eBook Publishers: Amazon

January 9, 2015

Since publishing my first eBook, Satin & Sutherland – The Golden Curse, Iíve talked with a good number of people who were interested in knowing more about the different platforms and my experiences with them. The platforms I used for distribution are Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and iTunes and I posted my book to them in that order. In a sneaky attempt to (a) write more blog articles and (b) keep you (yes, you!) coming back to read more articles in the future, Iíll be discussing one platform each month.

First up is Amazon.

When I published my book, I went through each of the different platforms in one day to submit it. Arbitrarily I picked Amazon as the first one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Some weeks prior to publishing on any of the platforms, I went to each one and set up my author account. Setting up such accounts involves entering standard information like name, email, and address. However, it also involves linking a bank account that will receive the royalties from your book sales and it involves going through the legal documents of each platform.

While I can’t offer any legal advice, I do recommend taking your time when reading through the legal documents of each platform. Among other things, the legal documents spell out restrictions on the prices you can set for your book as well as the royalties you will earn from book sales in each territory you sell in. The legal documents also indicate what publishing rights you’re making available on each platform. I found that, while there was a lot of overlap in the legal documents, each platform also had its own unique “gotchas” to look out for.

Account Creation

Amazon’s publishing branch is called Kindle Direct Publishing (or KDP for people who like TLAs). Amazon requires a standard Amazon account be created to use as your author account. If you have previously bought something from Amazon, you can use the same Amazon account you already have.

Amazon offers two royalty rates based on the price you list your book at. If you list for $2.99 to $9.99 U.S. you earn a 70% royalty, otherwise you earn a 35% royalty. Amazon also requires your eBook list price be at least 20% less than the price of any physical edition of your book. Finally, Amazon has the standard requirement that your price be comparable with any other online distributors. Amazon reserves the right to price match against other distributors so it is important that you use the same (or close to the same) price on each platform.

One last thing of note about setting up an account on Amazon is the tax implications. Amazon is a U.S. based company and is subject to their tax laws. In the U.S., books (including eBooks) have a 30% tax applied to them on the author side, meaning that for every book sale you make, the government takes 30% of the revenue first before you receive your royalty.

I’m a Canadian author and that actually gives me a perk tax wise. Canada has a trade agreement with the U.S. such that if you’re a Canadian author and you file the appropriate form the U.S. government does not take this 30% withholding tax. Amazon makes it easy by allowing you to fill out the necessary form online and submitting it on your behalf. Amazon does a good job of walking you through this form. At one point the form does ask for one of two U.S. tax numbers; however, as a Canadian citizen you can provide your social insurance number instead and not have to get either of the other numbers from the IRS.

Book Submission

Amazon’s KDP sign in page has a cute little video highlighting how easy it is to publish. The page also indicates that the publishing process can be done in less than five minutes. Since Amazon was the first platform I was publishing on, and I had never done that before, I suspected the total time would take longer for me.

Submitting your book is a fairly straightforward process on Amazon. The website walks you through the steps to publish in a simple and understandable way. Amazon first has you fill in the following details for your book:

  • Book Name
  • Subtitle – Optional.
  • Series – If the book is part of a series you can mark it here, which I suspect will link the books of the series together in the Amazon store. Having only one book available, I haven’t been able to try this.
  • Edition Number – Optional.
  • Publisher – Optional. I used SeaLeft Studios but you can leave this blank if you’re just publishing under your own name.
  • Description – The back cover blurb for your book.
  • Book Contributors – This is where you record the author. You can also add additional contributors such as the cover artist.
  • Language – Selected from a list of languages.
  • ISBN – Optional. Note that if you have a physical copy of your book that has an ISBN number you should NOT use that ISBN number here. Physical copies and digital copies are considered separate editions and should have separate ISBN numbers. As well, if you’re publishing to multiple platforms, as I did, those platforms will make your book available in different formats. Each different format (Kindle MOBI, iTunes iBook, and generic ePUB) should have its own ISBN number. Amazon does not require an ISBN number for publishing your eBook.
  • Publishing Rights – You need to choose if the book is in the public domain (free for anyone to get and distribute) or if you hold the electronic publishing rights to distribute the book online and charge for it.
  • Book Categories – International book categories exist for all books. Amazon allows you to choose up to two categories from a simple list. For my book, I chose “FICTION > Action & Adventure” and “FICTION > Science Fiction > Steampunk.” Amazon uses these categories to help suggest your book to buyers browsing similar books.
  • Age Range – Optional. You can specify a range from 1 to 17 if your book is for a younger audience or else 18+ if your book contains material not appropriate for such an audience.
  • U.S. Grade Range – Optional. You can specify the reading grade level your book is targeted at.
  • Search Keywords – Optional. You can specify up to 7 additional keywords that don’t appear in your book’s title, description, or categories. These are used to provide additional searching assistance on the Amazon store. Try to think about your book from the point of view of someone browsing for a new read and what they might search upon.
  • Book Release Option – You can choose to release your book immediately or you can mark your book as available for pre-order. I released mine immediately because, before starting the publishing process, I didn’t know if each of the platforms I was considering allowed for pre-orders. Amazon does and you can make your book available for pre-order up to 90 days before the actual release.
  • Book Cover – The book cover slowed me down a bit because I had initially created my cover at a higher resolution than Amazon would accept. I spent a little time scaling it down to a proper size. At the time I submitted my book (December 4, 2014) the final cover size I used was 1667x2500 pixels, which is in the same aspect ratio as most paperback novels use for covers. Amazon accepts either TIFF or JPEG images for covers.
  • DRM – You have the option to apply Digital Rights Management to your book or not on upload. Important: Once you set this and publish you will not be able to change this setting for your book.

