Demystifying Amazon Publishing – First Things First

You’ve written a book. You were so inspired, you love the result, your friends and family think it’s great. Now you want to put it in front of readers as soon as possible. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as you will see below) before you open the browser and set up your Amazon KDP author account, there are some crucial steps you need to take to ensure that it has the best chance of succeeding.

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credit: Santeri Viinamäki

Editing – you cannot skip this step. Your mom may be good at catching typos, and your brother-in-law may love cyberpunk and provided a lot of suggestions as the beta-reader for your manuscript. But none of their valuable input can replace the work that a professional editor should do. You should hire a copyeditor at the very least (and a developmental editor if you believe your structure and story arch would benefit from it). Costs vary widely, so shop around, request quotes and references, and compare. While it’s not unheard of for editors to price their work on a novel-length manuscript at $2K or more, there are lots of more affordable options out there. For a novel of around 300 pages, you should be able to find an editor for approximately $1,000.

You can find editors by Googling “(genre) editors for hire,” or on sites like Reedsy, Fiverr, Freeelanced.com, Craigslist, or many other online marketplaces. (Note: do your due diligence and research the potential candidates’ backgrounds before you hire someone)

Cover design – I strongly recommend not skipping this part, unless you’re a trained graphic designer. And even then, make sure you understand the type of cover that is associated with your genre. A historical novel cover will look very different from a sci-fi cover in almost every respect, including color, theme, and composition. The cover is the first thing that a prospective reader sees, even before they read the book description. A bad cover, or a cover that makes a romance look like thriller (or vice versa) can significantly lower the likelihood your book will be purchased. So give your book a fighting chance in the crowded Amazon marketplace by investing in a designer who has experience working in your genre. As with editors, there are plenty of designers out there, so compare offers.

Again, prices will vary, but you should be able to find someone for less that $1,500. You can find book cover designers via many of the same online marketplaces as editors.

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credit: JM1981, wikimedia commons

Formatting – unfortunately, you cannot upload a Word doc. to the Amazon publishing platform. You need your file converted into an epub or a mobi. format (for ebook)  and into a pdf format (for paperback). Converting files is something you can learn to do by yourself, but it does take time, and it is boring. Personally, I decided that my time was better spent writing, so I hired a formatter. It was the cheapest of the three steps: it cost less than $180, and it was worth every penny.

These are the three first and crucial steps. They involve a not insignificant cost. Yet I said “fortunately” in the opening paragraph. You may wonder why, so let me explain.

Putting quality prose for sale on Amazon as an indie author is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and for your peers from the larger indie author community.

The benefits to you are clear: you will not sell many copies and your book will sink like a stone if readers cannot get past the first few pages because they see typos and run on sentences. I once found a historical indie novel on Amazon that was set in a medieval English monastery during the Black Death. If you read my novel The Greenest Branch, you will know that everything about the period and the setting appealed to me. I was about to hit the “buy” button when I decided to peek inside, and that was when things went south very quickly. The book was completely unedited. Already on page one there were tons of punctuation problems, grammatical errors, and formatting issues. I did not buy the book, and I doubt many others did. It was a shame: the story idea was good, and I’m convinced that with better execution the author would have found reasonable success.

Amazon has democratized access to the reading audience by removing traditional gatekeepers (see my recent blog post). And that is a good thing. The only problem is that in addition to allowing many talented people to have a chance to publish outside of what the mainstream considers marketable, it has also opened the field to bad, sloppy, or lazy writers, and to people who think they can make a quick buck by putting hastily written, unedited work up on the platform.

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credit: Roke~commonswiki

In the early days of Amazon publishing, this led to the perception of their indie authors’ output as being of low quality. Amazon has taken steps to address this issue (eg. by running spellchecks on all uploaded manuscripts and keeping them “in review” for up to 3 days to ensure that the content meets their basic criteria and doesn’t violate their rules). These are good steps, but they only go so far. Amazon cannot address more subtle issues, such as grammatical or punctuation errors, poor structure, inane dialog, rambling prose, not to mention a lack of stakes, character development, etc. These can only be addressed through rewrites and revisions, partner critiques, non-family beta readers–and, of course, working with an editor.

If you follow these three steps, you will boost your chances of success as an Amazon author. And that means you will recoup your costs, earn an income, and help ensure that self- and indie-publishing is seen as just as legitimate as traditional publishing.

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