For quite some time now, a number of people who read my articles on LinkedIn and my own blog have urged me to put my writings into one or more books – to self-publish on Amazon. I have resisted for a long time, likely because of the same reasons you have: it looks too complicated and I wondered – who would want to read a book from me anyway?
This past week I decided to dive in. Many people self publish books to gain credibility so they can go around calling themselves “Author” – a title which they hope to leverage in order to better promote themselves as workshop facilitators, motivational speakers and other such self-proclaimed expert positions.
Other people, who may be unemployed or making very little money, are hoping that selling books on Amazon will be their ticket to riches, or at least a living. You’ll see many articles on the web claiming that you can make thousands of dollars each month selling your e-books. Some of the most popular self published books on Amazon are books that try to tell you how to sell your books on Amazon!
My interest was only to see if I could do it. The challenge has been staring me in the face for a while now. And let’s be honest. Anybody who succeeds in getting a book on Amazon is also hoping that somebody out there will buy it. And I had hoped that as well.
For their first book, a lot of people compile their blogs and articles from the web and just put all of those into their book – a compilation of “best works” if you will. It seems easy enough. All of the content has already been written, so that’s what I did.
It led to my first lesson. Amazon checks all of the submitted manuscripts before posting them in order to ensure people don’t just copy and paste anything from the web and turn it into a book. That would be copyright theft, plagiarism and extremely unethical.
What happens if you copy your own material? Amazon will send you an email asking you to prove that you are the original author who holds the rights. I panicked when I first got that email, as do most people. But I discovered that it’s a problem you can easily solve by responding to Amazon with a list of web addresses where your material has been posted. There are a few other things you need to do as well, but all of them done easily, if you are indeed the original author. (By the way, you can’t phone Amazon or KDP, the department that handles this. You can only email).
It’s actually a good thing that Amazon checks authorship. Otherwise, anyone could just copy anything from the web, claim it for their own, and make money selling books illegally.
That takes me to my main point – selling books. “If you build it, they will come,” the famous line from the 1989 hit movie Field of Dreams does not apply here. Just because you have a book on Amazon, doesn’t mean anyone is going to see it, let alone buy it.
In fact, the vast majority of self published authors, even people who are extremely good at writing, sell only a couple of books a month.
I recently posted one of the most popular articles on the web, entitled “Real Leaders Give a Damn About You” on LinkedIn (about the need for people in management to start caring about the people who work for them). As I write this, the article has 175,000 likes. I knew I had a popular article on my hands as the piece started to go viral. So – believe it or not, I quickly wrote an entire book based on the article to see if I could include a promo for the book in the footer, while people were still discovering and reading the article. The idea of course was to sell the book.
The numbers have been dismal. 175,000 likes translated into 2 book sales.
That’s how tough it is to sell your self published book.
One of the self-proclaimed gurus on YouTube recommends that you write a lot of books in order to make any money on Amazon. I therefore – within a recent span of 2 weeks – wrote more books. (All of my books, by the way, are small at under 40 pages). I have to admit, it seemed to work. I have sold 20 books in a short time and even made it to Amazon’s “top release” listing for “short reads”. (Amazon rates all of its new books every single hour. One of my books was number one for exactly one hour).
Amazon does want you to succeed. They are very aware of the frustrations experienced by self-publishers and have a number of special programs to help new authors, including one in which people can borrow your book for free, and then, hopefully write a review. The idea is that the reviews will help sell your book.
There’s another big lesson I learned. One of the e-book “experts” recommends that you give your book away to about 15 people and in return, ask for a review. I did just that, and of all 15 people, only one wrote a review.
Getting reviews is like pulling teeth. People just don’t have the time.
I would recommend to anyone thinking of self publishing not to give away your content to anybody in return for a review. There’s a 99 per cent chance you’ll never get that review.
Many new authors try to get the ball rolling by asking their friends and family to buy their book. That’s one thing I did not want to do. It would have made me feel like a new insurance salesman. (Insurance companies tell their new salespeople to sell to family).
But a friend of mine did do that and it angered his friends so much, some no longer speak to him. “Stop bugging us about your damn book.”
Ideally, your sales need to come from strangers – the buying public.
On Amazon, you can produce both a Kindle e-book and also a printed paperback version of your book. I know of only two people in my inner circle who actually read e-books. Everybody else is old school and needs a paper version. So I expected the paperback to sell better. I was wrong. E-books from self-published authors tend to be more popular because they are much less expensive. It seems the masses out there don’t want to spend their hard earned money buying a paperback written by an unknown author.
My first sale was to myself. Yes, I bought my own book. Amazon lets you purchase “author” copies for a very low price but I wanted to experience what would happen if I bought my book as a normal subscriber on Amazon. The book arrived quickly, and I was impressed with the very high quality of the paper and cover.
I showed the book to people I know and everyone asked the same question “How did you print it?” (People don’t really have a clue how all of this works).
You do not print your own books. Amazon does everything. When somebody orders a book, Amazon will print it and send it out. They deduct the printing costs from the price of your book, which by the way, is set by you. Amazon makes its profit of course, and you get the rest.
