Publishing

A Step-by-Step Guide to Publishing on Kindle

I’ve been meaning to put together a step-by-step guide to publishing a book on Kindle for a while now and, since I just released a box set of my two fairytale retellings (I’ll just leave this link here!), I thought I’d take the opportunity to grab a few screenshots.

My aim here is to just show you the basics, but I’m going to throw in a couple of little tips and shortcuts that have been very helpful for me. As with anything I say on this blog, I recommend that you just take anything that you find useful and ignore the rest! If you’re already publishing your own books, you’ll almost certainly know all of this, and have my full blessing to wander off and find something else to do. If not, grab yourself a cup of tea and get comfy, because this guide is for you!

You will need:

  • Your finished book! This document should be in .doc or .docx (Microsoft Word) format, or .rtf, and should include any extras (like an author’s note, or information about your other books) as well as the book itself. Note that I’m assuming your book is a novel or novella, or something else that’s just text. Images and tables and so on are a little more complicated, and outside the scope of this guide.
  • Your cover. This should be a .jpg or .tiff image. (I recommend hiring a professional designer to make one, unless you happen to be a professional designer, but I know this isn’t in everyone’s budget. I’m currently putting together a post about free and low-cost alternatives, so stay tuned!)
  • A short description of your book. This is what will appear on the book’s Amazon page, so it needs to appeal to readers without giving away too much of the plot.
  • Your bank details. So you can receive your royalties! You’ll need your bank’s IBAN number and your BIC or SWIFT code. These should be somewhere on your bank statement.
  • Your tax identification number. You’ll be asked to complete something called a “tax interview” – not as scary as it sounds!

Ready? Great! Let’s do this.

Step 1: Formatting your document

Ebook formatting used to create a lot of headaches in the early days of self-publishing, and required a lot of messing about in Word to create bookmarks and tables of contents—all calculated, if I may misquote Jane Austen, to keep one in a continual state of inelegance. Fortunately, there are now free tools available that mean you can skip most of that!

There is, however, one quick thing I do want to do to the document, which is to turn all my chapter titles into Headings. Here’s my document open in Word, with one of these titles (“Prologue” – I’m not much for inventive chapter names!) highlighted:

As you can see, there’s a button above that marked “Heading 1”. Clicking that turns the word “Prologue” into a heading. It may also change the size, colour and font, but that doesn’t matter—turning the book into an ebook will change all of those things anyway.

I do this to all the chapter titles, as well as the titles of any other sections. For instance, this ebook is actually a collection of two novels, so I’ve put in a title page for each of the individual novels and made those titles into headings. That way, someone can easily navigate to the beginning of one of the books, as well as to each chapter.

You can see this in action within Word. Click the “View” tab at the top of the screen, then check the box for “Navigation Pane”:

And you’ll see a list of all your headings. Click on one, and you’ll go to that part of your document.

I like to use this list to make sure I’ve turned all the titles into headings. If there’s a chapter missing from the list, you’ve skipped one!

If you don’t use Word, and your word processor doesn’t have a Headings function, don’t panic. There’s a way round this, which I’ll explain in a minute.

Step 2: Creating an ebook

The tool I use for this step is part of Draft2Digital, which is actually an ebook distribution platform. That is, you can upload your book to their site and they’ll distribute it to ebook retailers for you, in return for a percentage.

You can have them distribute to Amazon for you, but I don’t recommend that—partly because it’s pretty easy to upload a book to Amazon yourself (as I’m about to show you) without losing that percentage of your royalties, and partly because doing it yourself is the only way to get access to features like Amazon Advertising and Kindle Unlimited. But I have used D2D’s service (and been very happy with it) to reach other retailers like Apple and Barnes & Noble. And, honestly, if you’re overwhelmed by the whole self-publishing thing, you might feel that a small percentage of your royalties is a reasonable price to pay for getting a little extra help, in which case D2D could be a good choice for you. (It’s definitely better than paying a “self-publishing service”, which are often vanity publishers in disguise.)

For now, though, we’re just going to make use of D2D’s free ebook conversion tool. As I’m writing this, D2D allows people to use this to create files for any purpose they want, although you should probably confirm that they haven’t changed anything before you use it yourself. Here’s their FAQ page, and what it currently says:

Can I use the converted epub anywhere else? Yes. Anywhere. Most other ebook conversion and distribution services will limit the ways you can use the books they make for you. At Draft2Digital, we're proud of our products and confident in our service. Feel free to download your proof copy and use it however you want.

