Banned Amazon Keywords

Banned Amazon Keywords

A list of all words banned by Amazon KDP & most other book distributors.

Amazon has extremely strict standards for their Kindle Direct Publishing platform, they are much more strict than they are to traditional publishers with direct accounts, so it can be really hard for a person to tell which keywords or concepts are banned. Countless authors have complained to me about how unfair it is, and indeed often when I “diagnose” a book’s problem they don’t believe me. They sound a bit like this:

“But a simple Amazon search shows countlless books more explicit than mine!”

“Hundreds of books on Amazon also used this keyword!”

“I actually use these terms on every novel I’ve published, there’s no way they just banned me for it now.”

“I’m not publishing erotica, why should I care about their keyword guidelines?”

Don’t run afoul of Amazon. They are an estimated 80% of the eBook market, and even though that figure is exaggerated, they are too big to view a small publisher in any way except systematically. Your explanation about how and why your particular use of a keyword is actually completely correct, and not violating their TOS at all, will seem totally inadequate if they take action against your account. Especially if your livelihood is at stake, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Amazon can be too big to notice, let alone care – it feels like you’re stranded on a raft in the ocean, trying to flag down a passing cruise-ship.

You can certainly talk to a real person at Amazon who works in the KDP department – that is a very straightforward and useful feature. Still, save yourself some heartache by checking your metadata against this list.

If your account is banned, not only do you lose all your books on that account with no ability to re-upload them on another account, you also lose the royalties already earned – this means if you make $20k in January, and 50k in February, and you’re banned in March, you will receive all of $0. They will keep it all, and you explicitly agreed to it in their terms when you signed up.

This is true whether it’s your fault or not.

Amazon also pulls entire catalogs, for violations on a single book.

The first words to avoid are trademarked terms. These can be very spottily enforced by Amazon, but make absolutely no mistake – if you get too comfortable and start abusing trademarked keywords to get more views on your book, when they do find out they will ban you and there will be no sympathy, as it’s the type of basic good practice they expect even the smallest author to follow. If you have a fantasy magic book targeted towards children, don’t you dare slip “Harry Potter” in those keywords. Seriously, you’re not the first person to get that brilliant idea, but sadly it’s strictly forbidden. Even if it was allowed, it would be totally useless, as it would just be thousands of authors fighting to appear well below the book the user is actually searching for.

Besides trademarked terms, don’t abuse Amazon terms. As you search our Keyword Nerve Center, you might be surprised to see how many of Amazon’s real searches have “Kindle Unlimited” or another of Kindle’s programs in the search term. If your book really is in Kindle Unlimited, there’s absolutely no issue with slipping Kindle Unlimited into your keywords, right? Wrong, very wrong. Any Amazon specific keyword should be avoided, since Amazon can change it’s mind pretty quick on this, as many people who had to update their keywords to remove Kindle Unlimited found out upon receiving the mass warning Amazon sent out. There were people with 10k+ books, all in Kindle Unlimited, who had to change them all in under a week. Ouch 😛

Forbidden words includes “Amazon,” “Kindle,” “KDP Select,” “Kindle Unlimited,” “Best Seller,” and even “Free.” Straight from the horses mouth, the following are banned:

Unauthorized reference to other titles or authors

Unauthorized reference to a trademarked term

Reference to sales rank (e.g., “bestselling”)

Reference to advertisements or promotions (e.g., “free”)

You should also avoid putting your pen name in the subtitle, or keywords. Amazon had this to say about it when an individual complained, after his book was banned for just that.

As stated in our Metadata Guidelines (httpss://, search keywords that are not accurate descriptors of a book’s central storyline or are completely unrelated to its content may be misleading to our customers and are unacceptable. Misleading search keywords, such as reference to other authors or titles, result in confusion for customers as to why the work is included in search results. To that end, authors may be asked to remove misleading terms from their book’s search keyword fields so that we can ensure the keywords do not lead to inaccurate or overwhelming search results or impair our readers’ ability to make good buying decisions. If no changes are made to the book’s search keyword fields, the book may be removed from sale. In all cases of book removal, the author is notified. Our team is looking into any technical issues that occurred during our notification to you. If we determine an error in our messaging system, all authors impacted will be notified immediately.

Don’t think your descriptions are a free for all, either. Also from Amazon:

Entice readers with a summary of the story and characters. Don’t give away anything that adds to the suspense or surprise. Let readers know what makes your book interesting, and give them a sense of what kind of book it is. If you’re stuck, check the back covers (or inner dust jacket flaps) of books you like for general ideas, or ask someone you trust how they describe your book when people ask about it.

We prohibit including any of the items below in your description:

Pornographic, obscene, or offensive content

Phone numbers, physical mail addresses, email addresses, or website URLs

Availability, price, alternative ordering information (such as links to other websites for placing orders)

Time-sensitive information (e.g., dates of promotional tours, seminars, lectures, etc.)

Any keywords or tags

Finally, there are normal keywords that are simply banned. These are words that are too abrasive for the general population to stumble upon, and you should never include these in your keywords or titles or subtitles. A small exception is in academic style non-fiction, where different filters and standards are used. A trigger warning – some of these terms might refer to non-consensual sex acts:

Abduct / abduction

Back Door




Breast, breasts (Banned in title, not keywords)

Breeding, Breed, Bred, Breeder



Daddy / Dad




Forced / Force / Forces


Girl / Boy

Hypnosis / Hypnotize


Knocked up/Knocking up











Sleep Sex


Step-Whatever (Banned in erotica, not romance)



Virgin / Virginity

[We think] Word’s that will increase the chance of an adult title or additional review:

Alcohol / Drunk


Ass / Asshole




Barely Legal




Drugs / Drugged



Milk / Milked / Milking



Pregnancy / Pregnant / Impregnate


Slut / Slutty



Young / Younger

Unprotected, no protection


Not mentioned but still banned: Generally any word that describes an illegal sex act will not be allowed, and as the word’s disturb me I’m not going to bother listing every single one here. These unacceptable sexual terms are obvious, I’m sure, so this is common sense.

Knowledge is knowing that it is a one way street – Wisdom is looking both ways before you cross the street, anyway. Even if you know that your book is relatively normal, and that all sex in the book is consensual sex between adults, it’s important to reference these banned words and avoid them.

Scenario: You’ve finished a romance or erotica book. You’re in the somewhat niche scenario where there are many books like it on Amazon, so you know the concept is not banned, yet you notice the keywords used seem to be banned. What to do? As long as it is not describing a sex act that is illegal in real life, you can generally still sell it, and in fact the top 100 erotica is full of content that has frowned upon keywords. 

As an example of a common work around I see all the time browsing the top 100 lists: 

Incest is clearly allowed, as long as it is not called incest.

Incest = Taboo

Father = Man Of The House

Mother = Woman Of The House

Daughter = Precious Girl

Instead of Hypnosis, “In A Trance” etc

You get the idea. This requires some creativity, and it’s better to err on the side of caution. Anyone searching for a fetish book that you published will generally find it, but don’t be stupid and try to push in something blatantly unacceptable by Amazon’s standards. You would just be working hard to earn yourself a ban. However I need to say, if you find yourself working to obscure a keyword that represents the books core concept – strongly consider publishing in a different niche. I certainly would never waste time and effort on a risky niche, because a book is not a movie – it should be a lifelong asset. Amazon could change their policy to be more lenient, or they could change it to crack down. Why risk having your entire catalog swept away?

Check this page frequently for updates, go over your keywords and descriptions with a fine tooth comb, and go forth and sell millions of books! Don’t let a mistake define you. Your mistakes don’t make you, or break you. If you get penalized by Amazon, learn what you did wrong and fix it.

How to get a Google Play publishers account and publish books on Google Play.

How to get a Google Play publishers account and publish books on Google Play?

