Self publishing on Amazon is ideal if you’re a nonfiction writer who wants to publish your book as a vehicle to take your business or career to the next level of revenue. Amazon’s self-publishing arm Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is a logical choice since Amazon is the most recognized book-selling brand in the world.
However, the book publishing process is quite complex and there are many nuances in KDP’s services that aren’t apparent when you read their marketing materials. These nuances may cause issues if not planned for appropriately.
In this article, I will demystify KDP for nonfiction authors like yourself so that you can learn both its advantages as well as its disadvantages.
I’ll also lay out the best path forward to develop a solid book distribution strategy for your nonfiction book that allows you to gain the best possible exposure on Amazon while bypassing KDP’s shortcomings.
I’ll only focus on printed books, skipping eBook publishing, since my goal is to focus on nonfiction authors who’ll need physical books to:
- Generate media attention
- Hand out to event managers for paid speaking gigs
- Sell to audiences at speaking engagements and live seminars
- Be used as calling cards for prospects
- Open doors to strategic partnerships
- Hand out to decision makers as a closing tool for lucrative contracts
…among many other uses.
How Does Amazon KDP Work?
KDP is Amazon’s self-publishing arm designed for small independent publishers and self-publishing authors.
KDP allows you to offer your physical nonfiction book for sale through many Amazon online bookstore properties. KDP can also make your book available to other bookstores, but as you’ll learn later on, there are some restrictions.
Let’s now take a deep dive into the different aspects of your interaction with the KDP platform.
Let’s begin with your legal relationship to KDP: your publishing contract.
Is the Contract Exclusive?
KDP has evolved over the years, adapting to the massive growth and evolution of the self-publishing industry. As a result, their terms and conditions can be fluid, with constant changes.
However, as of now they offer full non-exclusively for printed books, which means you’re free to distribute your book through any number of channels around the world in addition to KDP without restriction (note: this is not the case for eBooks).
Does Amazon Own the Rights to My Book?
KDP allows you to retain 100% of your copyright, foreign rights and distribution rights at all times. This is good news for you and it’s in keeping with current self-publishing trends.
Am I Allowed to Exit My Contract?
You may terminate your contract by giving KDP five days’ notice with no questions asked. However, when they remove your book from their platform, they’ll also be removing all your reviews, so tread carefully here.
Keep in mind that their book reviews are the property of Amazon, therefore you won’t be able to copy and paste them to be used in any of your marketing and promotion activities.
Let’s switch gears to your physical book copies. When you publish with KDP, your books will never be mass printed and held in inventory in Amazon’s regional distribution centers.
Instead, every single book will be printed on demand and shipped to the customer only after payment is received. Let’s look at how this works:
How Is My Book Priced?
When you set up your book title in the KDP platform, the system will calculate the manufacturing cost of your book based on your trim size and number of pages. Based on this cost, you’ll be asked to generate a list price.
You’ll have to set your list price so that it’s never lower than your book print cost plus your royalty (which will be discussed below with an example).
Say your title is a 300-page black and white book distributed in the U.S. KDP’s cost will be $4.45 per copy and your royalty will be 60% of the list price minus the book printing cost.
In this example, your minimum list price will be $4.45 / 0.60 = $7.42 (note that at this list price your royalty payment will be zero), specifically:
(Royalty rate x list price) – print cost = (0.60 x $7.42) – $4.45 = 0
So, in order to receive a royalty payment in this example, your book will have to be priced higher than $7.42. For example, if you price your book at $12.95, your royalty will be: (0.60 x $12.95) – $4.45 = $3.32.
The maximum list price KDP allows you to charge is $250.
KDP currently sells on-demand printed books in the US, Europe and Japan, so you’ll be required to set up a list price in multiple currencies if you wish to sell in all these markets.
Author Book Purchases
If you wish to purchase books in volume for your personal use (e.g. to be sold at events or to hand out as calling cards), you’ll be able to buy them at their print cost.
