With the 2023 Rugby World Cup kicking off on 8 September and Bok fever running high, I thought it would be fun to theme this blog post around this much anticipated tournament. Read on, share this article with a friend if you enjoyed.

Do a Google search for publishing on Amazon KDP and you’ll find that some of the most commonly asked questions are,

  • “Is Amazon KDP profitable?”
  •  “How do I make money from Amazon KDP?”
  • “Is Amazon KDP still worth it?”

If you are a first-time author considering self-publishing through Amazon, it’s very likely that you have pondered these very same questions – in fact, I’d be very surprised if you haven’t. It’s also possible that you are experiencing some pre-publishing jitters, are already comparing yourself to the various self-publishing success stories floating around or possibly even expecting that listing on Amazon may lead to guaranteed sales. These are all things we’ve heard time and time again, so you are most certainly not alone.

Unpacking the answers to these questions is exactly what I hope to achieve with this article; to not only help prepare you for the reality of publishing your book via Amazon, but also to equip you with useful knowledge and tools to help avoid you getting blind sided. Read on and see this as your pep talk, complete with a pat on the back and a gentle reality check – consider me your “pre-publishing coach” for the next short while. A lot of sports analogies, I know, but it’s World Cup year and I have rugby on the brain. Let’s kick off!

How many authors are published on Amazon?

While getting an exact figure is as tricky as understanding a ref’s bad call, it’s estimated that around 1.4 million books are released through Kindle Direct Publishing each year (via WordsRated). That is about 17 times the maximum capacity of Cape Town Stadium. Overall, it’s estimated Amazon’s store contains over 32.8 million published titles.

To put that into perspective, of the 22 countries whose data on publishing is available, the top five countries published around 550 000 new titles collectively in 2021 (via World Intellectual Property Organization).

So, yes, given all these big numbers, it isn’t hard to believe that not all books published through KDP will be selling well. It also isn’t hard to see how some new titles risk being lost in the sheer volume of new books published on the KDP platform. The big numbers are however nothing to be despondent about, as access to a massive global readership, higher royalties and retaining control over the rights to your book are just some of the benefits to consider when choosing to publish with Amazon KDP.

What do most authors on Amazon make?

Another encouraging statistic to keep in mind is that Amazon pays over $520 million, or over R9 billion with the current conversion rate, in royalties each year to over 1 million authors who self-published through KDP (again via Wordsrated – can you tell I think this site is really cool yet?). Even more encouraging: there’s no reason why a portion of that shouldn’t be yours.  

While different numbers are thrown around and vary between territories, it’s estimated that the average author published through KDP earns between$150 on the lower end to more than $20,000 on the higher end per month (or R2 775 – R370 000 per month) – certainly nothing to sneer at.

Do however keep in mind that most authors published through KDP will have multiple titles available in multiple formats. The newbie author publishing their first book will most likely start out earning well-below the average, with earnings only noticeably increasing as you write more and become more marketing savvy. Think of it as being about the entire tournament, not just your debut match.

Amazon is just a large bookstore

While your local bookstore has staff members that might recommend your book to their regulars or even give it a place of honour of the “Staff Recommendations” shelf, helping generate sales, Amazon largely acts as a passive storefront and won’t actively market your book on your behalf. While Amazon does offer tools to help you market your book such as Amazon AdWords, it’s essentially a massive bookstore. While this doesn’t mean that you should write off publishing through Amazon completely, it does mean that you shouldn’t rely on Amazon alone for sales.

Amazon is not the only kid in town

While Amazon is one of, if not the biggest platform for self-published authors, it’s far from the only option available to get your book out in the world. In addition to offering multiple formats of your book within KDP itself, it might be worth your while to list your book within other online stores for maximum coverage. I would encourage you to, at the start of your publishing journey, consider where (outside of Amazon) you can make your book available and not to expect all your sales to spring from any single platform.

Platforms like Draft2Digital, a service distributing self-published eBooks to most major retailers online, and TakeAlot (for paperback distribution within South Africa) are valuable resources to ensure your book reaches further than you thought possible.

Don’t fear the silence

As in nature, television series and even rugby, book sales have seasons. It’s not uncommon to have periods of slow book sales. These can often be due to reasons outside your control. Instead of sweating the silence, rather use this “quiet time” to put strategies in place to find new readers, getting more creative with your marketing and building your online author platform.

Combating the anxiety of slow sales

While loadshedding may be with us for the foreseeable future, the feeling of disillusionment that comes with slow book sales doesn’t have to hang around. Here are some tactics I hope will you get through that sinking “small fish in a big pond” feeling:

Prepare a publishing game plan

We live in a time where there have never been more resources and tools available for authors, whether they be online or out in the real world. Spend some time identifying those areas that you feel the most uncertain in and find a course, group or smart person on LinkedIn you can connect with and learn from. A good starting point is our author communities section from our website where we list some valuable local writer’s groups and social media pages.

Learning the ropes for new authors doesn’t always have to be as formal as a mentorship or a degree in creative writing: it can be as simple as joining online author groups to learn more about all things book, whether it’s improving your writing, marketing your book or even the business side of being an author. You’ll be surprised how many authors have been exactly where you are and the valuable insights they are happy to freely share.

Don’t stay on the bench

Carry on writing. Some of the most successful self-published authors are those that publish regularly, as the Amazon algorithm favours authors that are more active and regularly publish new content. Having more books published also leads to increased visibility online. Just imagine the delight of a new reader discovering your writing and then finding out you have a whole backlist of books for them to explore!

Your home ground advantage

Focus on creating your author platform and building and strengthening your online presence as an author. Having a professional author website will not only act as your book’s virtual home that is yours to control, but will also be another platform for new readers to discover and learn more about yourself and your work.

Up for a bit more reading? Click through to this blog post for more info on how to design your author website.

Before the final whistle

We know publishing your first book with Amazon can feel like diving into a messy ruck and can get overwhelming very quickly. You’ve however taken an important first step into getting yourself prepared and ensuring that you are more aware of what to expect when it comes to getting the advantage out of KDP just by reading this article. Keep the momentum going by staying updated with the latest info on all things Amazon KDP and carry on learning by visiting our publishing blog often.

I trust that the pre-publishing advice I’ve shared has left you feeling empowered and inspired to tackle your publishing journey head-on. Keep your head up, sales will follow the author who is prepared to hustle. Feel free to pass any questions our way in the comments and please share this article with another author who could also use a pep talk.

Further reading

  • Thanks to Wordsrated for the book stats used in this article. Wordsrated is a research organization that has some fascinating insights into the numbers behind the book and publishing industries.
  • Get the latest full report on the publishing industry from World Intellectual Property Organization

//Dedicated to Derek

A big thanks to Sunè Raspel for the word-magic 🙏