Google Play Publishing is a bit of an enigma at the moment, at least if you want to publish to them. They are currently closed to accepting new publishing accounts, but Google Play is a major book seller, and indeed is about as good as Apple iBooks in terms of how much sales to expect, which means your average author is taking a massive pay cut if they don’t publish with them. Fear not, I’m here with a solution. First, we should go over some information about Google Play Publishers Accounts.

Why won’t Google Play accept any new publishers accounts? GP has some serious issues in terms of moderating content, it seems. Why they have these issues when they have the world’s greatest algorithm builders and seemingly unlimited funds, I have no idea. So their solution is simple – don’t allow any new people into the game. So what’s the answer? You can’t just search “How to upload eBook to Google Play,” instead there’s a bit of a roundabout process.

Currently, you need to sign up via a distributor that already has an account with Google Play. The best by far is PublishDrive, and if you want to know my reasoning as to why they are the best, you can read this in-depth article here I wrote comparing the major distributors. Many other distributors don’t send to Google Play, including even some that did in the past such as Draft2Digital, at least at the time of writing this. Google changed their rules for distributors recently, and while PublishDrive had their new system up and running in a week, most other distributors just cut out Google completely. You can manage all outlets through PublishDrive, or you can only upload to Google Play – keep in mind PublishDrive sends to over 100 book sellers so I’m sure you’ll get some additional distribution to make up for the 10% lost.

PublishDrive works by submitting your books to multiple websites, where you can manage them remotely from your single dashboard. So if you upload your book to PublishDrive, you can select Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, any bookseller you desire. The only downside is they take 10% of your profit, but this is a small price to pay since the alternative is not listing on Google Play at all.

In the future, Google Play might open up to traditional sign-ups, and if that happens I will update this article. In the meantime, PublishDrive is a good solution, and you might find it’s nice to be able to upload to a 100 other book sellers to boot! This link will get you a free $25 Amazon advertising credit once you hit $25 in sales.

To summarise:

  1. Sign up for PublishDrive
  2. Enter your books information, de-select all other channels you’re already published too.
  3. You will be given your own Google Play account, and you’ll need to make PublishDrive a user by filling out a form.
  4. Done!

What do the file types AZW, AZW3, KF8, KFX, .EPUB, .MOBI, etc mean?

What do the eBook file types AZW, AZW3, KF8, KFX, .EPUB, .MOBI, etc mean?

What on earth are these filetypes? These are all eBook filetypes, most associated with Kindle files.

Here are the most common eBook filetypes:

ePub: .ePub is the most common “non-Amazon” eBook file format. It is the standard.

MOBI: Originally created for the MobiPocket way back in 2000, it’s the second most common eBook file format that’s not used on Amazon. Amazon bought the company, but has shut it down, although the .mobi file format lives on.

AZW and AZW3: These two are the original proprietary Amazon Kindle formats. Any eBook sold on Amazon before the introduction of their current format, the KFX, would of been in these formats. .AZW was the original back in 2007 with the release of the first Kindle, whereas .AZW3 was adopted in 2011.

KF8: Amazon eBook file format that was used on the Kindle Fire. .KF8 is still common.

KFX: Amazon’s current file format, very advanced and flexible. Proprietary.

IBA: .IBA is the iBooks Author eBook file format, it’s very similar to ePub, except it only works in iBooks Author.

LRS, LRF, and LRX: Sony’s old eBook formats, abandoned by Sony in favor of .ePubs.

DJVU: Popular with scientists, this format has extreme file compression.

LIT: Microsoft’s old proprietary eBook file format, abandoned.

RFT: Rich Text Format, the eBook format equivalent of textedit. Simple and no frills.

How Much Does Kindle Unlimited Cost In Each Country?

Kindle Unlimited is the biggest change to the publishing and reading landscape in a while. A book subscription service? It’s almost shocking it wasn’t done earlier. The current cost is $9.99 USD in the US, £7.99 in the UK, 9.99 CAD in Canada, 13.99 in Australia, and around 9-11 USD equivalent everywhere else. One big point that many people miss, is that if you have Amazon Prime, you essentially already have a similar service to Kindle Unlimited for free, the only catch is that you can only borrow one book per month. Although with Prime you also get Prime First Reads which allows you to pick from a few curated about to be released books every month, although if you want to read about to be released books, you might as well sign up for our ARC program and enjoy a much wider selection totally free.

Keep in mind that both Prime Reading (part of Amazon Prime) and Kindle Unlimited have free trials, so you can try before you buy with no obligation.

If you already have Prime, and are not a fast reader, it might make perfect sense to simply use Prime Reading, but if you do that you’re looking at a reduced selection and nowhere near as many books. If you read rapidly, there’s only one real option. $9.99 USD is very fair, and with just Kindle Unlimited and 10 bucks you can be entertained as a reader all month.

You can sign up for Kindle Unlimited HERE.

There is a bit more to consider than cost, of course. While you wouldn’t sign up for the $119 prime membership simply for the Prime Reading, if you already have it keep in mind the selection offered on Prime Reading, although smaller, is usually higher quality and composed of books from the Big 5 publishing houses. This is entirely subjective, of course, so if you prefer majority self-published titles then Kindle Unlimited might have higher quality books for you.

Kindle Unlimited is important because it’s a stand-alone service, cheaper than Netflix, and in my opinion the best value out of any subscription service that exists. HUNDREDS of new books come out every day, in every category, for Kindle Unlimited and there’s well over a million titles and counting. Lower quality matters less when you’re not paying per book – if you click on a book and it ends up not being good, simply stop reading – there’s no hassle for a refund or annoyance at wasted money. I strongly recommend Kindle Unlimited, despite the small cost.

While you’re here, why not check out our free tools for publishers & self publishers or our articles?

Debunking Author Earning Reports & The Bad eBook Data They Promote!

Debunking Author Earnings Report



This is a rather short article, by design. I browse a lot of popular self publishing websites, and wanted to take some time to refute some of the data they are displaying as true, which is unintentionally misleading author’s and publishers alike. First off, these market share graphs, created by a guy named Paul Abbassi, are everywhere. I guess it is because there is no central authority to really collect this data, and the private companies that do hold the data tight to their chest, and so we the mildly interest populace are left guessing. Paul asserts an air of authority, and through his Author Earnings Report (now known as Bookstat, as his original website author is deleted) he creates a lot of official looking facts and figures that are spread far and wide. However, a cursory glance shows them to be a bit fantastical at best, as I will show in no particular order. I’m not exaggerating how wide spread his data is, here are some graphics from various extremely popular publishing websites. You might recognize them.

Above is a graph of E-Book market share, by Author Earnings Reports. The graph above was taken from an article by PublishDrive (whom I love, btw, great company), the same graph was re-designed and displayed in multiple articles on Kindlepreneur, similar info is on Idealog,, Geekwire, Janefriedman, QZ, Observer, ElectricLiterature, virtually every website that does articles on the self publishing industry. Before I get into just how inaccurate a lot of his data must be, keep in mind that Amazon releases NO ebook sales data. None. Zilch. All sales data, including Bookstat/AER’s, is from websites trawling Amazon, collecting sales ranks, and assuming. Ditto for other websites, most of whom don’t release hard or detailed data. It could be that Paul is not inaccurate in himself, it could simply be that collecting secondary scraps of information will, by definition, be wildly inaccurate when comparing so many secretive data sources.

I would also like to remind people that most websites where “data is money” skew numbers intentionally. Reddit stopped displaying downvotes, and also started fudging the exact upvote amounts, both to make it so anyone who wants accurate data must pay them, and also to retain a degree of control by letting themselves promote or punish certain behaviors with a higher ranking. If you think Amazon does not do this, you are naive. Amazon has incredibly complex algorithms, I certainly do not understand them, and any author who has been publishing with good results over a long period will tell you that the same amount of sales will give you a wildly different sales rank, and I’m not talking about subcategory rank. As Jeff Bezo’s essentially pioneered data scrapping his competitors and undercutting them, and the sales rank is an unofficial ranking granted to you for ranking purposes by Amazon, I think it’s safe to assume that your rank is not determined as a simple function of sales per day. As such, any data analysis collecting “sales” information purely from sales rank is doomed to fail. Sales rank is great to make a rough estimate of how much a book is selling, but it’s obviously insufficient to estimate total sales, otherwise Amazon would stop protecting their e-Book sales data like it’s the 11 herbs and spices.


