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How to Copyright Your Book – Fast ׀ Jericho Writers

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Mobi vs Epub: Which Ebook Format Is Best For You ׀ Jericho Writers


Mobi vs Epub vs PDF

The battle of the ebook formats.

You’ve written a book. What you have is a massive Word document and you can’t wait for the world to read it.

Only now it seems that ebooks are a totally different kind of beast from Word. You have to start converting your Word document to some other file format, and you don’t know which one to pick. And you don’t know how to do it.

Well, relax. It’s all easy.

What is a Mobi file? What is an Epub?

When you think about it, an ebook is a bit like a special sort of webpage: a way to get text and images to appear on screen.

The most universal and flexible ebook file format is the EPUB. Those kind of files can:

  • Fit the text to whatever device you are using
  • Handle text-to-speech
  • Offer a pagination-type experience
  • Changes in font size and type
  • Handle embedded images
  • Permit highlighting and bookmarking
  • And plenty more

And what is a Mobi file? It is the same thing, in almost every respect. The only differences between a mobi file and an epub file is that the MOBI file:

  • Is an Amazon proprietary standard
  • Allows Amazon to control your ebook from afar – and in particular,
  • Mobi files have embedded “digital rights management” (DRM) that allow Amazon to restrict your mobi files only to devices that are associated with your Amazon account.

In short, epub and mobi files are basically indistinguishable to users – with the exception that mobi files are kept within Amazon’s walled garden.

What file format should you choose for your ebook?

When you are choosing your file format, you basically need to answer the question of where you want to sell your ebooks. Here are your choices:

  1. Only Amazon
  2. Apple and Kobo and everyone else except Amazon
  3. All e-stores – Amazon, and Apple, and everyone else

Now, there are basically two smart choices there, and one dumb one.

The dumb choice is to sell your book with Apple and Kobo and all the rest, but not with Amazon. How come? Because Amazon (depending on what stats you look at) accounts for about 75-85% of all ebooks sold in the United States. Their dominance of the UK market is somewhat similar. Only in Canada and some other minor markets does Amazon have anything less than an absolute lock on the market.

So, OK, you’re definitely going to sell your ebook on Amazon. And Amazon only works with mobi files. So you’re going to have to create a mobi file. Fine.

But are you going to be exclusive to Amazon? Or sell via Apple and everyone else as well?

Now that sounds like a dumb question, right? You might assume that you just want to be selling books in as many places as possible.

Except if you agree to sell your work exclusively through Amazon, you get to participate in Kindle Unlimited (KU). If KU subscribers borrow a book and read it, you will be entitled to a payment based on the total number of pages read. Loads of indie authors report that KU income is as large as regular sales royalties, or even more.

Other indies (who prefer to be ‘wide’ rather than exclusive) prefer to sell through as many stores as possible.

Without getting into the weeds on that argument here, you’ll end up deciding between two options:

  • Amazon Exclusive: You are only selling through Amazon. You need a Mobi file and nothing else.
  • Selling Everywhere: You’re selling everywhere, so you need both a mobi file and an epub.

Just to be clear, you can easily create both a mobi file and an epub file from the same Word document.


Before you create your Mobi / Epub file

Before you create your ebook file, you just need to make sure that your Word document is in good shape to convert. That means three things:

  1. Your text needs to be (very largely) free of typos and other errors
  2. Your document needs to be consistently formatted
  3. You need to put together front- and end-material that will support your ebook marketing

I’ll talk just a bit more about those things.

Text should be free of typos

If you are preparing to self-publish, it’s not enough just to tell a good story. Your text needs to be free of spelling and punctuation mistakes, accidental typos, messy formatting and other issues.

Even if you’re naturally very attentive to these things (and most authors aren’t), you will need a second pair of eyes finding those typos and correcting the errors. If you know someone who can do this for you (an English teacher friend, a librarian, or whatever), then you should definitely take that route. But if in doubt, pay for a professional copyeditor – such as our own copy editing services. These days, a badly proofed book stands next to no chance of selling.

Consistent formatting

When you convert your document from Word to Epub / mobi, the converter will scan your document and look for major headings and sub-headings. So if all your chapter headings (whether numbers or titles) are formatted the same way, the converter is almost certain to find them and render them correctly. If your chapter headings are a mish-mash of different font sizes, caps and lowercase, bold and not bold, then the converter will almost certainly have no idea how to structure your document. You can read up on how to format your manuscript, here.

So the message is simply – be consistent. Use a consistent font size and format for your major headings, and the converter should be able to do the rest. Simple.

Support your ebook marketing

Remember that your Word document will form the basis of your ebook. And remember that your ebook can basically be divided into three slices:

  1. The front “Look Inside” part of the ebook
  2. Your text itself
  3. The bit after the actual end of your story

It’s pretty obvious what your text has to do: it has to dazzle readers and blow their brains.

But you need to remember that the front part of your book should be all about converting a possible reader. So if someone comes to your Amazon page and hits the “Look Inside” button, you want to present them with material that makes them most likely to convert. So don’t fill it with long author’s notes and thanks to friends. You want to include a few positive messages about your book and then leave plenty of room for text. All the boring stuff can live at the back of the book.

And that leaves end matter. When a reader finishes your book, you want them to complete three actions. You want them to review the book they’ve just read. You want them to buy the next one. And you want them to give you their email address in exchange for a reader magnet of some kind.

I’m not going to get into detail here – this jumbo post on self-publishing does that – but just remember: an ebook is not a print book. Your document needs to look forward to the ebook it wants to become.

Oh, and if you want to know more about building your author brand, then check out this article.

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How to create a Mobi file

The easiest way to create a mobi file is … just upload your Word document to Amazon, via your KDP dashboard. Amazon will handle the conversion for you.

Once Amazon has completed the conversion, it’ll ask you if you want to preview your ebook. And you do! Every page.

If there is a formatting error, a slipped heading, a page break in the wrong place, now is your time to catch it. If you do find an error, you need to rework your Word document, then re-upload it. Continue that process until all your errors are fixed.

And one other thing: when you preview your ebook, you need to do so using a variety of different device / font settings. Because pagination varies from device to device, a faulty page break may not show up on one view. You may only find it when you switch from one font setting to another.

In essence, though, creating a mobi file is simplicity itself. Step one: write a book. Step two: ask one of the world’s largest tech companies to do the fiddly stuff for you. Step three: become a kindle bestseller.


How to create an EPUB file

You can’t ask Amazon to create an Epub file for you, because Amazon doesn’t work with them. You have a couple of alternatives here.

One, if you are an Apple user, you use Vellum – a very easy to use and beautiful formatting tool. Everyone who uses it, loves it. It comes very highly recommended.

For people in PC-world, I generally recommend that you use Draft2Digital, which has a very easy to use – and free – conversion tool. The principle here is exactly the same as with the Amazon / mobi conversion process above, so just repeat that same basic exercise.

And that’s it.

It takes maybe three minutes to convert your files, assuming that your Word document was in shape to start with. Easy right?

Epub vs mobi vs PDF

Older posts used to include the PDF file format in a discussion of ebooks. But you know what? PDFs aren’t ebooks. They’re fine for corporate brochures and that kind of thing, but for a responsive reading experience, you need the flexibility of an epub or mobi file.

So, please, just forget the PDF. It has no place in this discussion.


And that’s it! The question isn’t really mobi vs epub, because you’ll quite likely need both. They’re simple to create, and the creation process comes free. The main thing to think about, in fact, is getting the raw material – your Word document – in shape first.

Good luck with the process. Happy editing. Happy converting. And, most of all, happy publishing.

About the author:

Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.) 

(You can read more about Harry here and here, and more about his books here).

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How Tim O’Rourke became a Kindle bestseller

header 22 became kindle bestseller

How Tim O’Rourke became a Kindle bestseller

Publishing direct via Kindle is increasingly becoming a sensible option for new writers. Guest author and blogger, Tim O’Rourke, succeeded in becoming a #1 bestseller within his category by taking that exact route. In just four months, he has sold 40,000 books after manuscript feedback from us, and sales are still increasing. Here is his story.

My name is Tim O’Rourke. Recently my ebooks have really taken off, and on this blog, I’m going to tell you how I did it – what I’m discovering – and how you can do it, too.

I’ve only been self-publishing my books for the last ten months. If I really think about it though, that short space of time has been tough, fun, exciting and sometimes surreal. Like many aspiring writers, over the years I’ve had my fair share of knock backs from agents and never got close to even getting any of my books in front of a publisher. But, I never stopped writing and that’s the most important thing. I kept on writing because I just loved doing it.

Last February I was bought a Kindle for my birthday. I didn’t want one as I loved books. I loved the feel of them, the smell of them and the noise of the pages being turned over. Nevertheless, I switched it on and started downloading and downloading and reading and reading and downloading and reading – you get the picture and rightly or wrongly, I haven’t bought a paper version of a book since.

In March, I happened across an article on the internet regarding self-publishing your own books onto the Kindle to be sold on Amazon. Intrigued by this and with a fair amount of hesitation (what if I didn’t sell any?) and the numerous articles on the internet telling you that you shouldn’t self-publish on the Kindle as it’s killing the publishing industry, and self-published authors on the Kindle are lucky if they sell more than 150 copies, and although Amazon offer an attractive 70% royalty programme, 70% of nothing (the amount of books you will sell) is still nothing, I thought I would give it a go. What did I have to lose? I would have been happy to sell 50 books as that meant I’d shared my stories with 50 more people than I had previously.

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So with very little effort and totally free of charge, I uploaded my first book Doorways onto the Kindle, which meant it was available as an ebook on Amazon in the UK, US, Canada and Australia. The original cover was designed by a friend. The book was a fantasy adventure aimed at 14 – 16-year-old boys. I set the price low at 99 cents (77p). Why so low? Two reasons, I thought that as a self-published and unknown author it was more important for me to find a readership for my work than to make money. Secondly, I have two teenage sons who, believe it or not, have never walked into a music store and bought a CD. Every piece of music they buy, they download for 79p from the iTunes store. The Apps and games that they download are never more than £1.00. So, as I was aiming my book at a similar age group and my books were going to be downloadable, it made sense to me to set the price of my books at the same levels as equivalent media that my own children were downloading.

