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118 - Setting Up Your Book on Amazon - The Good, Bad, and Ugly


Hey Guys! Nicole Gabriel here! I’m the host of the Let’s Get Your Book Published podcast. I’m also the author multiple books, a Book Designer, and a Publishing Coach as well as an intuitive Business Coach.

I’ve been in the book business for awhile now and I’ve helped many clients get their book published over the years. On this podcast I share personal stories, client stories, and the truths about the publishing industry….


Today’s topic: Setting Up Your Book on Amazon - The Good, Bad, and Ugly

When people think of books nowadays the first thing they think about is Amazon. It used to be so different when we had real local bookstores. It really does sadden me because people really gravitate toward Amazon now. Some of you see the complete picture of the pitfalls of Amazon, but most just don’t care. There is a monopoly on all things sold and many businesses are suffering as a result of it’s existence, but I’ll set those personal opinions aside as I step into how an author can best navigate the digital world where everyone is now selling their book. I’ll give you the inside scoop from my eyes as I have delved into all things Amazon for many years now. My first book was published 10 years ago now and back then Amazon looked very different. People were still trying to navigate the digital verses physical book worlds. People were asking if the eBook was going to put the physical book store out of business or not. I honestly don’t see this as just a book issue and I also see it as a way to control the narrative, monitor content, and showcase preferred authors and distributors that are big players in all the games of influence in this digital world.

That all being said, Amazon is the place all self-published authors want to be. For all sales and fulfilling ego’s it’s the place where they get to publicly show off their hard work. There are many ways Amazon can be approached for selling all formats of your book. You can manage all sales in your own store or you can sign up with a large distributor to get on all networks worldwide. You can also hook up with other companies for the creation and distribution of your audio and e Books or you can upload everything in your own store you manage.

I’m not real sure what it is about a book that causes people to see things differently. I guess it’s likely the emotional component. But, no matter what you sell on Amazon, you are selling an item. I find there to be a lot of confusion with regard to the author. It’s like all thinking goes out the window. Let’s pretend your book is a bottle of vitamins for. moment. If you were selling a bottle of vitamins you upload a picture, set a price, and come up with a unique identifier for your item, such as a barcode. You would upload all the details and agree to the distribution fees to sell on the platform and you might dive deeper into understanding how to sell your vitamins with prime shipping, run a discount, or do some kind of marketing to create more awareness. If you take the time to plug around in there you will find all kinds of ways to enhance the offer. Amazon gives sellers the ability to do offers like special book giveaway promotions, discount programs, subscription reading platforms, and much more. So, why would selling a book be any different than au other item? It’s really not. You might even think of it like selling an item on Etsy or eBay. You have to put up the item your selling then find a way to fulfill the order - packaging, shipping, and the like.

Amazon does offer some ways to help you in the distribution of your book. You can sign up for their print on demand system where they only print off and ship a book when it’s sold. Or, you can get your eBook up with kindle and money is deposited into your bank account direct with each eBook sold. The biggest reason, outside of visibility, people want to get on Amazon is so they don’t have to manage book distribution and sales. Yet, the irony is that they usually only sell books when it first comes out but people loose interest once it’s been produced. The lifespan of hot sales is likely to decline after a few months. There is so much talk about how new authors are going to handle what they believe to be a huge financial win, when reality doesn’t support the thinking. If the average author only sells about 300 books in a lifetime then it’s not likely this infrastructure is really even needed. But, there can be some benefit for a busy entrepreneur or for a traveling retiree…you can have books shipped rather than having to slug them around with you for the random sale that might come in while you are not at your desk to ship them.

I’ve been asked if there is a distribution network that supports just Amazon…to only sell and distribute with Amazon. And, no there really isn’t. There is only print on demand. And, print on demand is limited to only soft copy books. The quality isn’t the highest either as it’s put to bid and printing is done by the lowest bidding vendor. And, if your goal is to wow your buyer then I recommend you always print hard cover with a professional printer. What you produce and how you sell it is going to vary for every author. But, unless you’re writing a novel, I always recommend you print a high quality hard cover book with a professional printer.

I recently read something from an eBook distributor about working with Amazon and I think it works great for their model…create an eBook for a new author and upload the eBook to all distribution networks for high exposure. Of course, Amazon is in that list. This is all most authors expect - get on Amazon and find my eBook everywhere eBooks are sold. But, at the same time, now you are reliant on the eBook company to manage those relationships and pay you for sales after taking their cut. This is good for many authors but for the self-aware author there can be flaws.