Anyway, on to the bad data, in no particular order.

I will start with a silly one, he’s written JK Rowling twice into the list of top selling audiobook authors. This list looks almost official enough to base my entire writing strategy on, right?

Check this one out. Ignoring the fact that a generic genre called “Literature and Fiction” which outsells all of the other 44 genres (most of which, are literature and fiction) by a mile exists in this fantasy world, the numbers are also ridiculous compared to his own figures. He says (shown in next picture) that from April-Dec 2017 there were 25,425,137 e-books sold at $187,673,044 value.

Then he says (picture after next) that sales in Mystery, Thriller & Suspense was 215,519,384 e-books sold for $1,101,587,355 for the 18 month period from April 2017 – September 2018.

To believe his figures, you would have to believe that sales jumped from 25 million units sold in the last 9 months of 2017, to 190 million units in the first 9 months of 2018. Clearly, that’s untrue. 


This one’s confusing. He claims e-book sales are “pretty flat from month to month” for 2017 and even includes this graph showing them steady for some months (e-books in green.) The picture after that is his summary for the 9 months , which shows 1.3 billion in e-book sales. This graph very clearly shows almost exactly 150mil per month, for 9 months of the year. Yet Paul, in the prior years report, had estimated 2016’s e-book sales at 3.2 billion, when basic logic would dictate around 1.8 billion, or a little more or little less as it was the prior year. So 3.2 billion in e-book sales for 2016, and 1.8 billion in e-book sales for 2017? In the comments section months later, he tries to defend his data seemingly by making up more data. (third pic.)

So to re-cap, he is saying the 2016 data is less accurate, and is putting 2017 e-book sales at 3 billion (where did he get this figure from? It’s not in the report.) The fact that he clearly listed 9 months of e-book sales in 2017 here at a total value of 1.3 billion? Ignored completely.

So. The last 9 months of 2017’s e-book sales were 1.3 billion and that includes over 90% of the market  but all of 2017’s e-book sales were 3 billion, with 1.7 billion being made in the first 3 months. However, he only gives the 3 billion figure in the comments, with absolutely no explanation of how 1 + 1 = 5.

His explanation that he was capturing less of the market towards the beginning of the year, is paltry. He never mentioned that when he released the report, only as a reply to a comment many months after the report was released. He also, according to many forum posts and comments, went back and added 50-100 million to various figures, which is an absurd amount to simply add without explanation. 

Some of what he says could make sense, if it was said upfront. Editing, adding and subtracting from your figures in real time to keep up with criticism of your figures as the criticism comes in, is shady and sloppy at best. Throwing out large numbers without explanation is also absurd. Not to mention that, without fail, every years report he releases contradicts the prior years report in such extreme ways as to make it clear that one of them must be wrong. The actual data analysis of the figures seems sloppy, and the underlying data could better be referred to as the underlying assumptions. Throw in the fact that even if he had a perfect data collector, he could never directly collect sales data complicated enough to make his data useful for targeting – and you’re left with the notion that letting this guy inform us is wrong. People make real, life changing decisions as authors and publishers based on this information. What if the commonly referred to 85% market share of the e-book market Amazon has, isn’t true? Amazon doesn’t claim it. The implications for decisions such as to go exclusive or wide, or what category to publish in, are massive.

I suppose the obvious next step is to ask – how can we get accurate data on the market?

To be honest, I’m unsure. I feel a combination of the little hard data we have, such as from The Association Of American Publishers and NPD Pubtrack, plus $ statements from the companies selling the books themselves, along with niche analysis through inference from a rough analysis of sales ranks, would give a relatively decent picture, good enough for any small publisher to rely upon. Who knows, maybe if enough people are interested I will do my best to paint a decent picture of the current e-book market. Until then, I hope this helped some people understand just how sad the state of “common knowledge” e-book market analysis is. Stay aware!

Comparing eBook Distributors

Comparing eBook Distributors

Comparing Largest eBook Distributors

This is a review and comparison for PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, Ingram, and SmashWords.

So, you’ve decided to hop off of Amazon’s wild ride (or at least, check out your other options) and you want to go wide. No more editing your manuscript to maximize KU pages read, no more obsessively refreshing Amazon to see the new KU rate, no more spikes and valleys in your legacy sales, just a pure, broad, bread and butter honest selling of books.

Please, take my advice – if you have more than, say, 10 books, you would be an absolute idiot to try to upload all your books separately to each separate bookseller. You might think the extra 10% on your income is worth it, but you’ll get more than an extra 10% from the sales of smaller book sellers you would of never individually uploaded to. Yes, distributors like PublishDrive take 10%, but they add absolutely enormous value, ease and reliability to the process, and being able to see all your sales data aggregated in one spot is almost worth it alone, even without the usual boost in income that comes from being on hundreds of book sellers at once. When I had my books uploaded to dozens of book sellers individually, I would literally find out what my payment was when it hit my account – it’s simply impossible to log in to every one regularly. Need to update a book? Good luck. With a distributor you only need to focus on and improve a single copy of each book, and it’s updated across hundreds of sellers.

So the question is then, which one is the best?

To avoid smothering you with my bias, I’m going to break down the actual metrics and give a (kinda) neutral assessment. If you are not interested in a long article, and simply want to know the best based on my research, go ahead and sign up with PublishDrive

Some distributors are so bad I’m not even including them here. One of them, Streetlib, is so bad I wrote an entire article about how bad it is – which is here. Never use Streetlib, which is composed of borderline criminals.

The main legitimate distributors are PublishDrive, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and Ingram.

PublishDrive, Smashwords and Draft2Digital give you the greatest reach for E-Books, whereas Ingram is best for those who want to sell primarily paper copies, and who’s desire is to get into actual bookstores. I strongly recommend focusing on E-Book self publishing as around 70% of sales worldwide are E-Books now through E-Readers, but it’s whatever you want.

Now, there are a few factors to consider when selecting. One is reach – which one puts your books in front of the widest audience, for greatest potential sales? Another is royalty share – what slice of the pie do they take? Another very important and underrated factor is usability and sales reporting, since accurate and up to date sales data will give you the knowledge you need to maximize sales by spotting trends or fixing issues. Finally I would say support, because when your sales are your livelihood, it’s extremely important to have a responsive team that will help you deal with any issues.

Comparing eBook Distributor Payouts

eBook Royalty Share Comparison

First, let’s compare royalty share. All distributor’s value should be weighed against their payment, which is a percentage of your revenue. Below is a graph comparing the money you will get from a 0.99c, 2.99c, 6.99c and 9.99c book published through a distributor, from a sale on Amazon.

NOTE: This royalty share, to be a fair comparison, is not taking into account each actual book sellers cut. So for example, in real life, it would be 2.99 list price, then the book sellers cut (30% for books priced 2.99 or over for Amazon), then they would take their particular percentage from the 70% left over.

Draft2Digital takes 15% of your royalties, so 15% of the theoretical 70% of list price. Same with Smashwords, except Smashwords also has it’s own website it sells it’s books on, so you will get 85% of list price for books sold on the actual Smashwords website. PublishDrive takes a flat 10% of your income, but they also have a subscription service for $100 per month, so in essence you will not pay a dollar in extra royalties to them after you start making $1,000 or more per month. Clearly, PublishDrive is the best in terms of payment. The subscription even comes with $50 Amazon Advertising Credit and a free 1 month trial, so essentially the first 1 and 1/2 months are free.