And their Terms of Service:

You, the author: Are and will remain the owner of your books and all rights to them; Draft2Digital has a right to commissions, but has no claim to the copyright or ownership in your books. You are the owner of the ebook files Draft2Digital creates.

Assuming everything is still A-okay, go ahead and click that big red “Sign Up” button and create an account.

Once you’re logged in, click “My Books”:

Then “Add New Book”:

The first page you’ll see is the Details page. Note that you have to fill in most of the fields (those marked with an asterisk), but what you actually put in them doesn’t really matter if you’re not going to use D2D for distribution. Just be sure to put your title and author name in properly, so that you can tell your books apart in the future!

the "edit book" screen on D2D, with fields including title, series, language and description

To upload your book, click the “Browse” button near the top of the page:

Select your file, and it will upload. Once the upload has finished, click “Save & Continue” at the bottom of the page to advance to the Layout page.

Here, you can upload your cover—again, by clicking the “Browse” button and locating your cover file.

Below that, you’ll see two columns. Ignore the one headed “Add End Matter?” The features here are very clever, but require further set-up that’s not really worth doing just to get the converted file we want, which is why I suggest adding any extras to the document itself before starting.

You’ll want to take a careful look at “Chapter Layout”, though. Hopefully, what you’ll see there is a list of all the headings you made in Step 1:

the chapter layout section, showing a list of chapter names

If not, click the “Help! These aren’t my chapters!” button.

D2D will mull things over for a little while…

the "improper chapter detection" loading screen

And then you’ll see something like this:

the "improper chapter detection" screen, showing four automatically-generated lists of chapter names

You’ll see that D2D has analysed the formatting in the document and come up with some guesses about what formatting I might have used to mark out my chapter titles from the rest of the text. If it’s not “Header 1” (which in this case it is), maybe it’s “Centered, Larger Text” or “Centered” or  “Bold, Larger Text”. Have a look through those lists and see if any of them are a correct list of your chapters. If not, go back and check your document—you may have missed formatting one of your titles, or applied the formatting to something that isn’t a title by mistake.

(Psst… Remember when I mentioned a workaround for people who don’t have Word? This is it! If you can’t make headers, D2D will still be able to identify your chapter titles if you format them consistently, and differently to the rest of your text. So, for example, you could make all of them bold and centered—just as long as you don’t have any other text in your book that’s also bold and centered.)

If one of these options is correct, select it then click “Submit”. If you need to make changes to your document, make sure you save it when you’re done, then go back to “Details” and re-upload it, and try again.

Once your chapter list is correct, click “Save & Continue” again to move on to the Preview page, where you’ll see a preview of your book. This is a fun bit: you get to style your book! Experiment with the options under “Choose a Style” until you find something you like. I’m partial to “Maraschino”, myself.

a preview of my book in D2D's "maraschino" style. There's a list of style choices in the sidebar.

 

 

Once you’ve settled on a style, it’s time to download your converted ebook file! Kindles read a file type called a “mobi”—which is just a file that ends with .mobi, in the same way that Word documents end with .doc or .docx. Click the “Download Mobi” button:

And a .mobi file will download. (This is what that looks like on Chrome—if you use a different browser, like Internet Explorer, your downloads may look a little different.)

If you own a Kindle, you can use it to open your file and take a look at it. I do this using email: here are some instructions for doing that if you use Amazon.com, and here are some for Amazon.co.uk.

You can also open it using your computer. I do this using the Kindle PC app, which you can download here for Amazon.com and here for Amazon.co.uk. Here’s my book open in the PC app:

It’s important to check your ebook for errors, so that it doesn’t get rejected during the publishing process or earn bad reviews from disappointed readers. I like to check that the table of contents at the beginning of the book is working (the links go to the right chapters) and that any other links (e.g. to my other books) go where they’re supposed to. You should also do a final proofread, if you haven’t already.

If you find any problems, fix them in your Word document, then complete the conversion process on D2D again and do another check. I won’t lie to you, this part miiiiiiight cause you to break out some of your favourite swear words, if you’re that way inclined (one of my links actually was broken), but it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

If everything looks good, pat yourself on the back and make another cup of tea—the hard part’s over!

