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How to Self-Publish a Book on Amazon (The Right Way)

By:
Shaun Connell
Updated
October 29, 2022

A decade or so ago, Amazon's self-publishing system was a breakthrough hit amongst authors looking to start their careers. It granted them easy access to a system they could use to publish, market, distribute, and sell their writing to millions of people around the world.

As you might expect, this led to a veritable gold rush of people in every industry and every genre publishing content, ranging from absolute garbage to solid gold, hoping to strike it rich. Relatively few people ever did, of course, but tales of their success (and their self-help "you can do it too" eBooks) have fostered entire new generations of people looking to follow in their footsteps.

Solution Can you still publish a book on Amazon and be successful? Of course! Is it easy? Well, that's a whole other question. It's easy to publish a book, but success is much more difficult.

Luckily, there's a fairly well-defined process for publishing on Amazon. As long as you follow it, you have a decent chance at succeeding where many, many others have failed.

Self-Pub or Traditional Publication?

One decision you need to make right away is whether you want to do self-publishing via a digital format or go for a traditional publication in print. Amazon offers both through different systems.

The traditional print publication system, Amazon Publishing (or APub), is very much like a traditional publishing house. They have a variety of imprints dedicated to various genres and writing styles, and they publish many well-known authors. They're also exclusive, work with their own editors and agents, and do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. While you can try to use this system, it's beyond the scope of my article today and likely far beyond what most of you are interested in, anyway.

Amazon Publishing

The other system, which publishes eBooks directly to Amazon, is KDP: Kindle Direct Publishing. It's Amazon's self-publishing system using the Kindle digital system, allowing anyone who shops on Amazon to buy a digital copy of your eBook.

Solution For obvious reasons, this post is focusing on KDP. If you're looking for tips on APub, you'll need to look elsewhere for now.

Step 1: Write a Book

Alright, so this is glossing over a lot. But the first thing you need to do is write a book. Without a book, you don't have anything to publish, right?

Of course, you don't have to actually write the book yourself. Ghostwriting is perfectly acceptable. As long as you've paid for the rights to the content (backed up by a contract), then you're good to use it however you like.

If you have an idea and want to get it written, I have an entire guide on how to hire an eBook writer here. I recommend following that.

Writing a Book

What do you need to write a book that succeeds on Amazon?

  • A compelling title. People will be browsing books based on keywords and search results, and if your title isn't sufficiently interesting, they'll never click to even see the description, let alone buy it.
  • An excellent cover. You know that old adage that you should never judge a book by its cover? Well, turns out literally everyone does, at least on Amazon. A bad cover is a bad book.
  • Keywords. Yup, that's right, you can't escape keyword research even here. Think of words or phrases you want your book to come up with when they're searched, and keep them in mind.

The actual content of the book should be good, too, but the biggest hurdle is getting people to take a look in the first place.

As far as a cover goes, there are tons of freelancers out there on sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and even Patreon who offer eBook cover creation services. Find one whose style you like and have them design a cover for you.

How long should your book be? That's up to you. The shortest eBooks on Amazon tend to be around 2,500 words or so, though some are even shorter, especially if there are images, diagrams, poetry, or other things that take up page space but not word count. Longer books can be, well, as long as you want. Fiction books can be 100,000 words long or only 5,000. It's really up to you, your target audience, and your goals with the book.

Step 2: Create Your KDP Account

Click here and sign up for an account. If you already have an Amazon account, you can use that, or you can create a new account that isn't tied to any of your previous efforts.

KDP Account Sign In

We'll get to details about the author bio later; for now, go ahead and just click to create a new eBook.

Step 3: Set Book Details

Now you have a whole process to go through to configure information about your book.

Setting Book Details

The detail's you'll need to configure for your book include:

  • Your book's language. If you've written your book in anything other than English, it's obviously pretty important for potential readers to know that.
  • Your title and subtitle. Not all books need a subtitle, but it's an opportunity to have more keywords in your book listing, so as long as you can keep it snappy, add one. Otherwise, just stick to your title.
  • Your author name. If you're writing under a pen name, use it here. If you're using a pseudonym, use it here. You still need real information on the back end for payments and billing, but your display name for the book needs to be what you have on your book's cover.
  • A description of the book. Amazon gives you up to 4,000 characters of space to add a description. This is among the most important parts of your entire listing, so it's critical to get it right. Here's a good guide on how.
  • Publishing rights. You just need to check the box saying you own the rights to the content (or it's public domain, though you probably aren't clicking that one.)
  • Keywords. As mentioned above, you need to do your keyword research. Amazon gives you seven keyword boxes, so you don't have very many chances to get it right.
  • Categories. Amazon has an entire tree structure of categories, and you can pick up to two for your book. Pick both, and be as specific as possible. This is another way users can find your book, by browsing the category and seeing what is published. It's also crucial because, if you sell well, you can potentially be "best selling in X category," which is a huge boon to discoverability.
  • Age range. Leave this alone unless you're writing a children's book, in which case, specify the age range.
  • Preorder. You can choose to set a future publication date or set it to publish when you're done filling out the details. It's up to you which you want to do, but either way, you'll want to complete everything in this guide first.
  • DRM Rights. DRM prevents people from copying your book and sending it out elsewhere, at least without jumping through a bunch of hoops. It makes it harder for people to pirate your book as well. It's worth enabling this unless you're staunchly anti-DRM.