For Ingram, you can enter your books information here to see what you will be paid from the physical book sales.

Here is the amount that actually ends up in your pocket for every sale you make at a given price point:

Comparing eBook Distributor Distribution

publishdrive smashwords draft2digital ingram comparison table

Next up is reach. All the best royalty pricing in the world won’t help you if your book is not in front of a wide audience. Would you rather keep 10% of a million sales or 100% of 4 sales? The choice isn’t that drastic, but you get the idea. Below is a graph of which major retailers are available through these distributors. You’ll notice Ingram is excluded from a lot of these graphs, because they are a relatively niche service that is only really amazing for people who are 100% into physical books and want their books in actual stores.

I know from experience that 90% of your sales from going wide will be Amazon, Apple Ibooks, Google Play, and to a smaller extent Barnes and Noble and Kobo. The rest will be miscellaneous sales from the hundred other book sellers.

At the time of writing this, Draft2Digital is trying to get on Google Play, and might eventually get on. I will update if that happens. In the meantime, the data is fairly clear. Smashwords is the worst choice in terms of distribution, unless you want to upload your books yourself to Amazon and Google Play, and use Smashwords for all other marketplaces and for access to the Smashwords marketplace. Draft2Digital is quite broad but requires you to have your own Google Publishers account which is actually quite hard to do and I don’t think it’s open for new accounts right now. PublishDrive is the clear winner here, as you can see. To be honest before I wrote this article I knew I preferred PublishDrive, but looking at the data it really seems PublishDrive is miles ahead, with Draft2Digital coming up in a close second. Only do Draft2Digital if you are going to do Google Play yourself, as they make up about 40% of my wide sales.


Usability & Sales Reporting

Now, onto usability and sales reporting. This is a bit subjective, but to summarize the common sentiment on author forums, Draft2Digital and PublishDrive both have amazing interfaces, whereas Smashwords is quite bad. Smashwords has miles to go in terms of easy formatting, and you will have to learn Smashword’s systems whereas with PublishDrive or Draft2Digital anyone can understand it straight away.

Now, for support. Support is subjective, but I can also vouch for PublishDrive with Draft2Digital a close second. PublishDrive goes to bat for the author much more – they have real humans on the other end who actually want your book to sell. This is very important for erotica, because imagine having to deal with your distributor’s rules and regulations on top of all the actual rules from the various book sellers. To my knowledge, PublishDrive has no additional regulations, and they are very good at noticing when your book is in violation of a book sellers regulations and letting you know to fix it. PublishDrive also lets you add a co-author and they pay out their percentage separately which is a godsend for anyone who does collaborations.

All in all, I have to recommend PublishDrive. When I started this article I had no idea it would be such an endorsement  for PublishDrive. I should remind readers that I am not being paid to post this, and I’ve had a majority of my books on PublishDrive for ages before this website was created. Here are the links to every distributor listed here, and whoever you pick, I hope you experience massive success. 

As part of a promotion, PublishDrive is giving a free $25 Amazon Advertising Credit to people who sign up using their promo link, which is the one used on this page in links to PublishDrive. We update it with their new links regularly.


Used one of these distributors? Share your experience below!

How To Start Self-Publishing Guide

I have always wanted to write a guide to publishing, to share all of the practical knowledge that I’ve meticulously gathered from experience, other authors, the depths of abandoned writers forums, and from observing others. I want to save you years of mediocre sales, and constantly failing from a lack of time available to research, perhaps because of kids or your day job, or day jobs. Self-publishing is a way out for a lot of enterprising individuals who were dealt a tough hand in life, because the only start up cost is some method of writing, and the only connections you need are free accounts online. To send this article to your kindle, click the last icon on the share bar.

If you are writing for money, then your writing process should start with market research. This can be as simple as trolling through Amazon’s eBook bestseller lists, seeing what is selling and what isn’t. What price point are they? What length? Are you overseas, because if so, switch over to the US Amazon website to research, because that’s where most of your sales will be. Really spend a lot of time, a few hours at least, studying what’s selling on Amazon in the category you want to write in before you write the first word. Once you commit to writing a novel, you’re locked in for months, and you will have to promote and sell your book for essentially the rest of your life. Don’t rush this process. Obviously, it’s not simply a matter of picking the most popular niche, you need to attempt to get a feel for which categories books are selling the most, and how many books are published in that niche – don’t get too caught up in which niches are larger, as this is an enormous mistake unless you have the budget to compete with the most well funded authors and publishers. No industry including publishing can escape simple supply and demand, and if a niche has the most readers but also the most authors, you’re much worse off than you would have been publishing in a niche with half the readers, but 1/4th the authors. Picking a niche or sub-niche within a larger niche is the goal of your niche research.

It’s important not to create a niche – that is, write exactly what you personally would like. You can certainly do that if this is not a money generating activity for you, and if you have that luxury then enjoy, and occasionally that will work out financially, but in general you should open your eyes and see what people want that they’re not necessarily getting, and try to cater to those buyers.

Tactics for getting hard information out of a website’s rankings is specific to each website, and I suggest you only focus on Amazon, even if focusing wide. Amazon is the largest, and it can be very hard and time consuming to do niche research, so why spread yourself thin? I will try to break my process down into steps, but your way might be totally different, whatever you need. I’m a publisher at this point not an author, which means I do niche research as a primary function of my work, so if there’s a better way to do this I would love to know, but Amazon is pretty tight with their book sales data – they don’t even sell it.

Check the top 100 lists of all potential niches that I can see myself publishing in. Check the 1st book’s sales rank, the 5th books sales rank, the 50th and the 100th. Make a rough list of all sub-genres within that niche, for example if I am skimming the top 100 “Romance” I might write down shifter, billionaire, paranormal, BWWM, etc – and also put a new checkmark next to the sub-genre. At the end, tally them all up and see what popular sub-genres the top 100 list is made up of, along with using the sales ranks as a measure for how popular that niche is in terms of readers. Some people use an excel sheet for this, and others go even further and buy some software specifically designed for this, which personally I consider a scam as it is simply basic comparisons, however if you hate money then by all means buy a program. I keep an eye out for keywords – for example, at one point there was a trend of books in the Romance niche that had “Bastard” in the title, as some sort of designation for a bad boy who is overtly sexual and not respectful of women. So, the next Romance Novel I released that fit the bill, I put “Bastard” in the title. A note for the men here – it can be uncomfortable, for example, writing to a niche that appears to want men to be disrespectful to women, but Romance is entirely bought by women (well, 90%+) and a smart man knows that you never argue with a woman about what she wants, you just give it to her. As a fantasy, many fiction books can be weird or absurd, but money isn’t funny.

While you’re browsing these lists, take note of the price points. If the niche supports on average 3x higher prices than another, you need to sell only 1/3rd as much or above. Try to pay attention to how old the books are – is the niche entirely hot new releases, or are there some books published by indie authors that are over a year or two old? This can indicate staying power when your book is out. How many reviews do they have? That’s the amount of reviews you will need to reasonably compete with them. Reviews aren’t proof of sales, they are what get you sales. We’ll cover this more in marketing, but a niche with less reviews on average for books in the top 100 are generally easier to break into. You pick your niche, and then your keyword. I think it’s important to craft a book that will be very relevant to a specific search term, if you try to hit all the boxes you will end up hitting none of them. The very first result for a search on Amazon gets 27% of the clicks for that search term, with the second getting 13% and rapidly declining from there. The top spot is not incrementally better in terms of clicks, it’s over twice as good. So write your book to rank high in a specific search term’s results, and not to be showing up at rank #17 in dozens. The lower the sales rank, the higher the sales. Rank 1 would be the top selling book in the store, etc. It’s also important to consider whether your potential niche has a top 100 sub category, as reaching #1 in those will give your book a shiny #1 ribbon. Yes, there are subcategories that don’t have top 100 lists. You can see subcategories without the top 100’s by manually clicking through categories, or from viewing the category keywords on our keyword page. By the way, our Amazon keyword scrapper on that page is amazing for finding new niches.

