Here’s everything you need to know about how to self-publish an ebook on Amazon KDP.
Whether you want to start publishing novels as a side hustle, you’re writing a book to establish you or your business as an authority on a topic, or you need a great lead-magnet for your blog, it’s never been easier to publish a book.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a powerful tool that allows regular people to publish our work to the world’s largest online marketplace for free. Considering that a measly six hundred years ago, it took years to produce a single book by hand – that’s kind of awesome.
As simple as publishing has become in the intervening centuries since the invention of the printing press, there’s still a lot that goes into an eBook. No single step is too complicated, but there are a lot of simple pieces to put together.
I gathered all those pieces while publishing my first book, Where the Stones Touch the Sky, on Amazon in 2020. We are sharing them in this guide to help you save time searching and get right to the good stuff: launching your book out into the world.
First – a brief disclaimer. This is a technical guide, not a marketing guide. Book marketing, especially Amazon book marketing, is a big topic and it’s always changing. After reading this article, you’ll know how to get your work into the digital marketplace. Telling people about it is the next step.
First things first. Go to KDP.Amazon.com to sign up for a free Kindle Direct Publishing account. You can also use your current Amazon account. No payment information is required – you can just log in and start exploring.
After you’ve created an account, familiarize yourself with the dashboard. It’s a pretty simple interface, right? Ha. Wait ‘til you see what’s coming.
Just kidding. It really is pretty simple.
Self-publishing on Amazon KDP: Paperback vs eBook
Once you’ve got an account, your first choice in the design process is the format of your book: Kindle eBook; print-on-demand paperback; or both.
Kindle books can be read on any device with a Kindle app, including personal computers, phones, and tablets, not just the Kindle tablet. We’re covering just the eBook in this article.
On the other hand, a print-on-demand paperback is exactly what it sounds like. If you go this route, Amazon will list your book for sale on their marketplace without actually creating any physical copies – the physical book will only be printed once a customer calls it into being by placing an order.
Print-on-demand publishing is pretty rad because it means you, as an author, no longer have to buy a bunch of books ahead of time and hope they all sell. Amazon will do all the work for you: they sell it, print it, ship it, and write you a nifty little check.
However, if you’ve never self-published before, I recommend starting with the eBook and working your way up to the paperback. While KDP is great for ebooks, their paperback publishing process is a little cumbersome in comparison to other services like Lulu Express (my favorite print-on-demand source).
And with any print publishing platform, there’s a lot more you have to do to create a professional product that doesn’t look like it’s hot off the word processor. Mmm-mmm, raw Microsoft Word manuscript – every reader’s favorite format for adventures in the written word.
Let’s put the paperback on the back burner and start by self-publishing the eBook on Amazon KDP first, shall we?
Self-publishing an ebook on Amazon KDP: The KDP Upload Process
Now that you’re on the platform and I’ve convinced you to forget about paperbacks for the time being, go ahead and click on the “Kindle eBook” button. That’ll start the upload process for a new book.
Familiarize yourself with the upload window, then check out this video clip from Self Publishing with Dale to get an overview of the whole process in about 3 minutes.
KDP Upload Process – Self Publishing with Dale
Dale walks you through the three basic sections of the KDP upload process, which look a lot less scary in a 3-minute video clip than they do in writing:
- Section 1: Kindle eBook Details
- Edition Number
- Format as HTML
- Publishing Rights
- Adult Content
- Section 2: Kindle eBook Content
- Digital Rights Management (DRM)
- Upload Manuscript
- Upload cover file
- Section 3: Kindle eBook Pricing
- KDP Select Enrollment
- Royalty Plan
- List Price
- Book Lending
- Terms and Conditions
Pretty simple, right? No? Did you watch the video? Watch the video, man. It’s the only thing keeping this from being another cheesy screenshot tutorial. I think we can agree that nobody wants that.
Section 1: Kindle eBook Details
There’s really only one thing we need to pull out of section 1 to discuss, which is the book description. Dale said it in the video (that I know you just watched): you want to make sure you write your book’s description in HTML, not plain text.
This is because — for reasons known only to sadistic code-jockeys hunched over glowing screens deep within the bowels of Amazon HQ — the description field does not display properly on the published book unless it is written in the language of technophobe hell. Also known as HTML.
The good news is, you don’t need to know how to read gibberish to do this. Just use a tool like Kindlepreneur’s HTML description generator to translate plaintext English into gibberish and paste it into the description field.
Simple! Take that, sadistic code jockeys! Ha. Alright. Moving on.
Section 2: Kindle eBook Content
This section is where you upload your actual manuscript and book cover files. You have a number of options for creating each of these in a format that works for Amazon. Let’s start with the manuscript. Step one, pick up a pen— ok, ok, just kidding. Here we go.
Formatting your manuscript
KDP accepts a variety of document formats, from .DOC to HTML (which is gibberish of course, so I don’t know why they bother. Who’s going to write a book in gibberish? Ridiculous). You can create the manuscript in Microsoft Word, Adobe inDesign, an ePub writer, or various other common programs.
Regardless of what file format you put into the KDP platform, you want to be thinking about what KDP is going to put out of the platform: that is, a proprietary document that is going to be read on a Kindle tablet or in the Amazon Kindle app on computers, cell phones, iPads, or any number of other glowing devices.
