Typewriting Ninjas . . . or How to Self-Publish your novel through Amazon with Ease

Every aspiring author endures their fair share of rejections.

I turned down multiple traditional publishing contracts for Veilfall, several from ‘big dog’ industry publishing houses, because of personal reasons. I was told (they don’t ask no-names to make changes, they tell you, and if you don’t agree then they don’t care and move on to another author because they have FU money to do so) to make character and story changes I didn’t agree with.

Several stated they really enjoyed the story but wanted me to change certain characters to either biracial or bisexual or both, the politically correct times being as they are today and have been for several years now, to ensure maximum sales and marketing. And other rejections flat out stated, “Thank you, but we already have enough white male voices. Good luck.”

Yup. That’s what we’ve come to these days. Rejected either because you won’t pander to wokeness for meaningless virtue points, or because of the ‘evil’ color of your skin, neither of which has anything to do with writing a good story.

Ironically I’m a fantasy writer, and we enjoy diversity so much we invent our own races!

Anywho . . . so I said screw it and decided to make it on my own.

But I also knew myself willing to put in all the hard work necessary to achieve it.

So here I’ll list the how-to’s as to formatting and self-publishing your novel-to-be through Amazon KDP (which is free) with the least amount of frustration involved.

I’m a fiction author (though I’ve published several nonfiction books) so these ‘rules’ apply to fiction novels.

1. First and foremost: eat some humble pie and don’t be a pretentious douchebag just because you wrote a novel. There’s nothing special about you. You’re the same as the rest of us insignificant bipedal monkeys, only you enjoy writing interesting lies and calling them stories.

2. Don’t bother with expensive writing programs. They are a complete waste of time and money. Use Microsoft Word. It’s all you really need. Plus it contains a handy-dandy editor if you know how to wield it, as well it teaches you about proper novel formatting which is essential if you choose the self-pub route (exampled HERE).

3. Use cream paper for fiction, and white paper for nonfiction.

4. Put your name (or pen name) in the Header of the even number pages, and the title in the Header of the odd number pages.

5. Use the minimal amount of margins to ensure you squeeze every possible word to page. Amazon’s page count guidelines are HERE but in general black ink with white paper has a maximum page count of 828 pages, and black ink with cream paper has a maximum page count of 776 pages. That means your novel cannot exceed either of these page totals (depending on the trim size of your novel, be it 6x9 or 7x10 or whatever you choose).

6. The standard industry font size is no less than 10 point and no more than 12 point. Amazon accepts a minimum of 8 point font, but anything less than 10 point is too tiny and anything more than 12 point is too large. This applies to the main text of your story. Though it’s okay to use larger than 12 point font for your title page.

I prefer 10 point font for the paperback version and 12 point font for the digital version.

7. Use Times New Roman or Courier for the usual copyright page, then something like Garamond (Garamond is widely used for fiction because it is pleasant to read and easy on the eyes and possesses a ‘flow’ from word to word) for the main text of your novel. Or just use Garamond for your entire novel, copyright page included. Though you can use whatever expressive font tickles your fancy for the actual title of your book on its title page.

8. If you don’t have an author website then make one pronto. And ‘advertise’ it by including the address on the bottom of your title page then again on your author’s page at the end of your novel. But don’t make your author website only a promotion page to sell your work. Post actual articles or blogs and provide potential readers something other than just book ads.

9. Always include an Author’s Page as your last page, not only thanking (not fawning; thanking) the reader for their time and purchase but as well asking them (not pleading; asking) to give your book an honest review. Make this pitch short and sweet. And DO NOT FORGET to include this exact link at the end of the Kindle version of your novel:

http://www.Amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/write-a-review.html?asin=***

Well, not this exact link. Remove the ‘***’ at the end and insert your novel’s ASIN with no space between the ‘=’ and your ASIN (you can find your novel’s specific ASIN next to it on your Amazon KDP author bookshelf, or listed on your novel’s Amazon page). What this does is presents your readers with a direct link that they tap and it takes them to Amazon’s review page of your novel. One little tap, a minute of their time, and hopefully they leave your novel a praising review.

Including this link will garner your novel more reviews than any other way short of paying for them — which you shouldn’t.