With my book on Amazon, I waited to see what would happen. Not a lot. After initial copies that were snapped up by friends and family, the book just kind of sat there. Undeterred, I uploaded another book that I had just finished writing. This book was called Black Hill Farm, a psychological thriller with a paranormal twist aimed at the YA market (16 plus). Again, I got my friend to design a cover, and I uploaded to Amazon. This did a little better and I sold about 65 copies in the first few weeks and a few more copies of ‘Doorways. Pleased by my progress (hey, I was halfway to that magic 150 number!), I wrote a follow up book to Black Hill Farm called Andy’s Diary. I put this out about six weeks later and my sales crept up again and I think I sold about another 50 copies. (Happy days as I had passed the magic 150!)

The problem is, there are over 600,000 books available to download on the Kindle so how do I make mine stand out? I’m competing with books promoted by massive publishing houses – my books must compete with thousands of traditionally published books!

optional header 22 became kindle bestseller

So, with a little bit of money I had earnt as overtime from my day job (£80), I invested in some Facebook ads. With a very small budget compared to the big publishing houses, I knew I had to spend my money wisely. I therefore targeted young adults aged between 16 and 21 years, who had a Kindle, and read authors in the same genre that I was writing in. You pay per ‘click’ and you can set the price. I set mine as low as possible – I think about 12p per ‘click’. Every time someone ‘Clicked’ on my add it took them to my book on Amazon and Facebook took 12p. Just because someone ‘Clicks’ doesn’t meant that they will buy your book. I tried to make my blurb as enticing as possible, and with my prices low and what I hoped was a pretty good cover, some of those people did buy my book and my overall sales for one month went to about 200.

I soon realised that once people had read Black Hill Farm, they then downloaded Andy’s Diary, book two. Then, if they liked them perhaps they would download Doorways. So, one book was then selling two other books, if that makes sense. I realised that one way of growing a greater readership was having more books available. About the same time, I discovered book bloggers and these people are awesome. Just like you and me, they have a passion for reading and reviewing the books on their blogs.

I researched some bloggers that reviewed books in the genre that I write in (YA paranormal romance) and emailed them. I offered them a free copy of my ebook ‘Black Hill Farm’ for a review. It’s risky because they might hate the book and you get a bad review, but again, what did I have to lose? I emailed about twenty-five different bloggers and a few got back to me and offered to do a review.

While this was going on, I started writing the Kiera Hudson series, again another set of books aimed at the YA market. Kiera Hudson is a feisty twenty-year-old new police recruit who has the wonderful knack of solving crimes that others can’t, especially when it comes to vampires and all other things paranormal.

Eventually my £80 marketing budget dried up, and although my sales had increased to anywhere between 150 – 200 a month, I couldn’t tell if this was due to the bloggers, the Facebook adds or if my books were spreading by word of mouth. I had started to sell books in the US and I knew this wasn’t friends or family who were buying them.

Then one day, just before releasing the first book in my Kiera Hudson series, I googled my own name and the title of my book ‘Black Hill Farm’ and I was surprised that it was being mentioned on blogs that I hadn’t even contacted. It was also being mentioned on a website called Goodreads. I’d never heard of it. It’s a site where avid readers and writers review books, join communities and talk about authors, etc. I was surprised to see that my book and been put on the virtual bookshelves of members of the site and some had mentioned that they had seen my book on Facebook – so I knew that in some way, my £80 had been well spent.

I joined the site and created a blog which I connected to my own books. I put the first Kiera Hudson book out in July and then something exciting started to happen. In August, I had my best month ever and sold approx. 400 books. Then, in September, something truly amazing happened and I sold just under 1,000 books. October, I sold approx. 4,000 books, November, over 8,000 books, December over 16,500 books.

Why did this happen? To be honest, I think there are several reasons. I set the price of my book low, I write in a genre that is popular, I personally answer every single piece of fan mail that I receive, I contact those people kind enough to have left me reviews on Goodreads and thank them for doing so. I believe this is important, not to sell more books, but to say thank you to that person for spending their money on my book, taking the time to read it, then to leave a review for me. For instance, I received an email only the other day from a young girl you said that she had been given a Kindle for Christmas along with a £10 gift voucher. She went on to say that my books were the first that she downloaded and had loved them. It’s nice to know that she enjoyed them, but more than that, she spent her Christmas present on my books and that really made me think how nice that actually is. So the very least that I could do was email her to say thank you.

I also have my own website which I have linked to my Facebook page. This is where I post news about my books and a place where people can become a fan of my books and leave messages. Again, I make sure that I respond to every message that is left for me and answer any questions. This for me is important and the bit I love the most, because it gives me a chance to chat to those people that are taking the time to read my books.

I’m not very good at ‘Twittering’ but this again is an important tool, so I have linked my Facebook page to my twitter page, which is linked to my Amazon author page and website. This is a great way of connecting to the readers of my books.

I also run competitions and giveaways, which have included signed T-Shirts that I had made with my book cover on the front, bookmarks that were kindly made by a fan, signed prints of the book covers and original pieces of artwork from the book cover designs. This to me is the most important part of what I’ve done, to have a good relationship with the people that read and enjoy my books. I have made so many new friends.

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At the beginning of this blog, I said that I had experienced many things in the last ten months and one of those was at times I had found the experience tough. How can it be tough? I’m doing what I’ve always dreamt of doing? But the thing is, I still have a day job and a young family. Everything that I have done in the last 10 months, including writing eight novels, publishing them, marketing them and everything else that I have mentioned above has all been done in my spare time. One night I was caught by my family asleep sitting in front of my laptop halfway through writing a chapter. The point I think that I’m trying to make is that, although my books are selling well (and there are other independent writers out there that are doing just as well and better) it has taken a lot of work. This is not easy. As an indie writer you are just that, plus the publisher, the editor, the marketing department, finding artists to do book covers, answering and dealing with all the correspondence, updating your blog, website, Facebook and a hundred other things that I’ve probably forgotten.

I am no expert in publishing, but my heart tells me that things will change in the publishing world. I’ve read plenty of articles on the internet that authors are now leaving their agent and publishers to self-publish on the internet. Some of them have said that they earn more money that way, and others say it gives them more creative freedom. But for me, I’m starting to wonder if publishers will look straight to the internet to see what they want to publish next. Maybe the test of a good book won’t be on the suggestion of an agent, after all that is just one opinion, but if a book seems to be selling well on the internet, doesn’t that suggest that the public are enjoying it? Maybe that will be the real test. I believe this for a couple of reasons.

The first book in my Kiera Hudson series was rejected by an agent as they said the book was for adults, not children, but the Amazon Children’s Horror chart and Amazon Children’s Romance Chart didn’t reflect this. Despite the concerns the agent had that my book wasn’t really a children’s book (although I wrote it for YA), doesn’t the fact that it was at the top of the Children’s/Young Adult chart suggest it did fit into that age range?

Secondly, another agent recently said “no” to the same book because they didn’t think they could sell the foreign rights, despite that the book sold more copies in the US than anywhere else, as well as in Canada, Australia, Mexico, Germany, France and Italy – without even being translated. I even received an email from a US Publisher asking if I had an agent because they were interested in buying the rights, so they could sell my book in China. Yet I’d just been told by an agent that the book wouldn’t sell abroad.

The point that I want to make is this: isn’t it the children/young adults who are buying my books the people that decide whether it’s a kid’s book or an adult book? Why pigeonhole everyone? Children have different reading ages, and likes and interests. With regards to my Kiera Hudson books, haven’t the young adults who are downloading them in their thousands already decided they like them? Yet it seems it’s just a handful of adults deciding what is right for them and what they should and shouldn’t be reading.

I don’t know, I could be wrong – but if young adults didn’t feel that my books were right for them, would they be buying them? This point was never made clearer to me than the other day, when I received an email from a young teenage girl who said in big bold letters at the end of her email:

“I want to be Kiera Hudson!”

If you’ve been inspired by Tim’s story then learn more about self-publishing yourself. From how to write an Amazon description, which ebook format to use, and whether developmental editing is something indie authors should invest in, we’ve got you covered.

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How to self-publish your book on Amazon Kindle Direct (KDP)

how to self-publish your book on Amazon KDP

How to self-publish your book on Amazon Kindle Direct (KDP)

The ultimate guide for serious self-publishers

Self-Publishing: How to Make a Living via Amazon’s Kindle KDP

The good news: self-publishing is easy these days. If you have a book and a cover, then uploading it is:

Free. You pay nothing to Amazon, though there will be some costs involved in preparing properly.

Fast. Allow 12-24 hours for the book to go live worldwide.

Awesome. KDP can make your work made available to a worldwide audience. That’s something that even the largest traditional publishers can’t offer, unless they have acquired worldwide rights.

That’s the great side of self-publishing, but there are challenges, too, of which the biggest is simply this:

Invisibility. Amazon has 3.4 million titles in ‘literature and fiction’. 3.6 million history titles. Half a million comics and graphic novels. And of course, the flood grows ever bigger. Half a million new titles became available on the Kindle store in the last 90 days alone. Your title might be great, but bury it amongst 499,999 competing titles and it’s still likely to vanish.

In short, self-publishing on Amazon is awesome and scary in about equal measure.

This post will tell you how to publish your work on Amazon in a way that is low-cost (not zero cost), professional, and effective.

Just how effective it is will depend on you, your books, your genre, and how much work you put in. But it is, these days, perfectly realistic to aim at earning a decent living wage from Amazon KDP publishing (possibly supplemented by publishing on Apple, Google, Kobo, etc).

And just to be clear, although a good chunk of my author earnings come from traditional publishing, the money I earn from self-publishing my work in North America alone is excellent. In 2017, I earned $100,000 from just six e-books.

And as you build your range of titles, your readership, your email list and your marketing skills, your income should follow suit.

