How to Self-Publish on Amazon: All You Need to Know
You. Wrote. A. Book.
First of all: Congratulations. Writing a book is one of the hardest human accomplishments — even if that book doesn’t do anything but languish on your hard drive.
But you’re ready to take it a step further. You did the work, and now you want to publish the darn thing. Self-publishing on Amazon is one of the most popular, accessible routes to getting your words in front of some eyeballs.
So how do you self-publish on Amazon — and before we even go there, should you?
Why Self-Publish with Amazon Kindle Direct?
Self-publishing on Amazon’s platform, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), is fast, easy, and — insofar as book writing can be — lucrative. (Psst: Fifty Shades started as a self-publishing effort!)
Authors who publish on KDP earn up to 70% of royalties from countries with wide reader audiences, such as the United States, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Australia. Given that Amazon controls the vast majority of the English-speaking ebook market — about 80% — the odds of making some sales are in your favor.
When you publish on KDP, your book can be found in the digital library in as little as a single business day. That’s music to the ears of any writer who’s ever put their head in their hands at the thought of the long, laborious path to traditional publishing.
Although Amazon makes it relatively straightforward to navigate their publishing website, KDP can be a little overwhelming at first. So this guide will take you through all the steps, from hard drive to hardcover. (Okay, not really; Amazon only prints soft cover books — but we wanted to keep the alliteration. You understand, right, writers?)
Getting Started with Kindle Direct Publishing
When you first get to the KDP website, you’ll log in using your Amazon account username and password — the same one you use to buy toilet paper or stream videos.
You’ll need to complete some basic author information, including your region, full name and address, and also bank information for payments and tax withholding info.
Next, you’ll be prompted to upload your manuscript. You’ll be able to choose between creating a paperback book and an ebook; in both cases, you’ll need to fill in basic information about your book including the title, series and edition numbers (if applicable), and age ranges (for children’s books), as well as writing a description, choosing keywords and categories, and crediting any contributors.
Let’s pause here for a moment because the way you fill out this information is vital to the success of your book.
An enticing description can make the difference between someone just looking at your listing and actually clicking the “buy” button. Choosing the right categories gives you a better chance of finding the kinds of readers who want to read your specific work.
The Reedsy blog, a resource on self-publishing, offers valuable advice on optimizing your Amazon listing — including how to choose the right categories and keywords and how to write a short but effective synopsis as part of polishing your book’s product page.
Once you’ve crafted a killer listing to ensure your book gets attention, you’ll finalize it by choosing whether to release your book immediately or have it available for pre-order up to a year out. Opting for preorder can be a really good move from a promotional standpoint: It allows you to hype up the book ahead of time using your mailing list and social media platforms (don’t forget Goodreads!).
Pre-orders also contribute to your book’s sales rank, which can help ensure it stays high in the search results.
The Book Cover Still Matters
Kindle Direct Publishing offers its own proprietary cover creator, which is attractive since it’s free and built right into the publishing platform. They also offer some resources to help you format your manuscript in popular word processing programs like MS Word and Apple Pages.
That said, we can’t overstate how important an eye-catching cover design and polished interior layout are to your book’s sales potential, so it might be worthwhile to hire the job out to a professional.
There are a lot of avenues for getting your book looking sharp. Firms like Reedsy and BookBaby connect authors with cover designers and layout experts, but you can also find them on websites like Upwork and Fiverr.
What About the ISBN?
As exciting as it is to turn your manuscript into a physical volume, obtaining an ISBN — or International Standard Book Number — is perhaps the most legitimizing moment in the publication process. KDP makes this part simple and free for its publishers.
If you choose to make your book available for on-demand printing, Amazon will automatically provide you an ISBN and register it, free of charge, with BooksInPrint.com. However, this ISBN can only be used on Kindle Direct, so if you later choose other avenues of distribution, you’ll need to purchase one on your own through an ISBN agency.
You can also choose to get ahead of the game by purchasing your ISBN before publishing with Amazon, which will also give you the opportunity to choose your book’s imprint of record. Basically, this gives you the opportunity to publish as a one-person “press,” rather than having the book listed as “independently published,” as it will be if you get your ISBN through Amazon.
Finally, if you’re publishing your work only as an ebook on KDP, an ISBN is not required and won’t be provided. Rather, Amazon will assign the book a unique 10-digit ASIN, or Amazon Standard Identification Number. You can, however, purchase an ISBN on your own for your ebook and enter it during the publishing process.
Should You Use KDP Select?
Lastly, let’s talk about KDP Select, Amazon’s special program that offers authors unique promotional privileges in exchange for their loyalty to the platform.
Here’s how it works: You agree to publish your ebook only on KDP for a period of 90 days, and in return, you get higher royalties, the ability to partake in special discounts and promotions, and your book will be listed on Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, both of which can get more eyes on your work.
Some writers claim that the wider distribution they see with KDP Select is worth keeping their books off other competing platforms, like Kobo and Apple Books, though you’ll of course have to weigh the risks and benefits of the program yourself. Keep in mind that if you enroll in KDP Select, you are still allowed to distribute your book physically, and you can choose to opt out and “go wide” after the 90-day period has ended.
Jamie Cattanach is a full-time freelance writer whose work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool and other outlets. Learn more at www.jamiecattanach.com.