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!

Image of Hanged Man's Leap
Manufacturer: Hanna Brooks Olsen
Part Number:
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Comments

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this March 21, 2012 - 1:01pm

This is a great topic for a column. I'm very interested to see where this goes. 

Best of luck, Hanna. 

Ward Richardson's picture
Ward Richardson March 21, 2012 - 1:23pm

heads up, there's a missing "the" in the description here: "and citizen in city he"  

Hanna's picture
Hanna from Eugene, OR March 21, 2012 - 2:21pm

UM yes. Another less which is not included--it's basically impossible to make changes to the actual book description, etc! And the uploader for the content is janky. Thank you!

MaSmylie's picture
MaSmylie from London, England is reading Haunted March 21, 2012 - 2:31pm

This is a really interesting idea for an article. Looking forward to seeing any potential results. Are you going to write the follow up if you're a millionairess by next month?

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 March 21, 2012 - 3:54pm

So excited to read about your experiences here - and good luck!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 21, 2012 - 4:09pm

I was under the impression that the loan program wasn't required for the 70%, am I mistaken?

Ward Richardson's picture
Ward Richardson March 21, 2012 - 4:21pm

Looking forward to reading the results of the experiment as well. Wasn't trying to be nitpicky with the edit, just wanted to point it out. (I even tried sending it over Facebook to you directly, but for some reason my tablet wasn't having any of that)

Hanna's picture
Hanna from Eugene, OR March 22, 2012 - 9:21am

Ha, thanks. Yeah, next month a big topic will be the fact that it takes 12 hours to make changes! And @Dwayne, from everything I saw, the 70% royalty plan came with required lending. Maybe it's a recent thing? Or maybe I am terrible at reading the wall of text that Amazon presented me with. That is totally possible.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 22, 2012 - 11:50am

@Hannah - I think that the person to person lend is required for the 70%, but not the Amazon Prime lend if I'm reading this right.

Jeff's picture
Jeff from Florida is reading Another Side of Bob Dylan by Victor Maymudes March 22, 2012 - 1:30pm

Congrats!   I can't wait to read the next page, er... column.

 

Brendan Connal's picture
Brendan Connal from Norwich is reading The Black Swan March 22, 2012 - 6:06pm

Brendan Connal

Author of <Flo Eats Pie: A Schoolboy's Guide to Revenge>

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006T77M1I

I have published two books on Kindle, but to be honest, when the sales are slow it does make you wonder why you bothered in the first place. It does offer writers an opportunity to get your work out there, but on the other hand Amazon take every advantage they can to make your book cheaper, put it in their new library scheme, or just make it free.

That being said, it is pretty easy to publish the books, so I cannot knock it really. I think I have made about one hundred dollars selling my books since January, no mean feat really.

 

 

Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself March 22, 2012 - 7:05pm
Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself April 3, 2012 - 4:40pm

I took in a few chapters from the sample during my recent Mexico trip. The sand in the photo is my evidence:

 

Caleb J. Ross's picture
Caleb J. Ross from Kansas City, KS is reading on the toilet by himself December 22, 2012 - 11:30am

Did anyone else hear Hanna on NPR on December 19th? I regularly listen to the NPR books podcast, so when her name and book title came up, I perked up.

http://www.npr.org/2012/12/19/167448748/self-publishing-no-longer-just-a...

Paula Jenkins's picture
Paula Jenkins May 7, 2014 - 9:41pm

G'day, 

I have a few illustrated children's books that I am considering publishing with KDP and am researching as to whether or not this would be the best way to go.  I've been approached by one company that I thought was a scam already.  Because of this I contacted a solicitor who knows about intellectual property rights to ask a few questions. The solicitor referred me to a traditional publisher which prompted me to research which platform is best. This article was one of the first ones I read and I think it is great information and very insightful. I found it very, very helpful. Thank you!

Gale E Manning-Weithers's picture
Gale E Manning-... from Barbados is reading Dirty Angels, a novel by Katrina Halle August 31, 2015 - 3:42pm

So Hanna, I'm new here and reading a few of your articles so after reading this one the question of course would be: "Are you rich yet??!!" I know this post was written since 2012 but it would be great to have a recent update on sales from your Kindle Experiment.  Can't wait to hear :)