There are big variations in screen size, color capabilities, text size responsiveness, and a host of other factors between devices. The Kindle app knows what these are and is programmed to adjust each Kindle book file to fit the device it’s being displayed on. However, it can only do this if the Kindle eBook is formatted correctly.
If formatting is done poorly, you can wind up with teeny tiny text on a cellphone, for example, or seemingly random chunks of empty space in the middle of a chapter. Worst case scenario – the book won’t display at all on some devices. Nobody wants that. Unless it’s a really bad book. But you wrote a great book, of course, so we can discount that option.
This is why I recommend you use Kindle Create to format any Amazon Kindle eBook. Nobody knows how to format for Kindle like Amazon does.
Kindle Create is a very simple program available for free download from Amazon, along with surprisingly good and refreshingly brief tutorials.
Written Kindle Create Tutorial
Video Kindle Create Tutorial
Once you’ve got this done, you can go ahead and upload the manuscript in Section 2, the “Kindle eBook Content” tab.
Creating Your eBook Cover
A word to the wise: unless you are a professionally trained graphic designer, it’s in your best interest not to create your own book cover. Most writers do not have a talent for graphic design, despite what our mothers tell us.
In the real world, and most especially when you’re self-publishing with Amazon KDP online, books are in fact judged mostly by their cover. So if you care about book sales (or people reading your words, money aside) I highly recommend you outsource your book cover creation to a professional.
This can cost anywhere from fifteen bucks to several thousand dollars. Choose somebody with experience, and remember: you get what you pay for. Here are few options to consider.
Where to find contractors to create eBook covers
Private agencies like Damonza.com
If I have not convinced you to relinquish this part of your book-baby’s life to the care of another, you can still do it yourself. I did it myself. Who’s got 500 bucks to spend on their first eBook cover? Forget that. Do as I say, not as I do.
First off, check out Amazon’s eBook cover guidelines. It’s helpful (some would even say essential) to know what you’re supposed to be designing before you start.
Once you’re familiar with the current pixel size, color, and image quality recommendations, it’s time to choose an image processing program.
I have just enough graphic design experience to be dangerous, so I used Adobe Creative Suite (Adobe inDesign and Photoshop) to design the cover of my first book, Where the Stones Touch the Sky.
Adobe is what the pros use, but these programs are expensive and take a long time to learn. You could consider a free option like GIMP, but the same applies: there’s a steep learning curve that goes beyond the program’s technical details and into the foundations of color theory, typography, and photo composition — basically, you have to know something about what the program’s tools are for before you can use the program effectively.
If you’ve never used a professional creative suite before, I’d recommend you forget about it. You may well choose to try anyway, but author beware: these programs are the wilderness of graphic design, and unless you shell out for professional quality tutorials, you will be your own guide. The possibilities for adventure are endless – but so is the danger of abject, tacky, cheap, looks-like-a-third-grader-did-it failure.
Another option is Canva: an online graphic design tool that allows you to pick from an almost infinite variety of templates and edit them for your purposes.
If Adobe CC is the wilderness, Canva is like the modern suburban shopping mall of graphic design. The designs you’ll find there are not unique, but they’re easy to browse; the platform is actually pretty amazing if you think about how hard it would be if you had to make all these things yourself; and you’re likely to find something you can use there at a decent price — which in the case of Canva, happens to be free.
Jason Whaling has a great beginner’s guide to using Canva, focused specifically on book cover design.
Sign up for a free account at www.Canva.com.
Jason Whaling’s Canva book cover guide
Section 3: eBook Pricing for self-publishing on Amazon KDP
No matter what price you set for your eBook, you’ll be paid on a royalty system, which means you’ll receive a percentage of each sale. As of this writing, you have two basic options for eBooks – a 35% and a 70% royalty.
Amazon goes into detail about how these break down on their website, so I won’t repeat the specifics here.
Make sure you add your payment information before you publish your book. This is found under your account options.
Payments are typically made three months arrears, so if you were counting on receiving the proceeds from your wildly successful debut bestseller paying that overdue credit card bill next week – you may want to reconsider your strategy.
The other big factor to consider when self-publishing your ebook on Amazon KDP is your choice to enroll in Amazon KDP Select, which basically asks you to give Amazon exclusive digital distribution rights to your book for 90 days in return for some perks that may increase your sales.
The benefits can seem a little nebulous to the uninitiated, so I recommend watching Kindlepreneur’s video explaining the pros and cons of enrolling in KDP Select.
KDP Select pros and cons, by Kindlepreneur’s Dave Chessen
Set your price, choose your KDP enrollment, and . . .you’re done!
Last step – Publish!
Once you’ve hit the publish button, you’ll get a notification within 72 hours whether or not Amazon has approved your book. In the meantime, you can sit back, relax, and wait for those sweet, sweet royalties to start pouring in.
Or, in the off chance you aren’t a mega-celebrity with a following of hundreds of thousands of rabid fans (meaning you might actually have to tell people about your book before they can find it and buy it) —then you can get started on your Amazon marketing while you wait.
That’s a wrap. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have any questions about the KDP process, feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll do my best to help you out.
Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to the other creatives whose content is listed in this article – I’ve talked to some of them myself. They’re usually pretty active on YouTube and social media and they love to help out their followers.