Friday, 17 August 2012

45 Top Tips for Self-Publishing on Amazon

Those who frequent the KDP boards will be well aware of my alter-ego Diamondlifestyle, and no doubt my Newbies Start Here thread. If you're thinking of self-publishing on any domain, but specifically on Amazon, here's the answers to the top questions asked by newbie authors. The original thread is worth bookmarking, as I'm updating it when new questions and suggestions come in. From formatting, editing, proofing, tags, sales, reviews and reports, it's all here!

1. Do I have to pay to publish on Kindle?No. Amazon will take a percentage of each sale as a royalty. There are no upfront costs.

2. What royalty rate is best?
If you charge between $0.99-$2.98 per book, you can only opt for 35% royalty. Charge between $2.99-$9.99 pick 70% (after all, why would you take less???). Over $10.00 you have to select 35%. You can't set your price below $0.99.

3. I picked 70% but some sales are showing up as 35% - why?
Because sales outside the Amazon domains .com,, .de, .fr, .es and .it are sold through at a reduced royalty rate.

4. Can I make my book free?
Only if you sign up for Select, in which case you will get 5 free days every three months. Otherwise you can add your book for free on another site (B&N is the biggie) and Amazon *might* price match it. You will have no control over if/when they price match, or for how long they will do so.

5. What is Select?
If you join Select your book must be exclusive to Amazon for three months at a time. The Select option automatically renews if you don't opt out. You will get to make your book free for limited periods (see above) and your book will also be available for Prime members to borrow. Borrow rates are announced the following month and are usually around $2.50 per borrow. No borrows are guaranteed. Your book can still be bought conventionally from the Amazon store.

6. Can I list my Select book on my blog / B&N / iTunes etc?
No. For the period your book is in Select, you cannot withdraw it and you cannot put it up anywhere else in any form.

7. What about paperbacks?
Select only applies to ebooks.

8. Do I have to join?
No. You can sell books on Amazon without being in Select, but you can't make them free or let them be borrowed.

9. How do I get reviews?
Get readers. Read-review rate is something like 750-1 for paid books; 1500-1 for free books, so don't panic and don't hold your breath. They will come...eventually.

10. Will you do a review swap with me?
No. There is nothing more suspicious than a new book with half a dozen glowing reviews. Don't waste your time getting friends/family/sycophants to leave you reviews, they will do more harm than good.

11. I can't see my book ranking?
Book ranking in the Kindle store will appear on your book page once you have made at least one sale.

12. I can't see my genre ranking?
Genre ranking will appear on your book page once you reach the top 100 in genre. For some genres that's easier than others.

13. How many books do I need to sell to make the top 100 in store?

14. What are tags?
Relevant keywords/phrases that people search by - 'thriller', 'romantic comedy' etc etc. To add tags, go to your book page on Amazon, press 'T' twice in quick succession and a box will pop up where you can add them in.

15. Will you tag my book?
No. You only need two or three people to 'agree' with tags to make them relevant. You don't need 200 'agrees' to every tag.

16. I got a negative review. Should I reply?
No, never. Suck it up and move on.

17. Can you vote down my negative review?
Not unless it's rambling, aggressive nonsense. Some people will just hate your book, and they're entitled to do that. Look at it again, they might even have a valid point.

18. Reviews keep saying my grammar is terrible - are they idiots?
No - you're the idiot. Don't trust great aunt Sally to properly proofread your book and tell you it's fabulous. As a minimum you need good betas and a firm grasp of English. Some people need more help than others. If you're serious about writing, you'll learn your craft and get help where you need it.

19. I took a great picture of my dog, that will do as a cover, right?
Your cover is your first impression. Fail and people won't look further. make sure it's good, make sure it coveys the tone of your book and most importantly make sure it looks like a book cover should. So a name, a title and the right shape for starters.

20. Will you follow me on Twitter / Facebook?
Only if you write stuff I'm interested in, otherwise why would you ask me to? There's no point having 10,000 followers if none of them read ebooks.

21. So I started a blog yesterday, I wrote all about my writing method, but I only got two hits and no new sales. What gives?
Blogging is a long-term plan, but it's a good one. It takes time to build a following. And don't write about writing, it's boring.

22. I just published. How do I market my book?
You think about who your readers are, where they hang out and what interests them. Then you get their attention and you give them what they want.

23. What is Goodreads?
It's a site where booklovers meet to review books and share recommendations. It's a great tool, but you have to get involved properly. If you spam a few forums and never speak to anyone, you won't get anywhere. You'll probably actually put people off buying your book.