At this point you can upload your book file itself. Amazon accepts several file formats and converts them to its own MOBI format for the Kindle.

For myself, I uploaded an ePUB file. Internally, ePUB and MOBI files are both based on a format similar to the HTML that you would use for webpages. They use many of the same markup tags as HTML and can include tag styling like you might do with a cascading style sheet for HTML.

My research before publishing showed that all the platforms either published an ePUB directly or else could convert from an ePUB. As such, it was not a hard decision for me to create an ePUB file and use that as the source for each different platform.

Upon uploading your book, Amazon does a spellcheck on it and flags any spelling errors it finds. My book contains several made up words and unusual names so it flagged those, but it also found a couple legitimate typos. I had to fix those and regenerate my ePUB before uploading the file again. You can either review the typo list on the webpage or choose to have it emailed to yourself. You do not have to make any of the corrections Amazon suggests.

Amazon does not allow you to upload your own preview of your book. However, it will make such a preview available on its stores. Amazon automatically uses the first 10% of your book as the free sample. It’s smart enough not to cut the content in mid-sentence or paragraph, but you do not have control on the exact ending point of the sample.

Once your book is uploaded, you can then view it in Amazon’s online previewer, which is available right from the page where you upload. This is a great way to do a final sanity check on your book to ensure that the cover displays properly, the formatting looks correct, any imbedded images are present and display properly, and any last typos you fixed are indeed correct. I spent a few minutes flipping through the pages of my book to ensure all was in order.

After you’ve entered all the details for your book itself, you then move onto the pricing of the book.

First you must verify the territories in which the book can be sold. If you’re self-publishing and have not worked with any publisher to this point, then you retain all the publishing rights and can select the simple “Worldwide rights” setting. If you have worked with a publisher, you should verify which territories (countries) you retain the electronic publishing rights for and select those from the list provided.

Once you’ve set your territories you can set the prices for those territories. To help you with pricing, Amazon provides a beta tool that shows the pricing point at which books similar to yours have earned the most revenue. It’s your choice to use the suggestion or not. The suggested price is in U.S. dollars.

When you enter your prices, you can choose to enter the U.S. list price (the price buyers will pay) and then have all other territories auto calculate from that, or you can manually set the price for individual territories. Amazon will show you the estimated royalty you will earn for each territory once you enter the prices.

An important note about the auto calculated prices. The auto calculated prices are determined based on exchange rates at the time you enter your U.S. list price. This means that if the exchange rates fluctuate, your prices WON’T change unless you revisit your pricing page and reenter the U.S. dollar amount.

Once your prices are set, you can choose whether to enroll your eBook in Kindle’s MatchBook program. If you have a physical copy of your book already available for purchase on Amazon, then you can link your eBook to that physical copy. Anyone who has bought your physical copy from Amazon can then buy the eBook at a reduced price. You can set this price to be up to 50% of the eBook price.

Finally, if you chose to apply DRM to your book, then you can indicate whether your book can be loaned to others for a duration of 14 days. If you do not apply DRM to your book, then it will be set to be loanable automatically and you cannot turn this setting off.

And that’s it. At that point you can hit the “Save and Publish” button, which submits your book to go onto the Amazon store.

Amazon indicates that your book will appear worldwide within 24-48 hours. They also indicate that English books can take up to 12 hours to become available. My own experience was that the book was available within 4 hours of submitting. Your mileage may vary.

When my book became available for purchase by buyers, Amazon sent me an email to let me know. They were the only platform to do so. All other platforms require you to periodically check their stores to see if the book has become available.

Post Publishing

After the book has become available, you can use the KDP website to track how the book is doing or to adjust its details or prices. The website provides a reporting section where you can see online the sales for a time period you set (it defaults to the last 30 days). The basic report also shows the total royalties you’ve earned in each territory.

This basic view does not show your “net” sales though. It shows all sales without accounting for any returns. You can find this information under Unit Sales reporting, but you can only choose to view this information one month at a time and one territory at a time, rather than an entire global view.

As well, none of the reporting, as far as I can tell, will give you total net unit sales for the lifetime of your book. So you’ll have to keep an eye on the numbers each month and track this information yourself separately.

Author Page

As another bonus to authors, Amazon also allows you to create your own author page that browsers of Amazon can view (like my author page here). This page can be accessed from the author link of any book you’re selling and shows all the other books you have made available.

You can upload pictures and videos to it, connect it to your Twitter feed, and connect it to a blog on another website (like this one you’re reading now). You can, of course, post your author pic and bio and record any upcoming events you may want your followers to know about.

The author page is a nice little bonus that Amazon provides.

Final Thoughts

As a software developer myself, I’m quite pleased with Amazon’s publishing system. It’s clear their designers were either also authors or worked closely with authors to develop the system. Everything is laid out in a clean, organized manner. The reporting side is easy enough to read, but I do wish the reports provided a little more detail on lifetime figures and sales net of refunds.

My entire publishing time for Amazon took 1 hour and 35 minutes (I timed it for future reference). Keep in mind that I had to do some additional tasks unrelated to the actual publishing process such as resizing my cover, correcting a few last typos, and regenerating my ePUB file after the typos were corrected. I suspect in the future I may be able to get my publishing time down to the 15 to 20 minute range.

Come back February 13th when I’ll go into my experience with publishing on Kobo. And do check in next week as well for the next article in my series on the Benefit of Writing Comics.