Yes, it’s hard work. Yes, it involves a little upfront cost. Yes, it depends on some clever tricks of marketing and presentation, but it works.

It worked for me. It can work for you. The same basic principles underlie the success of thousands of other indie authors.

And I’m going to share everything.

This post is basically the ultimate guide to self-publishing your book on the Amazon Kindle store and I’ll update if things need to be tweaked or changed. Since the post is super long, I recommend that you bookmark it and use the Table of Contents up top to navigate. Tweet it, share it, link to it from your website, if it’s all helpful.

To business.

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An Overview of the Self-Publishing Process

Effective self-publishing on Amazon requires:

Strong underlying material. In other words, your book needs to be good. If it’s not, no amount of clever marketing will save it.

A properly presented e-book. What I mean by this is that the cover needs to be strong. The material at the front of your e-book (the ‘Look Inside’ portion) needs to tempt the reader to complete their purchase. The material at the back of the e-book needs to clinch the deal. It needs to turn a one-off reader into a permanent, committed fan. (Not sure which ebook format to use? Then check out this article).

A properly constructed author platform. That means a website, a reader’s magnet and a properly set-up mailing list. If that sounds scary or technical, don’t worry. There’s nothing hard here and I explain it all, anyway.

Sensible pricing. No one will buy your book if it’s too expensive. You won’t make any money if it’s too cheap.

Well-chosen metadata. Another scary term for something that’s basically simple. Because a lot of purchases on Amazon come via different types of search, you need to make sure that your book will pop up in the right places, not the wrong ones. And it’s all easy.

Proper book promotion. So far, everything in this process is about getting ready for publication. Actually launching your book comes right at the end of the process. And, once you’ve built any kind of track record, you do that launch via your mailing list.

You basically tell these guys (your committed fans) that you have a new book for sale. They rush out and buy it. Amazon notices that there’s a huge sales surge in this cool new book, so their search engine starts showing it to more and more people. So now you have totally new readers buying your book and as they enter your world, they start signing up for your mailing list, so your fan base grows and your next book goes even better. All that works well once you’ve got started, but how do you get started in the first place? Well, there are tricks there too and we’ll cover them.

In short, the basic marketing process on Amazon is (A) prepare properly, (B) build a mailing list, (C) sell your work to that mailing list, (D) acquire additional sales from brand new readers who arrive at your work thanks to the visibility acquired via those mailing list sales, then (E) rinse and repeat, ad infinitum.

Once you’ve mastered the basic essence of this underlying technique, you’ll want to add in the following methods too. (I’ve put the easiest techniques first, the harder ones later. Don’t work this list in the wrong order!)

  1. Book promotion sites
  2. Cross promotions with other authors
  3. Amazon Advertising
  4. Bookbub advertising
  5. Facebook advertising

Of these methods, Facebook is probably the most powerful and scalable … but it’s also the most complicated and the easiest place to lose money. Most indie authors want to add Facebook advertising right away. That’s a mistake you pay for – with dollar bills magicked out of your pocket and into Mark Zuckerberg’s Fund For More Digital Wickedness.

And though this post is long, don’t panic.

Yes, there is set-up time and cost involved in getting started, but the basics of marketing are really quite easy thereafter. In July 2015 I launched a book in the US where my complete marketing plan consisted of:

  • One email to my mailing list.

Nothing else. (My wife had her second set of twins that year and we were … busy.)

I didn’t tweet, post on Facebook, blog or send out review copies or anything else.

You want to know how much money I made?

I earned $30,000 from that one email and, since then, things have only got better. I’m going to show you how to do all of that, so buckle up as we hit the detail.

Step 1. Write a good book

People always laugh when I say that, “Write a good book,” but it’s the only absolute essential of the whole marketing process.

It’s also the area where writers most tend to rush things. (Simple starter guide on writing a book here.)

Again and again, we see writers struggling to achieve sales on Amazon. They talk with intensity about their metadata, their Facebook campaigns, their experiments with permafree and a million other things but when I look at their books, they’re too often just not good enough.

And if your product isn’t a hundred percent, your sales will only ever be mediocre. Remember that if you’re writing thrillers, you are selling head-to-head against Lee Child and John Grisham. If you’re writing YA fiction, you are selling head-to-head against Stephenie Meyer and Veronica Roth.

Getting nice comments from your beta-readers is not enough, because – scary truth – everyone gets nice comments from their beta-readers, so do things properly.

Hone your craft, say with a writing course. Get detailed feedback from professional, third-party editors like ours. Put your work in the way of people who are skilled at finding flaws, not too quickly generous with praise.

There are a lot of different editorial services out there; from manuscript assessments to developmental editing. We obviously think ours are pretty good, but do check out what different types of editing have to offer. Some of them are damn expensive and best avoided.

There’s one school of thought, which is that you may as well get your work out there. Make some sales, acquire some readers, and learn on the job. Well, maybe, but I think that’s the wrong attitude. I think the writers who succeed are the ones who want to put the best possible product out there always, every time.

And indeed, in self-publishing, there’s a strong argument which says that book #1 in your series should be the best one you write. That’s the portal into your series. That’s the one which hooks fans and compels them to read on. If you write a dud Book #4, your core readers will forgive you and buy Book #5 anyway. If you write a dud Book #1, you won’t have any readers for anything else you write.

Another way to look at the same thing:

Great marketing + a lousy product = a lifetime of struggle
So-so marketing + a brilliant product = easy sales

A great book is the foundation for everything else. So get it right. Build those foundations strong. They’re going to support your entire career.

how to self-publish on Amazon

Step 2. Create a strong cover

The cover is second in importance only to the book itself.

If the cover doesn’t immediately appeal to your core reader, then that reader won’t even arrive on your first page to read a single word. You must get the cover right. Nothing less than perfect is enough.

That means your cover needs to:

Look good in thumbnail.

The book must work at small scale. Designers always like showing you the hi-res version of their image, which is fine, it needs to look nice at scale, too. Still, your very first task is to shrink that right down and see if it works when tiny.

Look good when compared with competing titles.

I always copy that thumbnail sized image onto a screengrab of an Amazon search page, full of books written by my own direct competition. Then I ask: does my image look competitive on that page? If not, try again.

Inform the reader instantly what kind of book it is.

A YA dystopian cover should announce its YA dystopia instantly. A rom-com cover should be instantly interpretable as such. Yes, that means that those covers tend towards clichés, but in this case, that’s good. The first task of a cover is to say, “I am a book of this genre”, where said genre is a rom-com, or thriller, or romance, or whatever else you’re selling.

Convey a mood or feeling.

Readers typically buy books because of a hook and a feeling, e.g.: ‘It’s this book about an ordinary girl and vampire who fall for each other.’ That’s a hook plus a feeling, giving a reason to buy.

A book cover can’t really convey the hook (that’s the job of your blurb), but it can and must convey the feeling. Those Twilight covers conveyed a general sense of dark, forbidden sexiness. That was all they needed to do, and they did it superbly.

Generate questions, don’t close them off.

Covers that answer questions don’t tempt readers in. Covers that prompt questions invite further exploration. Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight cover is a good example. Why that girl? That apple? That black background? You instantly want to know more.

If the cover had been pretty-girl-plus-hunky-vampire gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, it would have sold some copies, but never have been the global hit it became. Similarly, your approach to your subject matters needs to be oblique and suggestive, not right on the nose.

Use good quality images.

That’s sort of obvious, but it’s common to see self-published books where the images look like (and almost certainly are) stock images from some free or low-cost image library. And they don’t look bad, exactly, they just look like stock images. They have a seen-it-before quality, death to your project of attracting a reader’s eye. If you need to pay money for a top-dollar image, then pay that money.

Use good quality typography.

Again obvious, but getting the typography (font styles, etc.) on a book is harder than it sounds. If a draft cover feels a tiny bit ‘off’ when you see it, then it is wrong. That feeling never lies.

So once you know what you want to achieve, how do you achieve it?

It’s strangely hard.

You’d think getting a strong book cover was a reasonably mechanical process. You write a design brief. You hand it to a competent person. Boof, you get back a design that’s going to be anywhere from good to excellent.

And, in my experience, it’s not really like that.

I’ve had poor to mediocre covers from best-of-breed traditional publishers. I’ve had mediocre book covers from talented, award-winning freelancers. I’ve used competition type websites with results that were okay, but not utterly satisfactory. And, yes, I’ve also got some book covers that I’m totally happy with.

So my recipe for success is as follows:

Fire your Uncle Bob. Unless your friend, relative, etc., is a professional designer, that person is not right for you. And yes, you may save some money. But NASA would probably save some money by patching their rockets together from stuff found in a junkyard. There’s a reason they don’t do it.

Use pros. You can go to competition type websites, of which 99Designs is the most prominent example. (Personally, I think you have to pay a lot of $$$ to get a good outcome from this, however.) You can go to outsourcing type sites like Fiverr or Upwork. You can search libraries of premade book covers for sale (for example, The Book Cover Designer. You can just Google around (search “book cover designers”) and look at different offerings. Or, simply design your own ebook cover. There are pros and cons to every avenue and in the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. You may blunder around a bit until you find the right solution for you, but that’s fine. This is a creative process and you may need to experiment before you get it right.

Spend money. Just to be clear: the phrase “blunder around a bit” can mean “spend some money getting projects started with designers who looked really great (and are great, actually), just you didn’t like their initial designs and twigged things weren’t going to work out.” Don’t end up settling for almost-good, because you couldn’t bear to write off the $150 that you had to spend. Either invest again with the same designer to get something you’re happy with or close off that avenue and start again. Remember that your first cover will almost certainly be by far your most expensive. Once you’ve settled the look (the kind of image, the mood, the typography, etc.), the next batch of covers will be easy-peasy.

Only work with people where you’re happy saying ‘no, not yet’.

