What I've learned from self-publishing so far

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Nov 23, 2002
Messages
26,465
Location
UK
My book isn't out for another month, but I've already learned a couple of pointers worth sharing. I'll add to this list as my journey continues.

In the meantime:

1. Royalty rates

Where applicable you get a 70% royalty rate (where pricing and territory allows).

BUT this does not account for VAT and similar taxes, all of which come out of your gross earnings before your royalty rate kicks in.

For the UK the VAT rate is 20% - which means you get 70% of the 80% that's left over from that.

The result is that your royalty rate is effectively 56% net in the UK. Europe, Japan, and other international territories have similar tax provisions.

However, sales taxes in the USA are not included to the product price, but applied on top of it, so you get the full 70% there.

Be aware of these issues before calculating earnings potential. While 56% from ebooks is still 3x better that standard traditional publishing rates, it is obviously not as good as 70%.

Also, be aware of currency exchange rates on top of your net royalty rate, and price accordingly in each individual territory to try and keep your earnings consistent.


2. Publishing schedule

Get everything prepared well in advance of your planned publishing date. It will take longer than you think to format your ebook, and especially your paperback.

If doing a paperback (such as at Createspace) get the formatting done for that before the ebook, as the ebook will need some of this removing - and it's easier to remove than to add.

Additionally, note that review proofs from Createspace are printed in the USA, and will take anywhere between 10 days to 2 months to arrive, depending on the shipping method selected. Of course, the faster the shipping, the more expensive it is. Even with the proof copy discounted, the shipping costs can be remarkably expensive outside of the USA.

Personally I'd suggest beginning the formatting no less than a month before any planned release date. That will allow time for necessary revisions and proofing. Two months is probably better.

Another reason is that Amazon KDP allows you to extend the publishing date only once. If you try to do it more than once, Amazon will automatically block your account from using the pre-order function for a year.

2b Createspace publishing schedule

While Amazon and Createspace generally do a great job of being user-friendly, one oddity of Createspace is that you cannot set a publishing date.

Once your files have been reviewed, the moment you okay them you are effectively publishing your book.

Or, more correctly, once you okay your files, they will appear on Amazon within 3-5 days, then you will need to email Amazon to link your ebook and paperback versions, and then wait another 1-3 days for the changes to propagate across Amazon's systems.

Which means you cannot make your paperback available to pre-order, and the moment it goes live it will still not be properly ready on Amazon for about a week.

Which is a little bonkers, really, but something you will really need to account for.


3. Cover and artwork

There's a lot of help provided to get your artwork to the right dimensions for the paperback.

However, you need to allow an extra margin of around 0.25" next to the spine for the binding - so don't centre you cover, but instead offset it by this margin.

Also, I've found that with matte at least, the artwork came out darker than expected, which your designer may want to bear in mind.


4. Paperback size

5.06" x 7.81" is the standard paperback size. If you want your book to slot in nicely beside your other paperbacks, aim for this where possible. However, you may not wish to! Or be able to.

Some of your preferred options may not be available for this size - for example, when I originally selected for cream paper for the interior, the nearest I could get to the standard format was 5" x 8". This may have changed since then.

However, do note that once your files are approved at Createspace, you will not be able to change your format size as it is now tied to your ISBN.


5. Overseas territories

I'd noticed that English ebooks in foreign-language Amazon stores have (English version) in their book titles. I had wondered if this is something I needed to add to my title.

However, (English version) is automatically appended to English book titles sold through KDP in non-English Amazon stores by default - so no changes required here to accommodate that.


6. Createspace - titles

Createspace appear to have an annoying habit of including edition subtitle plus "volume" plus volume number in your paperback title.

Which is really frustrating because my paperback title on Amazon.com is now Gathering (Chronicles of Empire 1): American edition (Volume 1) - and that's not the title I designated for the book. :(

However, an email to either Amazon or Goodreads should sort it out.



More to come...
 
Last edited:
Interesting stuff, Brian. I'll be doing the e-book solo at first, then a paperback later on.

Incidentally, is the pre-order feature nice and obvious? Back when I last self-published, those doing so couldn't have a pre-order period.
 
Thanks for this.

Additionally, note that review proofs from Createspace are printed in the USA, and will take anywhere between 10 days to 2 months to arrive, depending on the shipping method selected. Of course, the faster the shipping, the more expensive it is. Even with the proof copy discounted, the shipping costs can be remarkably expensive outside of the USA.

Might be worth becoming an Amazon prime member so as to get free shipping.
 
However, you need to allow an extra margin of around 0.25" next to the spine for the binding - so don't centre you cover, but instead offset it by this margin.

