Note: Our Kindle self-publishing feature has been fully updated. This article was first published in February 2012.
They say that everyone has a book in them, but few of us ever take the time to actually write and then publish that book. In the past there have always been major barriers to getting your words into print.
Large publishing houses reigned supreme and acted as gatekeepers. It was almost impossible to get an agent, and the distribution network for books was expensive. Today, all that has changed with the arrival of self-publishing, which offers low-cost tools to start your own publishing empire.
More than any other influence, Amazon and the Kindle have transformed how we buy and read books. For budding self-publishers, the Kindle and the publishing platform it links to, is a relatively straightforward method to get your words into the hands of readers.
With millions of Kindle reader devices and perhaps hundreds of millions of Kindle app users on smartphones and tablets, you can be sure that using the Kindle format for your eBooks will ensure they can be read by the widest possible audience.
The KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) system has been available since 2007. The eBook format it uses is proprietary to Amazon. What this means in practice is that if you use KDP, your readership must have a Kindle or the Kindle reading app.
Other eBook formats are also available such as ePub, which is the universal standard, and of course you could publish your work using the PDF format, which has been around for decades (or even just use plain Microsoft Word documents). But we are going to focus on how you publish your eBook with KDP.
Before looking at the tools you can use with KDP, it's a good idea to take a minute and consider the different eBook formats that are in use, and how they relate to KDP.
The eBooks you publish for the Kindle will use the MOBI format, which Amazon adopted for its Kindle readers. You may have read that the format the Kindle uses is AZW or AZW3. All you need to worry about is that you can produce your eBook in MOBI, as this is the preferred format all Amazon Kindle devices and smartphone apps can read and display.
In addition, ePub has become the universal eBook standard that every other eBook publisher uses. Amazon's KDP can take ePub files and use them to create MOBI, but you are not limited to this. If all you have is an aging copy of Microsoft's Word, or even just a plain text editor, you will be able to input this into KDP and create an eBook that Amazon can put onto its catalogue. One of the key reasons theScrivener writing tool has become so popular is because it can directly output your eBook in Amazon's MOBI format.
Amazon has made the whole process of publishing with KDP as easy as possible. The key is to spend your time preparing your manuscript so it can be digested by KDP and published with all the formatting you want.
In essence you can publish your eBook in three steps:
1. Prepare your manuscript
There are a number of word processors to choose from, with Microsoft's Word being the leader. You can save your work in DOC format or the newer DOCX. You also have the option to use ePub, which Scrivener supports. If you were thinking of using HTML or PDFs as your source files, think again, as the eBook you get after KDP processing may need a lot of work to correct any errors with layout.
It's a good idea to read up on how the whole KDP system works, as you will need to ensure the pages of your book are formatted correctly. Amazon has a handy guide that explains all this in detail.
One of the most important aspects of book publishing is getting the design of you new eBook's cover right. KDP has its own tool. There are a number of approaches you could take – if you have the flair, you can of course design your own.
Some of the leading applications to help you include:
It is also possible to test your eBook cover and design with Pickfu and listen to a podcast with book designer Joel Friedlander for some expert advice.
You will need to have set up an account on Amazon to start using KDP. Once this is complete you will see your account page. The basic information about your book including title, author and category then need to be added. This is the basic information that Amazon will use to include your new eBook on its website.
Next, you'll be asked to create a cover for your eBook or upload your own. You also need to set rights and territories details and whether you are distributing your eBook as a public domain title, or under your copyright.
There does come, however, seem to be a sweet spot of £2.99/$2.99, which readers are prepared to risk on a self-published author. However, stories abound about the power of the 99p eBook, with some authors selling tens if not hundreds of thousands of copies of their eBooks at this price.
One of the most daunting aspects of self-publishing is without a doubt the marketing you have to do. With thousands of new eBooks appearing on Amazon daily, how are you going to make your eBook stand out from the crowd?
Amazon offers its own promotional tools with KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited but you can't just rely on these tools to reach your readers.
What you need to do is build your own author platform. This is an umbrella term for your website, Twitter feed, Facebook page and any other communications channel you can use to shout about your eBook.
Start with your own author page on Amazon and then expand with other channels you can create. There is a huge amount of excellent advice on The Creative Pen website about how to market your eBook.
And for further advice from us, click through to the next page…
More help and advice
To gain an insight into how self-publishing could be your path to a career as an author, Techradar Pro spoke with Steve Windsor the author of the Fallen series of dark supernatural thrillers. Steve also has advice and marketing materials on Author Basics.
Techradar Pro: What key advice would you give to a new author who is about to start using the Kindle publishing system?
Steve Windsor: KDP is not the only player on the block but they're the one you need to learn first. KDP publishing is a bit like placing an ad on Craigslist. Only, you are trying to sell your story, not an old couch. The trouble is, KDP readers look at your story and think: 'Old couch.' You have to write the best story you can first.
TRP:Are there any pitfalls to watch out for when using Amazon's publishing system?
SW: Whenever you click publish to change anything on your KDP book record, you lose control of your book for 12-24 hours. Make sure you have everything the way you want it before you hit publish.
TRP:Can authors become blind to the other publishing platforms available to them because of Amazon's influence in the marketplace?
SW: Absolutely. Amazon, regardless of what they say, wants to be Google, Microsoft, eBay, and the online equivalent of what Barnes & Noble used to be. In short Amazon has no interest in letting you think there is anyone else who can do even close to what they do.
TRP: Are there any tools that you would recommend that make using Amazon's self-publishing system more efficient or easier?
SW: Learn Scrivener NOW! It's simply the most powerful self-publishing tool I know of. Writing, formatting, compiling to all the different formats you need. The learning curve seems steep, but once you get some time behind the wheel, you'll understand how valuable it is.
TRP: What does the future look like for self-publishing with the Amazon system?
SW: Amazon is in the middle of becoming eBay, and doing a damn good job of it. The self-publishing division, KDP and CreateSpace, is becoming more competitive, with better quality products and more of them. And as always, what was once an indie author playground is now becoming more and more like a powerful New York publishing house. One that rewards success and punishes failure.
Amazon is busy releasing all kinds of programs that try to corral authors into their platform, search out the best authors/books and reward them with special exclusive services available from Amazon. It all starts with learning to write better and better books. However, that's not enough – you have to learn marketing above all else. Without that, the ocean is simply too big for anyone to find your book by stumbling across it.
Big success is possible
The massive success of E. L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey), Amanda Hocking (My Blood Approves), Hugh Howey (Wool) and Andy Weir (The Martian) illustrate how successful self-publishing can be. With readily available tools, all you need to worry about is writing a great book.