When you discover a niche and category you want to write for, you should write a detailed plot line, and commit to actually writing a minimum amount per day. If you write “when you have the time” you can expect to be that lazy author talking to your friends about that book you’ve been working on for a few years now, how it’s nearly done, but we all know it’s not. Treat this like a job if you ever want it to be a job. Don’t be obsessed with making your first book perfect, it’s only practice that makes perfect, and perfect is the enemy of good. If you’re worried about your lack of skill being embarrassing, simply write your first few novels under a pen name. You can improve or toss them later, and you’ll only get better through practice. When I say a detailed plot line, I mean it. Part of committing yourself to writing a certain amount of time per day, is forcing yourself to work through creative blocks, mental funks and days where you have no motivation. This is possible with a detailed plot line, where you can “stick to the script” so to speak, and not have to rely on your creativity as much. It also provides a starting point, and starting is usually half the battle. 

The important process here is to write at all costs. Do you have writers block? Good, write anyway, even if you believe it’s bad, then if it really does end up being bad delete it. Sitting on your hands will never do any good in any way. WRITE! Start with writing a plot line, and don’t overthink it. Your plot can always be edited later, although of course you don’t want to start writing until your book has a storyline that will make it engrossing and alleviate the stress of having to be constantly creative as you write. After that set aside a certain amount of time every day or on certain days to write, and during that time turn off the internet and put your phone in another room. Despite all the little lies you might tell yourself, you absolutely do not need the internet to reference anything while you write, and if you really do you can switch it back on and switch it back off straight after. When your book is completed, a heavy edit is essential, hopefully by a professional but if you can’t afford it then a proof read with Grammarly or another program combined with your own keen eye.

Keywords are essential. Keywords are hard to find, as they are the closest approximation to a “secret recipe” that authors have, as they are the only secret part of the equation and they massively influence the success of your book. We have an entire keyword research center​​, with guides and their own articles, with tools and pages for each category, to get you started and save you years of time. On our completely free keyword page, you can sort your keywords into 7 strings of 50 characters, as allowed on Amazon as well as get complete Amazon drop-down data about search terms. Amazon does not penalize for “keyword stuffing” so use the entire 50 characters or as close as reasonably possible. Do not repeat words, even in separate strings, or use irrelevant words you think will get more views. On our keyword page, you can also search real Amazon drop down data, and that’s the only data Amazon gives us directly. Other websites charge $90, or $30 per month, or even more for a crap version of this tool. Our version only searches the Kindle Store for total relevancy to authors, and we bold all keywords that show up more than once. Our keyword tool reveals every suggestion for every keyword you type in, see the page for more keyword info as we couldn’t possibly tell you how to do keywords in a few paragraphs. You’re in the right place.

Formatting is relatively straightforward, but I still suggest hiring a professional. I like to use Fiverr for very simple tasks like this, which are easily verifiable. It shouldn’t cost you more than $5 to get an E-Book print ready for a single distributor such as Amazon, and you can verify the work by simply uploading and previewing the manuscript. I suggest you download Amazon’s Official Kindle Previewer which will let you see your E-Book exactly as it’s displayed on various Kindles. Same goes for any other smaller distributor with their own devices, if they have any equivalent. Virtually any little job can be done via Fiverr.

As for the cover, there are dozens if not hundreds of very good pre-made E-Book cover websites. I strongly suggest you buy pre-made – you will get an extremely high quality cover, completely unique to yourself, and for quite cheap. Whereas getting one custom made is always a headache, with differences between the design in your head and the design you get from the designer, at an extreme cost as well. If you have an extremely niche book where no suitable pre-mades exist, then by all means. A simple search for “pre-made e-book covers” with your niche at the end will show many. For example, “pre-made e-book covers romance.”

Your description needs to be incredible. Please, spend at least an hour working on your description. Ask friends, family and people online if they like the description. Read other descriptions of successful top 10 books in your niche, and see how they vary from your description, and what aspects of their description you could utilize to your own advantage.

When finished, re-read the first 5 pages of your book, and re-write it. 

Yes, I said re-write it.

With E-Books, the game is not the same. When a customer views a book on Amazon, they’re not clicking BUY mindlessly. They usually click on the book to read the preview, and as such, your first 5 pages becomes a referendum on your entire book’s suitability, creativity, style of writing, and if the preview is not enjoyed you will be more likely to win $9.99 on a scratch off than that customer buying your book. It simply won’t happen, and why would it? The #1 most easily corrected mistake most new self publishers make is having a mediocre start to their book – the preview can vary and be much more than 5 pages, however I use the 5 pages as a simple effective tool. Remove the long introduction, and instead create a short and snappy introduction if you need one at all, and make sure the start of your book draws the reader in, and leaves him or her wanting more. As a customer, I exclusively buy books who’s previews I have read and enjoyed, there is too much competition to take a chance with a boring book. As a publisher, I have enjoyed many increases in sales from the tweaking of the first 5 pages. Often in the past, I would agonize over a book that seemed to check all the boxes that wasn’t really moving units. Good cover, good description, solid keywords – what’s the problem, customers? As always, the customers are not the ones to blame. It was me, foolishly ignoring one of the most essential parts of the purchasing experience. ​

When your book is close to being publishable, it’s time to start setting up some ARC, or Advance Reader Copy, reviews. Amazon does not allow you to incentivize reviews for any other products, but there is an explicit exemption for Advance Reader Copy reviews, which is when an author or publisher provides a free copy of their book to readers in exchange for an honest review. The key word here is honest – the second you tell people to “leave a good review,” even quite casually, you are instantly in violation of Amazon’s terms of service, and Amazon can, will, and does ban author’s who have made the stupid mistake of ignoring the fundamental agreement between the author and Amazon. You can send your book out, and get honest reviews, sometimes even 100’s of honest reviews, before the book even launches. This is the most effective marketing tactic on planet earth. Reviews are the most important advertisement you will ever have, and if your book is launched out of the gate with 100 reviews with an average of 4.8 stars, I would bet virtually any amount of money that you will reach the top 10 in your (small) subcategory even with only $50 in traditional advertising. Although you can’t ask for good reviews, the reviews tend to be naturally quite a bit better, as there is no incentive to review or not review, so people who stop reading halfway through, or who read it and were unimpressed, tend to leave way less reviews than people who read it and loved it. 

After all, if you got a book for free and thoroughly enjoyed it, wouldn’t you love to leave a glowing review? This natural improvement on the quality of reviews can give your book an eternal boost, and I have seen ARC’s for mediocre books with hundreds of 4-5 star reviews retain that rating for many months, even as the ratings from paying customers, who are much more critical, average 3-4. ARC reviews are so unbelievably essential, I cannot stress it enough. So the question is, how do you find ARC readers or get ARC reviews? Building your own team is time intensive but doable, for sparse releases (A book every 6 months or less) it might be good to use a service, as your time could be spent better elsewhere. With no money, you’re limited to creating your own ARC team, as doing that is free to maintain, although if you are friends with an author who has one, they might do you a favor and send your book out to their ARC team.

