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Writing Your Book

What Lurks Behind Amazon: Five Things Authors Should Know About the ‘King’ of Self-Publishing

By Tatia Gordon-Troy

Many authors speak highly of their experience with Amazon while others call it a necessary evil. As an aspiring author, you should know that you have choices for where you ultimately will sell your book. But also know that Amazon is still considered “king” of the self-publishing space, and people will expect to find your book there no matter where else it might be.

Amazon isn’t perfect, but when it comes to self-publishing, it’s Amazon’s world — we simply live in it. As a self-published author, the more you know about the business of self-publishing, the better you will understand what drives the behemoth we all love and hate.

Redefining “Publishing”

Gone are the days when traditional publishers ruled the industry. At one time, if you desired to become a published author, you had to shop your manuscript from one publishing house to another for months. Many manuscripts went from the envelope to the trash can. Traditional publishers even refused to review unsolicited manuscripts … well, because they could.

Most will agree that Amazon has turned the publishing landscape on its head with its easy-to-use self-publishing interface known as Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP, accompanied by its high-volume print-on-demand publishing model through CreateSpace.

In addition, Amazon has made its mark on the legal landscape by redefining the types of books that serve the legal community. Attorneys are now publishing more books on business development, practice management and other topics. They no longer need to write a 2,000-page treatise, casebook or manual to be taken seriously within the legal publishing industry. The average page count for most self-published books written by lawyers ranges from 50 to 200 pages.

The Business of Self-Publishing in the Amazon Era

On its face, Amazon seems simple. But if you want to join the ranks of numerous attorneys who have become published authors using Amazon, you must understand its behind-the-scenes business model as well. Here are the top five things you need to know.

1. Amazon’s print-on-demand (POD) model. When buying a printed book through Amazon’s website, you rarely think about how the book gets printed and delivered to you. All you care about is receiving the book within a short time after you’ve purchased it. But as an author, you want to understand how your book will be printed and delivered to the end user. For years, CreateSpace has been the brains behind the Amazon POD model. CreateSpace is the company that works closely with Amazon to print and fulfill orders for printed materials purchased through Amazon’s website. It has been a seamless process for more than a decade.

CreateSpace is a POD printer, meaning it prints a book only when it is ordered. Rarely is there a reason for CreateSpace to house books in a warehouse. POD saves time and money; and because CreateSpace handles such a large volume of print work, an author’s print costs are kept low.

Amazon is now offering a beta program, KDP Print, which seeks to offer the same POD model that CreateSpace currently does. I caution anyone looking to use a beta program such as this because there are always bugs that need to be worked out. In addition, the KDP Print program is quite limited in its capacity compared to CreateSpace. Author beware.

2. Amazon’s author royalty percentages. What can authors expect in terms of royalties if their book takes off? For every print book sold through Amazon, both Amazon and CreateSpace must get paid first. There is a 40 percent retailer/printer fee based on the retail price of the book, followed by a set fee per copy, plus a per-page fee. Fees vary depending on your book’s page count and whether those pages are printed in black and white or color. For example, a book priced at $45.99 with 200 pages printed in black and white could see a royalty break down similar to this:

Sample CreateSpace Author Royalty Formula (Per Book)

Retail Price:$45.99
Amazon/CreateSpace Print Fee:40% of retail price($18.40)
Charge per book:Flat fee($0.85)
Charge per page:200 x 0.012($2.40)
Author Royalty:$24.34

As for the Kindle version of your book, Amazon uses a totally different royalty model based on the retail price you set for it. Amazon generally offers a 35 percent royalty to authors who price these books between $0.99 cents and $200. Amazon offers a 70 percent royalty for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Royalty percentages depend on the size of the Kindle file itself with a set minimum price assigned to certain file sizes. In some cases, there is a delivery fee.

3. Amazon’s KDP Select program. KDP Select is Amazon’s way of gaining exclusivity of the e-book version of your book for at least 90 days. When you join KDP Select, you guarantee that no other retailer will sell an e-book version of your book for the full 90 days. In exchange, Amazon offers you the chance to provide your book for free for up to five days during that 90-day period. KDP Select also adds your book to Amazon’s Prime Library lending program, which pays you every time your book is loaned to someone through this program. To qualify for KDP Select, your book’s retail price must be set at or below $9.99.

Some authors swear by this because the free giveaway helps boost overall sales rankings and can push a book closer to best-seller status. I’ve read that it takes about 20,000 downloads within a five-day period to accomplish this. But people love free items, so it could pay off.

The lending program gets your book in front of a much broader audience and could prove beneficial to new authors. If you’re not satisfied, you can always cancel your enrollment in KDP Select after 90 days and re-enroll later if you want.

4. Amazon’s intermittent price changes. Amazon’s intermittent changes to the retail price of your book might catch you off guard because they appear to be random. One day, your book shows the price you set of $34.99, the next day it’s selling for $31.49. Don’t be alarmed. This is Amazon’s way of staying competitive in the marketplace as it becomes aware of what other distributors might be selling your book for. Even with a lower price, Amazon will pay you the royalty associated with the price you set for your book.

5. The importance of reviews on Amazon. Here’s a bit of news to chew on: According to statista.com, 786,935 books were self-published in 2016! That number is astonishing. But if you take a step back, you’ll notice that many of those books were subpar, not worth publishing, and have garnered nothing but bad reviews from buyers. Some people say buyer reviews are worthless, but not where Amazon is concerned. Reviews on Amazon can make or break your book in two ways: (1) more bad than good reviews; and (2) not enough reviews.

As a book author, those reviews are like gold if you are able to get enough good ones. Fifty or more will make Amazon sit up and take notice of your book. This leads to lots of free advertising because Amazon wants to make money on your book just as much as, if not more than, you do. Get buyers to take the time to submit a review and help boost your book’s visibility.

Key Takeaways

Although some people have a love-hate relationship with Amazon, for self-published authors it is still the place to be. There is no denying that Amazon has the most versatile and user-friendly interface for self-publishing, and you can publish your book in print, Kindle and audio format. However, no one avenue is perfect. Learn the business side of self-publishing so that any decisions you make are well-informed.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Tatia L. Gordon-Troy Tatia Gordon-Troy

Tatia Gordon-Troy helps attorneys focus on branding and self-publishing to build their practices. She is a career editor and publisher with more than 20 years of experience developing legal practice aids and education-based marketing strategies in the form of books, publications, blog posts and white papers. Tatia has a J.D. from University of Baltimore School of Law. She runs her own firm, Ramses House Publishing LLC. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter @tatia_troy

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