This is a crucial one. You must be happy with your cover. That means continuing to look at images, to work away at typographical niggles, until you’re genuinely delighted. If your designer charges you $90 an hour beyond a certain level of changes, or if your (talented, but not infinitely patient) Uncle Bob is just going to start rolling his eyes, then those people may not be right. You must feel okay with demanding perfection. And yes, that may mean being pushier than you normally like to be, but it also means working with someone where you can feel safe to be pushier.

If you’re unsure, look up more tips on how to commission ebook cover designs, if you need.

Now we turn to the book itself.

self-publish ebook on Amazon Kindle

Step 3. Create your Ebook: ‘Look Inside’

What is the front material there to do?

For ebooks, there is only one answer: the front material is there to convert ‘Look Inside’ browsers to people who buy your book. It’s effectively a front door that has to look welcoming if you want to tempt readers inside.

If your front-end material does not directly contribute to that goal, then it needs to go elsewhere.

Yes, you may want to find room for your thanks, your copyright notices and all the rest. Those things don’t make people buy your book, though, so bury them at the back.

The front of your e-book probably only needs:

The cover – because you need it, and readers expect and want it.

A title page – ditto.

Formal proofs – that means any plugs from fellow authors, from newspaper reviews, or anything which tells readers, ‘Yes, serious, professional readers have read this book and rated it highly’. At the start of your career, you may struggle with those formal proofs, but that’s fine. All new authors are in the same position. Do what you can, but don’t fret too much.

Social proofs – in other words, any comments from readers that tell people, ‘Yep, people like you have read and enjoyed this book.’ Social proof is quite possibly just as important, maybe more important, than any number of great notices in the New York Times Review of Books, and even as a newbie, you can accumulate social proofs. So go do it. And put those proofs up front where casual browsers can find them.

Constant reminders about what your book is and what it offers.

Remember that people who click on the ‘Look Inside’ feature may well only be browsing in quite a casual way. They’ll have sort of took in your cover design, sort of read your book description. Just as bookstore browsers flip books over to look at them in quite a casual way, though, so it is with people browsing on Amazon.

You need to assume that these browsers haven’t intently studied anything. They are only two or three clicks away from buying something quite else.

Hammer home your message, by carefully choosing formal and social proofs and other related text.

My own ‘Look Inside’ text will try to remind readers that, “This is an exciting crime thriller featuring a really interesting female detective.” That proposition won’t appeal to all readers, but it should appeal to the kind of readers my book is aimed it. So make it clear. Keep it uppermost in the browser’s mind.

Offer a freebie.

I’m going to talk more about readers’ magnets and email lists in a later section of this post, so for now, just notice that I recommend you offer a freebie, a story available for readers to download for free, up at the front of your e-book. We’ll talk more about what and why soon.

And plenty of text!

The shorter your other front material, the more room you have to give readers what they really want, which is a taste of your book itself. Make sure that your first chapter is strong, and let readers get there fast!

Step 4. Create your ebook: end material

If the front material in your e-book is there to persuade the browser to buy, the end material has a rather more complex set of functions. It should:

  • Get your readers to buy another book from you.
  • Get your readers to give you their email address.
  • Build a real human bond between you and your reader.
  • Encourage readers to write reviews.
  • Make the extent and structure of your book series and other works really clear.

The thinking here is simple. A reader has just finished your book. We have to assume they enjoyed it (if they didn’t, no marketing genius in the world will entice further sales.) So what next? Now is the moment to reach out and build a lasting bond between you and the reader.

E-books that just finish without doing that are kind of like the door in the image: they kick you out onto the street, leaving a slightly disappointed feeling behind. E-books that look after the reader are far likelier to create a pool of keen buyers, who’ll come back to your work again and again and again.

So how to achieve those happy results? Answer:

Write an author’s note that feels personal. Make sure it’s full of your voice and personality, and directly thanks (perhaps even compliments) your readers.

Invite participation

Notably by encouraging readers to give you their email address in exchange for a free story from you. More on this shortly (and it’s key, you can’t miss this step).

List out your series and other work. Make sure you do this clearly and invitingly. Clarity matters: start with the first item in the series, or with the most logical starting point if your work isn’t in series form, and make it tempting. Either include book covers or make sure that the text layout feels really appealing. And don’t just list titles. Offer short blurbs as well, with links to e-stores where readers can buy the books.

Be smart about offering those buy links. Remember that Apple won’t accept books with Amazon links in, so you can either (A) work exclusively with Amazon (probably the best bet for newcomers to indie-dom), (B) have a mobi (Kindle) file that is different from your epub (Apple, Google, Kobo, and everyone else) file, or (C) create a landing page like this to let readers choose their own store.

Remember that e-readers are probably reading in an online environment where they can take instant action, meaning print books are a terrible model for how to put together your end-material. Web design is a better model. You want easy-to-access links in places where your readers may want to take actions enabled by those links.

In other words, don’t just talk about other books in your series, make it simple for readers to buy those books on Amazon, Google, Kobo, wherever. Making it easy will make a huge difference to your conversions and that means making a difference to your pocket.

how much does it cost to self publish a book

Step 5. Format your ebook

Don’t feel too fussed by this. Writing a great book, preparing inviting front material, developing material at the back of the book that seals the deal with the reader, those things matter. The rest is a technical exercise that you can either do yourself or outsource. It’s not expensive and easily done.

So first, make sure that your Word file is in good shape to be converted. We’ve lots more advice if you need on how to format your ebook. (This section assumes that your MS is basically textual. If you are creating a design-led book that involves a lot of images, then Visme offers a great, simple, e-book creator. Did I mention that it’s free? Well, yes, it’s free.)

Then, iff you’re working exclusively with Amazon (which, as I say, I recommend when starting out), then you can just upload your Word document to Amazon. It’ll make the conversion for you. And boom, that’s it.

If you are distributing to all the e-stores, you’ll need an epub file, not just a mobi one. You can create that file yourself via simple online tools, Scrivener being one option (you pay for this, but it has loads of other features and loads of writers swear by it). Calibre is another. Apple users love Vellum. Some e-book distributors, for example Draft2Digital, offer free online tools that are very simple to use and come with no strings attached.

Whatever route you take, just make sure that you preview the ebook before going live with it. All the those conversion tools offer previews, and just go through, checking every page. This is your product we’re talking about. Checking matters!

Step 6. Want a print book? Then sort that, too.

Most self-publishers will sell work in e-form, not book-form. My own e-sales are probably about fifteen times greater than hard-copy sales. (With my traditionally published work, the balance is much more even, or even leans more to print.)

What’s more, print books are harder, more expensive to put together. You have much less control over the selling price. A lot of the promotional techniques that work brilliantly for ebooks don’t work as well for print. And so on.

I say that to be honest, not to put you off. I sell several thousand self-published print books each year. I make a little over $3 per sale, so I end up with a satisfying amount in my pocket because of those sales.

And I do nothing at all to promote those books.


All I do is promote my e-books actively and intelligently via the Kindle Store and elsewhere, and that visibility brings my work to the attention of some readers who think. ‘Hey, this looks good, but I’d rather have it in hard copy.’

And it’s easy enough to add a print element on to your offering.

KDP offers a print option too. You’ll need a back jacket and spine design, as well as your front cover (but those things are easy, once you have the front sorted). The additional cost involved is minimal.

You’ll also need interior formatting, to be sure your book looks lovely when laid out on the page. Don’t try to do that yourself – it’s harder than you think. Your best bet is an outfit, BB eBooks, which is based in Thailand and combines excellent experience and quality with Thai pricing.

Once you have your cover and your text, you just upload them via KDP. Bingo.

Worried about an ISBN? Don’t be. Ebooks don’t need one and most top-performing indies don’t bother with them at all. In terms of your print books, your print partner will sort out an ISBN for you. So, for example, if you create print books via Amazon KDP (your best starting option), Amazon will simply take care of it for you. Easy!

Just remember, e-sales are likely to predominate by a large margin, and your print sales will only start to take off if your e-sales do. National or international distribution via bookshops is basically a fantasy, unless you have a traditional publisher to take care of that for you.

Step 7. Build your website

You know you need a website, but why? What do you want it to do for you?

There are lots of flaky, fuzzy answers floating around the internet, and they’re almost all wrong.

Some people will tell you:

‘Oh, it’s a key part of your brand. You need to build a platform.’

Really? Why? Most readers will surely just be happy with (a) the book, and (b) Amazon. Why do they need anything else?


‘You need to make yourself discoverable by search engines.’

This is rubbish. Or it is if you’re writing fiction. Google-search and similar just doesn’t matter to most novelists. How could it?

Here’s the one thing you need to know about your author website.

Your website is there to collect reader’s email addresses.

That is its purpose. That is why you have it.

If it does that and almost nothing else, you’re doing fine. (Or, full disclosure, that’s true if you’re a novelist. If you’re writing non-fiction, then the truth may be a bit more complicated.)

Yes, you will probably want a page for each one of your books. Yes, you probably want some kind of bio. Yes, you probably want a contact page. If you like writing blogs, you probably want a ‘news’ or ‘blog’ type page as well.

Still, I can’t even remember the last time I posted on my author blog. I don’t make sales from my book-specific pages (I make them on Amazon.) The contact function is nice because it means readers can get in touch with me, but if I disabled the page, the world wouldn’t collapse and my sales would remain untouched.

Your website is there to collect reader’s email addresses – and how does it do that?

Well, the primary chain is simple. It’s this:

  • You have a link in your e-book that says, “I’ve got a free story for you, please come and get it”.
  • That links passes the reader to a page on your website that handles that story-for-email exchange.
  • The reader gets your free story. You get a way to contact them in the future.

That’s a fair exchange: you are, in a way, giving the reader something of more value than the thing they’re giving you. And it’s an honest one. You will make it clear that yes, you will retain that reader’s email address and sometimes make use of it, though only for matters directly related to your books.

The way you structure that basic exchange is critical.

Tiny differences in set-up will make a few percentage point impacts on your conversion rates, and, when cumulated, those little impacts can make a huge difference to the success of your campaign.

Your ebooks need to take people to a page on your website that maxes the number of people downloading your story.

Here is an example of a good page from my own website (and see what happens when you click the buttons – functionality matters).