10. Pay attention to Amazon’s required margins.

Amazon minimum margins per page count:

24 to 150 pages:

Inside (gutter) margins = 0.375” (9.6 mm)

Outside Margins (no bleed) = at least 0.25” (6.4 mm)

Outside Margins (with bleed) = at least 0.375” (9.4 mm)

151 to 300 pages:

Inside (gutter) margins = 0.5” (12.7 mm)

Outside Margins (no bleed) = at least 0.25” (6.4 mm)

Outside Margins (with bleed) = at least 0.375” (9.4 mm)

301 to 500 pages:

Inside (gutter) margins = 0.625” (15.9 mm)

Outside Margins (no bleed) = at least 0.25” (6.4 mm)

Outside Margins (with bleed) = at least 0.375” (9.4 mm)

501 to 700 pages:

Inside (gutter) margins = 0.75” (19.1 mm)

Outside Margins (no bleed) = at least 0.25” (6.4 mm)

Outside Margins (with bleed) = at least 0.375” (9.4 mm)

701 to 828 pages:

Inside (gutter) margins = 0.875” (22.3 mm)

Outside Margins (no bleed) = at least 0.25” (6.4 mm)

Outside Margins (with bleed) = at least 0.375” (9.4 mm)

I’ve found that you may have to adjust these as according to your specific novel. With Veilfall and Jinn (both much longer than average novels) I had to increase their gutters a smidge from Amazon’s suggested ones. You’ll know because after you submit your file then click to read over and approve your novel, it will tell you if your text is inside the margins or not and is allowed publication according to KDP requirements.

Including bleed is for those novels with pictures, but I’m a writer not a photographer so I never had to bother with those.

Before you begin writing your novel, take a few minutes after deciding on its trim size then adjust your Word’s margins to appropriate fit.

11. Understand Amazon’s minimum manufacturing costs.

Amazon uses this formula to figure the cost of your novel: Fixed cost + (page count * per page cost) = printing cost

Or more specifically: $0.85 (fixed cost) + (300 [page count] * $0.012 [per page cost]) = $4.45 (printing cost)

What this means is you start with $0.85, then multiply your novel’s total page count by $0.012, then you add them together and you have the minimum manufacturing cost of your book. But you’ll also have to factor in other things like Amazon’s % cut of profits and whatnot (which is done for you by their convenient calculator during publication preparation) in order to discover the actual minimum price of your novel that you must sell it for.

And know this: adding $1 to the price of your book does no magically net you an extra $1 profit. You only get a % of that added dollar, and Amazon must take their cut from it as well.

This is why it is essential that you include as many words possible onto your pages with the minimal amount of margins, because the more pages your novel is the more the manufacturing cost and thus the higher the minimum price of your novel to your readers once published. And this is why you exclude big framing white margins and smallest trim size.

During the approval process, Amazon provides you a convenient dotted-line border representing their minimum margins. Try to get your main text as close to this dotted-line border as possible by toying with your novel’s margins in Word. It may take you several attempts until you get it correct.

And this should go without saying but I’m saying it anyways: obviously the smaller the trim size of novel, the more pages it will take to fill it with the same amount of text, and more pages = more manufacturing cost = a higher minimum price to sell it.

12. Edit your novel multiple times (I’ve written several blogs on this easy process, one of them HERE) and then order a proof copy and edit that before you even consider publishing.

Don’t just upload your novel then click Publish and assume all is well. Because it’s not. Too many mistakes slip beneath your notice, and I guarantee even though you think you caught and corrected them all, once you have a paperback copy in hand and read it with a meticulous eye from cover to cover you WILL find more mistakes (misspellings, missing or extra commas, paragraphs not indented or too indented, an extra space between words, blah blah blah).

Writers develop bad writing habits, and because of these we stop paying attention to them not only as we type them but also during editing. The change from computer screen to real paper in hand will surprise you as to how many editing mistakes you actually missed.

Once you edit your paperback proof copy with a pen, go back into your novel’s computer file then correct them. Now upload it to Amazon KDP again, and again order another proof copy. Perform another edit, ensuring zero mistakes exist, then and only then do you publish it.

Though the wisest author will order a third proof copy, give it to someone they trust to read it while asking them to circle any possible mistakes they find while doing so, then correct these.

If you don’t take the time to do this then you are doing a great disservice not only to yourself but far more tragic to your potential readers.

Also, pay attention to your novel’s specific files.

