Publishing and Distribution
To publish your book on any platform, you’ll need the following:
- A fully edited and formatted digital copy of your book’s interior.
- A final digital copy of your book’s cover.
- Metadata about your book. More on this below.
With these in hand, publishing on most platforms is now as simple as:
- Uploading your cover and interior files.
- Entering your book’s metadata
- Setting a price.
- Setting a release date.
Kindle Direct Publishing
Amazon’s KDP plaform can convert Microsoft Word documents to both Kindle and print formats. This means you can skip the annoying PDF conversion step. The formatting of the print versions of your book (paperback and hardback) will match the formatting of your Word document.
Amazon provides Word templates with proper page sizes, margins, fonts and chapter headings so you don’t have to spend too much time fiddling with formats. The templates are available free from Amazon, and generally work as-is, though you should consider the basic modifications described here.
KDP lets you preview your ebook after it converts your Word document to Kindle format. These conversions generally look good, but if you want more control over the look of your ebook, consider using the free Calibre software, as described on the ebook conversion page
When uploading an ebook cover to KDP, all you need is the front cover in jpeg format. You should upload a high-resolution image. KDP will display a large version of the image on its Kindle readers and a smaller version in search results and on your book’s detail page.
For detailed instructions on setting up your KDP title, see Amazon’s Create a Book guide.
Note that the entire KDP process is free.
See Ingram’s How to Set up a Title with IngramSpark page for detailed instructions on setting up your Ingram title.
Note that Ingram charges a $49 setup fee, and a $25 fee for post-setup changes to your cover and interior file.
You can publish print copies through Ingram without using their ebook conversion and distribution services. Those services can save you time and worry, but they also take a cut of your profits.
If your book includes complicated layout or design, or if you are willing to give up a little bit of control and profit in exchange for not having to worry about the technical details of publication, consider one of the following services.
- Lulu - They’ve been around a while and they handle a broad range of book types (e.g. cookbooks, photo books, comics, and more).
Smashwords is easy to use and author-friendly, with broad distribution options.
BookBaby, like Lulu, can help with more complicated books.
You should assemble a document with your book’s metadata before you upload your files for publication. When you promote your book later, you’ll find you need this information again and again. Having it in one place will save you time and headaches.
You book’s metadata includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Topics/Genres - Non-fiction books have topics like Investing, Auto Repair, Self Help, etc. Fiction books have genres like Historical Romance, Murder Mystery etc. You’ll usually need three of these. Pick the right ones, so people searching under these topics/genres can find your book.
- Publisher Name - The name of your publishing imprint, if you have one. This is optional if you’re publishing only on KDP.
- ISBN or ASIN - The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) you purchased from Bowker for your book, or the Amazon Standard Item Number (ASIN) that Amazon assigned to you ebook. (You won’t know the ASIN until after you’ve uploaded your book to KDP.)
- Format - Paperback, Kindle, Hardcover, ePub, Audiobook, etc.
- Page Count - How many pages are in the print version of your book, if there is a print version.
- Publication Date - When will this book be available for sale?
- Author Bio - 1-3 paragraphs about the author.
- Summary - 1-3 paragraphs describing what the book is about. This typically goes onto the back cover of print books and appears below your book’s title on an Amazon or Barnes and Noble listing page.
- Editorial Reviews - Excerpts from reviews of your book. These should be short, as online shoppers don’t like to plow through mountains of text.
Amazon recommends pricing novels between $2.99 and $5.99. Lower prices generate a higher volume of sales, while higher prices generate higher royalties. Most indie authors recommend experimenting with prices in this range until you reach the maximum return.
Media-heavy books, such as cookbooks, and titles with valuable technical information, such as those teaching programming languages, can be priced higher.
KDP offers two pricing options on ebooks:
- 70% royalty, minus download fee
- 35% royalty with no download fee
The download fee is the cost Amazon charges you, the author, when a buyer purchases your ebook. Amazon sends the ebook to the buyer’s Kindle, which incurs a cost for internet bandwidth.