Key design points to consider are:

Eliminate all in-site navigation. This page exists on my website and has completely normal navigation tools up at the top, excepting this page. On this page, I want people to click those buttons. I don’t want them to be distracted by any other good stuff I have on the site. This page has to say, “Either download the story, or close this page: there is nothing else to do, read, see here.”

Have incredibly obvious calls to action. Giant orange buttons on a monochrome background works for me.

Don’t ask for an email address straight away. It’s better to make it a two-stage process: (A) let the reader give you an order: “give me my freebie”, then (B) obey the command. And it just so happens that obeying that command involves collecting an email address.

Around two thirds of visitors to my website end up leaving me their email address. They’re readers who have liked my work enough to buy it in the past, and to collect the free story I’ve offered. Those are the people who are likeliest to buy my work again in the future, and now I have a way to get in touch with them direct.

Since you’re building a website, too, you may as well do the obvious bits right. Its branding should be synced with your books’ branding. The site should communicate what you are all about as an author as swiftly as your book covers do. Your site should be mobile responsive, so that it looks as good on a phone as it does on a PC or tablet.

And so on. There are other bits and pieces to get right, but any half-way competent designer should do them fine.

A few rules to follow are these:

  1. Pay that little bit extra for your own domain name. So pay for or Yes, is cheaper, but you’ll regret it in the long rum.
  2. Use WordPress. Wix and Squarespace and their like are cheaper in the short run, but they have vastly less power than WordPress. So again: think long term, not short term.
  3. WordPress needs a theme – a stylistic chassis, in effect – to hold your site together. I strongly recommend Parallax for Writers, because it’s great, it’s designed for you, and it’s crazy cheap.
  4. Learn a little bit of basic tech. You don’t have to be a tech wizard – I’m not – but if you know nothing, you’ll always have to go through someone else to make minor site tweaks which means that, after a bit, you won’t even bother.

Your website doesn’t make you money directly, but it’s the launch pad – the blast station – for everything that follows. So build it good, and get ready for launch . . .

header post science fiction agents

Step 8. Create your readers’ magnet

OK, now listen up, because this stuff matters. We’re talking reader magnets.

  1. A reader’s magnet is a free story you give to your readers in exchange for their email address.
  2. You advertise the freebie in the front and back of your ebook to maximise the number of people who take you up on that incentive.
  3. You will then use the email list you build to bond with readers, launch books, boost promotions and, in general, to send you off, giggling, to the bank driving your own gold-plated Cadillac with a trunk stuffed with high denomination bills.

To secure these outcomes, your reader magnet needs to be good.

So be sure your story lives (broadly speaking) in the same fictional world as your for-sale novels. You can’t use a horror-fiction magnet as a lure for your fluffy romance readers, or vice versa. Be sure that your magnet is well-presented and has a lovely book cover.

Obviously, you’re going to scatter plenty of links in your ebook (the front and back of it, not the actual text), so readers can’t miss the fact you have something free to offer. I also recommend you make at least some of those links visual (i.e. you use a book cover or similar) to invite the eye. Text links are great, and you should use those, but visual plus text beats text alone.

That story you offer does not need to be a full-length novel. Anything from 5 to 15,000 words is fine. Just make sure it’s a satisfying piece of quality writing. Don’t cheat your reader.

And that’s it. One story (a magnet) to attract readers and collect email addresses. That already sounds good, but in fact, as we’ll see, it’s going to form the absolute heart of your promotion strategy.

Step 9. Mailing lists and other technicalities

Now we’ve got links in our e-books to take readers to your website, where the story-for-email exchange is made, but how does the actual plumbing of all that work?

The answer is that you will need two tools.

The first is Mailchimp (or any other mailing list provider.) They will store your email list, send mass emails, eliminate duplicates, handle the unsubscribe process, and plenty more. Some people find Mailchimp hard to use and prefer Mailerlite. If you are ambitious and tech-confident, you might want to use the more powerful Convertkit.

The second is Bookfunnel, an outfit that makes the delivery of your free ebook (your reader’s magnet) unbelievably simple – both for you and for your reader.

Both services are paid, but the money isn’t crazy. You’ll pay $100 a year for Bookfunnel, and Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 mailing list subscribers, and $20-30 monthly thereafter.

Bookfunnel is so simple to use, you won’t need any help setting it up. In fact, I would be insulting you if I told you how to use Bookfunnel, so I won’t.

(Phew. We’re still friends.)

Integrating Mailchimp with your website could require help, depending how much you hate fooling around with that kind of thing, but don’t cut corners. Creating a smooth path for your readers is key. They need to:

  • See a link in your ebook.
  • Click over to a (navigation-free) landing page on your website.
  • Hand over an email (to your Mailchimp mailing list).
  • Be delivered a book via Bookfunnel.

That’s all easy. If you need help with web bits, then get this. Again: all this set-up stuff can seem boring, but so is climbing up a long flight of steps. You’ve got to put the effort in, if you want the reward at the end. Rushing to publish too soon is the absolutely class, #1, gold-plated mistake that most indies make.

Put in the effort, then enjoy the rewards.

sun trees 1

There’s a lot to take in, right?

There is, yes. Self-publishing is more complicated than regular publishing, especially at the start. (Later on, it can actually seem simpler in many ways, especially if you hate giving up control.)

But still: a lot to take in. A lot to do. And there’s this horrible (but accurate) sense that getting the detail right really matters.

That’s kind of yikes!, right?

Well, yes and no. Because the thing is we created an entire step-by-step video course that’s intended to be everything you need to know about getting set up as a self-publisher. That course is super-premium, which is a fancy way of saying (a) really high quality, and (b) scarily expensive. (You can see the $$$ here.)

So don’t buy the course!

That’s right: don’t buy it.

It’s a great course, but it’s expensive, and you’re on budget, so – don’t buy it.

After all, why buy, when you could rent? For a crazy-cheap (and cancel-any-time) monthly fee, you can become a member of Jericho Writers – a club designed for writers just like you.

Quite simply, we aim to give members as much as we possibly can. An insane amount of value for as little as we can possibly charge. Think of us as a kind of Netflix for writers.

So members get unlimited access to our self-publishing course.

And unlimited access to a whole heap of filmed masterclasses, including some brilliant ones on self-publishing.

And filmed interviews with authors and agents and publishers. And an incredibly supportive community. And live webinars from top experts on all the topics that matter most to you.

Why so much? And why so much for so little? Well, that’s easy.

We’re writers too, and we built our club for writers like you, writers like us. You can find out more about joining us here. We really hope you do.

Step 10. Social Media: Why You Can (Mostly) Ignore This

A lot of writers worry that self-publishing is going to be all about bigging yourself up on social media. Endless tweets, endless bragging Facebook posts.

And it’s not. It’s not.

Those things don’t work. They’re a waste of time. They’re horrible to do.

I do have a Twitter account and an author page on Facebook, but I don’t get book sales via either route. (I have a Twitter account mostly because that makes it easy for Twitterholics to contact me if they want. Some of those contacts have proved of real value. I also have an author page on Facebook because a traditionally publisher once told me I had to have one. I got one, and neither they nor I ever used it.)

Nor do you need to blog.

Although I do blog here, I hardly ever blog about author things on my own website. And if I do, that’s because I feel like doing it. Actual book sales deriving from those blogs are trivial.

There will be categories of author where social media does really matter. If you’re a fashion blogger wanting to sell books, you’ll need an Instagram following, and so on.

It’s also true that social media can be a great way to network with fellow authors and influential bloggers in your niche. Those relationships are worth fostering but they’re not, directly, to do with selling books at all.

For most of us, the big news is this:

If you hate social media and want nothing to do with it, you can still sell books very effectively on Amazon.

If you don’t want to blog routinely or do the work involved in building a large following, that’s fine, too. It doesn’t matter.

To be clear, there are exceptions.

In particular, if you build a strong audience on Facebook, you will make your FB advertising life a lot, lot easier.  If you’re interested in doing that, the rules are:

  • Stay narrowly focused on your audience and their interests. Don’t ever stray from that core.
  • Quality posts and interactions beat quantity. Post good stuff when you have something good to say.
  • Be recognisable. When people scroll down their feeds you want them to know it’s your content straight away. Instasize is a great app for editing your images and keeping them on brand.
  • If/when you have a decent FB following, you should pay to boost your launch post / promo posts.
  • You can also think about advertising to your FB audience to support your email and boosted post campaigns. These are later stage tactics, though, and you can safely ignore these for now.

If you’re nervous of getting involved in all that stuff, though, don’t be. Just forget about. You don’t need it. (For now.)

Solve your self-pub problems

With these free resources

Step 11. How to Choose Categories (BISAC Codes) on Amazon

When a bookshop shelves your book, they need to choose where to shelve it. With romance? With crime? With general fiction? With health and beauty? Or what?

It’s the same with Amazon, except that Amazon has far more categories. When you upload your book to Amazon (which is easy, and has become easier) you will see a little box prompting, and you need to choose categories highly relevant to your book.

It’s important to understand the reason for this.

You’re not choosing categories because you want to help Amazon with its filing.

You are choosing categories in order to sell more books.

Amazon has an overall bestseller list, of course, but it also has a massive range of sub-bestseller lists – for things like “Fiction > Crime” or “Fiction > Mystery & Detective > International Mystery & Crime”.

Readers like perusing those lists, and Amazon likes to direct them there. If you can get on your chosen lists, your book will get more eyeballs, and all the clever stuff we’ve already put in place will convert those browsers into buyers.

You need to choose categories by thinking of bestseller lists you’d most like to be on, and which you have a realistic chance of appearing on.

That’s the whole deal right there. That’s (almost) all you need to know about choosing categories.

For newer authors, it’s better to target rather more niche lists – in my case, “International Mystery & Crime” is more niche than “Fiction & Crime”. It won’t get as many viewers, but my chances of sitting close to the top of the list and staying there for a time outweighs that issue.

