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The Amazon Ecosystem for Authors: A Field Guide

photo of amazon rainforest with caption "The Amazon Ecosystem (no, not that one)"With 83% of the U.S. ebook market, Amazon is the behemoth in the indie book space. There are other self-publishing companies of course, but I so frequently get questions about Amazon that I thought it might be helpful to give an overview of the Amazon ecosystem.

Amazon offers three services to produce your book (CreateSpace, KDP, and ACX) and two services for supporting your book (Author Central and Goodreads). (Note: Amazon offerings continually evolve, so don’t be surprised if something changes between the time I write this and the time you read it. UPDATE 8/29/18: Well, that didn’t take long. Not more than two weeks after posting this article, Amazon announced CreateSpace and KDP are merging, as predicted. Read Amazon’s explanation.)

CreateSpace (CS)

CreateSpace is one of Amazon’s platforms for publishing paperback books. Until recently it has been their only platform for print books, but KDP just added print functionality as well (see below).

CreateSpace is a print-on-demand (POD) service, which means books are printed only when they are ordered. This approach increases the marginal cost of a book, but the benefit of POD is that you don’t have to do a large print run and then hold that inventory.

How it works

  • You format your book interior and your book cover as PDF files and upload them.
  • You enter the appropriate metadata (description, categories, keywords).
  • You set your own pricing and choose distribution channels.
  • When a customer orders your book from Amazon.com, a single copy of the book is printed and shipped to them.
  • You (the author) can also order directly from CreateSpace, basically at cost. This is useful for keeping a supply on hand to sell or give away and for bulk orders.

Helpful to know

  • CreateSpace currently prints paperback only; there is no hardback option.
  • Before approving your book for sale, you can order a proof copy. If you find errors or the cover color is off, you can upload new files and get a new proof. In fact you can upload a new file at any point for no charge (though it may take a day or two to cycle through and become available).
  • You also can change metadata at any time (description, categories, keywords) if you think it will improve SEO and sales. For example, choosing better keywords can help make your book more discoverable; adjusting your book description might make your book more appealing to potential purchasers.
  • CS offers free ISBNs. In essence this means CreateSpace appears as your “publisher.” If you purchase your own ISBN, you can have your own company as your publisher. I generally recommend against using CS’s free ISBNs; I prefer to maintain control for branding purposes.
  • Print quality can be hit-and-miss, depending on which facility your book comes from and the toner on the digital printer. If quality is poor, complain.

Overall, I find CreateSpace fairly easy to use and an economical option for indie authors.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is the platform for publishing Kindle ebooks.

Recently KDP added paperback publishing as well; it seems a safe assumption that CreateSpace and KDP will eventually merge. I haven’t used the paperback print services (I imagine they are similar to CreateSpace), so we’ll focus here on ebooks.

How it works

  • You format your book according to KDP’s specs. I typically work with Word and convert to a HTML file, but there are other formats as well (MOBI, EPUB, etc.).
  • You upload your book interior and cover (front only) to KDP.
  • You enter the appropriate metadata (description, categories, keywords).
  • You set your own pricing.
  • There is only one distribution channel for Kindle: Amazon.
  • When a customer orders your book from Amazon.com, a copy of the book is sent to their Kindle device or Kindle app.

Helpful to know

  • Before approving your book for sale, you can view the book in the online previewer (or you can download a previewer). If you find errors, you can make changes and upload a new file. Like CS, you can upload a new file at any point for no charge.
  • You also can change metadata at any time (description, categories, keywords) if you think it will improve SEO and sales.
  • It is not required to have an ISBN for an ebook; KDP will assign an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number). However, as a best practice, I generally recommend getting an ISBN for each format of your book.
  • If there is a print version of your book, you can register for Kindle Matchbook. When customers buy the print version, they can purchase the Kindle version for $2.99 or less (you set the price).

KDP Select

KDP Select is a program that lets authors offer Kindle promotions. You must sign up for 90 days at a time and you must agree that your ebook is exclusive to KDP during that time.

During that 90 days you get:

  • Free Book Promotion – Five days where you can give your Kindle book away. The days can be used all at once, or one at a time. At launch, free days can increase the volume of downloads thus improving your book’s sales rank. They’re also good for reader/client appreciation events (e.g., Thanksgiving) or for large events where you want to enhance your visibility (e.g., speaking engagements, conferences).
  • Kindle Countdown Deals – You can promote a lower price for a limited period of time. Customers see the original price, the promotional price, and a countdown clock.
  • Inclusion in Kindle Unlimited (ebook subscription service) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. You get compensated based on pages read.
  • Increased royalties in certain countries.

