Self-Publishing on Amazon: 4 Crucial Tips for First-Time Authors

Guest Post by Savannah Cordova

 

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Self-publishing a book on Amazon is a big step for any author, but especially if you’ve never done it before. No matter how much research you’ve conducted or reassurance you’ve gotten from friends, putting your book up on Amazon is always an intimidating process — there are so many little details to remember, and therefore many little things that can go wrong.

Luckily, there are also concrete steps you can take to insure your self-published book as much as possible. And while no single measure will guarantee a successful launch on Amazon, doing all of these things will certainly maximize your chances! Here are four crucial tips for authors who decide to self-publish on Amazon, covering everything from uploading your files correctly to planning your marketing approach.

Tip #1: Polish and upload your manuscript effectively

Before you even think about putting your book on Amazon, you need to get your manuscript and cover in tiptop shape. Not only does this mean writing the best book you possibly can, but also hiring an editor or proofreader to sweep for inconsistencies and errors — not just proofing it yourself or asking a friend. Paying someone else to do the job, someone whose livelihood depends on their abilities, is a much safer bet than trusting inexperienced eyes.

You should also invest in a professional book cover design. Repeated tests have shown that a professional-looking book cover gets you way more clicks on Amazon, and you don’t want to lose up to 50% of potential buyers just because of your cover! So bite the bullet on the cost and get that gorgeous cover for your book.

Once you are absolutely, 110% sure that your manuscript and cover cannot be improved, you’re ready to prepare your files for Amazon. As you may already know, the Amazon Kindle Store uses MOBI files. This means that no matter what kind of file you upload, it will be converted to MOBI — which can have adverse effects on your formatting. So before you upload, ensure that your file is already a MOBI to prevent Amazon from converting it.

As for your book cover image, pretty much all you need is for it to be 1,000 pixels tall x 625 pixels wide, in the form of a TIFF or JPG. If one doesn’t work, try the other — the cover upload function can act up sometimes, so you may need to re-upload a couple of times.

Tip #2: Optimize your description and keywords

With your files safely uploaded and looking beautiful, you’re ready to write the description and set the Amazon keywords for your book! The more you can optimize these elements, the easier it will be for your readers to find you, and the more sales you’ll make. Annie’s already touched on how to write a great Amazon product description, but here are a few things you can do in terms of keywords specifically:

  • Try to get into your target reader’s head

It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors go straight to using keyword tools rather than thinking about it from a human perspective. Simply imagine that you were a reader looking for a book like yours, type all the keywords you can think of into Amazon, and check which titles are ranking for each keyword. If they’re similar to your book and have decent rankings, you can bet that’s a strong keyword, and you should add it to your own details.

  • Focus on high-traffic, low-competition keywords

Of course, though you want to be using some of the same keywords as your competitors, you’ll benefit even more if you can find a few niche keywords with high traffic but low competition. If lots of people search for a certain term, but not too many books are actually a good match for that term, this could be your chance to fill a gap in the market!

  • Use Amazon’s ad system to your advantage

This is a tip for after you’ve put your book up on Amazon, but it’s just as effective (if not more so) than trying to optimize your keywords beforehand. Once you’ve made some sales, you can go into your KDP dashboard and “create an ad” — but instead of actually setting up Amazon ads, just check the suggested target keywords for the ad that you would make. Amazon will tell you exactly which words and phrases readers have been using to find your book, meaning you can go back into your description and re-optimize to capture even more readers.

Tip #3: Weigh your options with KDP Select

There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the various pros and cons of enrolling in KDP Select, the program that offers various promotional opportunities in exchange for Amazon digital exclusivity. As in, while enrolled in KDP Select (which lasts 90 days), you cannot sell your eBook anywhere other than Amazon — though you may distribute print copies if you wish.

The KDP Select program has several concrete benefits, including:

  1. Free and discounted price promotions, which help you get tons of downloads and gain visibility by ranking on two different types of lists (the free store and the paid store on Amazon).
  2. Having your book on Kindle Unlimited, which is basically Amazon’s “Netflix for books” that allows subscribers to pay $9.99 a month for unlimited ebooks. Authors take home a very small percentage of royalties from this (only about $0.0044 per page), but the massive exposure to millions of KU subscribers and subsequent rankings boost makes the actual payout more or less irrelevant.
  3. 70% royalties in extended territories such as Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico, as long as your book is between $2.99 and $9.99 (though with non-select, you still get 70% royalties in most Anglophone territories).

Of course, the program has drawbacks as well. For example, KDP Select is great for reaching readers in the US and UK, where Amazon overwhelmingly dominates eBook distribution — but other countries like Canada and Australia have a much less autocratic ebook market, with companies like KOBO and Apple Books taking 20-30%. Though this is still less than Amazon’s share of the market in those countries, it’s enough to potentially hurt you if you go Amazon-exclusive for your book launch.

You should also steer clear of KDP Select if you’re trying to get onto bestseller lists other than Amazon’s. Not many people know this, but one of the prerequisites for lists in publications like The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, etc. is that you sell your book on multiple retailers — i.e. Amazon exclusivity is a deal breaker.

The takeaway here is that only you, the author, can decide whether or not KDP is the right path. Carefully consider both sides, and whichever you choose, keep track of what works and what doesn’t so you can make an even more informed decision with your next book.

Tip #4: Prioritize getting reviews

Finally, once your book is up and selling on Amazon, you have one goal that should take precedence over all others: getting (legitimate!) five-star reviews. Naturally, five-star ratings in and of themselves are important, but you also want to have as many people as possible leaving written reviews on your book’s Amazon page.

Why? Because you have to anticipate poor reviews and have a buffer in place just in case. Nothing pokes holes in a buoyant Amazon ship like a burst of one-star ratings, and nothing sinks it like a one-star review, especially if it’s the only review on the page. The more glowing reviews you have, the less likely that a potential customer is going to see that one-star review and decide that your book isn’t worth their time.

To that end, maximize your reviews by asking everyone you know to leave one, publicizing your book through your email list, and utilizing promotional sites and services. Of course, you should never pay FOR a review, or even “review swap” with another author — if Amazon suspects anything fishy, they’ll come down on you hard.

But don’t worry: promoting your book in other ways should lead to plenty of organic reads and reviews. And while you can’t guarantee that everyone you ask will leave a review, the more work you put into this stage, the more reviews you’ll get out of it.

So there you have it: polish your book, optimize your keywords, calculate your odds with KDP Select, and focus on reviews. No matter what kind of book you’ve written, these tips should significantly contribute to your self-publishing success… and perhaps even equip you to make a name for yourself in the cutthroat world of Amazon.

Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. She’s very interested in the self-publishing industry and where it’s headed. In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories.

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