Perfect example: I published Veilfall after editing it multiple times same as described above. Then I moved on to spending my time writing its sequel, Jinn, eager to continue the series and get that next novel out soon as possible. Months later I indulged in arrogance and checked Veilfall’s Amazon page to peruse the reviews . . . and to my cringing regret discovered that though all the reviews proved positive, many of the reviews stated though they loved the story they noticed some editing errors and would have afforded my novel a higher rating without them.

Confused, I did some digging and checking and found I’d mistakenly uploaded the wrong version of Veilfall for publishing, having mixed up its files (I have a tendency to make a new file with every edit of my novels, which builds up a stockpile of numerous versions). Instead of uploading the finished and fully edited version, I’d instead accidentally uploaded the previous version still containing several editing mistakes.

After punching myself in the face about a hundred times for my stupidity, I uploaded the true version of Veilfall.

But the damage (however small) was already done, and I can only hope those readers forgive my idiocy.

13. There’s no need to pay for expensive covers unless you want to. I enjoy designing mine, and there are a thousand and one websites that offer royalty-free and public domain pictures for you to use. But here’s the kicker: manipulate the design yourself. Don’t just select a picture then slap it on as the cover and forget about it. Not only is this lazy but it includes zero originality.

Unsplash.com is just one website that offers a ton of royalty-free pictures for you to use (every artist on Unsplash agrees before uploading their work that anyone can use their art commercially for free; Veilfall’s cover is one such work used from Unsplash, by the talented artist Javier Rodríguez Corpa, alias “Jr Korpa” whom I also credited for the lovely cover inside my novel). A million more such websites also exist. Just make sure you choose pictures you are legally allowed to use.

After you decide on the perfect picture(s), load it (them) up into Paint then have some fun while adding your title and name. If you’re unsure how to mix and match pictures, or place text over them, or whatnot, do a simple Google search. It’s not hard and takes only minutes.

Or you can always shell out some cash and pay someone to design your specific cover for you.

There are also sites such as thebookcoverdesigner.com who provide premade novel covers. I’ve never used them yet, relying instead on my own ingenuity and creativeness, but artists will create then upload their work for sale and, once purchased, no one else can buy and use the same book cover because they are one-offs and sold only once. But understand that these premade covers can be expensive, ranging from a little less than $100 to several hundred dollars.

With a quick perusal you’ll see some of these premade covers are beautiful and immaculate . . . and expensive, while some of the least expensive others look childish and cartoony.

It’s up to you which avenue to walk.

14. Take advantage of Amazon’s free book promotion (available only if you enroll your novel in KDP Select . . . which you should). It’s easy to set up.

Every 90 days you are allowed 5 days (they can be separate or combined, up to you) to which you can give away your novel for free. I know, I know, for free? Yes, free. Gaining readers is important and ensures you future sales if your novel is well written and contains a good story.

Use companies like Freebooksy (I have no affiliation with them other than having used them with great success). It will cost you a little bit of money, about $100 to $150 or so depending on your genre, but it’s worth it. Freebooksy will schedule a date for your free promotion then advertise it for you. And readers will download your free novel, read it, and if they enjoy it they will hopefully review it as well tell others to read it.

But know this: the return ratio of reader reviews regardless if they bought your book or got it for free is low and varies to about 10% at most, depending on several factors including how many novels you already have published and as such possess a smaller or larger reader base.

As well you’ll discover a lot of those whom download your free book only did so because it’s free and plenty of them never even get around to reading it.

Fact is people are lazy. And most people who do read your book won’t bother to take the time to review it.

For example: my award-winning fantasy novel Veilfall (which achieved #1 on several of Amazon’s best-seller lists) has thousands of downloads both free and paid, but currently it has less than 70 reviews.

Go figure.

That’s life.

Deal with it.

15. Understand that the marketing of your novel is mostly up to you whether you self-publish or are traditionally published.

Unless you have a strong social media presence (which I don’t because I spend my time writing instead of pretending myself the fake online celebrity) and put more hours into self-promoting your novel than actually writing it, don’t expect that you’ll become famous soon after the release of your novel . . . because you won’t.

Traditional publishers lose money on most of the books they publish. That is fact easily verified through a quick fondling of Google’s naughty search engine. But traditional publishers make these losses up by putting 98% of their marketing behind their proven house authors (such as Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or insert other famous author here), while sparing 2% upon the rest.

This is real life we’re talking about, not some stupid movie. In movies, a writer sits for a couple weeks and writes the Great American Novel then sends it away. A few weeks after that they receive a praising letter of acceptance from a big publisher and a fat check confirming all their dreams come true. Then it’s book tours galore and dinner parties and fans begging for your autograph and movie deals and television shows and all that crap.