Also – pro tip here – if you are picking a sub-category (eg: international mystery & crime), you are automatically entered in the relevant parent category (in this case, mystery & detective). So don’t waste your second category choice by entering the parent category as well as the child.

Until you have a little experience of your book, your genre, your sales, you are largely guessing as to which lists to target. But at least you know what you’re doing here.

If you are already published, then check out your Also Boughts to understand what kind of readers you have – what other books they like. You can use Goodreads or other online book recommendation tools to achieve the same kind of thing.

Two last things on this topic:

  • Amazon now uses the term ‘categories’ for this selection process. It used to talk about BISAC codes, a hoary old library classification system. You may come across both terms being used, but don’t worry about it. They’re the same thing.
  • You need to read this section, on categories, in conjunction with the one that follows, on keywords. It’s when you put those two things together that the magic happens.

literary agents for young adult fiction

Step 12. How to Choose Keywords on Amazon

When you come to upload your book, Amazon will ask you to give it seven keywords that describe your book. (As you’ll see, some of those keywords can be two or three word phrases. That’s fine, but the term keyword is still used.)

So far, so easy.

Whilst categories have only one role (they let you choose what bestseller lists to target), Amazon keywords have two roles to play, and they both matter.

Those keywords let you:

  • Choose what sub-bestseller lists to target.
  • Choose what thematic searches to target.

Take the first of those things.

When you look at the overall Amazon bestseller list, you’ll see that there are 330,000 or so mystery and detective books available for sale.

If you’ve targeted that list, you might be a little nervous. You think your book is good, but do you really want to fight off 329,999 other bad-asses?

What you need to do is break that group of 330,000 titles down into manageable sub-units, and if you click on the relevant broad category, you’ll see Amazon has given you a host of more manageable sub-units or mini-bestseller lists.

Under ‘Moods & Themes’, for instance, I’m given various boxes to check under words like ‘Action-packed’, ‘Horror’, ‘Racy’, ‘Noir’, and more words to define the feel of my book. Under ‘Characters’, I’m given ‘Female Protagonists’, ‘British Detectives’, and so on.

And something magical happens.

Counting the number of books allocated to Amazon categories I want, the book count – i.e. your competition – goes down.

More than half your competition disappears, just because authors and publishers haven’t chosen keywords that pin down good books into relevant sub-categories. (Recent changes have removed those numbers from the Amazon site, so you can’t now check what I’m saying. It’s still true, however!)

Now you’re not going to get caught in that disappearing act, because you’re going to do this:

  1. Pick your broad category,
  2. Go to the relevant Amazon bestseller list
  3. Finding out which sub-categories might be relevant to your work. (You are looking at the left hand sidebar for this.)
  4. Pick out all the sub-categories which might apply to your work
  5. Use those sub-category titles as your keywords

Obviously, it’s important that you don’t cheat at this, or your readers will feel cheated, too.

So if your book isn’t racy, don’t use that keyword just because you feel you could clamber onto that list. If you see a sub-category where your readers are likely to gather, then jump on it. That’s it.

Oh and the best way to find bestseller lists is just to enter ‘Books’ or ‘Kindle Store’ in the dropdown box on the Amazon search bar, and then, leaving the search bar blank, hit enter. Since the search bar is blank, Amazon knows you want to look for books but doesn’t know which books you want, so it just takes you to its default book navigation page. You want to explore the left-hand sidebar. That little baby is your friend.

A useful pro tip here is that you can use multi-word phrases as your keywords, and every word counts. So for example, my sub-categories include options like Dark, Disturbing, Noir. My books tick all those boxes, so I could use three keywords to scoop up those terms … or, much better, I could have “Dark Disturbing Noir” as one keyword, and keep my powder dry.

Keywords are best used in this sub-category extension way, but remember that people use Amazon’s search engine in multiple different ways. So people can find books in at least four ways:

  1. Author name (“Harry Bingham)
  2. Book title (“Talking to the Dead”)
  3. Series name (“Fiona Griffiths series”)
  4. General search (eg: “Murder mystery novels”)

Now although it seems obvious you want to scoop up general search enquiries, it’s very doubtful that you’ll actually get a ton of sales from that route. Yes, “Gripping thriller” might seem like a great keyword, but if there’s any traffic on that term, it’s most unlikely that you’ll appear anywhere near the top of an Amazon search page. And if there’s no great traffic on the term, you won’t get any sales anyway.

So don’t spend too much time on your general search terms, but for what it’s worth, here are the guidelines:

  1. Make a list of possible keywords – at least 12-15 if you want to do this properly.
  2. Start to type the first few characters into Amazon’s search bar
  3. Take a look at the autocomplete suggestions, and adjust your terms if Amazon is nudging you towards a slightly different version of your search term.
  4. Then actually look at the page of results that comes up. Check out the bestseller rank of the lowest ranked book. If that book is #5000 on the overall bestseller lists, it’s a pretty safe bet that your work will never meaningfully appear for that search term. If the lowest ranked book is #50,000, then you have a decent chance of appearing on that list, at least during launch/promo periods. If the lowest ranked book is #500,000 or below, then you can pretty much bet that there’s not enough traffic on this search term for you to care much about it anyway.

To sum up this section:

  • Choose categories according to what overall bestseller list you want to appear on. (Important)
  • Choose keywords first according to what sub-bestseller lists you want to appear on. (Important)
  • Choose keywords next according to what you think your readers will be searching for. (Not important)

The whole exercise might take an hour or two, but can generate steady sales for years to come.

traditional publishing vs self publishing

Step 13. How To Price Your E-Book on Amazon

Pricing is scary, but also easy.

The data you need:

  1. Free e-books get more downloads than paid ones.
  2. 77% of readers who download free work also buy paid work.
  3. Amazon offers two royalty bands of 70% and 35%. You get the 70% royalty if you price inside $2.99 – $9.99. Anywhere else, you get 35% royalty.
  4. Indie authors tend to price work (excluding free and promotional material) in the $2.99 – $4.99 range.
  5. It’s the same broadly for Amazon Publishing. That fact is relevant, because no one is going to be smarter than Amazon at interpreting data from pricing experiments. If $5.99 is their ceiling (and it is), then it should be yours.

And that, really is all you need to know. Your price envelope is basically $0.00 to $4.99. (Some niches may vary, though, so always check against your own genre.)

Now, pretty obviously, we don’t love $0.00 sales as much as we love $4.99 sales, but we’re going to use the cheap or free pricing, in a kind of Amazon ju-jitsu, to maximise our $4.99 sales.

  1. Free books get you readers. They build your fanbase. They make no money.
  2. $0.99 books get you lots of readers (but fewer than free). They make a bit of money, but not much. Sell a $0.99 e-book and you make $0.35. Sell a $2.99 e-book (at that higher 70% royalty rate) and you make $2.09, so you have to sell 6 times as many of the cheaper books to make as much.
  3. $1.99 books are kind of pointless. They’re too expensive to attract freebie readers, and they’re too cheap to get the 70% royalty. Just don’t price at that price point.
  4. You make money by pricing between $2.99 and $4.99. That’s where the money is. Where exactly you pitch your wares depends on all kinds of things. Do you want to aggressively grow your business in the longer term (while sacrificing some short-term revenues)? Then price at $2.99. Do you want to harvest your existing success? Then price at $4.99. Are your readers generally younger, or poorer? Then price low. Are your book buyers generally more affluent? Then price a little higher. Can’t decide? Then price at $3.99 which is an excellent compromise.

Now we need to do two things. We need to get readers into our sales funnel – into our series – at the kind of price that won’t put anyone off (ie: $0.00 or $0.99), then use the love and commitment we’ve generated with our amazing writing to sell lots more books at $4.99.

In short:

  • You need to offer a free or highly discounted ($0.99) book to get readers into your universe. Without an existing fanbase, you have few other routes to this happy outcome.
  • You need to have full price ($2.99 to $4.99) work that puts some money in your pocket.

Those of you competent at mathematics will notice that I’m telling you to write two books to sell one.

And yes, I am saying that.

Except that, as you write more over time, that one free book will start leading readers into a larger pool of paid work. So you’ll be using one free book to sell two, then three, then four, then ten full-price ones.

Also, those of you supremely gifted at mathematics will also have noticed that I’ve told you that:

  • You have to give away a reader’s magnet, a roughly 10,000-word short story, for example, in order to collect emails.

You need to write two books and one lengthy short story or novella to sell one book.


Well, yes, really. You are selling a series, not selling a book. If you understand that fully, your selling efforts will be vastly more successful over the long run.

Read a sample literary agent query letter

Step 14. How to Launch Your Free E-Book

I hope I’ve persuaded you that it’s worth giving away a book for free.

Your purpose is to attract the greater downloads, to acquire fans. And it’s to get the email addresses of those fans so that you can contact them when you have a new book to share.

There are four broad methods for doing this.

Old articles never leave the internet, so you’ll see old advice that appears authoritative, but things change and change fast. Some of those older methods just look limp or expensive or awkward compared with more recent ones, so do read all of this section before you make your pick.


Method 1: just give your book away for free everywhere

What you’re going to do here is upload your book on Amazon (at $2.99, or whatever), then upload it to Google, and Apple, and Kobo, and everywhere else, too.

It’s too annoying to do that second part yourself, so you get an outfit like Smashwords or Draft2Digital to do it for you. They’ll charge a kind of agency fee on any revenues you make, but pay it. It’s money well-spent.

Then, via your distributor, you simply make the Apple-Google-Kobo price $0.00. That’s easy-peasy. You just do it.

Amazon doesn’t like free. (It’s a shop and it likes selling things.) Look at your book page, though, and scroll down to the Product Details section. You should see at the bottom there a little rubric (with contact links) that looks like this:

“Would you like to tell us about a lower price? If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates to the product page?”

Well, yes, you would like to tell Amazon about a lower price, so tell them. Report that lower price using the automated tool. I also recommend contacting Amazon more directly via the contact page on the KDP site. Say something like this:

“I’m a serious and long-term author, looking to build fans for my work or series. I’ve made this book available for free through other stores, including Apple, Kobo, Google etc. I would really like it if you would consider making the book free on your store as well. And, to be clear, my long-term aim is to sell a lot of work, at full price, through your store. I very much appreciate your help.”