You may also need a quarter inch around the top, bottom and right for "bleed". Best to just make your image 1/4" bigger all around.

I was able to get around this in a couple of cases by "mirroring the last 1/4" of the image into the extended canvas, but if your image is too busy that may not look good. Of course, if they trim it properly, you won't see it anyway.
 
is the pre-order feature nice and obvious?

It means your title is visible on Amazon, and it's automatically set up when you select a date in KDP.

However, what wasn't clear to me is that you can only change the publishing date one time!

You may also need a quarter inch around the top, bottom and right for "bleed". Best to just make your image 1/4" bigger all around.

Indeed, this is recommended by Createspace. BUT you have to plan an extra 1/4" to the left of the front cover for the binding. That's something my designer didn't originally expect to have to account for when centering the front cover text and image. All sorted out in the end, anyway.
 
Additionally, note that review proofs from Createspace are printed in the USA, and will take anywhere between 10 days to 2 months to arrive, depending on the shipping method selected. Of course, the faster the shipping, the more expensive it is. Even with the proof copy discounted, the shipping costs can be remarkably expensive outside of the USA.

.

That's something to be wary of - our local authors are discovering there are different places the print books are printed. The quality is different between the European printed and the American printed ones. I can't remember which way round it is - I can find out tomorrow.
 
For the UK the VAT rate is 20% - which means you get 70% of the 80% that's left over from that.

Just to complicate things a bit, but isn't VAT a function of how much you are earning as a self-employed person/business???

(asking this more for clarification I suppose)

I forget what the limit is - it used to be about £80,000 [in the UK] (quick search - it's 83,000 for a full year now). If you are below this then aren't you, the seller, not to give VAT to the government?
 
Be aware that using a pre-order can be a benefit or a curse, and there is a fair amount of debate going on about it at the moment, from both the established and first time author perspectives.

If you are confident of driving a significant amount of customers to your preorder, then by all means go for it. The downside is it can dilute your initial impact.

Now, with the caveat that noone except Amazon really knows how their algorithms work, there is a fair amount of observational evidence which suggest some things.

You will begin accruing sales rank (which translates to visibility) during your pre-order period. If you go for a pre-order period and sell, for arguments sake, 10 a day over 10 days it seems to look worse on your sales rank than selling 100 on day one of your actual release. In other words, you will come out of the starting box with that much less visibility.

However:

The the algorithm also seems to reflect upward trends as well. So if you sell 1 on day 1 or preorder, 2 on day 2, 3 on day 3 and so on for 10 days, (meaning 55 in total) despite it being less than our hypothetical 100 sales; it may be you activate other features of the algorithm and you will show as a higher SR than if you had sold 100 in one day.

In summary, it seems the ideal would be to somehow leverage a rising promo machine.

Followed by smashing day 1 with everything you have

Distantly followed by a rudderless preorder

As I say, no one can conclusively say the above is the case. Theres a lot of urban myths which float around about the Amazon algorithm. Some seem to bear out, others are just conjecture - but the general feel I get (this is my two pence worth - for what its worth) is that harnessing it is less about absolute numbers, and more about showing growth or high sustainability.

Personally, I am happy to take your steer on when you want me to buy. I'm also happy to put out through my network (although that is mostly SF orientated). I'd suggest last day of preorder or first day of release would be the most beneficial for you.
 
Also be aware you have no control over where your paperbacks will be printed, and the royalties from CS are paid at the rate of where they are printed, not where they are ordered. I found this out when I queried CS over a report when I knew some orders were made and the reports came up as different regional sales. US sales got printed in the UK, and several UK sales were supplied ay EU printers. A bit pants as they were all lower royalties than the locations they wer ordered from.
 
Ralph has some good points. My understanding is Pre-orders count for ranking when they are bought not when it goes live. There may be a few things or tricks in the algorithms though. One thing to keep in mind is successive sales. No one really knows, but I have read they are something like this.

Day one, you sell 50 books. You get 50 points
Day two, you sell 30 books, you get 30 new points, + 0.5 previous day = 55 points
Day three, you sell 20 books, you get 20 new points +0.5 previous day(15) + .25 2 days ago (12.5) = 47.5 points

This way your ranking stay fairly steady.

Now if you wanted to focus all of those sales into one day, you would sell 100 books on day one, getting 100 points. Saying you get zero day two, you would be down to 50 point, and day three down to 25, so your ranking would quickly decline into nothing.

It's not a science, but that is my understanding of it.

So taking pre-orders for a long period of time, with a sale here and there, doesn't really help the ranking of the book to my understanding. Most of the indie guys seem to do it for a week leading up if they do it at all. I know Isaac Hooke just launched his new one. Had a presale for a week but didnt hit his newsletter until the day the book was actually available.