For novels and text-heavy books, you almost certainly want the 70% option. Text-heavy books usually have a small file size, which means the download fee will be small–perhaps 5-15 cents.
On a $4.99 novel with the 70% royalty option, your payment will work out to 70% of the list price, minus 10 cents or so for the download fee. That’s about $3.39.
Image-heavy books can have much larger file sizes, which can incur substantial download fees. You should choose the 35% royalty for these so the download fee doesn’t cut into (or wipe out) your profit.
Amazon and some other retailers do automatic ebook price matching. If you price your Kindle book at $4.99 and offer the same title on Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, or elsewhere for less, Amazon will automatically drop the price of your Kindle book to match its competitor’s lowest price.
This can bite you unexpectedly if you choose to offer your title for free on other platforms. This can also be a problem if you list your ebook on Google Books. Google sometimes unilaterally drops the price of your ebook without asking or telling you. Amazon will then lower its price in response.
Amazon doesn’t let you set the price on print books published through KDP, so there’s nothing more to say about them here.
IngramSpark offers a wide range of pricing options. If you want bookstores to carry your paperbacks and hardcovers, you’ll need to offer them on “standard terms,” which means you sell them to bookstores at 55% off the retail price, and you list your books as returnable.
“Standard terms” has some major implications. First, you’ll have to set a high price for your book if you want to earn a profit. Second, Ingram charges you for copies returned by bookstores.
Unless you know ahead of time that your title will be in bookstores, I recommend against selling on standard terms. Except in a few rare cases, getting indie titles into bookstores is nearly impossible. (An example of rare case is: you wrote a great biography of George Washington and the gift shop at his Mount Vernon home wants to carry it.)
Even if you do manage to get your title into stores, most stores stock a title for just a few weeks and then get rid of it. If you’re lucky enough to get into a bookstore, or even a chain, you likely won’t sell enough copies in those few weeks to cover the money you’d lose on that 55% discount.
When people buy indie titles through physical bookstores, they generally order the book through the local bookshop’s online site, through a third-party online site like IndieBound, or by asking a store clerk in person, who then places an electronic order for the book.
Ingram prints the copy on demand, and it shows up at the store a few days later for the customer to pick up. (Or, in some cases, the bookstore has an Espresso printer and can print your book right there.)
If you price your print books at a 30% discount and make them non-returnable, they will still be available through local bookstores as POD (Print on Demand) titles, and readers can still get them through the processed described above.
You can price your title for less and typically get more sales. For example, a book priced at $12.99 with a 30% discount generates more sales and a higher profit margin than the same book priced at $15.99 on standard terms (55% discount and returnable).
Making your book “not returnable” will not prevent bookstores from processing Print on Demand orders, because they don’t even place these orders until they know they have a paying customer.
Also note that if you initially publish a book on standard terms and then want to change it later to 30%/non-returnable, you’ll have to issue a new edition of the book with a new ISBN. This is because the returnability of the initial edition amounts to a promise. Bookstores don’t want to get stuck order titles they think are returnable only to find out later they can’t return them.
Use Ingram’s Pricing Calculator to see how different pricing options and discount rates will affect your profits.
Your release date is the date your book will become available for purchase through Amazon, Ingram, or whoever else you’ve chosen as a distributor.
You can and should set your release date in the future, so that you can do some marketing ahead of time and allow readers to pre-order your book.
KDP allows you to change the release date once, so try to choose a release date you’re sure of.
Note that while customers can pre-order copies of your book before the release date, they cannot leave reviews until on or after the release date. This Amazon restriction applies to indie authors, but not to major publishers. Goodreads does allow readers to post reviews before a book’s publication date.
Racking up pre-orders helps boost your title’s ranking on its release date, making it more visible to Amazon readers.
For info about getting reviews to help boost book sales, see Reader Reviews and Editorial Reviews.