Step 3: Publish on KDP

The self-publishing arm of Amazon is called Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Publishing through KDP makes your ebook available to purchase on the Amazon websites as well as from Kindle devices and the Kindle app. It doesn’t make your ebook available in other places, such as the Apple store. (Although people with Apple devices can still buy Kindle books through the Kindle app.)

As a self-publisher, you can make your books available in other stores—whether directly or by using D2D, as I mentioned above. KDP is a good place to start, though, because most people find that they sell more ebooks on KDP than anywhere else.

To get started, go to kdp.amazon.com. If you already have an Amazon account, you can use that to log in. If not, you’ll need to create one.

I’ve had my account for ages, so I can’t show you screenshots of the setup process, but you’ll be prompted to enter some personal info. (If this doesn’t happen, or if you need to take a break and finish entering your info later, there’s a link at the top of the screen, [Your name]’s Account, that will let you update your details.)

It’s mostly pretty self-explanatory, but here are a couple of tips:

Bank details: I recommend getting your royalties paid by bank transfer rather than cheque, if you live in one of the countries where this option is available. (See this page for details.) If you choose to be paid by cheque, you’ll only receive royalties once you’ve met a certain threshold, which could take a while when you’re starting out. (Especially since those thresholds are per-country, not overall. ) Also, you may be charged by your bank to pay in cheques in foreign currencies. (With direct deposit, Amazon converts to your local currency so you won’t get charged.)

Tax interview: Here’s Amazon’s guidance on completing the tax interview. Don’t worry, you won’t actually be interviewed by a person, you just have to answer some questions and provide your tax ID number. (This may be called something else depending on where you are and your circumstances—scroll down to the bottom of the Amazon guidance for more.) Amazon needs to do this to make sure you’re taxed properly.

The good news for UK publishers is that there’s a tax treaty between the US and the UK that means Amazon won’t withhold 30% of your royalties the way it otherwise would, although obviously you’ll still need to pay UK tax on it if applicable. Very important note: nothing I say here should be taken as tax or financial advice. Even if I were qualified for that, which I definitely am not, you should probably never take that sort of advice from someone wearing Cookie Monster pajamas in the middle of the afternoon, which I definitely am.

Moving swiftly on, I expect you’d quite like to publish a book now. You can do that by clicking on “Bookshelf” at the top of the screen:

You’ll then have the option to create a Kindle ebook or paperback. We’re just doing the Kindle book for now, so I’ll click where it says “+ Kindle eBook”.

the "create a new title" section of the KDP dashboard, showing "kindle ebook" and "paperback" choices

If you want to do a paperback, you’ll have the option to add that once your ebook is published, but I’ll have to cover that another time.

There are three steps to the KDP publishing process, and you can see at a glance which ones you’ve completed. (As you can see, I didn’t think to take this screenshot until I’d done them all!)

the three sections, "kindle ebook details", "kindle ebook content" and "kindle ebook pricing" all marked as complete

The Details page is quite straightforward, and most sections have little explanatory notes that you can see if you put your cursor over the underlined text:

screenshot showing the text that appears if you hover over the question "what are publishing rights?"

Some sections will be marked “Optional” and you can skip all of these unless you’re sure you need them. However, I strongly recommend that you enter some keywords in the Keywords section.

Keywords are words or phrases that people might search for when they’re looking for books like yours. For instance, I put in “beauty and the beast” as one of mine, because one of the two books in this collection is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

As with most things in self-publishing, it’s possible to spend a lot of time trying to work out the best way to do this, and a lot of competing theories about how you can use keywords to sell as many books as possible. If this intrigues you, it’s worth researching! For beginners trying to keep things simple, though, a quick read of this page will tell you all you need to know.

Note that there’s no point in putting your own name or the title of your book in there. People searching for those will find it anyway! What’s great about keywords is that they make it easier for people who haven’t heard about your book yet to stumble across it.

Once you’ve completed the Details page, click “Save and Continue” to move on to the Content page. This is where we’ll upload the ebook file and the cover.

As you can see, there’s an option to enable Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is something that KDP can add to your file to make it harder to copy, which is meant to discourage pirating. It’s basically a matter of your personal philosophy. My feeling is that people who want to pirate will find a way around the DRM, so all it really does is make it harder for people who’ve legally bought the ebook to copy it for their own use. That’s just an opinion, though, and you should do whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Click the yellow “Upload eBook manuscript” button and find the .mobi file you downloaded from D2D.

