7 Common Questions About Self-Publishing on Amazon
This guide can help you decide whether self-publishing on Amazon is right for you, your book and your business.
Some people view self-publishing as a failure, chosen only when no other options remain. But the simple truth is that traditional gatekeepers -- literary agents and editors at publishing houses -- simply don’t have the bandwidth to determine the value of every story. Hundreds of thousands of books are self-published every year, and there’s no way to keep up with them all. Unless you already have a built-in audience or previous experience in publishing, it can be difficult to get your work in front of decision-makers.
Self-publishing allows you to show off your ideas in front of the true decision-makers, the readers. Whether you’ve decided to use your book as a top-of-funnel marketing and branding opportunity, or whether you simply have a story you need to tell, self-publishing makes your book available to the masses.
While we’re not making an endorsement of which method or company you should use to self-publish your book, Amazon is probably the best-known and most commonly used marketplace. This piece will walk you through some of the important questions and answers about self-publishing on Amazon to help you decide whether it’s the right place for your book.
1. Does self-publishing on Amazon mean I can only make digital copies?
When you think about Amazon publishing, the first thought that comes to mind might be Kindle. Ebooks can be great tools -- they’re cheap to make and according to the Amazon website, you can publish your book digitally on its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform in just five minutes.
However, a physical copy can also come in handy. If you are giving a keynote speech, or introducing someone to your ideas for the first time, it’s more straightforward to hand them a hard copy of your work than to share a link and hope they click.
That’s before you even consider the emotional, irrational feeling that comes with seeing your work bound and printed. I have always preferred to write by hand, so I can feel and experience the progress I’m making.
Fortunately, Amazon does give you the option to create multiple formats of your book. Those formats are:
- Publish to Kindle. You ought to be able to get started here.
- Publish to Print. Amazon’s KDP platform is the place to publish your new paperback books, not Createspace (the company merged with KDP in 2018).
- Publish to Audio. This is the link Amazon offers to authors looking to create an audiobook.
2. Can I sell my book elsewhere if I self-publish it on Amazon first?
It depends on which format you choose. When using ACX, Amazon’s recommended audiobook production website, you will not be able to sell or create other versions of the book elsewhere. The company’s website specifies, “You will not produce, or authorize the production of, an audio recording of the Book in the Language for distribution in the Territory other than through ACX until you remove the Book from ACX so that the Book no longer has a Title Profile on ACX and is no longer listed as available for production on ACX.”
“Further,” state ACX’s guidelines, “if you enter into an ACX Audiobook Production Agreement with a Producer [the company allows authors to pair with Producers, who will put together the actual audio file of the book], you will not produce, or authorize the production of, an audio recording of the Book in the Language for distribution in the Territory other than through ACX until the date that is 7 years from the date the completed Audiobook is delivered to Audible in accordance with the terms set forth in the ACX Audiobook Production Agreement, unless no Audiobook is produced within 4 months after the date the Audiobook must be completed, as set forth in the ACX Audiobook Production Agreement, for reasons other than your failure to abide by your obligations under the agreement.”
- If you create the audio file yourself, you must first have removed the book from ACX before publishing elsewhere.
- If you partnered with a Producer who created the audio file, you must wait at least seven years from the date the completed audiobook is delivered to Audible.
However, if you’re using KDP to create a Kindle or paperback version, you will retain publishing rights. For eBooks, Amazon says authors can “keep control of your rights and set your own list prices. Make changes to your books at any time.” For paperbacks, you can “Maintain creative control and own your copyright with our non-exclusive agreement.”
3. How much does it cost?
The KDP website states that even when creating a paperback book, “You don't have to pay any costs upfront or carry any inventory. Your book is printed on demand when customers purchase it.” Obviously, this can be a huge asset if you have a limited budget or minimal space to hold your copies. You don’t need to print 1,000 copies, with all the costs that come with it, and hope you can sell them all to recoup your investment -- the very last thing you want to do is invest so much time into a book, only to lose money on the project.
Amazon does calculate a printing cost, based upon variables like the length of the book and whether it’s printed in color or black and white. This number is typically used to subtract from the total price of each book before royalties are calculated, but as the author of the book, you can also choose to buy copies of the work at cost (plus shipping).
Amazon offers a calculator to help you determine how much it would cost them to print a copy of your book, but I found it quite confusing. Fortunately, Amazon also offers a fairly basic table for the American market:
- Black ink with 24 to 108 pages: $2.15 per book
- Black ink with 110 to 828 pages: $0.85 per book + $0.012 per page
- Color ink with 24 to 40 pages: $3.65 per book
- Color ink with 42 to 500 pages: $0.85 per book + $0.07 per page
So, a 300-page book with black ink would cost $0.85 + $0.012 * (300) = $4.45 total. A 300-page book with color ink would be $0.85 + $0.07 * (300) = $21.85.
If you choose to create an audiobook through ACX, and you decide to partner with a producer, you can choose whether you would prefer to retain full royalties and pay the producer an upfront fee, or whether you’d like to split royalties equally.
4. What is my cut of the profits?
One of the great things about self-publishing with Amazon is that you have lots of options, but that also means there are several different ranges of royalties you can earn from book sales. Here’s a quick overview of what you might expect from your digital, print and audio versions.
Books made on KDP basically follow the following formula:
- eBook royalties. You can choose between two options, either earning 35 percent royalties or 70 percent. In order to qualify for the 70 percent option, Amazon says the author must satisfy list price requirements, the title price must be at least 20 percent below the list price on Amazon for the physical book, and titles must be made available for sale in all geographies for which the author or publisher has rights.
- Paperback royalties. Amazon offers a 60 percent royalty rate for paperbacks sold on Amazon marketplaces where KDP supports paperback distribution. The company subtracts printing costs, as described above.
There are scenarios where you might make a smaller royalty rate for certain sales, given Amazon rules about distribution, so it’s good to familiarize yourself with the exceptions to these rules before making a decision. However, the rates above should hold for the majority of book sales.
Books made using ACX are more complex, given the fact that you may choose to use a producer. However, generally, you have two options here, as with eBook royalties.
- 40 percent royalties, in exchange for exclusive distribution rights.
- 25 percent royalties, in exchange for non-exclusive distribution rights.
You can choose either to split those royalties with a producer or pay them a flat fee upfront. Or, you can simply create the audiobook yourself and keep the royalties for yourself.
5. Do I need to know coding to produce an eBook?
No. Amazon has a bunch of tools that can help you turn your manuscript into a well-formatted Kindle version. Likewise, KDP offers tools to design your paperback cover and producers to help you create your audiobook.
6. Will Amazon help me promote the book?
Amazon offers a few tricks and tips you can use to generate leads to your book. They include:
- Amazon advertising, which is fairly straightforward.
- Free promotions, where your eBook is available at no charge for a limited time.
- Kindle countdown deals, where you offer a limited-time discount.
- Sample chapters, where readers can read a portion of the book for free.
Of course, you’re welcome to promote the book on other channels, as well. Just make sure you aren’t intentionally trying to manipulate Amazon’s data and services, or the company can terminate its partnership with you.
7. Should I self-publish my book on Amazon?
I have no idea. Amazon does provide a bevy of services for writers who want the world to see their work, but this story isn’t meant to change your mind. If you’ve always envisioned your book in hardcover, well, Amazon does not offer that service. If you’re holding out hope for a traditional publisher to fall in love with your book, who am I to say you’re wrong?
Picking the right way to publish your book shouldn’t be that much different from writing the thing -- it will take time, dedication and patience to find the best way forward. Hopefully, this guide can help you get started.