First of all, all eBooks processed through this channel are charged a fee for each upload. A change in your eBook means a whole new layout fee is charged each time. This is no problem if you nailed everything down the first time. But, it’s a costly lesson if you find errors you wish to change later. You don’t have a ton of control over this and it’s likely you will also have to pay your layout designer a fee for changes too.

In the same eBook company article I read, it gives stats that nearly 70 percent of all books sold in North America are sold on Amazon. It also states that Amazon hosts some 2.5 billion visitors every month. They say the visits per year are nearly four times that of the entire population on Earth. They also say that Amazon Prime memberships have reached a staggering 200 million worldwide. It goes on to say that in 2018 it was noted that over 1,000 self published authors had earned over $100,000 in book sales that year. All things considered this is actually a low number making a good income but it does initially present itself as favorable.

This article does say that only going with Amazon is a mistake however and that they set their authors up with global distribution for their eBook. And, just like Amazon, this eBook company has now expanded into printed books as well.

These systems might appear like a great solution unless you understand there are better ways to go about things if you’re willing to do a bit of work to find a coach, learn the process, and take the time to set things up. Most of the time, this is a one time learning curve, unless you are planning to write more books.

There are 5 main ways to get your material up on Amazon (2 are format specific):

Create a Seller Central account and list your items for sale.
Hire a distributor to sell your book in global distribution networks.
Upload your eBook to Kindle
Hire an eBook creator and they will upload your eBook to their partners distribution channels.
Create an audiobook and they will upload either guide you to upload direct or they will have distribution partners they will upload to.

What people often don’t realize is that you are setting up an agreement with these distribution networks. You are agreeing to go exclusive with them or work as an independent  (I’ll call it agent) with them. When you go exclusive with Amazon on your eBook, for example, the cut you get is slightly higher. Now, of course, if you are selling your eBook for the pretty typical price of $2.99 you really are talking pennies when it comes down to it. I mean, really, all of this is not huge money-making stuff we are talking. You’re selling a low-cost item. Remember, think of the bottle of vitamins. Don’t be fooled thinking there are huge profits here and get all strung out on the emotional component of writing a book.

When you sell on Amazon you will get royalty payments every 90 days after the sales are recorded. It doesn’t cost anything to list any format on Amazon. They make money on you, so it’s a good thing they don’t also charge a set-up fee.

Now, the biggest issue, outside of poor printing, is the ISBN Number. You really need to be careful about this on Amazon. If you get a number through them you will always be owned by them and you will always be considered a self-published book. I highly encourage you to get your own ISBN number prior to doing anything on Amazon. Actually, I encourage you never to print through this system too because it might seem nice not to have to store books, but if you go direct to a printer you will always get the best result. Sure, you might have to store books, but that’s kinda the deal when you become an author. You should do this proudly. You have control of all the content and rights of your books when you control the print. If you do ever decide to go to print with anyone that manages this relationship… where you give over the manuscript files… you really should consider getting your work copyrighted. This might protect you a bit if you run into any issues in the future. Personally, I like the idea that no one has the manuscript but me and the printer. And, unless the printer decides to try an pirate your work then you really have far less to worry about. Of course, the minute you go digital with voice or an eBook you’re putting your manuscript out there for anyone to reproduce. If anyone were ever to try something like this a copyright would protect you. But, likely you won’t have any issues with such a thing. I just like to know that when I print I control how many books go out into the world at any given time. You getting your own ISBN and Library of Congress control numbers will also give you a certain level of ownership too. You are the registered owner of a book with that title and subtitle.

Now, what a lot of people have used Amazon for over the years is to play the “I’m better than you” game of finagling their book into a best seller. Generally this is done using low-priced eBooks or choosing slow genres then getting everyone you know to get on and buy. It often doesn’t take much to achieve the best-seller ranking, but I know lots of people do that so they can use the title to bump up their ego and look more successful. Amazon used to care about this but I don’t think they care so much anymore.

If you still decide that Amazon is the right tool for you, you will still need cover design as they have no available service for that. You might consider finding a design tool to do this as the cost of hiring a Graphic Designer that works with Amazon can sometimes be tricky. I will do it as a part of my business but generally only 1% of my clients produce their books through amazon, as most are looking for top quality books to enhance their career and this environment isn’t very conducive to that. I often charge additional fees to work with these print on demand systems as its far more complicated to manage proper print files and talk to an actual human. It can sometimes take a few tries to get it uploaded if the author isn’t very tech savvy.