While the file is processing, scroll down and upload your cover file, too. You’ll need to choose “Upload a cover you already have” before the Upload button appears.

The other option—using KDP’s Cover Creator—is one way of getting a free cover, but I don’t recommend it because the covers it produces don’t look very professional. (Again, I’m putting together a list of alternatives, so stay tuned!)

Here’s the page with both files successfully uploaded:

There are only two optional fields on this page: “ISBN” and “Publisher”. ISBNs are book identification numbers, which Kindle books don’t need (and, depending on where you are, they can be expensive to buy). If you’ve opted to set up your own publishing company you can put the name of it in the Publisher box—but, if you’ve done that, you’re more advanced as a self-publisher than I am and probably shouldn’t still be here! Again, if you’re a beginner, I suggest just leaving these blank.

This page also offers a final opportunity to check how your finished ebook will look, and I recommend taking it. (Becoming heartily sick of the sight of your own work is an integral part of the publishing process!) Click the white “Launch Previewer” button.

And you’ll see your book on a virtual Kindle:

Again, just check that all the links do what they’re supposed to, and that all the formatting still looks good. It’s much better for you to catch any problems now than for readers to catch them later.

Once you’re happy with everything, click “Book Details” in the top-left corner to exit the previewer, then “Save and Continue” to move on to the Pricing page.

Here, you have a few more choices to make. Again, a lot of people put a lot of research into these decisions, but here are the basics.

KDP Select: By enrolling your book in Select, you’re signing a contract that says you won’t publish the ebook (this doesn’t apply to paperbacks) anywhere other than Amazon for 90 days. In return, you get a few perks—the biggest of which is that your books are included in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription service.  Read more here. This is probably one of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make as a self-publisher, and really merits a post of its own so I won’t try to tackle it here. If you choose to enrol but change your mind, you have three days to cancel before you’re locked in for the full 90 days. If you choose not to enrol initially, you can come back and tick the box to enrol at any time, as long as the ebook still isn’t available anywhere else.

Territories: You only need to worry about this if you’ve sold some of the rights to your book, or if you have some other reason for publishing in particular territories. If you own all the rights and want to publish your book worldwide, choose “All territories (worldwide rights)”.

Royalty and Pricing: “Royalty” refers to the percentage of a book’s sale price you’ll receive. In a nutshell, you’ll get 70% of the sale price if a book is priced between US$2.99 and $9.99 or £1.99 and £9.99 in the UK (more detail and currencies here). At higher or lower prices, you get 35%. Some people make sure to price high enough to get the higher royalty, others bank on selling lots more books at a lower price (usually $0.99/£0.99) to make up the difference. This is another tough choice, but you might like to start by looking at the prices of books similar to yours on Amazon.

Matchbook: This allows you to offer your ebook at a lower price to people who’ve bought a print copy. I usually enable this, but I haven’t noticed it making a difference to sales one way or another, so I’m going to say go with your gut on this one!

Book lending: Allows people to “lend” their copy of your ebook to someone else (more info here). If your book is in Select, you have to enable this. If not, you can choose. Again, I don’t think this makes much of a difference to me and it’s nice for readers to have that option, so I prefer to enable it, but it’s up to you!

Finally (yes, finally!) you’ll be asked to confirm that you’ve read the terms and conditions before you click the shiny yellow “Publish” button.

a button marked "publish your kindle ebook"

Publish that book!

Woohoo!

a popup message that says "your kindle ebook has been submitted. congratulations!"

 

You’ve reached the end of the process—and almost, you’ll be relieved to hear, this blog post. If you go back to your Bookshelf, you’ll see that the book’s status is now “In Review”.

Keep an eye on your email inbox. Soon (well, within 72 hours according to this page, but usually less. This time it took about three and a half hours) you’ll get an email confirming that your book is now available in the store.

And that’s it. Congratulations, you just self-published a book! (Or, at least, read a very long blog post about self-publishing a book, which is also to be commended.)

That’s all from me for now. If you found this post helpful, you might like to sign up to be notified of new posts using the box in the sidebar—or maybe even buy a book! I’ll be back soon, hopefully with a less complicated post. Until then, happy publishing, internet friends!