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, chances are you’ll want Amazon’s self-publishing arm Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to be part of your mix.
However, the book publishing process is quite complex and there are many nuances in KDP’s self publishing services that aren’t apparent when you read their marketing materials. These nuances may cause many issues if not planned for appropriately.
In this post, I’ll demystify KDP for nonfiction authors like you so that you can learn about both its advantages and its disadvantages.
I’ll also lay out the best path forward to develop a solid book distribution strategy for your book that allows you to gain the best possible exposure on Amazon while bypassing KDP’s shortcomings.
We’ll only cover printed books, skipping eBook publishing, since my goal is to focus on 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
How Does Amazon KDP Self Publishing Work?
KDP is Amazon’s self-publishing arm designed for small independent publishers and self-publishing authors.
KDP allows you to offer your physical book for sale through Amazon online bookstore properties. KDP can also make your book available to other bookstores but, as you’ll learn later on, there are important restrictions.
We’ll 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 KDP’s 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.
As of now they offer full non-exclusivity for printed books, which means you’re free to distribute your book through any number of channels in addition to KDP without restriction.
Does Amazon KDP 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 End My KDP 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 all book reviews on their platform are the property of Amazon, not yours, so you won’t be able to use them in any of your marketing and promotion activities without their permission.
KDP Book Costs
When you publish with KDP, your books will never be mass printed or 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 process will work for your book:
How Is My Book Priced?
When you set up your book title in the KDP self-publishing platform, the system will calculate the manufacturing cost of your book based on your trim size and the number of pages.
Based on this cost, you’ll be asked to set a list price. You’ll have to choose a list price that’s never lower than your book print cost plus your royalty.
Say your title is a 300-page black and white book distributed in the U.S. KDP’s printing 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, 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, Canada, Europe and Japan, so you’ll be required to set up a list price in multiple currencies if you wish to sell to 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 to prospects), you’ll be able to buy them at cost.
There are two caveats: 1) KDP doesn’t offer 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 for shipping twice.
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 eight weeks for your nonfiction book to be available for ordering.
Second, it’s currently limited to the U.S. so it’s not really suitable for nonfiction books with an international audience.
Third and most important, bookstores shy away from ordering wholesale from Amazon because they only offer stores a 25% discount off the list price, whereas the industry standard is 40%.
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 to brick-and-mortar stores. They have print-on-demand facilities in the U.S., France, 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 your order to maximum of 999 books.
What Are My Book Royalties on KDP?
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 books through Amazon.
For sales through the Expanded Distribution program the royalty rate is reduced to 40% minus the 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 has a 60-day delay from book sale to royalty payment. This delay is built in to account for book returns and the bureaucracy of the accounting process.
The payment frequency after this initial delay is 30 days, which is more frequent than the semi-annual payments that are common with traditional publishers.
Do I Need to Supply My Own ISBN?
The ISBN is your book’s fingerprint. It’s encoded in the barcode and it’s 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 separate 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 self 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’ll 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, 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 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 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’ll have to ensure that:
- Each reviewer lives in a different physical address. If several people in the same household leave a review (as per the users’ Amazon accounts), 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 within 30 days of the book’s release.
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 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 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 self publishing 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 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 given a 25% discount, where other distributors offer them 40%. To work around this issue, publish through both KDP and IngramSpark.
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 support for self publishing authors. 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 before they work.
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 article has 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 in 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 designers 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, not from KDP. Even though they both have similar pricing for single copies, IngramSpark offers 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).
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.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder 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, marketing, printing and distribution.