A guy here in Oregon wanted to have coffee and talk about getting started publishing using Amazon’s print-on-demand service, KDP. Before we met this morning, I printed up these notes. Maybe they’ll be helpful to someone else, although some of my thoughts might be wrong or outdated. Do your own research.
Notes on Self Publishing
Now that I’m using “Print On Demand” technology, I use Amazon’s service, “KDP Select” it’s at kdp.amazon.com (When it started, it was devoted to creating kindle books. Now it also does paperback and hardback books.)The site can format the manuscript, print it, and deliver it to Amazon and other retailers, all at no charge up front. It makes its money by taking a cut of each book sold.
1 Write the damn book in Word, Pages, or other word processing program
2 Rewrite and edit and spell check. MUCH easier to make changes at this stage, in a word processing program. If you plan to hire an editor, do it now.
3 If you want, come up with a publishing company name. You can incorporate, or just use the name as a “Doing Business As” like Kenn Amdahl dba Slugbait Publishing. I think it costs ten bucks to register a dba with the state (or it did in Colorado). Incorporating costs $100 or so. But there’s no law requiring a publishing company name.
If you hope to sell a bunch of books, you’ll want your own ISBN. A private company, Bowker, orchestrates ISBN for the country, One buys those at ISBN.org. A single ISBN costs $125, ten for $300. Each one is an identifier specific to a certain publisher, book, and version. Getting your own tells book stores and buyers that you published it independently. The print on demand companies (like kdp) will sell you one of their ISBNs for ten bucks or so, because they buy them by the truckload, but then the world will know you self-published it through them. Not a big deal for most folks, but bookstore buyers do notice. An ISBN is useful; it identifies your title in Books In Print, for example. KDP requires an ISBN for printed books. Electronic books don’t need an ISBN.
4 Convert the Word doc into a page layout using a program like Affinity Publisher, or Indesign. Book layouts have a few little quirks that vex word-processing program. For example, gluing the spine takes up space, so interior margins need to be larger than exterior margins. How much larger depends on the dimension of your book and the number of pages (thicker books require wider interior margins). You probably want page numbers, maybe author’s name and/or title in the header. But don’t panic— many self publishing platforms (like KDP) will do most formatting for you for free. If you want more precise control, (maybe you love a rare font) you can do it yourself and upload a pdf version of the book. Otherwise, just upload your Word doc to kdp select and it will format the text for you for free.
5 Create a cover. Covers have a front, a spine, and back cover all printed on one sheet that will be folded around the pages. It needs to be a sixteenth of an inch larger than the final version because it will be trimmed (the extra space to be trimmed is called the “bleed”). Again, you can do this yourself or you can let the print on demand program do most of your work. KDP has a pretty cool program that creates nice covers with almost no effort. It’s free. I use Affinity Publisher to create my own, but there’s a learning curve. If you make your own cover without using an online tool, at least DO use one of their free tools to figure the precise thickness of the spine so you can account for that. KDP will create the barcode for the back cover, you don’t need to buy your own.
6 Upload the book to the kdp site. The site talks you through this. You choose the file on your computer to upload and then hit the “upload file” button. Then upload (or create) the cover. Use their online previewer to make sure it all worked. If the site detects technical flaws (no bleed? text too close to edge of page?) it will tell you. Then it asks you to select a price for the book, and the countries you want to sell in.
7. Then the site will give you the chance to buy a preview copy for $15 or so. It will be marked “not for sale” to discourage people from stopping at this step, before Amazon has a chance to make any real money from your project. In a couple of weeks you’ll have the book in your hands. You’ll go through this book very carefully and realize that there are still typos and other mistakes that you’ll wish you had dealt with back in step one. You’ll fix the file on your computer, upload the revised file, order a new preview copy and wait. If you really just want one copy to display on your desk, and you don’t care about the “not for resale” banner, you’re done. For fifteen bucks or so you have a book for your desk.
8 When you’re ready, you hit the “publish” button and your book will be available to buy within a few days. Until you hit “publish” nothing has really happened. You can start over, change the title, abandon the project, etc. Even after you publish it, you can un-publish or archive it and the world will never know you did any of this. If you discover a typo or other mistake, you can fix it on your file and upload the revised file. So don’t worry that you’re messing up your own permanent record. Relax and enjoy this weird adventure.
So much of this upfront stuff is free for a simple reason: KDP is going to take a cut of every book you sell. First they recover their printing costs, then they split the profit above that with you according to a formula that is partly your choice, partly based on list price. They have a reciprocal arrangement with Ingram (the big bookstore supplier) so once it’s available on Amazon, any store in the country can buy it for their shelves as well. (Ingram has its own print on demand service, “Ingram Spark” but—at least when I was choosing providers— it charged an upfront fee) You make less profit per book with this new model (compared with how I did it for years, printing thousands at a time) but I no longer have to store or ship books, write a big check upfront, or send invoices, or deposit checks, or hound the slow-paying customers. Once a month KDP deposits money in my account while I peel grapes and sip wine. If I have a signing or other event (or need Christmas presents) I can order my own books from them at about half of retail and sell them from the back of my van.
If you also want the book to be a kindle book, Amazon has a program called “Kindle Create.” It’s a free program, you download it and the use it to convert your Word document to a kindle. Not difficult, but it took me a Saturday morning to figure it out. Indesign could convert to kindle format, but the program became too expensive for me to justify. Barnes and Noble uses a different format for their ebooks, to be read on their “Nook” device. Various programs can create those. One of the early print on demand companies “Lulu” is another option for many people,
If all this is too much work, or too intimidating, several companies will take your cash to do all that. A company in Colorado, “Outskirts Press” charges maybe a grand or two, plus takes a cut of every book sold. They do the steps above, then upload it to IngramSpark. Years ago, I knew the owner but we’ve lost touch. There is a similar company in Oregon but I don’t recall its name. A cool-looking resource is “Independent Publishing Resource Center” in Portland (www.iprc.org) I bet they could be useful in finding resources for a person who doesn’t want to fool with it themselves. Looks like they are also capable of doing short runs right in their studio. If you just want two dozen books to give as gifts, that might be worth looking into. Mr.Google can track down many more options for you.
The one thing none of these companies will do, including KDP, Amazon, Ingram or any of the rest, is market the book and generate sales. That remains the hardest part of publishing: getting folks to buy your book. If creating an income stream is your goal, you’ll need to have a plan, and plan to work at it.