KDP Select automatically renews every 90 days. If you decide you want to expand platforms (say to Smashwords or iBooks), be sure to decline renewal.

Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX)

ACX is the platform for indie authors to publish audiobooks; it is a subsidiary of Audible, also owned by Amazon. Audiobooks are the fasting growing segment of digital publishing. Even if you’re not an audiobook listener, your readers may be.

I have virtually no experience here, so I won’t get into much detail…

How it works

  • If you have a lovely, resonant voice and understand the technology well enough to record a book yourself, have at it. (Try a walk-in closet and a good microphone.)
  • Otherwise, I’d consider a voiceover artist (available via ACX). To give you a ballpark, you can expect to pay $200-400 per finished hour. I have colleagues who’ve spent about $1500 for voiceover artists on business books.
  • Upload the files, and set your pricing and metadata, similar to CS and KDP.

Helpful to know

Just as print books and ebooks have standards and tips and tricks for creating them, audiobooks have their technical standards and requirements. Be sure to check out ACX’s detailed specifications.

Since I am not an audiobook expert, let me refer you to someone who is: my brother-in-law, Jeffrey Kafer. He’s a voiceover artist, and also mentors and consults with people interested in doing voiceover work. You can book an hour with him and ask questions to your heart’s delight. (And, nope, I’m not getting a kickback—just sending you to someone who knows more than I do.)

Author Central

Author Central is a tool that lets you make one author profile and connect it to all your books that appear on Amazon.

How it works

  • You set up a profile (similar to many social media platforms).
  • You search for books you authored to add them to your bibliography.
  • When customers view your book, they’ll see a “Follow the author” button and “More about the author” bio. They can also click through to view your profile page.
  • When you make changes to your profile, they automatically appear on all your linked books.

Helpful to know

  • If you have a blog with an RSS feed, you can connect it to this profile so new blogs automatically feed to it.
  • You can add events to your profile (book signings, speaking engagements, etc.).
  • This tool can consolidate sales information as well as book reviews. I haven’t used these features, but they might be helpful if you have multiple books.

Will populating this site make a difference in sales? To the extent it increases discoverability, possibly.

Goodreads

Goodreads is a social media site for book lovers to connect and offer reviews.

Reviews are a major factor in a customer’s purchase decision. They provide social proof that other people liked your book, found it valuable, got the help they were looking for, and found the book to be well written. Reviews on Amazon.com are critical, but Amazon recognized the value of reviews on other platforms, so the company purchased Goodreads in 2013.

How it works

  • As with other social media platforms, as a reader you set up a profile. Additionally, as an author, you can claim your book and apply for an author profile.
  • You can search for books and add them to your “shelves” (Read, Want to read, etc.) and write reviews on them.
  • You can also become “friends” with other users and see their books and book recommendations.

Helpful to know

  • Your Goodreads author profile is similar to the one on Author Central. You can add a blog (or an RSS feed to an existing one), events, videos, and quotes.
  • You can also create Giveaways. I don’t have experience with these, so please read the terms.
  • You can connect your Goodreads account to Amazon and other platforms (or not).
  • Alert: Be sure to check your user account settings to make sure you are not sharing things you would rather keep private.

Why stick with the Amazon ecosystem?

I often suggest new authors stick primarily with the Amazon ecosystem. If you have only one book and you’re using it to develop your business, keeping the various formats in one place simplifies things while still reaching most of the potential market. Once you have several books in multiple formats and your focus is on selling books, it makes sense to expand the platforms you’re on.

Of the three products (CS, KDP, ACX), I typically recommend using CreateSpace and KDP at minimum. And regardless of which products you create, by all means set up both Author Central and Goodreads.

It might seem a little thing, but there also is some convenience in having a single sign-on. At one point Amazon required different logins for different platforms. They seem to be moving toward letting you use your Amazon.com login when you set up an account on any of their platforms. (Of course you could set up different accounts if you had a reason to.)

Finally, think of Amazon as a big search engine, just like Google. From what I read and understand, when you use Amazon’s services and stay within the Amazon ecosystem, their search algorithms give you bonus points, making your work more discoverable. Of course that’s not the only thing at play, but again, for a single-book author, it’s probably useful to a degree.


You are now ready to embark on your Amazon publishing adventure! No? I know all these platforms can be confusing, so if you’ve still got questions, get in touch!

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