You might have heard eBook sales are down.
That’s true for traditional publishing, but it doesn’t take the thriving indie publishing market into account.
eBooks have definite advantages over print books.
For readers, they’re cheap and immediate.
For Authors, eBooks have lower production and distribution costs. Plus, Amazon’s eBook royalties are much higher than traditional publishers’.
Millions of people prefer eBooks, and they are a billion-dollar industry.
In the world of self-publishing, making an eBook is a no-brainer. It’s the easiest place to start.
This step-by-step guide will explain how to publish and distribute your own eBook.
Self-Publishing: How to Publish an eBook (On Amazon and More)
1. Write and Edit Your Book
If you want to publish an eBook, you have to write a good book first.
Your eBook should be as polished as anything you find in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. Just because it’s digital, it doesn’t mean anything goes.
Your book is your product. It should represent you well.
2. Write the Book Description
The book description is your pitch to the reader.
You’re not summarizing the whole book. You’re telling them why they should buy it.
Speak to your target audience.
What can the book do for them? What will they learn? Why should they read your book and not someone else’s?
Explain how your book will improve their lives or solve their problems. Be clear about the benefits. Spell out why you are the right person to help them. Then leave them wanting more.
When a book description is done right, it will drive sales.
It also guides a strong cover design.
3. Produce a Great Cover
People will always judge a book by its cover.
This is especially true for eBooks. The size, format, or illustrations of a physical book can grab a reader’s attention.
With eBooks, the cover image has to do most of the work. Book covers exist to give visual form to written content. Book design may look easy, but that’s only because professionals know what they’re doing.
Unless you are a graphic designer, you should not design your own cover.
Don’t skimp on your first impression.
Once you have a design, make sure it’s the right size and resolution. Books with blurry or grainy cover art look unprofessional. Readers won’t buy them.
Amazon KDP wants book cover art with a height/width ratio of 1.6 to 1. That means that for every 1,000 pixels in width, the image should be 1,600 pixels high.
To guarantee the image quality, Amazon’s ideal dimensions are 2,560 x 1,600 pixels.
You can upload larger versions, as long as they are under 10,000 x 10,000 pixels and 50 MB.
4. Format Your eBook for Kindle (And More)
If you upload the manuscript straight from your word processor, it will have formatting errors.
You will look like a sloppy writer, and readers will probably leave you bad Amazon reviews.
If you are going to take the time to write a good book, you should format it properly.
Some authors like to have complete control over their eBook format and decide to do it themselves. We don’t recommend this. There’s a steep learning curve, and it’s better to get help.
If you still want to be hands-on, there are programs like Vellum, Jutoh, or Scrivener that can streamline the process. You can also outsource the formatting to a company like BookBaby.
If your book mostly contains text, it will have “reflowable formatting.” Things like font, text size, and layout adjust to readers’ settings.
If you have a lot of images, formatting will be much harder.
You might need a “fixed layout book,” which doesn’t adapt. Think about what it’s like to read a pdf on your phone. It’s not flexible.
Fixed layouts also have larger file sizes, which changes Amazon’s pricing structure. More images mean lower royalties.
Plus, many images require special rights. You might have to ask permission or pay a fee to use them.
Bottom line: consider whether you really need images before you include them.
Even more bottom line: have a professional do your layout.
To catch formatting errors, we highly recommend using Amazon’s Kindle Previewer tool. It will show you what your eBook looks like before you publish it.
5. Choose Your eBook Publishing Platforms
Amazon dominates the eBook market.
Estimates suggest they sell 60-80% of all digital books. That means no matter where else you publish, Amazon is your biggest outlet.
Their eBook platform is called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). KDP gives you two distribution options:
- Upload your book to KDP, set its price, and let it sell.
- Enroll your book in KDP Select.
KDP Select is a 90-day service designed to expand your audience. Books in KDP Select are included in Kindle Unlimited, a program that lets subscribers read books for free.
As part of KDP Select, you’ll have more exposure and possibly more readers. Perks like promotion days and countdown deals encourage people to buy the book.
All of this boosts your Amazon ranking.
You will also earn royalties from the KDP Select Global Fund. It’s calculated by the number of participating authors and how many pages subscribers read. Sales in certain territories bring higher royalties.
Here’s the trade-off:
During that period, Amazon has exclusive rights to your book. That means you can’t distribute it on any other site. That includes other eBook stores, your website, or social media.
If you’re a first-time Author with a small reach, exclusivity might not be a bad option. KDP Select can help you find potential readers.
If you are a non-fiction Author with a strong platform and a clear audience, it may not be a good fit. Wider distribution makes your book accessible to a larger market.
In addition to Amazon, the biggest eBook sites are:
- Kobo (popular in Japan and Canada)
- Apple Books (formerly iBooks)
- Google Play
- Barnes & Noble’s Nook Books
With KDP Select, you can’t publish your book on any of these sites until 90 days are up.
For Authors who want wide distribution, there are a few options:
- Work directly with each online retailer. You have more control over pricing, metadata, and book features, but it takes more time. You have to go through each site every time you want to make a change.
- Work with an eBook distribution service to reach more outlets. BookBaby is what we use for Scribe Authors. Their distribution package costs $249. Smashwords and Draft2Digital are also popular.
- Go for a mix. You could work directly with KDP and leave other outlets to distributors. Keep your control over the biggest platform and save time elsewhere.
6. Choose Your Book Price
One benefit of eBooks is their low production costs. That can mean a higher profit margin for Authors.
However, readers also expect to pay less for an eBook than a print book. You have to find the sweet spot between readers’ desires and your own.
