Self-publishing Adventures

Learning Curve

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It turns out there's a bit of a learning curve to self-publishing books. It's been five months since I self-published through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) on Amazon, and I've learned some things since taking that first plunge that I wish I had known earlier.

To be clear, I'm very impressed with the ease of access to KDP. There are very few barriers to entry with the KDP route, and it allows any aspiring author to quickly and painlessly get their book into the hands of folks who are interested in it. This is an unquestioningly good deal that is insanely easy to set up.

I also want to say that the overall quality of the Amazon/KDP Print-On-Demand service is stellar. The covers look and feel good (both glossy and matte), the binding is done well, and the paper itself is of decent quality.

All of that said however, there are some downsides to the KDP route that I'd like to discuss as I've recently been wondering how to solve them.

The Problems with Kindle Direct Publishing

Nobody Likes Their ISBNs

First and foremost, I want to discuss ISBNs. For those who aren't familiar, an ISBN is an "International Standard Book Number". This is designed to be a unique number that identifies each unique version/edition of your book and is required if you're planning to sell physical copies of your book.

KDP kindly provides you with a free ISBN if you go through their self-publishing route, which instantly allows you to sell your book effectively globally. At least, on paper it does. If you only care about selling through Amazon storefronts this is perfect and you don't need to worry about anything. If you want to sell the books anywhere else however, like in a local bookstore, or have a local library pick up some copies, or anything similar, you're going to very quickly find that even if you order a bunch of author copies almost nobody will take them as there's no promise that they'll sell.

The rub here is that depending on your country, getting an ISBN can be either costly, time-consuming, confusing, or all three combined. Here in Canada, we can get free ISBNs as self-published authors and while the forms are a little confusing it is a pretty straightforward process that only takes about 30 minutes and then patience as they review your paperwork for roughly ten business days.

Knowing what I now know, I would strongly suggest that you take the steps to own your own ISBN rather than have one provided by Amazon/KDP. You can still use your own ISBN through the KDP platform, and it allows you the option to expand your distribution to other Print-On-Demand services as well as allowing you to do offset-printed runs where you order 350 copies and try to get those into stores - which has some additional steps beyond just having an ISBN you own, but having your own ISBN is a good first step since you can't do anything else without that.

Some Folks Don't Like Their Barcodes

So, once you have an ISBN that you own, you'll need a barcode. Grain of salt here, I'm mostly just relaying information I've seen others talk about here. I've read some folks state that the KDP barcodes don't properly identify product price and thus aren't useful if you're doing a print run, which is why I'm adding this information.

Almost any publisher you could throw a rock at can provide you with a barcode at a small fee. There are some free options that you can look at but your mileage with those may vary. In Canada and the US, retailers are looking for a specific "UPC-A" format while the rest of the world uses "EAN-13". While I've seen free services that allow you to make these yourself, I haven't used them so can't recommend them. In theory, they're fine, but if you're going to get your book printed by a local printer, just ask them and see what they say!

It is worth noting here that, as long as you have your own ISBN you can take your book to other Print-on-Demand services and they'll auto-generate a barcode for your use and that is likely the best way for you to go. The two that most commonly come up for me are Barnes & Noble Press and IngramSpark. Either of these POD distributors will get your book(s) onto way more shelves than you or I would by contacting retailers ourselves.

But what if you already have a KDP ISBN?

Well, no worries! Unpublish that book in your KDP account and just re-create it as a new book with the ISBN you own. Easy as pie! It'll take a bit to re-verify and re-list, and your lifetime sales/rewards count will be off but in the long run that's probably not so bad if it allows you to get more reach.

To Sum It All Up

I think KDP is a great first step for any aspiring author, and for some folks, it could be their only step needed. Amazon has a ton of reach, after all. If you are like me, however, and you want to see other places carrying your book, I would suggest finding out what it takes to get your ISBN in your country and then deciding if you're going to get your book onto a bunch of Print-on-Demand services, or if you're going to do a print run and foot the costs of that up-front yourself.

Doing a print run is a lot more work than a POD service, so you'll have to think about what amount of control you want to have over where your book goes. These days, it feels to me like POD is the best way to go unless you're say... doing a crowdfunding for a book - at which point you'd want to work with a printer to get your book done properly anyhow.


I recently hired a friend from here on Hive to beta read/ edit my novel that I finished a few months ago. He has given me some amazing notes so far, and I'm delighted with how it has gone so far.

I'm getting closer to publishing it, but it does need some work before it's ready. It'll be very good when it's all edited and new additions have been made.

I was looking up ISBNs before and I think I can purchase 10 for 250 or something like that. It's not a bad amount of money for them.

For 250 that's totally reasonable I think. My silly little prompt book has done a little bit more than that total so far so if you sell at like 11$US or more it pays for itself in surprisingly few sales and then the next book technically cost you nothing for ISBNs!

Great guide! Thank you for sharing your experiences and insight about self publishing.

Thanks! I hope it will help someone else on their path.

Have you published anything?

I have! I published a book of worldbuilding and writing prompts, which is on most (maybe all?) Amazon storefronts:

I have handled ISBN books several times, it's quite easy in Indonesia. everything is done by the system. a week, we get the ISBN

That's awesome! In the US and Canada there seems to be more hoops to jump through.