Overall, I was impressed by how anyone can put a book on Amazon. The process was not as difficult as I thought. You do have to spend up to an hour creating a profile which will ask you for some financial information so that Amazon knows how to pay you.
The process of uploading your book is well done, as you’re taken through a number of steps and tools. One of the tools is a built-in app to create your book cover. The app includes a range of royalty free photos you can use. It’s very cool. And all free.
The only thing that bothers me about self-publishing on Amazon is that when you update your book, you have to upload it all over again (which can take up to 30 minutes) and Amazon has to approve it, all over again, which can take up to another 72 hours. Even if you discover a typo and have to republish for that reason, you need to go through the entire process again.
In fact, it’s so time consuming, some authors don’t bother and just leave the typos as they are!
Publishing your works on Amazon can be a lot of fun. But keep your expectations extremely low. Consider yourself lucky to sell even one book. It has nothing to do with the quality of your writing. You may be a very good writer. But there are now so many books out there, that selling is a very tough business.
The experts will tell you that you must have a great title in order to sell books. I agree the title has to be catchy, but that in no way guarantees you’ll sell anything. I came up with a number of titles I thought were good – and it seemed to make no difference. (One thing to note: once you publish a paperback, you can’t go back and change its title. So before you publish, think long and hard about what title to use. Don’t make the mistake I did, thinking I could change the title later. You can’t).
Most self-published authors get very excited at first and check their account to see how many books are selling. But over time, they get discouraged because their book (or books) are not selling. If you go onto Amazon, you will see self-published books from a few years ago with all of the reviews within the first week or two of the date the book was published. After that, the reviews stop. The sales stop. The book’s page becomes a dead zone (you can see the tumbleweeds blowing across the page).
So most of those who try this, give up after a few weeks and stop publishing.
What about me? Am I planning to post more books? Yes. To make money? Don’t make me laugh. I’ll be doing it just for the pure joy of it. And if you do it, that should be your only motivation too.
Amazon now has a neat feature where you can create an “author” profile to feature all your books on one web page. Mine is here:
If you have a question about self publishing, I’d be happy to share more of my experience.
11 thoughts on “What I learned from Publishing on Amazon”
I aim to go through this process sometime. There’s a bewildering amount of advice out there and it’s useful to read a realistic, helpful, account of the process that isn’t peppered with hyperbole and exclamation marks. Sorry – almost forgot – !
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Thank you Bitaboutbritain. Yes, most of what you read about self-publishing on the web is simply not true. Lots of hype, very little reality and practical information. I would say that if you’ve been thinking of doing it, definitely give it a shot. It is time consuming, much more so than the “hype” out there would have us believe. But if you believe there is an audience for your content, Amazon lets you choose the key words where people can find you. The books I wrote that I believed would sell are not the books that are selling. I had hoped my historical books would do well, because those were the ones I spent most of my time writing. But it was the book that took me the least amount of time to write “10 Amazing Ways to Beat Hopelessness, Anxiety and Fear” that is selling the most. If you take the plunge, please let us know.
Cory,this is my book that was published in February this year.
What I understand is making an image that is ok for new author, why not?
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Excellent! And I see that you are using Amazon’s new embed sharing feature that let’s people preview your book from a link. I also notice you chose one of the ready-made templates Amazon provides for the book cover. Love the title – explains exactly what the book is about, something I failed at miserably on a few of my books. Bravo for you.
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yay! and thank you for the valuable information. I plan to do so myself, one day-now-What is the title of your book?
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You are most welcome! If you click the last link on the article (https://www.amazon.com/author/corygalbraith) you will be able to see all of my books. I currently have 4 of them up there now (4 in e-book format and 4 paperback for a total of 8 books). Almost everyone I have talked to says they are also planning to write a book but have not found the time. I managed to write 4 books in 2 weeks – not sure how I did it, but I just went at it and didn’t stop until they were done. I think that’s the only way to do it. Best of luck with yours. Please let us know when it’s up!
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thank you and I wish you much success in yours-I am excited to get them, for your posts are some of my favorites.
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You have convinced me to take that step. However, I don’t believe that I will put all my eggs in one basket. I will also try putting my book on more outlets as well.
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That’s great J Slade. I have since discovered a number of “promotional” web sites for self-published authors. These are sites that have a large email list. You can pay to be on those lists. I just paid $25 to be on a list of 100,000 readers, so we’ll see if that translates into sales. Other self-published authors have told me that using these other sites is an absolute must. If you publish on amazon and just let your book sit there with no outside promotion, nobody will buy it, or even see it. It’s extremely discouraging, given the amount of work it takes to write a book. Having said all that, I do congratulate amazon for even offering this service. They didn’t have to – but one thing I found out is that Amazon makes 40 per cent of its book earnings from self-published authors! So now we see why they are doing it. Some people claim to be making $15,000 to $40,000 a year selling their books through Amazon (and the promotional sites). One person on the web claims he’s making $50,000 a month. I don’t believe it myself. To me, that’s close to impossible. Good luck! Please share a link once you have something posted.
Thank you for describing the process of publishing a book on Amazon. I enjoy reading all of your articles, which are very well written. Who knows what the future holds. Thanks again, and enjoy your day!