A good way to figure out your book’s ideal price is to look at your competitors.
- What is their Amazon ranking? This is a good indicator of their sales.
- What is their list price? Is it in line with what you want to charge?
- Are they enrolled in KDP Select? Or did they distribute their book widely?
Here are some other things to consider:
- How long is your book? People expect to pay less for an essay than a 50,000-word book.
- What genre is your book? Sci-fi and romance books are often cheaper than non-fiction books.
- How do you want readers to value your book? What signal are you sending if your book’s regular price is $35? What about $1?
- How big is your anticipated audience? It might be better to have 35% royalties at a lower price than 70% royalties at a higher one. (More on royalties later.)
You can change the price if your first sales strategy doesn’t work. You can also set promotional pricing to generate sales.
7. Create Your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Account
Go to https://kdp.amazon.com/.
If you already have an Amazon account, log in with your existing username and password.
If you don’t, click “Sign up.” Then click “Create your KDP account.” Enter your name, email address, and a password.
Once you’ve created your account, you’ll need to enter author, payment, and tax information. If you need more information on setting these up, here’s KDP’s advice.
8. Upload Your Book
Once you’ve logged in, you will see your KDP Bookshelf.
Step 1. Create a New Title
In the “Create a New Title” section, click +Kindle eBook.
Step 2. Enter Kindle eBook Details
You will be directed to enter your Kindle eBook details. These include:
- Your book’s primary language
- Book title (and subtitle, if applicable)
- Series name and volume number (if applicable)
- Edition number (if it is a new edition of an existing book)
- Author name
- Contributor names (if applicable)
- Book description
- Publishing rights (whether you own the copyright or if it is a public domain work)
- Up to 7 keywords that describe your book
- 2 Amazon categories
- Age and grade range (if applicable)
- Pre-order options (Is it ready to release now?)
Save the information and continue to the “Kindle eBook Content” options.
Step 3. Upload Your Formatted Manuscript
Click “Upload eBook manuscript,” and select your formatted book manuscript.
Kindle’s recommended formats are .doc, .docx, HTML, MOBI, ePub, RTF, Plain Text, and KPF.
You will also choose your Digital Rights Management setting.
DRM is designed to stop people from pirating your book.
It also locks the book to a format. That means if someone buys your book on a Kindle, they can only read it on their Kindle.
Think it through carefully because you can’t change the DRM setting after you publish your book.
Step 4. Upload Your Kindle eBook Cover
Click “Upload a cover you already have (JPG/TIFF only).”
Select your cover image.
Step 5. Kindle eBook Preview
This is Kindle’s online previewer. It allows you to see what the book will look like before you publish it.
Even if you already previewed your manuscript, it’s a good idea to check it again.
If there are formatting mistakes, fix them, and reupload the manuscript file.
Step 6. Kindle eBook ISBN (Optional)
An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. It’s a unique identifier for books, eBooks, CDs, etc.
Kindle books are not required to have an ISBN number.
Once your book is published on KDP, Amazon will assign it a 10-digit ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number).
That number will be unique to your book.
If you want an ISBN anyway, you can buy one online. It must be unique to the digital version. Don’t use an ISBN from a print edition.
Enter the ISBN if you have one.
Then save and continue to “Kindle eBook Pricing” options.
Step 7. Choose Your Distribution Rights
If your book is original content that hasn’t been published, you hold all the rights.
To give your book the widest distribution, click “Worldwide.” This allows people to buy your book on Amazon’s international websites, like Amazon.co.uk.
Step 8. Choose a Royalty Plan
You can choose between two royalty options for your eBook: 35% and 70%.
Obviously, 70% is a better deal. But you have to meet some guidelines to qualify.
- The list price has to adhere to certain guidelines (discussed below).
- The list price has to be at least 20% the Amazon list price for the physical book (if there is one).
- The book has to be available everywhere the author has rights.
- The book has to be in copyright, not public domain.
As we mentioned, you should take your audience size and Amazon’s minimum price into account when choosing your royalties plan.
Step 9. Set Your List Price
To earn 70% royalties, your book has to have a minimum price of $2.99 and a maximum price of $9.99.
If you earn 35% royalties, the price guidelines depend on your book’s file size. The minimum list price is anywhere between 99 cents and $2.99. The maximum is $200.
You can’t publish your eBook for free.
Once you’ve decided on a price, you have three options for listing it:
- Choose your primary marketplace (probably Amazon US) and set your price in the currency of that marketplace (USD). Amazon automatically converts the price to other currencies on their international sites.
- Enter a specific amount for each marketplace and currency.
- Use KDP Pricing Support (Beta). This service analyzes past sales data for books in your category. It uses price changes and copies sold to estimate author earnings.
Keep in mind, Amazon reserves the right to set their retail price for eBooks. That means they can sell your book below list price if it’s cheaper on another site.
Step 10. Publish the eBook
After entering your information, click “Publish Your Kindle eBook.” It will now appear on the site and on your KDP Bookshelf.
Step 11. KDP Select (Optional)
If you want to enroll in KDP select, go to your KDP Bookshelf.
Click on the ellipsis button (…) under the “Kindle eBook Actions” menu next to your book.
Choose “Enroll in KDP Select.”
9. Market Your Launch
Publishing your book is just the first step to selling it. You will need to spend time and effort on marketing.
Before you leave the Amazon site, take some time to set up your Author Central page. This is readers’ main source of information about you. It’s an easy way to get visibility.
Set up a book launch team to generate early reviews for your book.
Look into book promotion sites and collaborations with media outlets, bloggers, and respected people in your field.
Your book is a marketing tool. Be ready with a plan when you hit “publish.”