To get ARC readers, you need to make a simple offer to readers through various channels. You basically have to ask, would you be willing to read a copy of my book in exchange for an honest review? If they say yes, add them to your ARC reader list. It really is that simply. One unknown method to get ARC readers is to click through the reviews of popular books on Amazon, to see Amazon customers who have listed emails in their Amazon profiles. There is even a ranking of top reviewers, although this is a general tactic and thus less effective, you want to ask people who reviewed similar books to yours, so you know they want to read yours or at least will give it a chance. If you want to try top reviewers anyway, here’s the link. When looking for reviewers with emails in their profile you’ll see they are few and far between, so expect to spend about an hour per 10 potential ARC readers. Once you have their emails, you can send them a polite email asking if they would be interested in joining your ARC team, in exchange for free books in a category you enjoy. A sample request might look like this:


I hope I’m not bothering you, but I noticed you left a review on a book that is pretty similar to one that I am about to release. Amazon allows me to offer free copies of my book in exchange for an honest review, and so I was wondering if you would want a copy of my book in exchange for a honest review on Amazon? This is a real review, and of course if you read and do not want to review, that is totally fine as well. If you say yes, I’ll send you a copy straight away, and will send you the link to leave a review when my book is available on Amazon in two weeks. I will not use your email for any newsletter, spam or any other purpose except to tell you about free copies of my new releases, and of course if you let me know at any time I will remove you from my contacts, and never contact you again. If you’re not interested, simply don’t reply and I will get the hint. If you are interested, just let me know! 🙂 

Much love,

Super Cool Author Pen Name

Other methods to get ARC readers is to post the same offer on social media, or through any other medium. Some people have decent success asking people locally, in real life. If this seems like too much of a hassle, you can pay to be included in an ARC program, where a person or company with an already massive ARC list for your given niche will do it for you. Even we at Publishing With Love have our own ARC program we offer, although ours is unique in that we don’t just get your book in the hands of ARC readers for ARC reviews, but we also on top of that offer them a link to sign up to your ARC list if they enjoy your book. So every ARC you do with us you’ll be getting ARC reviews, and also growing your own ARC reader list if you have one.

The largest book seller, by far, is Amazon. Amazon has a program called the KDP Select program which pays you additional money based on the amount of subscribers who read pages from your books. There are also smaller book sellers such as Google Play, IBooks, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble.

As an author you have two good options, going exclusive through Amazon and getting additional money from the KDP Select program which pays you out based on pages read by subscribers, or “going wide” and selling your book on every platform.

If you are writing the occasional full length novel, sign up for Amazon and go exclusive with them.

If you are writing smaller works, which won’t make money in Amazon’s “pay per page” KDP Select program, then sign up for PublishDrive which will submit your books to every major book seller and most small ones at once. To find out why you should use PublishDrive as your distributor and not the other options, check out this distributor comparison article.

If you are enrolled in KDP Select, you get paid based on how many pages the borrower reads, and not based on any price or per sale, so longer books will be rewarded. Keep in mind that only pages read are counted, so expanding your book’s word count with filler or unrelated text is pointless, and Amazon will penalize anyone who, for example, simply links to the back of the book in the TOC in an attempt to get more pages read. Kindle Unlimited (KU) is about 70% of an author’s income if they choose to go exclusive on Amazon. If your book is over 250 pages, this is a no brainer. The KU payout you will receive will be based on the amount of pages read when your book is purchased, so the same amount of borrows will make you twice as much if your book is twice as long, assuming the borrower actually reads through your novel. By putting your book exclusively with Amazon (KU is exclusive only) you can also ensure that your marketing and maintenance efforts are concentrated on one single easy platform. There’s also a ton of advice for every issue you come into while publishing on Amazon, due to it being the most popular book distributor. 

Generally, you will always select to go on Amazon if you are writing the occasional long novel, however for shorter works do not discount going wide. If you publish through PublishDrive, you can upload once for each book and have it listed on a hundred different sellers, and I know from personal experience of over 500 books on PublishDrive that you will make way more for short works than you would have on Amazon, and in fact my sales on my books that are “wide” are around 90% other distributors, 10% Amazon, but that is also taking into account the lack of KU money from Amazon and the lack of rank you get on Amazon for not being in KU. Oh yeah, did I not mention that? Your book also goes up in rank based on KU borrows and pages read, which is Amazon’s way of punishing books not in the program. As such, if you want a bestseller, you must go through Amazon, but if you’re targeting small niches with short works you would be stupid to publish through Amazon exclusively. 

There is not much difference between PublishDrive and Amazon in terms of uploading and managing difficulty – “going wide” is not even a bit harder unless you foolishly try to maintain your catalog on each website separately instead of going through a distributor like PublishDrive. The main determination will be the length of your books, as KDP Select is great for long books and quite bad for shorter novellas, and terrible for short stories. 

Both Amazon and PublishDrive will pay your royalties out 60 days after the last day of the month you earned. If you make $1,000 in January, you will receive $1,000 at the end of March or very early April.

Having your book in KU will enable you to run sales, which is supremely important. A sale is a big incentive for someone to purchase your book, and can be a rally point and reason for your promotion. “Buy X Book” is less compelling then “X Book On Sale 75% Off For The Next 3 Days!” It immediately provides a reason for buying the book as well as introducing a sense of urgency, because now it’s only on sale for a day or two, so there’s not the option to simply add to wishlist and forget about it. Most paid promotions also are geared towards sales, as that is the only reason readers will sign up to be alerted to receive notifications about a book, they want to shop cheap and discover good deals, as we all do. You will only ever have the full arsenal of advertising at your disposal if you can run promotions. You can also run free promotions, which opens up the possibility of promoting the first book in a series. You can also make a book permanently free on Amazon, with the goal of making money from people buying the first two books in the series. To do that, you can list your books on another bookseller besides Amazon such as IBooks or Google Play, then you can price match your own novel.

Eventually, you will have it published, and then it’s time to really market. This is the most exciting part, because it’s where you can see your hard work actually translate into dollars earned. If you put in the hard work before this step, it should be smooth sailing – a well written book with a good cover, keywords and starting reviews will sell itself for the most part. On Amazon, for books in KDP Select, your first major promotion push should not be the very first day that the book is available, it should be the very first day of your KDP promotion, which you should book immediately after release. Books enrolled in KDP Select get the option to set their book at a lower cost temporarily, while still receiving the same % of profits that they would otherwise get. Books under 0.99c on Amazon usually get 35% of the book purchase price, however any book $2.99 or over gets 70%. If your book is $2.99 or over, and you have a KDP Select promotion, you still get 70% even if you set your book to 0.99c. This doubles the money in your pocket at lower price points. Keep in mind books can take anywhere from 1hr to 5 days to be published, adding yet another reason to not plan a promotion on launch day.

Marketing and promotion is much more essential to an author’s success than the book itself, and that’s obvious by a top 100 list full of mediocre novels with superb branding and marketing. The best book in the world is worthless in every way if nobody reads it, so even the most pure author who writes to create art and not for profit should still be well versed in marketing, since a dead book that nobody reads is as useless as a book that does not exist. If you have books out and no idea how to market, you’ve wasted your time as well as everyone else’s. This page is your introduction to book marketing, with a heavy emphasis on books sold by Amazon, although many methods and paid promotions are applicable to every book distributor. Feel free to drop by our marketing directory when you’re looking for promotions, as well. If we all chip in and share knowledge, then we can have a really good up to date database of actually effective promotions.

I tend to focus my book launch on achieving the highest book rank possible, not achieving the best return on my investment in strictly $ terms. This is advice most would disagree with, so feel free to focus strictly on the most profitable promotions in the short term instead, but due to the way ranking algorithms work on Amazon and most major book sellers, I think achieving a high rank pays off for the entire lifetime of your novel. 

Your goal, unless you are just starting out and publishing in a massive subcategory, should be to get to the top or as close to the top of your subcategory as possible. If you grace the #1 spot in a subcategory – even a niche subcategory, requiring only 5k sales rank – your book is rewarded with a sexy “#1 Bestseller” tag for the lifetime of it’s existence, that shows up in all search results and categories. That is to say, this tag will be shown everywhere your cover is shown, even if your bestseller tag was earned in the 1992 Men’s Scottish Category of books published on Tuesdays.  You get the idea, if you get the top of any category, you get the tag that can double sales. There is little to no hard data on Amazon’s algorithms, however, from personal experience I can absolutely swear up and down that the highest rank your book have achieved is considered in search term relevancy. I have published hundreds of books, thousands if you include short stories, and I can notice a real tangible difference in passive sales months after the promo is over when I stack the promotions. That is to say, if your book gets 10 sales a day from the day it’s published, and an identical book gets 10 sales a day from the day it’s published with a single outlier day of 100 sales, it will rank much higher than the former, even if the book has been listed for years and that only represents an extra 0.1% of sales.

