Columns > Published on March 21st, 2012

My Kindle Experiment: How Easy Is Amazon's Self-Publishing Platform?

When the story of the 26-year-old romance writer from Minnesota who became a millionaire by self-publishing on Kindle hit the Internet, suddenly everyone was considering using the platform to upload their torrid boddice-rippers and young adult novels sure to be the next Hunger Games. My first thought was that it reminded me of all the Okies who migrated to California during the depression, because one person reportedly picked a billion dollars in peaches, bought a rambler, and retired at age 45, while everyone else was standing in the bread line. It's technically possible, but in reality, it's probably a lot of work for very little return.

But then, I've got a couple of novels in my Google Docs, most of which are the product of feverish nights in November, churning out unintelligible "prose" during NaNoWriMo. One is actually, my mom tells me, pretty decent-- so decent, in fact, that I tried to get a literary agent to very little avail. And while Amazon is by no means the perfect route to publication (they've sort of been a pill, regarding eBooks), it just looks so easy. And that one girl is a millionaire now. A millionaire. I'd just be happy if I was made a thousandaire. And even if I only make, say, $5, it's still $5 more than I had before-- and I can share my experience with all of you.

And thus, my Kindle Direct Publishing experiment was brought, slimy and weird, into this world.

The first step was to have someone other than myself edit the manuscript. Thankfully, I have parents who will do this for me for the price of "daughterly love" (and also a portion of any royalties I may receive). But if your parents don't love you, or you'd rather have someone who is a professional look it over, there are editing services available, if you want to spend money. A note: LitReactor's Rob Hart (who has done a really great job writing about his path to actual, on-paper publication, and I suggest everyone read all of those columns, as well, because they are helpful) has written about avoiding scams in the past, and while he didn't specifically touch on editing services, some are scams, and the red flags that apply to other  aspects of publishing apply here, too. 

Anyway, once the manuscript was all proofed and ready, I actually took a really deep look at the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, which has many, many, many instructions. For the most part, it's pretty easy--you log in using your Amazon user account, give it some personal information (and hope they never get hacked), and go to the "bookshelf" and start uploading.

My first impressions upon starting the uploading process were these:

  • Man, this is a lot of legal contract crap. But I actually took the time to read through it, as best as my non-lawyer self could.
  • Formatting books is a pain in the ass. When you're staring down the barrel of 200 pages of words you've already read a nauseating number of times, the last thing you want to have forgotten to do during the first three read-throughs is to insert page breaks. I advise reading over Amazon's formatting tips before doing any editing. You'll save a lot of time.
  • Writing the jacket copy for your own book is awful. There is no good jacket copy in the world. Trying to describe your book in the "description" part of the "bookshelf" is just the worst. How do you describe your own book? Answer: take a shot and try again. Being too constricted of mind makes it difficult to try to entice Amazon shoppers into purchasing your goods.
  • Do you have a friend who is a graphic designer? Good. Now is a good time to butter her/him up with some beers, because you'll want someone with at least a passing knowledge of design to make your book cover for you. This is a huge aspect of getting the book purchased, but I, like many authors, am basically clueless about design. Luckily, I know a guy. He is also my boyfriend. That was helpful.
  • I realized that I don't really know what goes on a copyright page, which, because you are self-publishing, you are responsible for. I picked up the nearest novel to me (which happened to be Freedom, which I found ironic because we all know that Jonathan Franzen hates eBooks, among other things). You can also Google search for example copyright pages. But do note, the one thing that is absolutely required to protect yourself is the year, the copyright symbol or the word "copyright," and your name. It will look like this: © 2012 Your Name. Otherwise, look at other novels to see what else people usually put there.
  • Do I want the 35%, or the 70% royalty rate? Obviously I want more money, but what does all this other stuff mean? Amazon is a little weird about how they explain this, but I eventually found some useful tutorials on YouTube, which explained the difference--chiefly, that the size of your book (does it have a lot of images? Is it 700 pages long?), the price (keep it between .99 cents and $9.99, and you can keep more money), and whether or not you want it to be available for lending (it's mandatory with the 70% rate) can all help decide how to navigate your royalty agreement.

Eventually, after spending a lot of time poking around with the various features (which are, for the most part, pretty clear and easy to work with), I got my book uploaded, picked a super-inexpensive price (because, again, this is an experiment), and went with the 70% royalty. Then, I did some marketing, by which I mean I emailed all of my friends and family to let them know that I had written a book, and that they could buy it for just five American dollars. I also Tweeted it and put it on Facebook and my personal website. And then put a link to it on this article because a.) I am a shameless self-promoter, and b.) I won't lie, it's pretty cool to see it listed like a real, actual book.

Now it is done. Next month, I'll let you know how many (if any) royalty checks have come my way, and what my experience has been. Tally ho!

About the author

Born and raised in Eugene, OR, Hanna Brooks Olsen is undersized and frequently overextended. She's a fan of physical activity, well-written sentences, and excellently employed profanities, and is unashamed to be utterly enamored by her little dog.

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