They won’t guarantee to help. It’s not automatic. Their response is variable in terms of outcomes and timings, but you’re probably fine. Fingers crossed.

The results can be very good. I did a freebie in January 2016 using roughly this method. I notched up about 10,000 downloads in the first week, through Amazon alone. Other e-stores were additional. Some further downloads followed (though at a much lower rate).

And of course, my mailing list took a terrific jump upwards and I got plenty of emails and reviews from readers telling me that they loved that first book so much, they wanted to jump right into the rest of the (paid) series.

Method 2: give your book away on Amazon only (for a limited period)

If you agree to work exclusively with Amazon – by enrolling in KDP Select – you will enjoy the ability to schedule Kindle Countdown promotions, which give you the opportunity to price your book cheaply, or for free, for 7 days in every 90 day period.

Amazon will promote those deals itself and, if you go for the $0.99 option, you’ll still be on a 70% royalty (rather than the normal 35%).

If you are exclusive to Amazon, and I think the default choice for new authors is probably to go exclusive as you learn the ropes, then you should use these opportunities fully.

(I wouldn’t ever discount for seven continuous days, however. You’ll find that any sales surge quickly tamps down. You’re better off doing one three day and one four day promotion spaced about 1.5 months apart.)

To be clear, though, these short one-off promotions are not really the same as the ‘perma-free’ option we’re mostly talking about. If you want a ‘perma-free’ book, you are probably making that one not Amazon-exclusive, pricing it free elsewhere, then coming back to Amazon as per Method 1 above.

lev banner ipad

Method 3: give your stuff away via Facebook ads

This approach had a real surge in popularity recently, but it’s a strange one, I think.

With other approaches in this section, you pay nothing (or little) to give your work away for free. With the Facebook approach, you pay real money to acquire each new reader. You literally place ads on Facebook that say (in effect) “Hey, come and get your free book (but you’ll need to give me your email address to get it.)

And as a method of getting readers, it works, but that new reader of yours might be a flake.

They might or might not read your free giveaway.

They might or might not go on to buy other books in your paid series.

The arithmetic looks like this:

  • Unit revenue from your free giveaway: $0.00
  • Unit cost of acquiring those readers: $0.50 (or something like that)
  • Your profit per reader: -$0.50

That arithmetic does not look attractive to me, but it is possible to make things work, if:

  • You’re very good at managing your Facebook ads, so you target the right readers and keep your costs per click down very low.
  • You’re very good at coaxing giveaway-readers into your paid-readership. That normally involves further little free gifts and a strong series of automated emails aimed at shifting kinda-interested readers into committed ones.
  • You’ve a long tail of paid work to sell because, of course, the more you have to sell, the higher the expected long-term revenue that will be generated by each new reader.

The people who succeed with Facebook ads do tend to have a lot of work to sell and they work hard and intelligently at managing their ad campaigns – which is all fine.

All the same, do you want to be an ad manager or a writer? If (like me) you think the business of managing a Facebook ad portfolio could quickly become wearisome, there are probably better ways to do this.

The one real exception I can think of applies to new writers who do have some cash to spare who just want to get on and do it. Instead of following my (very organic) sales method, where each new book just expands the mailing list and readership ready for the next one, you could just invest (say) $3,000 in basically buying 6,000 reader emails. Just be aware that paid-for emails will have a lower conversion rate than freebie ones. I assume about 1/3.

Method 4: use Book promo sites to shift your work

The best method, however, is to use book promotion sites to get your work out into new hands.

There are two big ways to do this.

One is via book discount sites. These sites have built large reader databases and they email their readers, saying, in effect, “Hey, these great books are on promotion.” You can build surges of attention to your work – and these tools can work very well indeed.

The info you need about these sites can be found via Nicholas Erik here. Use those tools! Especially for newer indies, they are an indispensible way to get the word out.

An excellent additional support is Prolific Works (formerly Instafreebie.) Those guys have good email lists themselves, but they also have great tools for collaborating with other author and cross-promoting work there.

And I’m not going to tell you how to use that site here, because I’ve already told you in detail in this blog post right here.

One indie author, J.N. Chaney, who has used both Facebook ads and Prolific/Instafreebie reports these results:

“I just scaled back my Facebook Lead Ads. I still use them, but I’m now seeing better results with a lower price tag using Instafreebie. … My Facebook budget for that ad was $23 per day yielding an average of 49 subscribers per day at an average CPL [Cost Per Lead] of $.51. … Instafreebie is $20 per month yielding an average of … 84 subscribers per day at a CPL of $.0076. Not even joking. (It could have been 129 per day had I figured out that I need to require an email address to download.)”

I also moved on from Facebook. I use Instafreebie myself, and it’s worked very well for me.

Yeah, there’s a lot to think about isn’t there?

So think about joining Jericho Writers and getting a TON of really classy learning materials that take you step by step through the whole process. I’m not going to give you a heavy sell. I’m just going to say that we built our Jericho Writers club for people like you, and you should think about joining us. You can find out all the details here, and we’d absolutely love it if you went ahead and joined us.

how to increase amazon book sales

Step 15. How to launch your paid book on Amazon KDP

We’re there.

We’ve done all our prep work. We have written a great book. Commissioned a great cover. Got great front and end material. We’ve written our reader’s magnet. We’ve got our website and other bits of plumbing in place.

We’ve sorted out our metadata (our BISAC categories and keywords). We’ve figured out our pricing. We’ve got some initial names on our mailing list, probably because we’ve made use of Instafreebie or other tools to distribute free samplers of our work.

And now we want to launch our first proper paid-for book on Amazon.

We don’t just want readers. We want money.

Good. (We need to live.)

Now here’s a simple launch strategy for you to follow:

  • Upload your book to Amazon, Apple, Google, and everywhere else.
  • Send an email to your mailing list to tell them your book is now available for sale.
  • That’s it. Have a drink, go for a long walk, take a nap.

You’re probably thinking, you have got to be kidding, there must be more to it than that.

Must there?

On the one hand, yes, there are advanced strategies out there – and they make sense – but mostly, no. Follow this and you’ll do just fine, so long as your books are good. You can’t sell bad books.

And the ultimate reason for the success of this strategy has to do with Amazon’s sales rank algorithm. That algorithm is crucial, but it involves just a tiny bit of arithmetic, so bear with me.

Every book (indeed, every product) on Amazon’s system has a score which is made up of how many units you sold today, plus half the units you sold yesterday, plus a quarter of the units you sold the day before that, plus an eighth of the units you sold before that, and so on.

A score is calculated for every book on the system. Those scores are placed in order. And, bingo, what you’ve got is Amazon’s sales rank.

That piece of information is astoundingly important.


It tells you that short term movements in sales are intensely influential in determining overall rank.

Let’s say you want to hit #100 in the Kindle bestseller lists. Good target, right? Well, you have broadly two ways to get there:

You can sell (roughly) 500 e-books every day for a month, or you can sell (roughly) 1000 e-books in a single day.

The first of those things is very hard to achieve. How, after all, would you even do it? Maybe a massive (and expensive) Facebook ads campaign could do it, but you’d end up spending a lot more than you were earning back.

The second of those things, the big, one-off pulse in sales, is easy to achieve.

And you already know how to do it.

You just contact your mailing list and tell them, ‘Hey guys, I’ve got a new book out!’ They like your stuff now, so phrase it well, and they’ll look to buy your book. (On my last launch, 30% of my mailing list bought my book within eight hours of me sending the email.)

And bingo!

That’s your sales surge right there.

The sales surge powers you right up the Amazon sales charts. All the good stuff you did with categories and keywords means your book will get to be visible right where it needs to be: in the exact places that your potential readers are browsing.

All the good stuff you did with covers and your Look Inside section means those browsers will convert into readers. And those guys are new readers. They aren’t buying your book because they were on your mailing list. They’re buying your book because they were casually browsing, but you managed to ensure that your book was under their noses when they were doing so. You’ve just expanded your readership.

And that’s good. But it gets better. Because all the lovely stuff you did with the end material of your book means that your new one-time readers will soon turn into your committed fans. They’ll join your mailing list and expand your reach for the next time you play this game.

And that is the whole secret of successful self-publishing on Amazon.

You turn that wheel and keep it turning, with book launch after book launch. If your work is strong enough to keep your readers reading, your sales will only increase from cycle to cycle.

Step 16. The Long Term: Where Do You Go From Here?

This (uber-massive) post has revealed the basic art of self-publishing success – but, believe it or not, it’s still something of a starter guide, a basic template.

As you get your self-publishing career properly started, you’ll soon start to think about some broader questions, for example:

How often am I going to publish a new book?

Me, personally, I’m very old school. I write one book a year and can’t see myself going much faster than that. Loads of indie-publishers will aim to write and publish a book every three months. If anything, the trend is for writers to try and bring that down to one every two months.

The more you write then (probably) the more money you’ll make, but you’re not just in this game for the money. You want a nice life, and you want to be artistically proud of your books, so where do those things settle for you? Are your current writing rhythms capable of change or are you happy where you are?

What do I do between launches?

The mailing list-driven, sales-spike approach works well to promote your book on launch and you’ll enjoy a lovely month or two of elevated sales as that book floats gently down the rankings.

That still leaves plenty of months where your book sales spitter-spatter along at the rate of a few books per title per day.

How do you gee things up there?