So, what’s the difference with Kindle Select, CreateSpace, and Kindle Unlimited? Kindle Select requires giving Amazon exclusive distribution rights to your book if you take advantage Pricing Countdown or free eBook offering—where you can offer your book for free for a limited time. CreateSpace is no more. It’s now part of KDP. And Kindle Unlimited is a subscription program ($9.99/month) that allows subscribers to read as many eBooks as they want. If you opt into KDP Select, your book will be available to these subscribers.

In my opinion, there is never a need to offer your book for pre-sale. You aren’t famous and people don’t need notice. I wouldn’t even bother with this logistical nightmare, whether it be through Amazon options or on your own. I think it just makes it look like you are struggling to get some immediate income to produce your book.

Amazon does no promotional activities for your book but you can use the platform to run paid advertising to draw attention to your book.

One of the best features about listing your book on Amazon is the ability to have readers, friends, or family post reviews for your book. This will always give it more legs. Make sure you ask everyone buying your book to post something after they read it.

Now, before you do go into a relationship with Amazon you will need to know a few things. It’s kinda inevitable that as an author you will have some relationship with Amazon. Even if you do no distribution and have no store set up, it’s very likely as people ready your book it will make it’s way into second hand book shops and get listed for sale on Amazon. When you create a public book it’s just kinda how things go. So, since you wrote a book, it’s likely you want your words to be heard. Therefore, I would encourage you to step up and manage the relationship with your book and how it’s represented publicly—rather than let it have a life of it’s own. Therefore, I would like to see you hire a professional distributor for your printed books. I always recommend getting the hard cover first, then after you’ve launch, you can produce a soft cover for lower cost reproduction. This makes giving your book far less painful because the cost per book is a bit lower. Then, I want to see you manage your own eBook on KDP. I don’t always think it’s wise to mass produce the eBook in many distribution networks. More isn’t always better. I like to make it more manageable and exclusive with one over another. Amazon gives you the option to be exclusive. This way you don’t have many versions of your eBook floating around out there. If you make changes but the company you hired to distribute your book parts ways with a partner then you don’t have a rouge eBook floating around out there with old data. You can sign an exclusive rights agreement with Amazon and manage your own KDP account. This will pay you out the best and give you trackable data. Now, if you change your files you only have one place to do that.
Ok, now for audiobooks…you can produce your own audiobook. I’ll share with you exactly how to do that on another episode in the future. But, you have to have a title on Amazon to work with a company called ACX. In order to upload your recorded eBook file you have to first select the book title and claim you are the author. Next, you will have access to an uploading area to place your files. Once you have met all the criteria there you will be able to sell your audiobook. You just have to first be on Amazon. So, you can see that, for this, you do have to embrace Amazon…for now anyway.

The one thing you will have to also understand about distribution networks is that once you sign an agreement with them, you will now be in direct competition with them to sell your book. They will offer lower pricing than you can produce the book for and will also make it available for prime shipping. I can guarantee you that when you wrap your head around all of this you will either be in tears or shaking your head at the lost income and cost to produce and you’ll wonder why you ever did any of this. This is the defining moment where an author realizes that they are loosing money for every book sold and if you truly understand and get this before you go it then you know the true profit in writing a book most certainly doesn’t come from the sale of it.

It’s unfortunate that it takes a new author going through the entire system to understand the lost revenue and time to produce a book…unless… they realize it was never about selling a book in the first place! So, are you now understanding why I repeatedly say it’s important to align with your reason why you are writing the book in the first place?

Alright guys…I hope I made heads or tails out of some of the pitfalls and benefits of working with Amazon. I do know that much of the environment there is a moving target these days. And, I haven’t even talked about censorship issues. Give that some thought in a digital world! Maybe one day I will actually be able to talk about that without being censored. Unfortunately, it takes far too much work to produce episodes and be a content provider to be shut down for sharing my warranted opinions. Did you even know how few book printers are left in the United States? Here’s a little bit of history I will leave you with on this topic…

The Gutenberg Bibles, which date from the 1450s, are considered the first books printed in the Western world and, although they don't bear the printer's name anywhere in the volumes, are attributed to Gutenberg's first printing efforts. Prior to the invention of the printing press, books existed in codex form. That is, books were hand-copied, and a Bible, for example, would take around two years to produce.

I often wonder if the digital world is taking us backwards. Perhaps will hit on this topic in the future. I do my best to share from the heart but if I shared everything about the strange world we are living in today I’d likely never get a show out in all the censorship. Good grief!

Alright guys…hope you learned something new. I’m off to tend to my hydroponic garden. This planting is all about the herbs. The last one produced far more lettuce than I could consume. Let’s see how I do this time. Enjoy your day!

As always, wishing you peace, love, and light!

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