November 2, 2020

Colorful tent overlooking mountain scene. Hand holding Kindle device up to tent opening.

If you haven’t published a book on Amazon before, you might wonder what it would be like to do it. The self-publishing industry is taking off, and even if you don’t want to be a full-time author, you may have some ideas for a good book.

I recently fulfilled my own long-held dream and published a non-fiction book: Independent Wealth: How to Start an Online Business in 5 StepsIt wasn’t until after it was live on Amazon, though, that I found out what I didn’t know about Kindle books. I have had moments of joy and sheer panic over the last few weeks, and I want to share my experience for anyone thinking about self-publishing.

Here are three things I learned, plus a few that I will do differently next time.

1. Book formats can cause more stress than a stolen credit card.

In the beginning, I was so worried about writing my book that I didn’t give much thought to the process of uploading it to the Amazon bookstore. After hiring a proofreader, I created a Microsoft Word document and asked someone to convert it to a file for the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. It turned out they hadn’t separated the book into sections; in one click, it went from the cover straight to the “About the Author” section at the end.

I discovered this at 4 am the morning after I had published it and experienced a panic I haven’t felt since my credit card was stolen and thousands of dollars spent on it. I desperately clicked back and forth from the cover to the back page, hoping it wasn’t real. I frantically messaged my sister in the UK, where it was daytime, and asked her to check it for me. She confirmed my worst fears, and I raced back online to get someone to fix it for me.

Over the next 36 hours, I learned about all the different formats for E-books: “EPUB,” “KPF,” “MOBI,” and many others. When I uploaded the MOBI version, Amazon’s preferred format, it took another 36 hours to go live, and I think my pulse was still racing.

2. Reviews are gold dust or poison pellets for a new author.

I knew from research that reviews are essential for success on Amazon:

  • readers make purchase decisions based on reviews
  • machine-learning algorithms take them into account
  • you need at least five reviews to use many book promotion services and, in some cases, ten.

I had asked people ahead of time to post a review for me, only to discover that you need to have spent $50 in the previous 12 months on Amazon to qualify. This excluded a few of my supporters, so I signed up for some book promotion newsletters to get more reviews.

For the newsletters to promote my book, I had to set the purchase price to “free” for three days. On the first day, an Amazon reader from Las Vegas posted a one-star rating, with no explanation. I had spent so much time writing and uploading the book, and my heart sank. I clicked on the user’s profile and saw that she had done the same thing to 13 other books in two days. All the books were on free promotion, so she hadn’t even had to pay to get her kicks. I left a comment thanking her for her feedback and made a note to get thicker skin if I want to carry on self-publishing.

3. Like a small lifeboat in a vast ocean.

Amazon doesn’t disclose the official number, but there are probably more than seven or even eight million ebooks in the Kindle Store, uploaded at a rate of one a minute. And more than 30% are self-published like mine. In case you are wondering how a reader could ever find a book you wrote, Amazon machine learning is among the most advanced technology anywhere. Its primary purpose is to learn what customers like to read and find books to match each person.

There are still manual parts of the process, though. Authors can submit up to ten categories and seven keywords to give the platform a clearer idea of which virtual shelf a book should go on.

Amazon bookstore has over 16,000 categories, believe it or not, and you can spend a lot of time researching.

After loading up my choices, I found out that the Amazon UK store uses completely different categories to Amazon US. And so I went back to the drawing board for that market, and for Germany too, for good measure.

Digital publishing only starts when you press “Publish.”

Getting to the point of publishing on Amazon took up most of the last three months. I got up early in the morning to write before my family stirred. I read books on writing books and watched YouTube videos on self-publishing. I imagined how it would feel when I finally pushed publish and could see my book for sale on Amazon. It was a buzz when I got there, and I opened a bottle of red wine we had been saving to celebrate, only to discover the next day how much I didn’t know about the Kindle e-book store.

Independent Wealth has been live for a week and has had positive reviews and feedback. Despite the early mornings, panic over formats, and a negative review, I have thoroughly enjoyed the crash-course in digital publishing. I have always wanted to write, and I love learning new things. I am setting up my blog and social media profiles, and every day is a steep learning curve, starting at 5.00 am. I plan to publish another book and am excited about the next cover; designing them is one of my favorite parts in the process.

Next time I will make sure the manuscript is 100% complete before formatting. I used Scrivener to draft it, and I need to learn how to use that software properly — I am the kind of person who tries to assemble Ikea furniture without a manual. I will research keywords and categories ready to submit at the same time that I upload the book file. I will have a review team well prepped on what they need to do. I don’t think I will do a free promotion again, as it doesn’t necessarily help get readers interested in my niche. I am learning now about Amazon Ads and Bookbub and how these can help to drive sales.

Publishing a book on Amazon is exhilarating and scary as hell at the same time. If you are considering it, I highly recommend giving it a go. Just don’t forget the table of contents.

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About the author 

Joe France

Founder at The Independent You. Author, entrepreneur, 20-year online tech veteran, Joe helps coaches and consultants to get more clients and market their services with a book. Check out my new book “Independent Wealth”. https://amzn.to/2G9Jj47

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HOW TO START AN ONLINE BUSINESS

Independent Wealth: How to Start a Business in 5 Steps. A step by step guide for online entrepreneurs, going beyond the side hustle with a blueprint for a business that generates passive income doing what you love.