When I lived in Colorado, I took a break from exploring the mountains to write a little ebook about ultralight backpacking. I wrote it in a few days, which is possible when you write about a subject you know and love, and then published it on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform (KDP), along with a few other ebooks I had written. Having once self-published a print book for $850, I liked the zero-cost aspect of going this route.
Soon I was making as much as $350 per month on KDP without any promotion, and about a third of that was from the backpacking book. Although sales have slowed now, in total I’ve made almost $2,000 from my little Kindle ebook about ultralight backpacking and thousands more on the other books.
Interested in publishing your book on the Kindle platform? It’s free, and you might even make some money.
How to Get Started
You don’t have to write a book in a week, although it might not be as difficult as you think when you consider than many ebooks are as short as 6,000 words or consist of a collection of articles previously published by the author. Whether it takes a week or a year to write your book, focus on quality. Edit, edit, edit, and find a volunteer to read your work and offer an objective critique. Then get ready to publish.
Detailing every technical aspect of the publishing process might intimidate some readers into inaction. Instead let’s take an overview of the process and point out some good resources for information about publishing on Kindle that cover various aspects in more detail. But believe me, if I could figure it out in an afternoon or two, you can, too — after ten years of making a living online, I still don’t own a smartphone and I struggle to download programs.
To begin, you need to convert your book to the proper format. Amazon supports a few different file formats and published a handy guide to creating ebook files. Some file types allow more flexibility, like being able to link to chapters from the table of contents. Several authors recommend converting to Amazon’s mobi file format, but you can always try different file types to see which work best for your purposes. As for my preferred method, they say, “Microsoft Word with limited formatting translates well to the Kindle device.”
The real test comes when you upload your file and check it in the Kindle Previewer. Go through the entire book. If there are formatting issues, fix them and upload the file again. You’ll be uploading and previewing quite a bit before you get it right, and in the process you’ll learn what to do and not do the next time.
Of course you’ll need a cover image, which you can make yourself if you are creative, or pay to have one made. My wife made some of my covers, and I’ve had nice ones made for some of my books for $15 through Fiverr. Amazon even provides a free cover-making tool if you have an image to work with.
You’ll also have to decide whether or not to make your ebook exclusive to Amazon Kindle through their KDP Select program. I’ve done it temporarily (you enroll for 90 days at a time), and there are some advantages, like special promotional and pricing opportunities. But eventually, you might like to offer your book through other channels (more on this below).
How Much Can You Make?
You’ll probably want to price your book between $2.99 and $9.99. In that range, for sales in most countries, Amazon pays a royalty of 70%. Otherwise, you get 35%. At a price of $16.00, for example, you’ll make $5.60 (35%), but if you price you book at $9.99 you’ll be paid $6.99 per sale (70%).
The best price point for small books is often right at $2.99, where you get a royalty of $2.09 per sale — which isn’t bad considering that for each $19.95 sale of my print book on weird ways to make money, my publisher pays me just $1.50 (and that’s normal).
The Importance of Marketing
Contrary to authors’ fantasies, books don’t sell themselves. It is true that ebooks are easier to get in front of potential buyers than print books, but I consider myself lucky to have made decent money and to still have Kindle income every month (even if it was only $104 last month). To really hit it big, you need to learn about marketing, which is beyond the scope of this article (and mostly beyond my skills, which explains the $104). Fortunately, there is a lot of good information about marketing Kindle books online.
How much does good marketing help? In “How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!,” John Locke admits that his murder mysteries on Kindle were so successful because he is more of a marketer than an author. Not mentioned in that book is the fact that Locke paid for 300 reviews. Fortunately there are other ways to boost your book in the rankings.
Beyond Kindle: Other Ebook Formats
If you don’t choose KDP Select, or use this program temporarily (you can get much of the marketing value in the first 90-day enrollment period), why not consider publishing your ebook on other platforms as well?
NookPress.com is the publisher site for Barnes and Noble’s Nook device. You may have heard rumors that they plan to discontinue it, but Barnes and Noble will keep making the Nook for now. In any case, too many people are still buying books on the ereader for them to close up the publishing side of the business.
I just earned $27 from last month’s Nook sales of the few ebooks I have on their platform. It isn’t much, but I haven’t even looked logged into my account for many months, and it was minimal extra work to load up my ebooks on the Nook platform once I had them ready for Kindle. Like KDP, publishing on Nook is free.
Smashwords is a different kind of ebook platform. With proper formatting of your ebook you can have more-or-less automatic conversion into many formats, making it available as a PDF or an Apple iBook, for example. If you’re already published on Kindle or Nook, be sure that in your Smashwords settings you opt out of having them sell in those formats, because they take their cut in addition to the amount Amazon or Barnes and Noble keep from each sale.
In addition to being free like the other platforms, one nice touch here is that you get a free ISBN number for your book. On Kindle or Nook, if you’d like an ISBN, you have to buy it — though most writers simply go without.
I haven’t done so well with Smashwords, but I suspect it’s partly a matter of chance. I base this speculation on the fact that some of my ebooks do better on Nook and others on Kindle, even when I don’t promote them at all, so any particular ebook must get better or worse placement in the search results for each platform for reasons that won’t always be decipherable.
In other words, once you’ve gone to the trouble to write your book and prepare it for publishing, you might as well roll the dice and make it available on other platforms. That little bit of extra work might double or triple your sales.
Your Turn: Have you ever published on Kindle or any of the other ebook platforms? Tell us about it.