To spike your sales rank, you need to stack promotions. What does it mean to stack promotions? Say that you book 5 promotions for your book, as well as some Facebook ads. Your average first time author will generally book those promotions with the efficiency of each promotion specifically in mind, for the best rate of return. If you believe the most effective day to launch a promotion is Sunday, you might book them all for Sunday when they are available, for example 2 next Sunday, 1 the Sunday after next and the other 3 next month. This is not true, but an example. Promotions are always booked out at separate times – some are booked months in advance, others are available for same or next day. Even if you book very early, which you absolutely should, sometimes another author will simply want the same day and book it as soon as they can. Some promotions have cheaper days than others, or only send it out twice a week on specific days, and there is a variety of reasons that an authors promotions are usually staggered. You get the idea, there are dozens of reasons why it would make sense on the surface for an author to spread out their book’s promotions, so this gravity of convenience must be fought with the inertia of conscious effort. What I would suggest, is to the very best of your ability, keep the promotions as close to each other as humanely possible. Often this involves shoehorning in promotions any way you can, but the reward for the headache is instead of 200 sales spread over a month, you might be looking at 140 sales in a couple days.

This could be the difference between hovering around 20k sales rank, and shooting up to 2-3k sales rank, albeit only for a couple days unless you have other promotions ready to sustain the rank.

If you decide to dip your toes in Facebook or Goodreads or Amazon ads, I suggest you change your mind for your first launch. If you have a big budget then go ahead, but it’s a waste of money until you are familiar with how to do it, and I think until you do a couple of launches it’s kind of pointless and you will generally get a high CPC (cost per click). If you do decide to run ads, make sure you start with a few different ads on a low budget such as $5-10 per day, then when you have figured out which one has the best CPC put your budget into that. There will always be diminishing returns at a certain point, so don’t escalate straight from $10 to $100 per day, unless the demographics you’re targeting are extremely broad and thus numerous, which they should never be because you took the time to specify the demographics that would be most likely to buy your book thus giving you a better CPC, right? Don’t serve your ad to random people, you might as well just buy banner ads for 0.01c per display if you want to be useless and low converting. If you do use social media or other advertisements, I suggest you sign up for Amazon Affiliates, and use your affiliate link to link to your book. Not because you get 2-3% of your book sale back, but because you can then see what people actually bought after clicking on your book. If they click on your link and buy a separate book within 24hrs, you get a percentage which means you can identify any issues between your ads and customers buying your book. If they click your ad, that is advertising your book, but instead go and buy a different book once on Amazon, you should see what type they are buying. This might mean you need to change your book to better match your ad or niche in general, or it can mean that you need to change your advertisement to better describe or convey your book and what it is – there’s no point paying for ads that only get clicked on by customers who aren’t specifically interested in your type of book, because you misrepresented your novel.

Combined with a solid product and good reviews, this initial launch will make your book a real, ranking, well-read, noticed, and actually selling novel. If your book is sufficiently niche for your novel to avoid being drowned out in a sea of similar books, you can essentially guarantee a steady income on that novel even without further advertising. Many do just that, although I think you would be foolish to not at the very least do a new promotion push every 3 months during your KDP Select period.

Generally, after your promotion stack, it becomes a game of maintaining your rank, which is best done through Amazon advertising or social media advertising. This is because it’s scalable, meaning you can have a set budget every day, and it’s also available for tweaking and improving throughout the life of your novel. A popular strategy is: promotions, then on the same day as promotions a month long advertising campaign via social media or amazon advertising, with the most money per day for the first week, then dropping off to perhaps half of the first weeks cost per day.

If you are reading this as a new author, I know it can sound like a lot of work. Trust me, there is no better feeling as an author and as a reader to see your book high in the charts, to read the reviews from real people who really enjoyed your book, to know that hundreds or thousands of people are becoming immersed in a world you created.

I think when a book is launched, personal promotion is a must. Personal promotion is a term meaning going to task on your books behalf, perhaps to get sales but also to solicit opinions. This is important not just for the reasons of increasing your sales, but also by being able to personally see what people actually respond to, which you can then incorporate into your passive promotions like ad campaigns. By this I mean messaging people about your book on social media, posting in groups on Goodreads and Facebook, talking to people in real life and at local events, whatever method available to you to get your book and your author name out there. Essentially, stand by your book and go to bat for it. If you don’t love your book, and you wrote it, why would anyone trust it? Most writers are introverts and so will write off this step completely, and that’s fine, many do very well without personally associating themselves with their book. However, unless you are writing under a pen name and don’t want to be associated with your book, I suggest really getting out there in every way. ​

As for what to price your book at, on Amazon the standard starting price is 2.99, as that is the lowest price point where you can still receive 70% of the sales price. Any book <50k words should be priced at this price point, unless you know what you are doing. Make sure you price other currencies at a visually attractive price point, and not simply the equivalent to USD. Right now $2.99 USD = 331.52 YEN, so you can see why you don’t just click “convert price” and call it a day. Make sure to go and set it to 299 YEN, and do that for all currencies. 

Quick note – there is no law or policy against multiple book covers, descriptions and keywords. If you’re starting with a small budget or no budget, why not get a couple covers done in two separate styles, and see which one sells better? Amazingly high quality pre-made covers can be purchased online at GoOnWrite or literally hundreds of other websites, and your cover money will be the most effective dollar for dollar marketing you will do. Just like all major companies will try multiple advertisements on the same platform with small funds then run the most successful with big money, it might be smart to see which cover and descriptions get the most sales naturally before putting all your money into an advertising campaign, this is an advantage indie authors have that more established authors do not, so use it.

Many people consider a pre-release when marketing their book. This is attractive to authors because it lets them gather sales before the real release date, but I must advise against this. A pre-order will always result in way less sales for the same budget, due to people’s desire for instant gratification and a certain amount of people who simply do not buy pre-orders. You will also be locked out of many advertising methods that don’t allow pre-orders, so instead of running all your ads concurrently for maximum sales rank and thus higher placement on top 100 lists and in search algorithms, you’re forced to spread them out. The pre-sales are for experience authors, who are so good at marketing their books that even a 50% reduction in their sales at a certain spending level would still result in a profit. The exception to this rule are those who have a specific desire to be ranked on a NYT bestseller list or another famous list, as many of these ranking systems count pre-order sales as first day sales, so this method of a very long pre-order can make it so the aspiring author has months to rack up enough sales to be listed on the NYT “weekly bestseller” list. Most authors with a USA Today Bestseller or similar tag on Amazon use this method, but it’s not my job to sit here and expose people, simply keep in mind pre-orders are ineffective. 

To be a successful author people need to know your pen name/brand, about your pen name or you as an author. Otherwise you are starting from scratch with every single book release, which would be sad. In addition to constant advertising for your pen name, you mix in intermediate advertising for your individual books during a sale or new release. As an author, or as a publisher managing pen names, there should be a constant stream of marketing for the author such as building mailing lists, social media followers, and all kinds of reach. We will call this brand marketing. With millions of books out there, it’s advisable to not bother marketing your individual book outside of new releases and sales. If your book is full price and has been out for a long time, you will generally be better off marketing your pen name and not your book. With that said, there is an enormous difference in attitude you should have between marketing a book and marketing any other media – which is that a book is a marathon, not a race. When a movie is released, it will generally make most of it’s money upon release and in the first year, then be reduced to essentially residual income. The same is true of video games which can be outdated straight away, or singular pieces of art which are sold and then the responsibility of someone else. Books are extremely generous to a beginner due to the fact you can make all the mistakes in the world, and then when you do learn the way to do it right, you can simply turn right around and do it right and it will be 100% as effective as if you did it right the first time, perhaps even more effective depending on the market. Keep in mind the marathon mentality, and treat each mistake as a lesson that will not make or break you.

