This week I will be putting up my second book via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The process is fresh on my mind, and clearly, I felt happy enough with Make Him Room that I am giving this another go. My original goal was to have both books up in December, but I am only so crazy. Here are a few thoughts on why you might consider using KDP to self-publish your ebook.
This is one of my favorite things about the KDP program. Basically, you write and format the book. You upload it. You give Amazon all your bank and contact info. You set the price. You market. You can edit and re-upload a book if you'd like. Your book stays on Amazon, whether you are promoting and/or selling lots of copies or not. The end.
I love the autonomy! I don't have to deal with other people or the layers of people necessary to publish in a traditional house. (The flip side is that I don't GET the benefit of working with talented people.) I can write what I want, when I want it, how I want it, then upload it, price it, and get paid.
If my book doesn't sell well, it falls on me--I didn't write something great or didn't promote well. If I want to change things, I can. I hold all the cards. For control freaks, this can be a really lovely reason to self-publish.
With a traditional deal through a publishing house, you end up with something like a 15% commission on your book sales. At best. There are a vast host of other people that have to get paid from your book, from agents to editors to the actual printers. If you got an up-front royalty (not flat fee), then you will only start earning per book once you have sold enough books to equal out that royalty. (More on that and the distinctions between how you can get paid here.)
While you might get a royalty or sort of signing bonus, don't think of that as some fat paycheck. Unless they really think your book is going to blow up, or the publishers know from experience you have a following, you will be getting something fairly small. For a first-time author, think anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000.
That's more than I made on my first book I self-published. But I made somewhere around $600 just in the month of December via commissions. If you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, you get 70%. (Amazon clearly wants to encourage ebook prices to stay in that range.) My advent book will probably not sell outside of Christmas--though next year I hope to make money again in December! That money will be 70% of sales. Hopefully my other books that aren't as time-sensitive will sell over a period, not just in one month.
While you miss out on an advance with KDP, you can feel the satisfaction of knowing you are getting the majority of each sale. Plus, I know from many authors with traditional publishing deals that more than ever, you are responsible for a large part of your own marketing. I personally would rather market and get 70% than market and get 15%. The numbers don't break down that simply, but still--that difference means a lot to me.
You Can't Find a Home with a Publishing House
There is a process to getting published. There are a lot of rules. Talent is required, but throw in a dash of good luck and random other factors. If you question the luck and random factors, realize that people like J.K. Rowling have dealt with rejection. Stephen King's first novel was rejected 30 times. Sometimes that reader gets it wrong, and sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they project a book will really sell, and then it tanks. (Like Arnold Schwarzenegger's memoir, for which he was paid millions and sold very poorly.) There are tons of amazing books out there that don't sell well, and tons of terribly-written books that sell millions. Talent is not the only thing that moves copies or gets you a deal.
Maybe you really want to write, but it's just not your jam. Maybe you want to write, are good at writing, but the water is too risky for a house to take a chance on you. Maybe you want to write, are good at writing, but your manuscript just happens to not be as good as it needs to be. There are any number of reasons that you can't get a deal. Self-publishing might help prolong the delusion of people who don't write well (but think they do) or it might give someone really talented an outlet for a work that can't find a home with a house. It can take years to get one book published with a house, and while you are waiting for those rejection (or acceptance!) letters, your book could have instead been moving digital copies.
You Don't Want to Find a Home with a Publishing House
Traditional publishing has been really in trouble the past few years. (JA Konrath has a great blog with lots of details on this--from a particular viewpoint, of course.) Maybe you see the impending collapse or don't believe in the system. Maybe you don't want to wait a year or more to find a home for your book. Maybe you don't want someone else meddling with it and want more control. Maybe you are a rebel. In any case, if you don't think a traditional house deal is what you want, then KDP or another self-pub program is perfect for you.
You Hope to Find a Home with a Publishing House
For some authors, self-publishing garners attention that might result in a book deal. A house can see your following, see your numbers, and realize the potential you already have. This takes out some of that risk for them, in that they see results before they pay you. Self-publishing can get your name out there and get you noticed. A certain bestselling series from this past year started as fan-fiction published online and resulted in a deal. It can happen.
Then again, it might not. I doubt that not selling well via self-publishing would make a house NOT want you, but who knows. I think that this would tend to work in your favor rather than against you, but I haven't heard anything from the other side of this.
You write a book. You format or pay for someone to format. You click upload. Your book appears on Amazon and sells. You get paychecks.
There are many more parts to this, and as someone who formatted myself, I will say that it's a huge pain. But compared to years ago, when if you wanted to publish your own book you would have to pay up front costs for printing, this is a fast and easy way to get your work out there. You don't have to deal with the maintenance of a site or figure out sales tax or mail the book yourself with KDP. Amazon sells the book through their site. You type, point, and click. I paid nothing for my ebook, save time and sweat and tears and maybe a little blood.
As I've already touched on, traditional publishing can take years. My first manuscript, a dark YA novel, took basically three years and did not end in publication. First, you write the book. This will take the same amount of time no matter what method of publishing you choose. But whereas something like KDP involves pointing and clicking, traditional publishing involves a lot of letter-writing. And a LOT of waiting.
First you find the right agent to send your book to. Then you write a query letter to see if that agent wants to look at your book. Then you wait a few months. If you hear yes, then you send a manuscript and wait another few months. If they say yes, then you will probably have to edit and polish, then wait while that agent sends out your manuscript to publishers. Then you wait to hear yes or no. If you get a no anywhere along this path, start again. Do you see how this could take years?
I had the benefit of garnering an agent through a grad school contact, so I bypassed a few steps. But STILL the process took months from the time the agent and I spoke on the phone and the time she told me that all the publishers liked it, but wouldn't buy it. I think it was 9 months. I could have had a baby. I could have had 9 months of sales on Amazon. Quick turnaround looks better and better, right?
Gaining a Following (or Capitalizing on One You Have)
If you hope to publish traditionally or grow your name (or brand), this is a great method for doing that. I have started to get emails from those who read my ebook and found my email address in the back. I love this! I am growing my potential readership outside of people I know to those who have no idea who I am. If I get more readers, then I might get more blog followers. Which in turn could get me more readers. Getting your name and work out there, especially on a site like Amazon, can really help to grow your readers and supporters.
If you already have followers through some social media outlet like Twitter or a blog, you can publish a book to capitalize on that. You can't expect them ALL to buy your book, but if you have a blog with a pretty solid following, chances are that your people will buy your book because they read your blog. Plus you have built-in promotional tools already at hand!
What Do You Have to Lose?
This was the reason that I took the plunge. I would still like a traditional deal someday, I think. Maybe only for my fiction, which I hold in a different regard from my non-fiction. The projects I am self-publishing are important to me and about important things, yet I feel like I'm losing nothing by putting them out there by myself. The worst that can happen is that I won't make a lot of money.
I'm not making any money at all with those books sitting in my computer as a Word document. I'm not growing a following with them stuck in a file somewhere. I may not land a traditional deal or a make a ton of cash, but my work will be available to people--something I cannot say when my work is saved on my Desktop.
How does this sound to you? If you're a writer and have tried self-publishing or had a traditional deal, weigh in! If you are sitting there staring at your Word document that's been rejected 10 times, what do you have to lose?