24. Should I promote on the Amazon forums?
Not unless you like being tortured. Don't go there, and if you do, don't mention that you're an author, and if you do, don't cry to me when they savage you and leave you negative reviews just because they can.

25. I spotted a typo in my published book, can I fix it?
Yes. If you need to make changes to the book's file (typos, rewrites, changes to font / formatting etc) or if you want to change the price or distribution, go to your bookshelf, click the select box next to the title and then in the options drop-down you will be able to edit the book's file. It will take up to 3 days to republish the book with the new changes, but the book will be able to be bought throughout.

26. Can I change my blurb without republishing?
Yes. Make an author central profile and you can change the blurb from there, and also add reviews, a "from the author" section etc. Changes go live within about 15 mins.

27. Is author central useful for anything else?
Yes. Use author central to create an author profile, add pictures, link to blog / twitter feeds and track sales of your books. You will need to create a new profile for every domain (.com,, .de, .fr). You can only edit book details from .com

28. I need help formatting, where do I start?
If you're working in MS Word then get the FREE Smashwords Style Guide this is a great starter guide for formatting.

29. Are there any marketing guides I can buy?
Hundreds. But start with some freebies - the SW Marketing Guide and SW Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

30. Can I publish places other than Amazon?
Not if you're in Select, because you've signed to say you will offer Amazon exclusivity. Otherwise there are lots of places to try - offers distribution to B&N, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, iTunes and Baker-Taylor. If you're in the US you can publish directly thought Pubit onto B&N without going through SW. There are lots of distribution sites out there so get googling.

31. I want to publish in paper, can I do that?
Yes. The three biggest sites are Createspace, Lulu and Lightning Source. These are all POD (print on demand) services. In the US, CS is considered the better source, Lulu works best in the UK, but there are pros and cons to all of them and you need to check them all out properly to make sure you've picked the best option for you.

32. What sales should I expect?
None. Anything over that is a bonus. Some people sell a book a month, some sell a book a second, and there's people on every step in between. Don't expect to throw a book out there and get a flurry of downloads without putting in any effort. "Success" can only be defined by the sales figure that makes you happy - comparisons with other people are arbitrary and meaningless. Unless you're the #1 book on Amazon there will always be people outselling you, and even if you are #1, how long will you stay there? Concentrate on your own efforts, not on what others are doing.

33. Why can't I see my book's price when I'm checking the UK store from the US (or vice versa)?
Because Amazon knows that you can't buy from a foreign domain, so they'll try to prompt you back to your own side of the fence and block the price. If you click on your author central profile you'll be able to see the book price there - inclusive of any taxes that may be due for foreign purchases. The people who are buying from that domain do NOT pay these taxes.

34. People say I need an editor. Can you recommend one?
Different editors work in different ways, you need to find one that you can work well with. Depending on your level of competence you might need a more or less extensive edit. There are numerous recommendations on these boards. As a rule an editor should be willing to do a short free sample for you, of the first few pages of your manuscript. This will show you their style, what you'd be getting for your money, and you can decide if they are someone you can work with and if they're offering a service that you need.

For more, see this thread.

35. Do I really need a cover?
If you want to make sales, you need a decent cover. The stock covers used by Amazon for coverless books won't help you. Instead you can design one yourself (if you have the technical ability!) using an image you've created; or get a stock photo (there are threads with numerous sites listed - istockphoto is a good place to start). You can buy these for as little as a few dollars. GIMP is a great (free) tool that works very like photoshop. If it's beyond your ability then there are people out there who will design covers for you, prices usually start around $50. Like anything the sky is the limit where price is concerned, you need to decide what your limit is and make sure you get value for your money. The cover is your book's first impression, so it needs to count!

More about covers, and lots of useful links, here.

36. Can I take any picture off the internet to use as a cover?
NO!!! Pictures are copyrighted just as your written words are. You need to either take/make the image yourself (so you hold the copyright) or you need to have a WRITTEN AGREEMENT with the owner that you are licensed to use the image. There are some exceptions, such as public domain images, and not everyone will charge for the use of their image, but the golden rule is IF YOU'RE NOT SURE, DON'T USE IT.

37. My book was pirated! Help!
Firstly, breathe. Make sure you book actually has been pirated, and you haven't found a phishing site. If it's a phishing site it'll claim to have whatever gibberish you type into the search. It might be an Amazon affiliate, which will point people back to Amazon. So make sure first. Then your first point of call is a DMCA notice. If that fails try this.