You should be building your brand for a lifetime, since it will serve you for a lifetime, and you plan on having your books earning you money for your lifetime. Curate your social media presence to be be attractive to your average reader. Don’t think “average reader” generically, it helps to actually create an average reader. You can only ever market to one type of person at a time, so summon an imaginary person. If you’re writing historical western romance, your average customer is a middle aged female from the midwest. Imagine this women. Name her – let’s say Sarah. When you’re thinking of making a post, statement or writing a blurb or description, imagine what Sarah thinks about it. She’s an acquaintance, not your friend, and you’re trying to make her your friend.

An Author Central account is essential. You can make an author central account by going to, and signing up. An Author Central account will enable you to select all your books, fill out your information and upload a photo, so that you have a webpage on Amazon where all your books are displayed, where customers can click to be alerted about your new releases, where they can learn a bit about you and find all your social media accounts and on top of that it displays a live feed of your latest blog or social posts, and you can slip in editorials. Great place to ask for ARC signup requests with a nice link to sign up or an email to message! 

Once you have multiple books, you’re going to want to bundle them. I call this free money, because it essentially is. Bundling is the act of taking books you already wrote, combining them into one manuscript, and selling them for some sort of discount. If you have three fiction books at $5 each, why not offer all 3 of them for $10? It will give you an extra book listing, an extra way to show up in search results and rank in categories, and will generally cast a wider net. There are also people who search for bundles, or box-sets, who you will never reach without one. If you have 10 books, you could easily do 10 bundles through various combinations, for example 2 books with a 25% discount, 5 books with a 50% discount, whatever you feel is reasonable. Some don’t even do dramatic discounts, they will only take a dollar off, but they still enjoy the benefit of sales that would not be there otherwise, and more people discovering their work. The only cost associated with creating a bundle is a cover, but if you are really tight on cash you can use a picture editor to display multiple book covers in one image, and use that as your cover. You can also, and this is crucial, create bundles with other authors. This allows your book to be bought by people who are fans of other people’s novels, and spread your book to new customers. It also means you can pool your resources with other authors – can’t afford a $700 bookbub promotion? Perhaps you can 9 other authors can afford $70 each.

When you bundle your books with other authors, the amount of times you can do that is theoretically infinite, because you won’t run out of combinations as you would with your own books. At PublishingWithLove we actually run a bundling program, where we match your books up with others, and then automatically pay you your % of the book’s sales on the same day we are paid, keeping 10% as our fee. This means you can add your catalog to our database, and we will instantly start matching your book up with other relevant books, and at absolutely no cost to yourself at all, we will start selling your book in bundles. After you send us your catalog files and approve the maximum amount of bundles you want us to create using your book, all you need to do is watch the royalties flow in. We have our own cover designers, formatters, advertising, and of course you will always keep the ability to know which bundles contain your work, and you and other authors can certainly promote or share them as you prefer. You will need to prove that you own the rights to the novels, and we are experienced with working with self-published authors who might not necessarily have traditional documentation, so no matter if you are a publisher or an author we can verify your rights, and we can start earning you money without any extra effort on your part whatsoever. This program is currently not open to the public, but if you email and include a link to your catalog or URL list of your books, we will consider you for entry. You can do this with a single book or a large catalog. Around a 50% approval rating at the moment, so if you have quality books you will probably be selected for entry. No anonymous entries, you will need ID & utility if selected.

Another more controversial option to make money from existing works, is to mirror them. This is allowed on some websites, and not allowed on others. Check with the distributors themselves for current policies, in general a mirrored book should only share around 70% of word count or less with the original book. So what on earth is mirroring? Mirroring is taking an existing book, and re-purposing it for a separate audience. An example of this is in romance, where a straight romance novel will be re-written as a gay romance novel. This involves changing all character names, descriptions, editing the storyline to make more sense, however as can be imagined, it is not a hard process, because humans are fundamentally the same and our relationships are similar. A guide to understanding Bitcoin could easily be mirrored to be a book about Bitcoin Cash, since they are based on similar blockchain technology, and you can re-use most of the background information and technical explanations. I call this tactic controversial not because the book distributor would have an issue with it, or that customers would generally buy two separate books on unrelated subjects that were both by you, but because people, usually other authors, tend to be upset at this method. Personally I do not use this method, although I have in the past, to good effect. The reason I would not use this method any more is simply that Amazon changes their mind frequently, and this could be banned at some point, and since mirroring a book takes about 25% of the effort of actually writing a new book, that is an enormous amount of wasted time and effort. Since this is a very unknown tactic that is only shared in certain tightly controlled writers forums, I do feel obligated to share it with you, as I am trying to give you a real introduction to the nitty gritty of publishing. 

There is a step you should probably take if you plan on being successful, and even more so if you plan on failing. Incorporating a legal entity is a good idea to limit liability, which in the murky and downright confusing area of IP and copyright as it relates to publishing, is essential. What if your book is a hit, and your ghostwriter is unhappy? What if there was a flaw in your contract? What if the designer of the cover you bought on Fiverr or from a website suddenly feels they need a cut after seeing your books success? It does not matter if you do it all perfect, and stay 100% legal and above board. Sometimes, people sue anyway. It’s a cost to create this incorporation but if you’re planning on writing or publishing as a career, it’s a no-brainer. In my personal non-legal opinion, the best way for any US citizen or overseas citizen to create a company in the US is the exact same process – sign up on Stripe Atlas. With a flat fee of $500, they will create a company in Delaware for you as well as a bank account in the USA! If that is too much dough, then check out Rocketlawyer. You can also lodge and file yourself.

If you’re living outside of the USA and you want a company in your own country, keep in mind most overseas companies and individuals have a tax withholding when being paid by Amazon. Not all though, some countries have tax treaties with the USA for a reduced withholding rate or no withholding. If you’re in Austria, Canada, Czech. Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, or the UK – there is no withholding. If you do have withholding, you need an EIN (Employer Identification Number) or a ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number.) Either way, you call the IRS at (1) 267 951 1000. The reason you need to call instead of me listing the steps here, is the steps have changed every year for the past few years. With Trump as president ripping up every law and process he can, it’s a situation where you should simply call. Their hours are 6am to 11pm EST. They are not as bad as their reputation would imply, and they are there to help you. Tell them your dilemma, but also do not take no for an answer if they lie and say there’s no way to get an EIN or ITIN.

Simply say:

Hello, I am calling from *country* and I need an EIN to comply with IRS regulations. I have been told that I do not need to create an entity in the USA to get this number.

They should give you an EIN on the spot after taking your information, but it takes two weeks for it to show up on their system generally. You can also always try entering your local tax payer information into Amazon, as I have heard a few stories of occasionally people not seeing any withholding, and then Amazon simply does not withhold. That’s a bit dodgy and not a good long term solution, so it’s best to create a company and get an EIN that way or get an EIN from the IRS. Note, when you call the IRS you ask for an EIN not a ITIN, as they consider you a self-employed business as an overseas individual contractor, and the ITIN is actually much harder to get, so don’t go down that path. When you get the EIN, register your Amazon account as a business and not an individual account, otherwise they will not accept the EIN. The opposite is also true, they won’t accept a ITIN for a business. So business Amazon account, then EIN. Even the cheapest legal entity in the USA will make it so you don’t need to withold funds, and you can accept payments into a US bank account using a free Transferwise Borderless Bank Account. Please leave a comment below with any info you have to share about getting started as an author. 🙂