There are two caveats: 1) KDP doesn’t offer any volume discounts, and 2) the maximum order is 999 books, so if you want a higher quantity you’ll have to split the order and pay shipping for each split order.
KDP distributes printed books primarily through Amazon website properties. Currently, orders can be placed and delivered on-demand in the U.S (Amazon.com), Canada (Amazon.ca), Europe (Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.es, Amazon.it) and Japan (Amazon.jp).
They can also distribute to other channels but there are some key restrictions, as shown below.
What Distribution Channels Does KDP Use?
In addition to the Amazon properties mentioned above, KDP has a program called Expanded Distribution that can sell books directly to bookstores and libraries.
However, there are three main issues with this program. First, it can take up to 8 weeks for your nonfiction book to be available for ordering by bookstores and libraries.
Second, it’s currently limited to the U.S. only so it’s not really suitable for nonfiction books with an international audience.
Third and most important, bookstores shy away from ordering from Amazon because they only offer them a 25% discount, whereas traditionally other distributors offer 40% off the list price.
There is a solution, however. The largest book distributor in the world, Ingram, has a division for self-publishing authors and small publishers called IngramSpark that offers worldwide distribution. They have print on demand facilities in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.
So, your best approach is to set up accounts both with KDP for Amazon website properties and with IngramSpark for brick and mortar bookstores and libraries, allowing you cover all the bases.
Now, here’s a great added benefit for you: unlike KDP, IngramSpark offers significant volume discounts for author purchases and they don’t limit you to a maximum of 999 books per order.
What Are My Book Royalties?
As mentioned in the book-costing example above, KDP pays authors a 60% royalty on sales minus the book printing cost. Now, this royalty rate applies only to sales of printed book through Amazon online bookstores.
For sales through the Expanded Distribution program (brick and mortar bookstores and libraries in the U.S.) the royalty rate is reduced to 40% minus the book printing cost. The reason for this reduction is that KDP has to offer a wholesale discount to retailers so they can get their cut on sales.
How Often Does Amazon Pay Authors?
KDP imposes a 60-day delay from book sale to royalty payment. This delay is there to account for book returns and the mechanics of the accounting process.
The payment frequency after this initial delay is 30 days, which is more frequent than the quarterly payments that are common with traditional publishers.
Do I Need to Supply My Own ISBN?
The ISBN is the fingerprint of your book. It’s encoded in your book’s barcode and it is associated with the publisher, the book title and the format.
So, for example, if your book is available in paperback, hardcover and eBook formats, each will require a unique ISBN number.
Depending on what country you live in, ISBNs may have a cost. For example, in Canada ISBNs are free, but in the U.S. a single ISBN costs $125 (there are discounts for blocks of ISBNs).
If you publish your book with KDP, they can provide you with a free ISBN, which will save you some money if you live in the U.S. However, this comes with a caveat and a big restriction.
The caveat is that your book with be forever associated with KDP as the book’s publisher instead of you. That isn’t worth saving $125. If you ever terminate your contract you will no longer be able to keep using that ISBN.
The big restriction has much deeper consequences. Since KDP can only distribute your book to U.S.-based bookstores and libraries (by signing up to the Expanded Distribution program), you won’t be able to distribute your book anywhere else outside the KDP platform.
Say, for example, that you wish to distribute your books internationally through IngramSpark. If you use a free KDP-provided ISBN you will be barred from doing do because they don’t authorize authors to reuse their ISBNs anywhere else.
So, you should always make the investment to purchase your own ISBN. This way, your ISBN will always be associated with you as the publisher.
With Amazon being the largest online bookstore in the world, it makes sense to promote your nonfiction book on their platform. Amazon offers the following three key levers for promotion.
One of the most important ranking factors in the Amazon online bookstore is user reviews. The higher the number of positive reviews you get, the higher your book will appear in the overall rankings.
Now, over the years many publishers have tried to game the system by entering fake positive reviews. So, Amazon is constantly fine-tuning their algorithm to weed out the bad actors.