That's a lot, right? Well, we're not done yet.

Step 4: Upload Your Book

The next step is to actually upload your book to Amazon. Before you do, however, you'll want to format it properly.

Formatting a book is no easy task, and more than that, you'll want to create it as an EPUB file. EPUB is Amazon's current digital book format. You can upload your book in a variety of different formats, like MOBI, or even just DOCX, PDF, or even HTML.

Solution Don't. Why not? Well, Amazon will have to convert it to an EPUB file for use in their system.

Sure, they can do that automatically, but their automatic systems aren't perfect. In fact, you might not even call them good. You'll end up with all sorts of oddities due to changing scale, font, margins, and all kinds of other quirks. It's infinitely better to create your book in that format natively, make sure it looks good, and upload it straight.

At the same time, all of the work it takes to format a book is part of what separates you from the thousands of people uploading low-quality dreck every day. The people who do end up buying your book and reading it will be able to tell immediately that it's a much more professional effort than most of the content they find on Amazon, and they'll get a more positive impression of you immediately.

After you've uploaded your book in EPUB format, you'll be asked to upload the cover. The cover should be either a JPG or TIFF, high-res, and formatted to look great on the web. An experienced Amazon book cover creator (that you've definitely hired, right?) should be able to provide you with something that works exactly how Amazon expects it to work.

At this point, you can preview your book in two different ways. One is through the Amazon Previewer, which will render in your browser. It's not really representative, though. Instead, you'll want to download their previewer app and test it there. Make sure everything works and looks good. Be thorough; it's one of your last chances before the public can see your book.

Amazon Book Uploading

Before you continue, Amazon also gives you the chance to specify the publisher and ISBN if you have them. If you're publishing through non-Amazon venues, you might need these. If Amazon is the only place you're going to host the book (or if it's just Amazon and your website), you won't need them.

Solution KDP Select is an option you can choose here. By opting in, you get additional exposure through Kindle Unlimited and can participate in special deals. However, this can hinder your initial revenue, and if you opt-in, you're locked in for three months minimum. This is your choice, just know what you're getting into.

Next up, Amazon asks you to specify territories. Unless you have a good reason to geo-lock your content, just choose All Territories, so anyone in the world can buy.

Finally, you can choose a Royalty structure. Your two options are 35% and 70%.

70% is better, right? Well, sort of. The different options also impose different restrictions on minimum and maximum pricing, which is written in this chart. Generally, you need to pick 35% if you want to price your book under $3.

Once you've picked your royalty structure, you can set your price and your marketplace. Just choose Amazon.com as your marketplace for obvious reasons.

Now, save your book as a draft and proceed to filling out other important parts of your account before publishing.

Step 5: The Rest of the Story

Now that your book is ready to go, you want to fill out other information that can help.

First up, set up an Amazon Author Central Page with all of the relevant details, like who you are, your author photo, a blurb, and so on. This is a whole process in itself, but at least it's generally stuff you'll have on hand from other forms of marketing.

Amazon Author Central Page

You'll also want to do any groundwork you want to lay for your book marketing. For example:

  • Do you want to solicit blurbs from other noteworthy writers in your niche? These can be used on the cover and in your marketing and can be helpful.
  • Do you want to send out review copies to important individuals in your niche? They can have reviews ready to publish the day your book goes live to encourage others to buy and read it.
  • Do you want to build hype and lead up to your book release on your own site? You'll want to have a publication date in mind so you can do that promotion leading up to it.

The difference between a book that languishes on Amazon with a few sales over the course of years and a book that lands on the bestseller lists is almost entirely in the promotion. So, lay a strong foundation before you hit publish.

Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell has spent his entire career either working as a freelance writer or hiring freelance writers for his many successful publications. Shaun has learned the exact tricks of the trade to hire the perfect writer for almost any niche.
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