Food for thought
 
Just to complicate things a bit, but isn't VAT a function of how much you are earning as a self-employed person/business???

For normal business activity, you need to be above the UK VAT threshold to charge VAT.

However, there was an EU directive that effectively states that VAT must be charged on all digital downloads within the EU, according to the buyer's country of origin: VAT: businesses supplying digital services to private consumers - GOV.UK

Which is a bit pants and daft, really, because it effectively forces any business doing business with the EU to pay EU sales taxes, no matter where that business is located. Really, it's just a way to try and squeeze some tax from multinationals who normally do a good job of paying no corporation tax.

Since then, though, the EU has suggested that ebooks should not be eligible for VAT. Which would make royalties from ebooks in the UK and EU 70% net instead of 56%, which would certainly be welcome. It's possible that publishers may be due a VAT refund.
 
On the issue of pre-orders - from what I've seen of KDP, there are only 2 options:

- release now
- set a release date

The second option automatically results in the book being set up for pre-order. As the default option is to publish now, that means a setting must be declared from the start.

My assumption is that Amazon will register any sales spike and improve a book's ranking accordingly.

So if a title gets a lot of pre-order sales, the book will rank very well. I've certainly seen this with books from Amazon Publishing when released on offer, even before their official launch date.

However, I've long learned from years of observing Google not to presume an algo will perform according to expectations! Yet the point above is that I cannot see a way to avoid pre-orders without launching as immediately as you can sign off on your formatting.
 
Reading this I feel we're just jumping to Amazon's tune. Read their algorithms. Think about the release date and what it does to their algorithms. Buy promotions to go up their algorithms for three days and then sink back down because the algorithm needed isn't hit - but we don't want to tell you what it is.

Forgive me for being world weary and tired and strung out (all of which I am). What I've learned from self publishing is that none of this will break you as a writer. Few sff authors have broken through from Amazon (and by broken through I mean into widespread distribution that means if Amazon cut them off tomorrow, they'd still have an income - having an income based on one venue only is not a break-through, it's a danger). Andy Weir, Jodie Taylor, Hugh Howey, Michael J Sullivan and.... I bet between us we don't top 10 or 15 names.

I think we're being taken for a ride, making Amazon lots of money and kindle sales, and chasing a dream that's a lottery-win. I intend to step back from playing their algorithms, keep writing my books and hope they're good enough to break me, slowly but surely. And go back to plan a, get an agent, and try to reduce my overreliance on Amazon and their algorithms.

Anyone want to guess what I might blog very grumpily about this week? :D
 
I agree, Jo. It is dancing to their tune and making them huge $$$. However, the other option is even less attractive. By self publishing, I feel I have acheived something already; hundreds of people have read my work in the couple of months since release. Meanwhile, I am still working on more and am feeling motivated by the fact I am selling ok.
I plan to be hybrid, long term, but to get started, self publishing has only been a good thing. And to be honest, I have no clue how Amazons algorithms may work.
 
I agree, Jo. It is dancing to their tune and making them huge $$$. However, the other option is even less attractive. By self publishing, I feel I have acheived something already; hundreds of people have read my work in the couple of months since release. Meanwhile, I am still working on more and am feeling motivated by the fact I am selling ok.
I plan to be hybrid, long term, but to get started, self publishing has only been a good thing. And to be honest, I have no clue how Amazons algorithms may work.

I know. Learning the skills that got me an agent stand me I'm good stead now. I am prepared now to take the time to chase another. But only by releasing already devised material to keep me visible. Sigh.
 
Thanks, Brian. Useful stuff to know, Ratsy. May alter how I approach the release date of Kingdom Asunder.
 
On the issue of pre-orders - from what I've seen of KDP, there are only 2 options

I've just received an email from Amazon suggesting that you no longer have to upload a draft to a title:

You are receiving this email because you have at least one active KDP pre-order with a ‘draft’ book file. We’ve updated our pre-order policies and draft book files are no longer needed. Your pre-order will remain active and customers can continue placing pre-orders throughout this transition.

More details are posted here on Amazon's updated pre-order policy: Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing: Get help with self-publishing your book to Amazon's Kindle Store
 
Hmm. Not sure whether that makes sense, but useful to know.
 
You will begin accruing sales rank (which translates to visibility) during your pre-order period.

Yes, I've just noticed this - I haven't made any sales or done any promotion at present, because I'm still clearing my formatting through Createspace.

However, I didn't have a choice when uploading my files - I either released immediately, or set a date for release and automatically began a pre-order period.

And yet I've clearly had authorrank assigned and counted even while preparing my files:

author-rank.jpg
 

Similar threads


Back
Top