For instance, you have to ensure that:
- Each reviewer lives in a different physical address. If many people in the same household (as shown in the user’s Amazon account) leave a review, all but one will be automatically deleted.
- In addition, two or more reviewers cannot have the same credit card on file (all but one of the reviews will be automatically deleted).
- Finally, a sufficient amount of time has to elapse between purchase and review to allow for actual book reading. For example, if a review is entered within minutes of purchase, it will be automatically deleted by the system.
Do take advantage of this great promotional feature by enlisting as many different people as possible in your target audience to purchase your book, read it and leave a review as soon as it is released.
Just make sure to abide by the above guidelines.
Once your book reaches a threshold of sales through user reviews (this number will depend on your book’s category), Amazon will begin to cross-promote it to millions of new readers, increasing your promotion reach.
Finally, remember that Amazon is not just an online bookstore but it’s also a book search engine. When you set up a book in your account, KDP will request that you enter up to 7 keywords in the setup screen.
These keywords will be used by Amazon to display your book in response to user searches. So, make sure that you do keyword research to find out what your target audience is most likely to search for on Amazon that is related to the subject of your book.
KDP’s Limitations and Restrictions
Even though Amazon is the biggest online bookstore in the world, it does have some limitations. Let’s summarize them below:
Format: KDP only supports paperbacks. They don’t offer hardcovers. This is probably fine for books purchased on demand through Amazon’s websites, but it’s not fine if you want to order hardcover books to sell or to hand out yourself.
The solution is to distribute your nonfiction book through both KDP and IngramSpark (make sure you don’t select Expanded Distribution in KDP) since IngramSpark can print books in both formats.
This way you’ll be able to add domestic and international brick and mortar distribution and also purchase author copies of your book with volume discounts in both paperback and hardcover formats.
Title Length: KDP has a 200-character limit for your book title and a 200-character limit for your sub title. This is necessary to list your books legibly in their system.
U.S. Bookstores: As mentioned before, U.S. bookstores don’t like to order from Amazon because they’re only granted a 25% discount, where other distributors offer them up to 55%. To work around this issue, publish through both KDF and IngramSpark as mentioned above.
List Price: Amazon doesn’t allow you to list your book at a lower price anywhere else, including your own website. Make sure that you list your book with the same price in both KDP and IngramSpark. If you sell your book on your website use this price as well.
At this time KDP only offers online author support. This can be inconvenient at times, because if you encounter any technical issues you’ll have to resolve them by consulting their knowledge base or by submitting a question using an online form.
The specifications for uploading print-ready files can be quite complicated for first-time authors. If you aren’t designing your book layout and cover professionally, there’s a good chance that KDP will reject your files multiple times.
This can be a very frustrating experience since you’ll be forced to troubleshoot all issues online. The solution is to hire professional book layout and book cover designers who can take care of this complicated process for you.
I know this was a lot of information to process, so here’s a summary of my recommendations:
- Publish with KDP to distribute your book on Amazon’s online bookstores and also publish with IngramSpark for domestic and international brick and mortar distribution – remember to not enable Expanded Distribution inside KDP.
- Also, by distributing to brick and mortar bookstores with IngramSpark, you’ll get a better royalty rate than KDP (45% or higher instead of a 40% flat rate).
- Hire a professional book layout and cover designer and have them upload your files directly into both KDP and IngramSpark. Let the experts handle the complex specifications of print-ready files.
- Buy your own ISBN. Do not use KDP’s free ISBN, otherwise you won’t be able to list your paperback anywhere else.
- Buy your author copies from IngramSpark and not KDP. Even though they both have similar pricing for single copies, IngramSpark offers high volume discounts while KDP doesn’t.
- Also, by publishing through IngramSpark you’ll be able to purchase a hardcover version of your book, a format that isn’t available on KDP.
- Enlist from early on a large number of readers from your target audience you can trust to leave you fair reviews of your book on amazon (following the guidelines shown earlier in the article).
That’s all for this post. I wish you the best of success with your nonfiction book!
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
Here are some related articles I highly recommend:
Bennett R. Coles is the author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.