Ducks in a Row – what you need to know before publishing on Amazon

In case you missed me talking about it, I have a new book! Strange Cosmology, the sequel to Weird Theology, is on pre-order now. This has, obviously, gotten me thinking about the publishing process a lot. On top of that, I’ve had a lot of friends and random people ask me what they need to do before they publish, so I’ve decided to create this handy catch-all guide to what to do before you publish.

0) Actually write

You might think I’m joking here, but this step gets skipped more often than you’d think. I’ve seen so many posts on various forums or gotten emails that start off something like this “I haven’t started writing yet, but I’m interested in publishing and plan on…[seeking advice for some step of the process that’s far in the future, like hiring a cover artist or deciding if writing series or single book.]” 

Before you start taking the time to get ready to publish, you should have something you’re working on with the intent to publish. Otherwise, everything else is just wasted effort because you’ll perpetually be working on the later steps without ever finishing a novel, and all your hard work will go to waste.

This 3 inch binder contained the first draft of Strange Cosmology. The notes are all my editor, doing her best to make my book better and make me weep. 

1) Start building your readership.

This step can be very, very tricky if you haven’t actually published anything yet. You want to get people invested in you as an author without having a book to show them. Given how many people are out there doing this very same thing, you’re going to find it hard to interest people in what you’re doing. So how do you do it?

I honestly have no idea.

See, I went about this one in an unusual way – I published my first draft, part by part, online as a web series. I have a couple other books I’ve written this way, supported by my patreon. Writing a web series is a very different animal than writing a novel, but if you can keep it up you will have a book’s worth of material at the end of it. At least. I’ve gotten 5 books for Small Worlds, a trilogy for another series, a standalone book, and a dozen half-finished projects out of it. It also meant when I started engaging on social media, I had writing out there for people to read.

I’ll talk about the serial process at some point, but for now, if you’re not going to go the serial route…try being genuine, interacting with people, and talk about things that relate to your genre. It’ll help you find the readers in a more organic way. 

2) Finish and refine the book

Editing, beta readers, and proofreading are all important steps of the publication process. Do not just throw your first draft on Amazon and hope for the best. There are dozens of books published under that premise every hour, and while the occasional one does manage to survive, the vast majority drop out of sight after selling only a couple copies to friends and family.

This is especially true in the indie publishing world. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen indie books savaged for spelling mistakes or grammatical errors – sometimes even more than published novels that have typos! I’ve written some helpful guides about the process that can give you some idea where to start.

3) Get a cover

Your cover is your book’s first impression. A bad cover can kill a book harder than anything else, which I’ve talked about before. A cheap cover tells the reader that you’ve put little effort into the book itself, even if that’s not true. Make sure you have a good one lined up before you hit that button. 

I like to think my artist, Iris Hopp, did pretty well here.

4) Write a blurb

This is something I haven’t talked about before because it’s one of the hardest parts of the process. Writing a good blurb is as much of an art as writing a book or making a cover, and it requires a completely different skill set than the other two. Blurbs should be short, attention grabbing, and cover just enough to get the reader intrigued. If your cover is your first impression, your blurb is the second impression, and you owe it to your book to have something that draws the reader in.

At some point, I might write an entire post about what it takes to write a good blurb, but here’s the basic format that I’ve seen a lot of authors use:

Have a one-sentence hook to catch the eye. Introduce your main character and who they are before the inciting incident. Establish what the inciting incident of the novel is going to be. Talk, in vague terms, about what challenges the main character is going to face. (Make sure that during this, it’s clear what genre this story is going to be.) End with a cliffhanger, the most common format being “Can [Main character] overcome [challenge] before [antagonist] accomplishes [thing bad for main character]?” 

Substitute synonyms as needed above.

Oh, and make the whole thing under 200 words, because too much longer and you’re rambling.

If done correctly, you should be feeling slightly insane after the process.

Accurate depiction of me looking at my blurb drafts. You’ll note that he’s holding a map. This remains an accurate depiction of me looking at my blurb.

5) Pick categories and keywords

Amazon sorts books into categories based on the subject matter. It lets you manually select 2 that fit, but then assigns you a bunch more based on those keywords. Keywords are also the things that help a reader find your book – you can have up to 7. Read Amazon’s guidelines to making those selections, and good luck understanding the black magic voodoo they run off of.

Note that you’ll find some online guides that recommend targeting really small categories to make sure you hit that coveted #1 best-seller list. That is definitely a thing you can do, but I don’t recommend it. Sure, you’ll get that badge on your book for a bit, and it’s nice to be able to put “#1 Best-Selling Author” on your 

6) Pick your price

This is pretty much the last thing you’ll do before publishing. Price your book. There’s a lot of things to struggle with here, questions to be raised, decisions about length….it’s hard to know exactly how you should price your novel. Fortunately, I have an easy formula I’ve devised for helping you decide how much your book should cost:

(Number of Pages in the Novel * 1.5-2.0 depending on genre * the current date / the current year * 0) + (2.99 * 1).

When you go to a writing blog and the author starts spouting formulas with undefined variables.

If you’re mathematically inclined, you see what I’m going for here. If you’re not, I’m saying you should price your book at a very specific price point, one that has been decided upon by…

It’s 2.99. You should charge 2.99 for your debut novel.

2.99 is the best price point because of how Amazon’s royalty structure works compared to what readers are going to pay. It’s the lowest you can charge without completely slashing your royalties. 

And you want to go as low as possible, because you’re asking your readers to take a chance on you. You are an unknown quantity. People are more willing to spend money on unknown quantities if it’s a lower amount of money, because it’s less of a risk for them. You’ll hear about having a ninety-nine cents first book in a series, or talk about having a permanently free book, and those are valid strategies…if you have other books published for people to look at. If you’re debuting, though, 2.99 is the standard price for a reason – it works best. 

Of course, if you price at 2.99, sales are always good – like the massive one going on until the 20th for Weird Theology and over 120 books right now! Check it out!

2 thoughts on “Ducks in a Row – what you need to know before publishing on Amazon

  1. I’ve been blogging about the formatting side for Amazon self-publishing. It has taken more posts than I realised it would and I’ve probably left out something vital (I’ll find out this autumn when I do it again).
    We already had the material – our writing group’s efforts for the year. Several of us chipped in to copy-edit and proofread, a photographer among us produced the cover and I formatted for print. Once Amazon had passed it as fit and we’d checked over the result, we found a local printer and managed to sell a couple of hundred copies locally (mostly to our U3A group).
    Your post covers all the aspects I haven’t (apart from the writing), all of which we were fumbling in the dark with (and still are, mostly).
    Thanks for the advice – especially about the blurb. And the price. I’ve read all the keyword gurus you mention (micro-topic keywords in their thousands) and am relieved to find a voice that seems to me like common-sense, but who has done it all already. It will all come in useful if I finally get around to publishing that collection of short stories I’ve had on the back burner for ages.
    Good luck with the book. I’m about to go back in time and read your previous post…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Formatting is absolutely the most difficult part of the process (aside from writing and editing) – I can understand why it took you so many parts to cover it!
      So glad my post helped! I looked over your blog and the detail you go into is incredible.
      Yeah, the keyword thing – there’s a ton of mysticism around it. I’ve never seen solid evidence it actually improves sales though.
      Thank you so much! Good luck with your collection if you *do* get around to publishing, and hope you enjoy!


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