You climb steadily, doing your job in the dark. When you reach the end, there is nothing more to climb. The sun hits you. The bright wideness surprises you; you had forgotten there was an end. You look back at the ladder’s two feet on the distant grass, astonished.
When you’re halfway, three-quarters, nearly done, you won’t care if anybody reads what you finally produce. The act of putting pen to page every single day and giving your heart and soul to your project is the purpose of writing.
Rewrite. Take a breather first. Give your book some time to rest; allow yourself some time and room to come back with fresh eyes. Then, come back and read it through, out loud if you can.
I found that it’s better to lay everything out on the page on the first get go. You want more clay to work with to mold the final product, as having more to cut is better than having nothing to use.
I thought I could have my friend be an editor. Ha, I was wrong. Not that he couldn’t help, but you need to pay a professional to give your work a real service. For an independent author, there are many options for choosing an editor online, be it independent contractors on Fiverr or through an editing company.
When I found a service that felt right, I trusted my instincts and went with it. Editing is not cheap, but it’s worth the investment if you take your book seriously, just as seriously as if you were sending it to a publisher or an agent. I went with the service First Editing after comparing several services online and had a solid experience with them.
It took my editor about two weeks to edit the manuscript and it came back thoroughly edited, as well as with remarks on the overall structure, what could improve the book, and what was lacking. I sent it back for a second go after applying the changes, requesting the same editor. He had the related background in history and literature to help me with my book.
Ordering proofs to edit the physical book
An awesome KDP feature is the option to order book proofs while it’s in the production stage. When I received my first proof, the quality exceeded my expectations; it was surreal. With the KDP proofs, there’s a “not for resale” banner across the front and back.
The proof can be a work in progress, and I ordered them continually to see what the book looked like in person. Proofs only cost you the shipping cost. I thought I was done after that second professional edit. Plus, I had gone through it six or seven times on my own already — nope. You still need a final proofreader.
Before sending to a final proofreader, you’ll want to read the physical proof copy cover to cover and make edits that way.
Finding a proofreader
I went with the service Ebooklaunch and had another great experience with a proofreader. It proved helpful to have a separate editor and proofreader, as their styles were different and they assessed the book in contrasting ways.
I didn’t implement every recommendation, because at this point there was some stylistic language I wanted to keep, rather than strict grammar rules. You can’t be your own editor. Your best friend can’t be. Nor proofreader. Invest in yourself, and you’ll be grateful that you did.
Designing a cover
I used Adobe Photoshop to create the cover. I’d been working on the cover of my book since I had the idea early on — I was just too excited! For the layout, you’ll want to use the KDP cover template which you can find here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/cover-templates
You provide your book’s size and page count, and it creates the template which you can use in Photoshop. When I had an idea and an initial design, I worked with a freelance cover designer on Fiverr, and once we went through a couple rounds, I felt confident that I could finish the job myself.
She provided the Photoshop file for me to edit, which was extremely helpful. When you’ve designed the cover, which includes the front, back, and spine in one horizontal image, you’ll export the file into a PDF and upload it to KDP. You must do this before ordering the proofs.
You have the choice of either a glossy or a matte cover finish with KDP. I read overwhelming advice online to go with the glossy cover.
Plus, when I examined my bookshelf, I couldn’t find any books with a matte cover, but many paperbacks with a glossy finish.
The matte, I read, leaves smudges while the glossy is more professional. The glossy finish feels legit; I’m glad I went with it.
Pricing and ISBN
As I mentioned earlier, the price of your book must be:
Printing cost / 60% (royalty rate) = minimum list price
This article, How Much to Charge When Self-Publishing a Book on Amazon, was extremely helpful. According to the article, here are some essential questions to ask yourself:
— What do similar books, from authors with name recognition like mine, sell for?
— How important are my royalties, at least in the beginning?
— What are my goals and marketing plans?
Once you have your price in mind, you’ll need to purchase an ISBN, an International Standard Book Number, for each version of your book. Amazon will provide an ISBN if you sell exclusively with them; however, to give yourself the option of having your book available elsewhere, purchase your own.
You purchase ISBNs through the sight Bowker. Once you have an ISBN you can convert it into a bar code to include on the back of your cover.
Preparing for launch
Perhaps you’re a month or two out from your desired launch date. The manuscript is clean, beautiful, and sends chills down your spine. Convert that bad boy into an optimized PDF and upload the final version to KDP! You can continue to update the manuscript file on KDP, even when it’s live.
Flatten the layers of the finished Photoshop cover file and convert to a PDF as well. Once you’ve uploaded the final manuscript and cover, you can launch the KDP book previewer, which you’ve probably been doing already if you have been requesting proofs. This is Amazon’s way to ensure the quality is up to standards: margins, trim, etc.
Keywords and categories
Keywords are the words and phrases that people might search to find your book. You can choose up to seven keywords with KDP. Searching books similar to yours on Google, and simply searching similar books using varying keywords on Amazon are useful ways to garner ideas.
Categories are where your book has a chance to reach an Amazon best seller ranking. While your book is in production, you choose two categories to list your book under.
Once it’s live, however, you can and should contact Amazon and request that your book be included in up to ten categories.
Look into applicable, specific categories that don’t have a ton of competition to give yourself the best chances of rising in the ranks.
Advanced reader team
When you’re about a month off from launch, you’ll want to recruit an advanced reader team. These are people who will get and read your book beforehand, so on launch day you can get them to write a review. It’s a great way to create a buzz around the book before it launches, as Amazon paperbacks can’t be preordered.
I used Book Funnel to create a landing page, which I sent out to my newsletter subscribers, asking people to download the free PDF so they could leave a review when the book was released. It was also a great opportunity to get people to join my newsletter who I thought might be interested in reading the book!
I did a silent release and went live with my book on Amazon about a week before my public “launch,” which was when I went live with the book on social media and started spreading the word.
I did this to work out any kinks that might come up after publishing, and so people had an extra week to leave a review before making the book public.
I also ordered the official copy right when I did the silent release, so I’d have it for a picture to go public on launch day. Once you go live, you can create an Amazon author account, and create profiles on sites like GoodReads.
I’d recommend creating a Kindle version of your book as well. Once you do, you can link the Kindle and paperback versions to give people more choices to read.
Next up, will you create an audiobook?
I hope this article inspired you to take your dream into your own hands; with KDP and other self-publishing services, what we might create in any field of interest is truly limitless.
This article was originally published on Medium with The Writing Cooperative