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The Pros and Cons of Publishing a Book on Amazon

Everything you need to know about self-publishing

More than 200 million Americans would like to write a book at some point in their life, including me. It used to be one actually had to be a good writer, or be in a unique niche of knowledge to have a slim chance of getting published. With the growth of self-publishing, anyone with the desire can write a book and launch it out in the world. 

But before you start planning your next novel or how-to book, keep in mind people still have to find and read your book. Also, writing takes a lot of work, and profits might not be what you expect in the beginning, so don’t give up your day job just yet.

Retail giant Amazon started out as a bookseller. Many authors choose Amazon’s self-publishing platform to launch their work. We’ll go over the pros and cons of self-publishing on Amazon, including feedback from a writer that has launched several books on Amazon. But let’s start first with a little background on self-publishing.

Many authors are turning to self-publishing—that is without the involvement of an established publisher—to have more control over the process. This includes control of the creative aspects, including editing and design of the book. It also means the author manages pricing, marketing, distribution and accounting, and keeps a larger share of the profit.

Although the writer manages all of these tasks, some can be outsourced. For example, one might want a fresh set of eyes editing a book, or someone to account for sales and expenses. While a would-be author could do everything themselves, in self-publishing they can also build and manage their own team.

Self-publishing is different from hiring a “vanity press,” or in other words paying someone to publish your book. A vanity press is a publisher, just one you pay instead of the other way around.

Publishing a book on Amazon is free. Delivery costs (for ebooks) and printing costs (for paperbacks) are subtracted from your royalties.

Fun fact from Amazon: William Blake, James Joyce, William Morris, Walt Whitman and Virginia Woolf were at one time self-published authors.

You can check out the steps to publish an ebook, a publish to print book, or audiobook creation on Amazon here.

Person writing in a notebook

Insight on the self-publishing market
The publishing industry is ancient. From the invention of moveable type in China around 1045, publishing has grown rapidly. Author Elizabeth Eisenstein noted there were 8 million books in print just 50 years after Johannes Gutenberg developed the printing press. Skip ahead a few hundred years, and it has become a relatively simple process for an author to self-publish a book.

The self-publishing market took off like a rocket in 2012 and has grown rapidly since. There were more than 1.68 million books self-published in 2018. As online tools to self-publish become easier, the number of authors jumping in continues to grow.

Most popular book genres
Here is a breakdown of the most popular book genres on Amazon today.

Top hard copy books genres: 

  1. Memoirs and Biographies
  2. Self Help
  3. Religion and Spirituality
  4. Health, Fitness and Dieting
  5. Politics and Social Sciences

 Top eBook genres:

  1. Religion and Spirituality
  2. Biographies and Memoirs
  3. Business and Money
  4. Self Help
  5. Cookbooks, food and vine

Book genres that make the most money
Interestingly, the top selling books are not always the ones that make the most money. Books in different genres may be priced differently, selling fewer books at a higher profit.

recent Book Ad Report examined book profitability of each book genre on Amazon, and list these as the most profitable categories: 

  1. Romance/Erotica ($1.44 billion).
  2. Crime/Mystery ($728.2 million). 
  3. Religious/Inspirational ($720 million).
  4. Science Fiction/Fantasy ($590.2 million). 
  5. Horror ($79.6 million). 

The Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing from a Writer
My friend, Jill Engledow, has written and self-published many books over the years, including on Amazon.

According to Jill, unless you are already famous, a publisher may give you a 10-15% royalty for publishing and marketing your book. Self-publishing, she gets about 50% of the cover price. If you want to create print versions of your book, a company like Amazon will print them on demand, meaning you don’t have to buy a bunch of print copies and store them yourself, like the ones Jill still has in her storage unit.

Self-publishing is also quicker—you don’t have to search for an agent or publisher.

On the negative side, self-publishing can be a little complicated. There are a lot of steps, and the platform is still evolving. “I just take it one step at a time,” Jill said.

The most challenging part is being in charge of her own marketing. She recently hired help to totally revamp her website. Jill also hired an editor to polish up her books after she transitioned from non-fiction to fiction.

“Just because you publish a book on Amazon does not mean you will sell books,” Jill said. “There are a ton of books out there. If you don’t have a really good marketing plan, your book won’t be read.”

Pros and Cons of Self-Publishing on Amazon
Zeroing in on self-publishing on Amazon, here are a few more pros and cons.

  •  Amazon is a huge platform. It’s trusted and reputable, and your book will be sold alongside other reputable authors instead of out of your car trunk. Friends, family and potential readers can find your work online without you having to distribute it yourself.
  • Amazon has a ton of free tools and guides to teach self-pushing authors how to promote their own books.
  • Amazon has a print on demand service 
  • Amazon’s KDP Select gives you more flexibility and marketing features in exchange for publishing exclusively with Amazon, including being enrolled in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL) and the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program.
  • Amazon partners with Audible with the opportunity to tie in an Audible audiobook with your Amazon listing.

Cons of Self-Publishing on Amazon
There are a few negatives to going with the publishing giant.

  • If you enroll in KDP Select, your books will have limited reach, meaning your books won’t be found outside Amazon. Your income is then also limited to Amazon. 
  • Other self-publishing houses market to multiple channels (including Amazon), but KDP Select limits an author to one source of income. 
  • Kindle Select payouts via Amazon are shrinking as competition grows. Because of this, many authors are leaving KDP Select and looking for better options to ensure that their checks keep coming in and the same rate.
  • When publishing any digital items on Amazon, they have a 90-day exclusivity clause in which you cannot sell your digital copy elsewhere. This hampers a new book launch, especially if you expect to publish everywhere.
  • You cannot post more than 10% of your content anywhere else online when you are an publisher, even if it’s in your personal blog. 
  • Romance authors have some content restrictions, which some authors find too stringent. 

Is Self-Publishing on Amazon best?
Self-publishing on Amazon is a solid way for a new author to get started. If you already have an audience for your work, you may want to go with other options and keep growing your network on bigger and wider channels.

Jill is planning to continue to publish ebooks on Amazon, but is looking at IngramSpark to self-publish the print version of her next book. IngramSpark is gaining traction for creating higher quality print books for self-publishers, with more distribution resources, including independent and chain bookstores, big box stores like Walmart and Target, and online sellers including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No matter whether you decide to go with Amazon or not, if you have a burning desire to be an author, you can self-publish a printed book or e-book and you do not need to sign on with a publisher or face a rejection slip. 

There has never been a better time to be a self-published writer, as long as you realize that the process of being successful continues on long after you finish the book.

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