Let me burst your bubble: the odds of this happening to you is statistically less than you hitting the lottery after being struck by lightning. Fact is, most writers have second jobs and write in their spare time. We sacrifice friends and family because we nourish a passion few others possess inside and even fewer have the will to achieve it through years of hard work.

Writers don’t write for fame or money (if you do so then you’re in for a rude awakening), we write because expressing our ruling passion to page is a necessary drive inside of us we wish to share.

16. Enrolling your novel in KDP Select is free advertising for your book. But it also restricts you to selling through Amazon alone for 90 days at a time, and you cannot offer the digital version of your novel in any way through anyone else during these 90 days.

If you risk trying and Amazon finds out, they will punish you by banning you from ever publishing or selling through them again, and usually by shutting down your Amazon account. So don’t bother trying to be sneaky and subverting their rules because it’s not worth the cost of getting caught.

The KDP Select program lasts 90 days, after which authors can either choose to opt out of the program or auto-renew for another 90-day commitment.

Though KDP Select does not apply to print books.

17. You can choose Amazon’s Expanded Distribution if you want (and if your novel’s specific trim size allows it; some trim sizes are automatically disqualified), but there’s really not much point. Book retailers view Amazon as their most loathed competition, and though it’s a lovely dream to believe Expanded Distribution will magically get physical copies of your novel into stores and libraries all across the world, it won’t.

Libraries don’t work like that. Go ahead and ask your local librarian.

Book retailers cannot return unsold copes of your Amazon book, and some of them outright refuse to order Amazon-published books even when customers ask them to because they view Amazon as the evil corporate conglomerate slowly crushing their own business.

I don’t blame them.

And neither should you.

Focus on your writing instead.

18. Do not enable Amazon’s DRM (digital rights management) option on your KDP novel. Amazon has their own DRM that they use on all their ebooks, which means you cannot view Kindle books without a Kindle or the Kindle app. You also cannot share books with others by simply copying files over; you must go through Amazon’s lending program, which is limited.

The main advantage to enabling DRM on your ebook is that it adds an extra layer of protection to prevent unauthorized sharing of your copyrighted work. But enabling DRM does not stop all piracy.

Also, what often happens with DRM enabled is that it penalizes the customers of your ebook. Many readers enjoy having access to their digital books on multiple devices, but the DRM can prevent them from having access to the ebook they bought on non-Kindle devices.

This can be annoying to the customer and may even result in lost book sales as some readers will refuse to buy books that are DRM enabled. Choosing not to enable DRM on your Kindle ebook makes it as easy as possible for your customers to access and read your books.

Think long on this option because once you enable DRM on your book Amazon does not allow you to change it. I accidentally enabled DRM on my book ‘Punching Babies: a how-to guide’ out of ignorance when I first published it only to learn later that I did not want it enabled as well that I could not change it.

Lesson learned the hard way.

19. Book sales are less sprint and more marathon, so don’t get discouraged if your book’s sales don’t skyrocket to the moon soon as you click Publish.

Research suggests the average self-published, digital-only book sells about 250 copies in its lifetime. By comparison, the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies.

These numbers may seem dispiriting to some, but they also provide you a base of measured success. Knowing my latest novel already well surpassed such a low base of expectance within its first few days gives me that warm tingly feeling inside my tickled fuzzies while I also know my novel will only continue selling more copies throughout its lifetime.

20. And last but not least, the most important rule: Losers focus on winners, winners focus on winning. Stop focusing on the success of other writers and how many novels they have published and are selling and instead focus on your own writing.

They aren’t you; You are you.

Once you have your novel published and promoted, get to immediate work writing the next one, then the next one, and so on.

To use a turn of phrase, “If you write it, they will read.”

Well, there you have it. Plenty of easy and useful steps to becoming self-published through Amazon — all of which I’ve used to become an award-winning and best-selling author despite being a high school dropout who never learned to type.

There exists a freedom in self-publishing because all of your success is attributed to you and you alone.

But never forget that all the failures are also attributed to you and you alone if you’re not willing to put in the hard work necessary to achieve your dream.

Happy publishing!

adronjsmitley.blogspot.com

How to make plotting your novel as easy as Punching Babies! Amazon: $2.99 digital, $4.99 paperback, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

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Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com

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Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com