After that you need to ask google to remove links to the page.

38. How do I copyright my material?
You own your copyright automatically the moment you create something. You can register that copyright with the US gov for $35 and that will entitle you to punitive damages should you choose to sue someone for breaching it, but the copyright is yours whatever you do, unless you sign it away.

39. Do I need an ISBN?
Not for Amazon, they use their own internal system - ASIN numbers. Smashwords provide free ISBNs if you distribute through them, as do Createspace and Lulu. You don't strictly need an ISBN for most online retailers, although you will need them for paper books. If you do use one you need a new ISBN for each file type and edition.

40. Can I use a pen name?
You can write under any name you want. Amazon allows multiple pen names to be linked to your account and Author Central. Just list your real name under your payment details. If you register copyright you have an option to mark the work as "published under [pen name]".

41. Can I change the Look Inside pages?
The Look Inside sample is selected automatically from Amazon, being the first 5-10% of your book (rumour has it it's been extended). You can work with that by putting a sample of a later section at the front, or by putting more backmatter in (author bio, sample from another book etc) which will give a longer sample of the beginning of the book, but don't play with it too much. If you have to put a later sample at the front to get people "into" your book then you need to look at where the beginning is failing. And no-one likes it when they buy a book and it ends at 78%. Remember, readers often gauge the length of the book by the length of the sample, don't mislead them!

42. What's the difference between loans and borrows?
I'm making this as explicit as I can following the recent debacle. If you enroll in KDP Select, your books are available for Prime members only to borrow. Each Prime member gets 1 borrow per calendar month. Authors get paid for the borrow from the overall pot of $500,000, which is divided by the number of borrows that month (usually works out around ~$2 per borrow).

In addition to this, ALL authors, whether in Select or not, are CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGED to make their books loanable if they price within the 70% royalty bracket ($2.99-$9.99). What this means is that each person who LEGITIMATELY PURCHASES the book via Amazon can send it (through Amazon) to a friend, once, for two weeks. At the end of that period the book reverts back to the original buyer AND CAN NEVER BE LENT OUT AGAIN. Some websites, such as Lendle, and some forums, such as Goodreads, offer facility to put people who want to loan the books in contact with people prepared to lend them out. This is not theft or piracy or copyright infringement. At the end of the 2-week period, the book is automatically removed from the loanee's device and they cannot access it again without purchasing their own copy.

43. Where can I see borrow rates for my book if I don't have a Kindle?
You don't check your sales on a kindle anyway, all the sales reports are available through the Report section of this site.

44. I am a Canadian. Does that mean I have to go through SW to publish on B&N?
If you get a US bank account then you can publish directly onto B&N. A number of Canadian authors do this.

45. Can I gift copies of my book to friends/reviewers via Amazon?
The only way to do that is to buy the book. From the .com domain you have the facility to gift kindle books from the book page, but you will have to pay the full retail price. Currently the only way to do that off other Amazon domains is to send a gift voucher in the sum of the book's purchase price and hope the person you send it to buys the book with it.

SW does have a facility to generate coupons for money off (up to and including 100% off) for gifting copies, competitions etc etc from their site.

Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of contemporary and fantasy gay romances.
Find all her books on AmazonAReB&N,  iTunesSWSony & Kobo


  1. I'm pretty sure you are my favorite self-pub tipster. Ever.

  2. This is concise, helpful information. Thank you.
    Don't take this as snarky, please, but as one writer to another I simply want to point out that you have several "there's" followed by plurals. If it's your style choice (vox populi!), fine, but otherwise you may want to fix.



    1. No snark assumed! On this blog I write in a more colloquial style. With my books I am, of course, a total grammar Nazi ;-)

  3. What sales should I expect?
    None. Anything over that is a bonus.

    Why isn't this on every publishing website there is. I am sick of so many new authors complaining about sales - myself included.

    Kate you are the goddess of indie authors - I salute you.

  4. Forty-five great reasons for me to like you even more! I knew most of them, but you put them in such a succinct way that they became even clearer. (And please don't be too impressed by "succinct," I knew what it meant but I had to look it up to confirm my spelling! :( )

  5. These are great FAQs. Very helpful. Because Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world, self publishers would do well to use this site to sell their books. Amazon can be so critical to a self publishing author's success because of the sheer volume of traffic on the site. All efforts are, no doubt, worth it.


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