Well, as I say, there are five basic add-on techniques that you will start to use as you build out your series. They are:

  • Price promotions, combined with Kindle Countdown deals (if you’re Amazon exclusive) and juiced up with the support of one or more book promotion sites. (Info here.) You should look to build this technique into your selling process as soon as you feel ready.
  • Amazon Advertising. A cranky system has become less cranky and more powerful. You can place Amazon ads on Amazon itself, so you are buying the attention of book browsers direct in-store. That’s great, but (a) Amazon ads are now quite expensive if you don’t have plenty of books in your series, and (b) they are desperately hard to scale. You should find it relatively easy to make some money each month via Amazon Ads, but a lot of money? I don’t think anyone anywhere manages that.
  • Cross-promos with other authors. Find those authors via Prolific Works or Bokfunnel. Team up with them. Cross promote each other’s work. Make money. This is also easy and a strong way to make sales and build your email list. (Pro tip: don’t team up with anyone who’s not in your genre. You want to keep your email list full of core readers, otherwise you’ll confuse Amazon’s marketing robots.)
  • Bookbub ads. A very powerful tool once you get it working for you. Read Dave Gaughran’s book. Subscribe to his newsletter. Do as he says.
  • Facebook ads. Extremely powerful, especially if you have strong website traffic or a busy Facebook page. FB’s ad system is complex however, and it’s easy to lose money. Use this as the final element in your marketing system, not the first.

Are you going to be Amazon-only? Or sell your work everywhere?

You can go either way on this or, indeed, vary your approach. The Amazon-only approach has some advantages in that: (A) it’s easy to manage, (B) you enjoy sales via KDP Select that would otherwise be closed to you, and (C) Amazon is so dominant that you’re accessing most of the market anyway.

And against that?

Well, there are other retailers and they’re keen to make sure that they don’t totally lose out on the indie-publishing boom. Some prominent indie authors get a full 50% of their writing income from the non-Amazon stores, which they’ll achieve using techniques additional to the ones described in this post. With those other retailers, you don’t win via an approach of fire-and-forget, and where you stand on this decision is up to you. There are prominent voices on both sides of the fence.

I strongly urge newer indies to go Amazon exclusive at the start. Once you’ve got a few books out and are hitting, say, $10,000 in annual revenues, you have a decision to make. Till then, stick with Uncle Jeff Bezos.

And don’t worry. Copyright remains with you no matter what. If you ever want to remove your books from Amazon, you’ll still own the copyright to do with as you please.

How do you strike a balance between writing and managing your business?

Personally, I don’t do much business management at all. Most of my mailing list growth is organic: people like my books and sign up. I make enough money with my current approach and I just don’t particularly want to spend my time fiddling around with Facebook ads and the like.

You may feel differently. You’ll have to figure out the balance that’s right for you. You might want to outsource some tasks to third parties. You might want to do it all yourself. A classic small businessperson’s dilemma.

Do I need a literary agent?

Once upon a time, that would have seemed like a strange question. You’re an indie author, right? You’ve turned your back on that whole traditional superstructure – except things do change. If you do well in English language markets, literary agents have a role to play in selling those additional rights. Foreign language sales. Film and TV. Audio. Or maybe you want to go for the full traditional publication with some portion of your portfolio? Or in one specific national market, such as the UK? If you’re not thinking about these things yet, you will probably want to do so in time.

And that’s it – the ultimate (starter) guide to self-publishing on Amazon.

It’s not comprehensive. There’s more to tell – but, this being a starter guide, you have what you need right here on how to self-publish with Amazon. (And if you found it all helpful, do click to tweet: The Ultimate Guide to Self Publishing on Amazon. (We hope!)

If there are techniques working for you we haven’t covered, which you think others should really be adopting, drop us a line. We’d love to hear.

As ever, best of luck, and happy writing!

Huh? You waited till now to learn more about our Jericho Writers club?

Jeepers. Some people. But OK. Here’s the link.

About the author
Harry Bingham has been a pro author for twenty years and more. He’s been trad published and self-published, and hit bestseller lists via both routes. He’s also had his work adapted for the screen, has had a ton of critical acclaim, and been published all over the world. (More about Harry, more about his books.)

More about self-publishing

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should self-published authors turn to traditional publishing

Should self-published authors turn to traditional publishing?

should self-published authors turn to traditional publishing

Should self-published authors turn to traditional publishing?

The age-old battle between self-publishing vs traditional publishing. This is one of the big debates in the publishing industry: should self-published authors turn to traditional publishing? First, lets address the pros and cons of each.

There have been numerous recent examples of highly successful self-published authors turning to traditional mainstream publishers for the next stage of their careers.

James Oswald. Offered his first book free on Amazon, by way of a taster for his second book which was priced at £2.99. He sold 50,000 copies in a month and was snapped up in a three-book, £150,000 deal by Penguin – and I strongly suspect that, given Oswald’s subsequent and continuing success, Penguin would feel that they got a very good deal. (More. Oswald’s literary agent is Juliet Mushens of The Agency. Juliet’s agent profile here, her website here.)

  • Kerry Wilkinson. Sold his first books at £0.99 on Amazon. Shifted 250,000 copies in six months. Was offered a (remarkable) six-book deal by Macmillan that took his self-published work into print and extended the series to a minimum of six books. (More. Wilkinson’s agent is Nicola Barr of Greene and Heaton. Nicola’s agent profile here, her website here.)
  • E.L. James. In terms of sales, James dwarfs pretty every other author who started out with non-traditional publishing contracts. In her case, she never really self-published, but she did take a kind of hybrid e-book/POD deal that wouldn’t have been offered by any more conventional publisher. Her subsequent sales, via Random House, were simply vast, breaking most international sales records and spawning a new ‘mommy porn’ genre. James’ literary agent is Valerie Hoskins, whose agent profile is here, and whose own website can be found here.

Given that there are plenty of intelligent voices suggesting that conventional publishers have relatively little to offer self-published authors (examples here, here and here), there’s a real question about why anyone would want to shift from a self-published status to a more traditional one.
And that’s not a silly question.
To be clear about it, self-published authors have the following massive assets on their side:
They earn 100% of the net receipts from e-books.
That’s about 70% of the cover price. A regularly published author will not be entitled to more than a 25% share.
They have total control over every aspect of publication.
Self-published authors pick their covers, pick their editors, pick their page-designers, pick their marketing strategies. If they don’t like something, they change it.
They retain total control over copyright.
When a traditionally published authors sells his or her book, they are selling it. The publisher may well retain control over that book until the author is dead and his or her children too. (The exact arrangement will depend on the nature of any reversion clause, but historically those clauses have been written sharply in publishers’ favour.)
There’s nothing to stop self-pub authors selling subsidiary rights as they want to.
If you are self-published in the UK and want to sell your US rights to a big 5 publisher there, you can. If you want to sell audio rights, you can. If you want to sell foreign or TV rights, you can. You can do those things if you have a traditional deal too, but the point here is that you can be self-pub in one arena and still work with huge media conglomerates in any area where you feel your own reach would be insufficient.

Since those are rather significant advantages, and since the likes of Oswald, Wilkinson and James are hardly idiots, there must be some quite substantial advantages of the conventional route, too.
And there are, such as:

  • Access to print distribution

Even now, it remains the case that if you want your book to appear in bookstores – and to pick up the revenues that result – you will need a publisher on your side. Yes, you can achieve some kind of hyper-local distribution by working very hard yourself, but to get properly promoted in bookshops across the nation, you will still need a publisher.

  • Access to traditional channels of acclaim

This one is a little more in flux, but it remains the case in the UK that it is rare for self-published books to be taken seriously by reviewers. And more broadly: the kind of books that the chattering classes talk about are nearly always traditionally published ones – as though print still sheds a kind of glamour on the author. We don’t particularly welcome that fact – our view is that books should be judged on their merits, and that’s it – but we don’t get to set the rules. (Alas.)

  • Better access to foreign markets

As a self-published author, you can sell your work overseas without having a domestic publisher – but it’s a hell of a lot easier if you do have one. Partly that’s because you’ve already proved that one corporation has loved you enough to lay out a significant amout of cash for what you have to offer. And partly it’s because publishers are deeply nested in the whole foreign rights market. They, and agents, just have a depth of contacts that you can never acquire on your own.

  • Better access to film and TV markets

It’s actually relatively rare for fiction to get made into film, whether for the large screen or small. But again: when those things do happen, it’s much commoner for regularly published work get taken on. There’s just a halo of approval you get from a regular deal which just helps those film and TV deals happen.

  • An easy life

Yes, as a self-publisher you have total control … but you also have a hell of a workload, and that load gets bigger the more successful you become. Publishers do know how to market books and they will simply, at a stroke, relieve you of much of the burden. In effect, you acquire a professional and experienced support team with a few strokes of the pen on that contract.

  • Better financial outcomes than royalty figures suggest

It’s true that publishers pay authors only 25% of net receipts from Amazon and other e-sellers. It’ s also true that print royalties are pretty small (think about 7-10% on paperbacks). But remember that authors get advances, not just royalties, and – without getting too technical about it – if your book doesn’t earn out, then your de facto royalty per book will be far higher than those relatively modest amounts. And since most books don’t earn out their royalties, authors can do very well, even in comparison with the riches of successful self-pub.

You’d expect a site that helps writers find agents to argue that self-publishing was only ever a stepping stone to the real thing. We don’t actually believe that, however – and think that the future is likely to see many more hybrid authors emerging: authors who self-publish in one corner of their activities, and who publish conventionally in others. We also think that the relatively standard boilerplate of the average publishing contract is likely to become more flexible over time, so if there are elements of a regular deal you don’t like, there will at least be a sensible discussion over how to accommodate your preferences.

And we think the emerging world will be a better one for authors.

The ease with which any author can simply self-publish on Amazon will keep publishers honest. That’s great. The availability of other means of distribution will make publishers more humble and more flexible in their terms. That’s also great.

The ability for an author to choose how to publish is also wonderful. You want total control? Then have it. You want dedicated corporate support? Then that’s fine. You want one thing in one market, and another in another – then, fine, let’s talk about it.

And one simple and everlasting truth is this. If you can demonstrate, through successful self-publishing or simply a remarkably good manuscript, that your work can move readers, there are agents who want you.
And (of course) you can find all those agent profiles in our database here.

Whichever route you chose, whether that be self-publishing or traditional publishing: good luck!

There have been numerous recent examples of highly successful self-published authors turning to traditional mainstream publishers for the next stage of their careers.

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